Tony Kornheiser’s radio show kicked off its annual and interminable summer break Tuesday afternoon, right around the same time it always disappears. There was a difference, though; when Kornheiser and friends return, it will be as a podcast hosted on his own platform, and not on terrestrial radio.
Having transcribed many hundreds of hours of Kornheiser’s ESPN 980 words over the years, it felt only right for me to bring you his final (for now) radio thoughts. I went ahead and progressed from a straight transcript to video, and I brought it to you in vertical format for maximum awkwardness.
Here's how Tony Kornheiser signed off on his last ESPN 980 show pic.twitter.com/7mflCnOMmE
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) June 29, 2016
Before that sign-off, the previous two hours weren’t a nostalgia-filled look back at two decades in local radio; the whole thing was pretty much just a regular Tuesday show. But Kornheiser did offer a few brief thoughts about moving on, which might be of interest to his long-time fans.
“It’s not sad at all; we’re happy,” he said, to a slightly nostalgic Kevin Sheehan, who will remain as a 980 morning host. “Everybody feels a certain amount of nostalgia — when I walk around here and people who I have seen for years say ‘I’m so sad.’ … All the people that I do the radio show with are coming with me, except for Kevin, who’s gone on to bigger and better things. … The only thing that changes is the method of delivery. It is the exact same show. Now here’s what I feel bad about. I feel bad that people my age, who I know listen to me… are too stubborn to even learn how to do a podcast, so they won’t change. …
“I’m gonna miss pretty much people my age, but you should understand this: the opportunity to do this, I walked away from two years left on a contact,” Kornheiser said. “I don’t know what is being written or what is being said, but the truth of the matter is, I walked away with two years left on a contract, which at my age is so stupid and an indefensible position. And why did I do it? Because I thought it might be nice to see if I could get [not] people to pay for it on a daily basis, but advertisers who I could bring them a certain amount of listeners: smart, funny, affluent people all around the country. Maybe we could get ads. Maybe we could get a sponsor from all around the country.
— scott linn (@scottlinn980) June 28, 2016
“I’m gonna end up paying people,” Kornheiser said. “I’m gonna end up paying people out of my own money. Not only did I leave money on the table, like a moron; I’m not gonna make any money, and I’m gonna pay people money. So if it fails, it can’t fail soon enough, and I’ll come back. It can’t fail soon enough. I’m an idiot. It’s my choice. But I can’t emphasize enough: this is the show it is. You now, Torie [Clarke] and Liz [Clarke] and Jeanne [McManus] and Chris [Cillizza] and David [Aldridge], it’s the show it is. It’s a radio show.
“If I feel nostalgic for anything, it’s for talk radio — adult talk radio — because podcasts are not that. That’s not what they are. Podcasts are mostly one person or two people, talking about how smart they are about a single television show, or how to build a table. This is this show, and hopefully that reaches a whole new group of people. … And with a little bit of luck, maybe at some point the show goes on this station in the middle of the evening or something like that, or goes on ESPN. I don’t know.”
As a former diehard listener (before I became an occasional punching bag, and not really in an affectionate way, which made me renounce the show and violently change the station whenever it came on, and cry out to the heavens at the injustice of it all), I do understand the sense of nostalgia. The same old show isn’t the same old show when you’re no longer tethered to a radio schedule, even if many people were already listening to it via the podcast.
Waiting for the clock to hit 10 or 11 and for that familiar music to come on with highlights of the previous day’s yuks was part of the experience, and any new venture carries mysterious unknowns. The show wasn’t really the same show when it switched from local to national and back; every bit of turbulence brings at least a slight change. And since the appeal of Tony’s sports-radio show was how little it was about sports, local sports radio loses something in this transition, too. If D.C. sports radio ever had a show geared to 39-year-old Jewish sportswriters who live in Northwest D.C., this was it, and I’m not sure it will ever be replicated.
Anyhow, here’s more non-introspection.
“Here’s what I’m reflecting on: do you know how much money I left on the table? Do you know how stupid I am?” Kornheiser asked. “You know the song in ‘A Chorus Line’ that’s sung by Morales: and she said [roughly] “I dug way down in the bottom of my soul and I felt nothing?” I felt nothing. I thank all the people that I worked with, and I’m taking them all with me. We’re going to do the same show.”
Safe travels, Tony Kornheiser Show. See ya on the other side. Maybe.