By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Oct. 2) — Earlier this evening, a friend of mine – when referring to Bob McCown – said, “Bob is an outstanding host. As an historian, Bob is… an outstanding host.”
It was a good summation.
Canada’s most recognized radio voice (and now TV face) told his audience, just after 4 p.m. EDT, that today was not the 25th anniversary of Prime Time Sports. “I know the story… the others don’t,” he said to co-host Michael Grange before launching into a wholly fictional account of the events leading up to Oct. 2, 1989. “I came back to Toronto in July 1988 and began hosting the show then,” McCown explained. “We just changed the name of the program 25 years ago today.” Oh, Bobcat.
Sportsnet-590… formerly The FAN-590… formerly The FAN-1430… has been circumspect and rather prolific in commemorating important dates during its history. Day-long programming, for example, was devoted to the 10th and 20th anniversaries of Sep. 4, 1992 – when CJCL AM-1430 became Canada’s first all-sports radio station. A recent Sportsnet TV documentary on McCown appeared to have a 25-year undercurrent as basis for the production. But, the radio wing of Rogers missed a grand opportunity – in my view – to commemorate the silver anniversary of its most renowned and unique presentation. This happened for one of three reasons: a) nobody knew that today marked 25 years since the first edition of Prime Time Sports; b) nobody cared that today was the 25th anniversary, or c) McCown told producers there was nothing at all to the date. Whatever the case, a seminal moment in the station’s long history was completely ignored by the very program that started it all.
AN AUTUMN-1989 AD FOR A PIONEERING AND CRITICAL NEW SHOW AT CJCL AM-1430 — ONE THAT BORE NO RESEMBLANCE TO ANY EXISTING PRODUCTION.
For those unaware, I spent 23 years at Sportsnet-590, arriving at the end of May 1988 — 17 months before the advent of Prime Time Sports; four years and three months before adoption of the all-sports format. I was fired by program director Don Kollins on June 1, 2011. The overwhelming majority of my term at the station (17 years) was spent as a reporter covering the Toronto Maple Leafs – home and away – and the Stanley Cup playoffs, which often did not include the Leafs. Before that, I devoted nearly all of my time to producing the pioneering, supper-hour radio show that began — unequivocally — at 6:10 p.m. on Oct. 2, 1989.
By telling listeners that today was not the silver anniversary, Bob absolved himself of much credit. Were his recollection clearer, he would have taken his audience back to the summer of 1989, when he and I along with network coordinator Allan Davis; technical producer Gerald McGroarty and a young woman by the name of Nancy Xynos spent countless nights in the studio on demos for the new program. Nancy went on to briefly work as a reporter for TSN before the cable giant CNN in Atlanta hired her as co-host of the now-former 11 p.m. sports wrap-up. She was given the name Nancy Newman. But, I digress. Not only was Bob on hand for the demos, he was intimately involved in creating the format for Prime Time Sports. Without his input — and the program becoming an instant success — there is every possibility that another radio station would have been the first in our country to go all-sports.
To set the record straight: Yes, Bob did come back to Toronto in July 1988. I remember the day very well because he and I met with Jim Kidd, our program director at the time. From July 1988 until the start of Prime Time Sports 15 months later, Bob hosted a program called Talking of Sports. It was a phone-in show in which Bob would take calls from listeners and debate the issues of the day. Most nights, he did the show alone; occasionally, he’d have a co-host (Jim Hunt, Bill Watters, the old Argo coach Leo Cahill and others). We had broadcast rights to the Leafs, Argos and Blue Jays at the time. Bob would do his talk-show after Blue Jays games in the summer and on nights in the winter when the Leafs weren’t playing. If Leafs were on the west coast for a 10 or 10:30 p.m. start, Bob would do T.O.S. until the hockey pre-game show.
Prime Time began every night at 6:10 and served as a lead-in to our baseball and hockey broadcasts.
Neither was there the slightest correlation between the Talking of Sports and Prime Time Sports formats. One was a call-in show; the other still is a sports magazine show in which news-makers of the day are interviewed. For Bob to tell his listeners that only a name-change occurred 25 years ago today was completely off the mark and — I assume — a detail lost to memory. I had nothing to do with Talking of Sports nor would I have been interested in producing a call-in show. Only when the Prime Time idea surfaced – and it was made clear by executives at Telemedia that the new show was a trial balloon for the potential of going all sports – did I apply for the producer’s role (Montreal-based Telemedia owned the radio station before Rogers).
YES, THAT IS MOI – 22 YEARS AGO – JUST AFTER CJCL AM-1430 BECAME THE FAN-1430, CANADA’S FIRST ALL-SPORTS RADIO STATION. I WAS 33.
Does any of this really matter?
Well, I can’t speak for Bob or for any of you reading the blog. But, it matters to me. Perhaps I’m too sentimental but I was really hoping to tune in for a big 25th anniversary celebration of Prime Time Sports today. The listening audience should have been able to share in one of the most integral decisions made by an owner of the radio station. When Bob told Michael Grange there was virtually nothing to the night of Oct. 2, 1989, it was like a punch to the gut. And I hurt… not for me, but for Bob and the people that stuck out their necks a quarter-century ago to finance a unique, make-or-break program for the risk of adopting a first-time radio format in our country. That was the importance of Bob’s show in the first couple of years. And, he’s the guy that made it hum.
Sportsnet-590 and Bob McCown dropped the ball today.
I’m hoping not intentionally.
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