McCown The Biggest Casualty

TORONTO (June 21) — Sometime early in 2010, I gathered with colleagues and fellow employees in the Velma Rogers Theatre within the building, at 1 Mount Pleasant Rd., that houses the Rogers Communications empire. For 22 years, I had been a reporter and broadcaster at Canada’s first all–sports radio station (today, Sportsnet–590). The parent company had recently hired veteran TV executive Scott Moore (formerly of Hockey Night In Canada) as president of its enormous media wing. And, Moore wanted to impart a message.

“I came here for one reason — to make Sportsnet the number–one network across Canada,” he said from the theatre stage. “We’ve been number two [to TSN] long enough. That day, I promise, will soon end.”

What seemed like rhetoric at the time became reality less than four years later… at an incalculable cost, one that continues to menace employees of Rogers Media. Not surprisingly, the prime movers behind the preposterous, 12–year, $5.2 billion deal that secured (on Nov. 26, 2013) Canadian TV rights for the National Hockey League — Nadir Mohamed, Keith Pelley and Moore — have long–since fled the company. The fourth party to the agreement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, continues to laugh all the way to the bank. In its wake, the hockey pact has inevitably fathered blood–letting amid those beneath the top tier of management. TV and radio careers have been destroyed, with more to follow in the coming days. The latest casualty is the biggest casualty: Bob McCown, the most–widely recognized sports–media personality not named Don Cherry or Ron MacLean across the land. McCown and Rogers had an abrupt falling out this week and the host of Prime Time Sports signed off, this evening, after a remarkable run of nearly 30 years.


BOB McCOWN ON THE FIELD AT ROGERS CENTRE (SEP. 8, 2017) FOR THE 25th ANNIVERSARY OF SPORTSNET–590 BECOMING CANADA’S FIRST ALL–SPORTS RADIO STATION. GETTY IMAGES

“Everything that goes on around here, with respect to a financial issue, stems from that hockey contract,” said a current employee of Rogers who, for obvious reasons, requested anonymity. “It was nice for awhile to know that Sportsnet gained top status ahead of TSN… and it wouldn’t have happened without the NHL. But, the bloom fell off that rose long ago. For months, now, employees have been paranoid about their jobs. I’m not sure what happened with [McCown]. All I do know is the company is bleeding from the hockey contract.

“So, I’ll assume it was only a matter of time for our highest–paid worker.”

Though McCown’s ratings are on a down–slope, his demise at Rogers is still rather shocking. No individual has made more money for the company through the years; neither has any person been so–intrinsically connected to Sportsnet nor the radio station once known as The FAN–590. There’s no way Rogers could continue Prime Time Sports without McCown, just as Hockey Night will eventually cease Coach’s Corner in the absence of Cherry. Whichever afternoon–drive format the radio station settles on for the important Fall ratings period in September — and whomever leads that effort on the air — McCown cannot be duplicated. Nor, likely, can the profit–margin earned by Rogers (and Telemedia prior to 2002) for having McCown, now 67, in the anchor’s chair while the masses were driving home from work each day. For many years, it was the perfect marriage between listener and host. And, the impact of McCown’s absence should be fascinating.

“I feel badly for Bob… he gave me my first big opportunity in radio and I’ll always cherish that,” said Bill Watters, the co–host of Prime Time Sports when it launched — Oct. 2, 1989 — on local radio. “I had sold my [hockey] agency and was just getting into media at the time. I couldn’t have landed a better spot than sitting across from Bob during those early years of Prime Time. Bob and I had a good relationship when we worked together and during my 12 years with the Maple Leafs (1991–2003 as assistant general manager). I’ve never seen a person do his job so naturally. He wasn’t a big prep–guy or the hardest worker I’ve been around. But, boy, could he pull it off once the lights went up. Bob was a media superstar in every sense of the word.”


BILL WATTERS, PICTURED HERE AS ASSISTANT GM OF THE LEAFS, WAS THE ORIGINAL CO–HOST OF PRIME TIME SPORTS. HE JOINED THE HOCKEY CLUB IN OCTOBER 1991. BRUCE BENNETT GETTY IMAGES

Prime Time Sports — initially, a 50–minute show (6:10–7 p.m.) that aired locally on CJCL AM–1430 — was a trial–balloon for the all–sports format. That it generated a large and loyal audience led to Telemedia Communications launching (on Sep. 4, 1992) the first sports–radio station in Canada… initially known as The FAN–1430. When Telemedia acquired the more–powerful AM–590 signal from, coincidentally, Rogers, the station became (on Feb. 6, 1995) The FAN–590. Personally, I have fond memories of the early Prime Time era, as I produced the show for the first three years. Though McCown and I occasionally butted heads (we had the same temperament), I marveled at the way he commanded virtually every subject. As Watters pointed out, Bob didn’t kill himself during the day. Often, he’d wander into the studio 20 seconds before air–time; glance at the line–up I had put together; ask a question or two… and then interview a guest as if he’d been studying the topic for hours. I would sit astonished, my mouth agape, on the other side of the glass.

“That was his genius,” said Watters, who will turn 76 next week. “I used to shake my head in amazement as well. It’s the reason Bob generated such enormous ratings and began to pull in the big bucks (speculated to be in excess of $1 million/year toward the end). It’s also the reason I’m not overly surprised at the decision by Rogers to part company with him. Ever since the company signed that ridiculous hockey contract, Bob’s head has been on a platter. Ultimately, the money pored into the NHL deal would affect the person making the largest media salary. If anything, I’m surprised it took this long. But, remember: Bob made that money for a reason. Prime Time Sports generated millions of dollars in [advertising] revenue for Rogers. Not for a minute should that he understated or overlooked by anyone when talking about his departure.”

  
I HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF PRODUCING PRIME TIME SPORTS, WITH BOB McCOWN AND BILL WATTERS, WHEN IT LAUNCHED FROM 6:10 TO 7 P.M. ON LOCAL RADIO (CJCL AM–1430) IN OCTOBER 1989.

McCown may also have been tiring of his association with Rogers. He and his wife, Christina, were at Benjamin’s for a funeral service a few months ago (for those unaware, I have worked as a director’s assistant at Canada’s top–rated Jewish funeral chapel since November 2017). I had the position of “Front” that day, which meant I greeted guests as they drove up to the main entrance. Bob stepped outside a few minutes before the service and we chatted. “Are you still enjoying it?” I wondered about hosting Prime Time.

“It’s a job,” he replied, flatly, without a hint of enthusiasm.

That brief exchange instantly came to mind when I learned out his departure on Thursday.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

25 comments on “McCown The Biggest Casualty

  1. Now I understand why Bob seemed to be abit anti-hockey towards the end. Only listened to his show for the last 8 or 9 years, but learned alot above the business of sports doing so. Will miss is caustic personality.

  2. Howard, Great article, you are a class act.
    I remember the launch when Bob made the understated announcement something like “Well , this is it , we are on the air” haven’t listed in some time though. Really enjoyed your sports reporting, articles and books. Would love to read an insiders book on the leafs and sports radio if you had the time to write it. (Stormin’ Norman included)

  3. McCown should throw some of his lucre at Gregg Zaun, and the two of them should launch a new sports talk venture. Call it “Old White Guys Whine,” or the “Caustic ‘Cast” or something. Jeff Blair and Jim Ralph can come along too. I’d listen. For sure.

  4. Surprised and disappointed as Bob,,completed his last show,,,,I was a day one Fan,,listener,,from the first morning shows,,right through Prime Time,,loved the guy,,his wit,,humour,,sarcasm,,all,came naturally from him,,,Incomparable,,,,my late day drive station is changed for good,,,Hit them straight Bobcat,,!

  5. Without question PTS was the best sports talk show in North America. Bob’s ability to intelligently carry a discussion without having to resort to juvenile behaviour is why he will be greatly missed. I wish Bob all the best in whatever venture upon which he embarks. I will look for you at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk.

  6. everydayitalian@live.ca

    Mr. McCown: I would love to know why you left. Because of you, as an immigrant, I learned about sports in north America. Because of you, I learned English… and I had the most fun when I used to wait on the line to speak to you even, for two minutes. By far, you are the greatest sports man that I ever listened to.

  7. So typical of the radio business. Bobcat signed a “multi-year” deal in Dec 2017 and it ends a year and a half in. I’m sure he’ll enjoy his buyout. Unless the buyout saves some money, I don’t know why they wouldn’t have him “play out the string” and then not renew him. He would have probably retired then anyway.

    Look forward to the next stage based on his tweet “… nobody can shut me up when I still have things to say. Stay tuned. “I’ll be back!”

  8. I have been a long time, enthusiastic listener of Mr. McCown for at least a decade. I am 37 now, but was hooked as a listener and a fan from the first couple of shows I had the privilege of listening to. Mr. McCown blended brash banter with his guests (who were often friends and acquaintances) with a well rounded sports acumen and the ability to ask questions that delved deep into underlying issues on any topic in most sports. Bob’s charisma and inherent ability to ask an insightful, meaningful question in a respectful and disarming way was what kept me tuning in to Prime Time as often as I could. Bob always found a way deliver meaningful content on the current climate of sports and the most relevant issues. I only learnt of Mr. McCown’s impending departure when I was listening to Friday’s (June 21, 2019) online stream of Prime Time. I was shocked to have learnt about this in “passing”. Along with Jeff Blair, Mr. McCown brings/brought an intangible value to radio and the discussion of sports in this city. I will sorely miss Mr. McCown’s presence during the 4pm-7pm time slot. In an effort to pinch the pennies, I hope Rogers can gain a semblance of understanding of what they have thrown away here. No one can replace what Mr. McCown brought to the show, to the station, and to the Sportsnet consortium. I will probably stop listening during the 4pm-7pm time slot and only tune in to Jeff Blair’s segment, if it continues to air 9am-12pm, or if they promote him to the Prim Time slot. Mr. McCown, Thank You very much for what you delivered on a daily and weekly basis. Your presence, knowledge, tact, and contributions will be sorely missed. Be well Sir.

  9. What a joke. The only guy worth listening to and watching. Along with Doug McLean and Kipper and Burke. Sportsnet is just awful in every other way. They must have their bimbo quota in every department. Ken Reid and Ivanka are absolutely horrible
    Greg Vaughn was fantastic . Sportsnet is doomed now
    .And I say GREAT. Bob was fantastic.
    Art Hindle…is a pinhead

    1. So, Derek, a person with a different opinion that your’s is a “pinhead”? And, your “bimbo” remarks shows your complete ignorance. I considered not using your comment but I thought I’d expose you.

    2. Well written Howard. I miss hearing your sports reports on the radio. After hearing of Bob’s departure I listened to The Fan one last time before I removed it from my radio dial. I hope he ends up somewhere. TSN now my sports media of choice.

  10. When I see stories like this, about millionaire public figures it makes me think of the real world. I worked 30 years for an airborne survey company and was laid off at age 57 with no pension. I worked my ass off but price of oil and minerals collapsed in the 2008 great recession, which by the way looks like it is about to repeat. Six of my co-workers over those thirty years died in crashes. What can I say? I think Bob McCown has no complaints.

  11. I have been listening to him for 20 years, and although, as he himself would say, he created a character, I enjoyed that he looked deeper into sports than just the Leafs or Jays. He might often go several episodes without bringing those teams up, why, because for so many years they were irrelevant, and preferred to talk about more important global issues.

    I especially enjoyed his insight into the nature of media, and changes in media culture. Thank you, I learned a lot from you.

  12. I enjoyed Bob, brashness and all. He certainly knew his sports. His repartee with co-hosts and regular contributors was a big part of his shtick. Good luck, Bob.

  13. I’ve been watching Bob since the Sportsline days. While he was a little gruff at times, I loved how insigntful he was when interviewing people on the show. I hope he finds something else in radio or TV. I’d love to see him on TSN.

  14. Howard,

    I enjoyed watching Bob on radio (on tv, you know what I mean) with my late father – a former broadcaster himself .

    My interest in radio was reignited/enhanced by Bob.

    I wish him all the best, and hope to hear him again.

  15. I’m probably not the only Rogers subscriber (sucker) who upgraded to a higher priced package just to get the one channel (I think it was Sportsnet 360) that included Bob’s excellent show. Methinks I’ll be downgrading soon – as will countless others! All the best Bob – I miss you already!

  16. I have been listening to Bobcat since the days of the Jays show after each Jays Game in Windows at the Skydome. He certainly has curtailed his attitude towards callers and has shown over the years, he is one of the best sports guy ever… Very intelligent conversations with what-ever guest was put into the opposite seat… I for one will miss the Bobcat as he was always insightful and creative… I went to that Windows live show every Jays home game and have been a continued listener of Bob’s ever since….. I wish Bob nothing but the best!

  17. I miss Bob already. I kind of feel, “cheated”, in a way. The announcement came so soon before his departure. He wasn’t celebrated on his last show, the fans didn’t get to show their appreciation… i’m sure he would not have wanted that but, you don’t always get what you want. Sometimes you do things for others because it’s good for them. I would have loved to see a parade of people come through the studio for a week, if not for anything else than to say “Thank you”. I wish I could have told him that. I have the same empty feeling that i did when John Stewart went off the air back in 2015. I remember the feeling well… I guess that speaks to the legend that is Bob McCown.

  18. Nice article about Bobcat. It was great to listen to. him and Jim ‘Shaky’ Hunt tell stories.
    It didn’t help anyone at Rogers, that during this NHL broadcast contract, few Canadian NHL teams rarely got passed the first round in the playoffs.

  19. Obviously, he must have had something…but it was lost on me when I moved back from LA in 2002 and started dialing in sports talk radio…but he really lost me when he trashed a Class Act like Mats Sundin for refusing a trade in his last Leaf season and portrayed that has not being willing to help the Leafs…Mats earned & deserved to do it his way…so…good luck Mr Sunglasses…enjoy the sunset…!

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