Smizik/On Air: ESPN taking time to replace Madden

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Not talking is completely out of character for Mark Madden, but that has been his stance since he was removed from his 3 to 7 p.m. show on 1250 ESPN last week. Since ESPN corporate headquarters went to extremes to point out Madden had not been fired, that can only mean the two sides reached a settlement on his contract, which had about four years left. It's a common practice in such settlements that neither side is permitted to talk about it.

While Madden quietly sits at home counting his money -- he is estimated to be receiving between four and 12 months pay -- 1250 ESPN faces a more troubling time. Madden has been the station's main attraction -- for listeners and advertisers -- for years.

Mike Thompson, the general manager at 1250 ESPN, said, "We are discussing our options. We probably will have multiple hosts. We have a couple of people in mind and a couple that might surprise you.

"We want to be up and running by Steelers season. Obviously, for the next month or two we need to be geared up. I'm not going to declare anything. We're looking at a lot of options."

There is no question a national search will be made. However, no one should be surprised if the station stays local, because outsiders have a hard time cracking this market.

While the station hunts for a replacement, weekend host and Steelers reporter Ken Laird will serve as the main substitute for Madden.

With Laird on the air from 3 to 7 p.m., the station already has made a move. Jim Colony, who long did the news segments of Madden's show, has been reassigned, at least temporarily, as the station's Steelers reporter. Colony will do well in that role but he'll also be missed in his old job. He gave the news with humor and insight, in addition to being a foil for Madden's jokes.

Here are several of the obvious local candidates to replace Madden.

Ellis Cannon: He worked as a weekend host at ESPN before getting the 6 to 8 p.m. slot at WPGB (104.7) about four years ago. Since he's a ratings success -- he usually beat Madden in the 6 p.m. hour -- he is the most viable local candidate. He brings an entirely different act than Madden, but it's the numbers more than the act that interest ESPN.

Stan Savran: If ESPN is interested in straight sport-talk show with an emphasis on knowledge and strong opinion with few frills, it can't do better than Savran. But the station is probably more interested in a younger demographic than Savran brings. Savran's regular job at FSN Pittsburgh would prevent him from working 3 to 7. If he did the show it would have to be 3 to 6.

Tim Benz: He's a former talk-show host at ESPN, who often filled in for Madden. He's young, hip and with outstanding reporting instincts. He's also under contract to Clear Channel, where he is the host of the morning drive-time show on WXDX, and not available at least in the near future.

Junker and Crow: It's not likely the station would move this show, which runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with Guy Junker and Eddy Crow, to the afternoon. They bring a different demographic and why mess with a good thing in the midday time slot? Junker's duties as weekend anchor/reporter at WTAE-TV probably would prohibit such a move.

Laird: Solid, knowledgable and hard-working, he's slowly carving a name for himself in the region after getting his break when Benz left the station. He lacks the edginess ESPN might want in this time slot, but his work thus far in place of Madden has been commendable.

Joe Starkey: A weekend host, who works full time as a columnist at the Tribune-Review. His Saturday show is outstanding. He knows his stuff, gets good guests, asks strong questions and takes a strong stance on the topics of the day.

Chris Mack: A producer/part-time talk-show host, Mack is young, hip and funny, but those qualities don't make up for his obvious lack of knowledge. If the station is looking for a Madden wannabee, he's the guy.

As for Madden, it will not be easy for him to find another local show. Stations know he brings talent, controversy and an audience. They also know he has a rich history of being difficult to work with. His comment about Sen. Edward M. Kennedy got him removed, but that was hardly the first time he offended a large segment of the population.

A longtime local radio executive, who preferred not to be quoted on the record, said, "His return will depend on his ability to convince potential employers that he is committed to change and remove all the mean-spirited hateful comments from his show."

Bob Smizik can be reached at .


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