Not even his harshest critics would deny that Mark Madden runs an entertaining talk show. During his successful stint at 1250 ESPN, Madden had the ability to make listeners laugh and to make them angry. How he achieved those ends might not have been the finest radio moments, but he clearly was the region's most talked-about sport-talk host since Myron Cope.
Madden's dedicated fan base eagerly awaited his return to the air, which came Oct. 13 on WXDX-FM, a Clear Channel station. Those fans have to be disappointed with what they're hearing. It's not Madden, whose shtick remains pretty much the same, who is disappointing listeners. It's the Clear Channel strategy they probably find confusing.
WXDX is a music station, and Clear Channel would not give up on that format entirely, even after bringing Madden aboard. There's almost as much music as there is Madden. No doubt, some of Madden's fans, maybe most, like the X music. But plenty have to be turned off by the fact every time they tune in the station from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays they are more apt to hear music or commercials than Madden.
Last Wednesday, in his first hour, Madden was on for 24 minutes. There were 14 minutes of commercials and 22 minutes of music. In the second hour, Madden was on for 23 minutes. There were 12 minutes of commercials, 20 minutes of music and five minutes of an interview heard earlier in the day on another program and not conducted by Madden.
Nobody should know radio better than Clear Channel, but this programming strategy seems to make no sense. It is trying to satisfy two audiences and might end up satisfying neither.
Madden is his same cantankerous self. He's heavy on hockey and can still abuse callers, although there are some changes. A major one is that he does not take calls live on the air. The calls are recorded when he's off the air and played back. This is not uncommon at Clear Channel and serves to weed out bad calls. It also is a method to keep Madden's mouth in check.
There's one other noticeable change. Those regular rants Madden had at 1250 ESPN about how no one who works for Clear Channel can be trusted to comment honestly about the Steelers are no longer part of his act.
Madden's replacements at 1250 ESPN, Scott Paulsen, Eddy Crow and Mike Logan -- on a show called "The Drive" -- seem to be gaining some footing after a slow start. It's three guys talking sports and having a good time. It's a comfortable listen. The problem is the show, which runs from 3 to 7 p.m., lacks a strong sports voice. None of the three has a deep background in sports radio. As part of the "Junker and Crow Show," Crow had the luxury of a strong sports presence in Guy Junker.
Logan played for the Steelers, but that doesn't always translate on radio.
If 1250 ESPN was going to a three-man show, it should have included a stronger sports presence. There were people available. Joe Starkey of the Tribune-Review, who does a Saturday show on 1250 ESPN, and Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette, who ran a Saturday talk show at KDKA Radio for eight years, would have been excellent fits. Both are at ease on the air, are as well versed as anyone locally and come across with strong opinions when they appear as guests on either KDKA-TV or FSN Pittsburgh.
With Madden off the air for more than four months, Joe Bendel was able to gain some traction at Fox Sports Radio 970. Bendel runs a no-frills talk-show -- no gimmicks, just good conversation with a host who knows what he's talking about.
Unlike his afternoon drive-time competition, Bendel gets around town. He has strong opinions and his on-air presence keeps getting better. A listener would not know his background was in print journalism.
A move that never made any sense has been rescinded at 1250 ESPN. For about 18 months, the local sports reports during the "Mike and Mike in the Morning" show have come out of the network's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., instead of Pittsburgh. That ends Dec. 1, when Jim Colony, who formerly worked afternoon drive time, begins delivering the thrice-hourly reports.
Colony blends a good deal of creativity with solid reporting and brings an extensive knowledge of sports to the job. The station and its listeners will be well served by this change.
Bob Smizik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .