Smizik / On the Air: Gloves come off on KDKA's 'Showdown'

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KDKA's "Sports Showdown" often has hotly debated issues, but it went a step beyond that Sunday night when it got personal between the three panelists.

Host Bob Pompeani was set to go to a commercial break midway through the 30-minute show when Joe Starkey, a columnist for the Tribune-Review, questioned the professionalism of Ellis Cannon, who has a talk show on the Pirates flagship station, NewsTalk 104.7.

The subject was the protest walkout at the Pirates' game the night before. Starkey thought it worked. Cannon thought it was a flop.

"You work for the rights holder," Starkey said to Cannon. "Were you allowed to talk about [the protest] on your talk show last week."

Cannon initially replied, "Of course, I was."

But when the full extent of Starkey's question sunk in with him a few seconds later, Cannon got hot. "Wait, wait, wait. What kind of question is that? Am I allowed to talk about it? I've got the top-rated show in town. I'll talk about whatever I want to talk about."

Starkey wasn't through. Seconds later, again reminding Cannon that he works for the rights holder, he said, "Maybe your opinion would be in favor of the Pirates on a lot of issues."

That significantly raised the ire of Paul Alexander, who had unsuccessfully been trying to enter the conversation. Alexander works for FSN Pittsburgh, which owns the television rights to the Pirates.

"How dare you," Alexander shouted. "Hey, Joe, don't insult Ellis and don't insult me. That's a ridiculous point to raise."

Starkey insisted it was a reasonable point to raise. Alexander then got what amounted to the last word.

"Joe, is your paper an investor in the Pirates?"

The Tribune-Review has a marketing relationship with the Pirates. For the record, the Post-Gazette is a marketing partner with the Steelers.

The segment made for good television and is one of the reasons the Sports Showdown maintains a significant ratings lead over "Action Sports Sunday," seen in the same time slot on WTAE.

Madden off base

On his ESPN Radio 1250 show last week, Mark Madden was doing what he does too often -- bragging about himself. Madden was patting himself on the back Tuesday because, he said, he was the only sports talk-show host in town with the guts to talk about the proposed walkout at the Pirates game Saturday.

Madden went so far as to name Cannon, Tim Benz and Joe Bendel as the talk-show hosts who didn't dare mention the protest because they work for Clear Channel, which owns the Pirates' radio rights.

Unlike Starkey, Madden didn't raise the point in a question, which is legitimate. He made an accusation. It should shock no one that Madden offered no substantiation of this charge.

"Madden is wrong about that," said Jay Bohannon, the program director at 104.7. "[Cannon, Bendel and Benz] all talked about it. I've heard it on all of our [Clear Channel] stations. It's also been talked about on our postgame show."

Bendel and Benz, who are heard on Fox Sports 970 from 3 to 7 p.m., confirmed that they talked about the protest. Cannon said he devoted an entire show to the topic.

Lange waiting

Still no word on Mike Lange's future with the Penguins. The job as radio play-by-play announcer is Lange's for the taking, but he has delayed accepting the position to see what else is available.

Lange made no secret of the fact he wants to get back into television, an avenue that is not open for him with the Penguins. He was fired after the 2006 season by FSN. Subsequent remarks by Lange infuriated FSN officials to the point there's no chance of him securing his old job.

The Penguins can't wait forever for Lange. Something should happen, almost certainly Lange's return, in the next two weeks.

Littefield stands up

You might not like the job Dave Littlefield does as general manager of the Pirates, but you have to admire his moxie as a radio personality. Littlefield knew when he agreed to answer questions live on the air every Sunday as part of the "Dave Littlefield Show" things could get ugly.

They have.

Many callers come fully loaded with information and, courtesy aside, are eager to rip the GM. To Littlefield's credit, the call-in portion of the show continues.

Host Greg Brown often has to hurry callers along because they want to make a speech before asking a question. A few weeks ago, when Brown did that, the caller got right to the point and said to Littlefield: "When are you going to resign."

Littlefield doesn't get confrontational in his responses, often referring to the young pitching staff the Pirates have as a hope for the future.


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