On the Air with Bob Smizik: A fine, game-day TUNE

Local radio stations offer a viable alternative to the talking TV heads of NFL Sundays.

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Stan Savran, top, and Mark Madden figure to provide one of the more intriguing on-air pairings of the coming season.
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If you're in love with the yuck-yuck TV guys who dispense their wisdom -- and cliches -- on the NFL pregame shows Sunday morning and early afternoon on ESPN, Fox and CBS, you're probably not interested in tuning in the radio. But if you're weary of those acts and you really want to know more about the Steelers, you might want to try the radio where three local stations are vying for your attention

Of course, it's Steelers overkill but this is Pittsburgh and isn't that what we want?

ESPN Radio 1250 is on the air first, three hours before the game. The Steelers Radio Network follows an hour later and can be heard locally on WDVE-FM (102.5) and Fox Sports Radio 970. At the same time, KDKA-AM (1020) comes on the air with its show.

In a nutshell:

ESPN: Hosts of Steel City Game Day are Guy Junker and Eddy Crow. They're joined for segments by guests Ed Bouchette, Jack Ham, Mark Schlereth and Merril Hoge. Staffers Jim Colony and Ken Laird also are in the mix.

Steelers Radio Network: Ellis Cannon is the host of the show that includes Gerry Dulac, Bob Labriola, Mike Prisuta for most of the first 90 minutes, with Craig Wolfley, Tim Benz and Joe Bendel also being heard. The second hour includes the "Bill Cowher Show," with Bill Hillgrove and finishes with 30 minutes of the play-by-play crew, Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin and Wolfley.

KDKA: Black and Gold Sunday features the station's two weeknight sports hosts, Gene Collier and Jeff Hathhorn along with former Steeler John Banaszak.

So if you're going the radio route, which station do you pick?

For top-to-bottom coverage of the Steelers, it's tough to match the in-depth knowledge on the Steelers Radio Network. No station has a greater concentration of Steelers expertise. Dulac covers the team for the Post-Gazette, Labriola for Steelers Digest and Prisuta for the Tribune-Review. Until joining Clear Channel, Benz was the Steelers reporter for ESPN Radio. Until last month, Bendel was the beat reporter for the Tribune-Review. Wolfley, a former player, is the sideline reporter on the radio play-by-play. These guys are around the team all week and present insights heard nowhere else.

Over at ESPN, once Bouchette, the area's most recognized authority on the Steelers and the main beat reporter for the Post-Gazette, leaves the air -- and he usually does an early segment -- authentic knowledge of the team goes with him. It's mainly smoke and mirrors, although Laird, the station's Steelers beat reporter, will provide some insights when he's on the air.

That doesn't mean ESPN is a waste of your time. Junker and Crow are engaging hosts, and Ham and Hoge are two of the most insightful voices covering the NFL. Their knowledge of the Steelers, however, is limited since neither is around the team.

At KDKA, Collier, a columnist for the Post-Gazette, will provide his unique perspective as a humorist and a man who spends a good deal of time in the team's locker room during the week.

Take your pick or jump around. The shows don't have the glitz and pizzazz or high-level celebrities of TV, but often will provide more useful information.

A journalistic note: It is possible to have an entertaining show about the Steelers, be it pregame, postgame or during the week, and not cover the team or even be around it. That has been proven in this town. It is not possible, however, to speak with authority about the team and not be around it on a regular basis. Discerning listeners can pick that up.

After the game, ESPN and the Steelers Radio network have shows.

ESPN has matched Mark Madden and Stan Savran, which is proof that even more than politics, radio makes strange bedfellows. In January, when they were working on competing stations in the same time slot, Madden called Savran "a Steelers PR guy" and a "shill." Noting Madden's failure to look in the eye the people he criticizes, Savran said, "... to never go out and face the music means you're a coward.''

ESPN program director Jim Gracie had a great chance to push the envelope and call this show, "The Coward and The Shill." Instead, he stuck with the rather ordinary, "Steel City Post-Game."

With the region's two most popular talk-show hosts, it should be an entertaining show. Colony and Laird will work the locker room and provide player interviews. Junker and Joe Starkey will toss in their two-cents worth.

After home games, the Steelers Radio Network has Cannon, Ilkin and Wolfley opening its postgame show with scores, locker room interviews and analysis. That's followed by Bendel and Benz taking calls for an hour. When the Steelers are on the road, Bendel and Benz do the whole show.


Must see ...
TV games a fan shouldn't miss ...Must avoid
Those that make even a rabid fan groanSept. 4: Florida State at Miami
Dark rivalry is preview of ACC title game.

Sept. 7: Miami Dolphins at Steelers
Perfect kickoff for NFL season.

Sept. 9: Ohio State at Texas
Winner is the favorite to win the national title.

Sept. 9: Penn State at Notre Dame
Lions get chance to show '05 was no fluke.

Oct. 8: Dallas at Philadelphia
T.O. returns to the city where he's most hated.

Nov. 2: West Virginia at Louisville
Big East takes national stage.

Nov. 18: Michigan at Ohio State
Lloyd Carr has lost four of five to Buckeyes.

Dec. 18: Cincinnati at Indianapolis
Carson vs. Peyton to see who's No. 2 to Big Ben.

Dec. 31: Seattle at Tampa Bay
For No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Dec. 31: Steelers at Cincinnati
For AFC North and maybe best in NFL.

Sept. 2: Akron at Penn State
Only JoePa sees this as remotely competitive.

Sept. 10: New Orleans at Cleveland
Hapless Browns best chance for win.

Sept. 16: Rice at Texas
Longhorns could break 100 against 1-10 Owls.

Sept. 23: Citadel at Pitt
Trouble beating MAC teams? Take a step down.

Oct. 17: Indiana at Illinois
For last place in the Big Ten.

Oct. 28: Vanderbilt at Duke
Not even Coach K appearance could make this sizzle.

Oct. 28: Carnegie-Mellon at Washington U
Possible Noble laureates but no NFLers.

Nov. 4: Kent State at Buffalo
Two contenders for worst in Division I-A.

Nov. 25: Mississippi State at Mississippi
A state in shame. The SEC's two worst.

Dec. 24: Arizona at San Francisco
Loser gets first pick in the draft.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1468.


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