It’s like the punch line to that old joke: When told that two trains were heading toward each other, my uncle ran down to the station. Why? He’d never seen a train wreck before.
Similarly, in a world where everything you see or hear in the media is scripted, it’s fun to witness a mistake or two.
Such was the case Saturday, when your author rose at 6 am to catch Costas on The Radio, the excellent weekly interview show hosted by Bob Costas.
It’s also mangled regularly by our local sports radio station in DC, WTEM, which pulls it down from a national satellite feed each Saturday morning. Thus, 5 reasons why local radio is unlike cable:
1. It’s theater of the mind.
With a radio interview show, your brain immediately engages—it must do so to create a picture of Costas and his guest, which this week was the director and actor Ron Howard, discussing his film Frost/Nixon, in a replay of a fabulous show taped late last year. What are they wearing? Where are they sitting? Next to each other? In separate rooms? Radio, devoid of images, also forces one to concentrate on words. It might be the best medium for one-on-one interviews (I suspect our friends at C-SPAN know this, too, thus the popularity of C-SPAN Radio, which is essentially the audio feed from C-SPAN television).
2. You get bonus material.
After one hour of Costas and Howard, WTEM, as is its custom, picks up the 7 am sports news from national partner ESPNRadio. After that we hear the initial 5 minutes of The Erik Kuselias Show, from the ESPN eastern feed. As is his custom, Kuselias teases with a bevy of good gossip just before heading to a commercial. Sounds great. I can’t wait to hear his insights on March Madness, but on this day, just a few seconds after coming back from the commercial, Kuselias’ voice fades and WTEM jumps to hour #2 of Costas, where Howard is providing an interesting answer to a question that Costas apparently asked while we were listening to Kuselias.
3. The music is classic.
After commercials on Costas, WTEM cuts to the covering music, which is Chuck Mangione’s 1978 hit Feels So Good, usually during the saxophone solo of Chris Vadala. A few times the break on WTEM lasts so long that the Mangione song finishes and re-starts.
4. You can memorize commercials.
On this day, I counted no less than 5 of the same ad in 30 minutes, for Farmers Insurance. It notes how the company was founded in 1928, “a year before the crash.” And how it was the only company back then that paid claims in cash. (Not really sure how that comforts today’s consumer, but Farmers’ ad agency believes it sounds good). Yes, watching several hours of Food Network early in the morning can get you the same ad multiple times, usually for some Billy Mays product, but there’s no memory aid like hearing the same ad every 15 minutes.
5. It’s unpredictable.
At 7:55 am, Costas signs off and WTEM goes silent. I figure WTEM will get its act together in a few seconds. But Nothing.
I check all the radios in my home. Nope. Dead air.
Then I assume they’ll just wait until the 8 am ESPNRadio SportsCenter news feed and resume broadcasting at that point. Well, no, there’s nothing at 8 either.
After 60 minutes of silence (I’ve transferred to my car by this time) the top sports station in the capitol city of the most powerful nation in the free world produces a sound not unlike the kind spaceship in 1960’s movies made and a second later proceeds to transmit the 9am SportsCenter from ESPNRadio. Ah, normalcy.