When Howard Cosell used to wax grandiloquent on Monday Night Football, one way to escape was to turn down the sound on TV and listen to the CBS radio broadcast of the game by Hank Stram and Jack Buck. Legions of viewers supposedly did this, but I have always been skeptical of that scenario. After all, behind closed doors, I left Howard on. And how did people know Cosell was a figure of national controversy if they never listened to him?
Stram and Buck certainly had their devotees. They complemented each other well, and were solid and informative. This season, however, there's a different network (NBC), a different broadcasting team and even a different format on the radio.
Irreverent, candid, shoot-from-the-hip Bob Trumpy will work the Monday night games with Don Criqui and, immediately afterward, host a live national sports call-in show over NBC Radio. Even though Joe Namath makes his ABC-TV debut beside O.J. and the Giffer (henceforth the Danderoo will sell iced tea), for the 10 million or so fans who will listen to the games on radio, Trumpy may prove livelier.
How NBC Radio expects to turn a profit with its 37-game schedule (16 on Monday nights, 11 at a variety of times and 10 postseason) is a million-dollar question. Or $11 million. When it comes to sports broadcast rights, we are living in the age of Monopoly money. Mutual Radio began carrying Monday Night Football in 1972, when the rights went for $13,000 a year. Last spring NBC bid $11 million for the next two years, wresting the package away from CBS, which bid $9.5 million, and The Mutual Radio Network, which offered $5 million. That's a lot of inflation in 13 years, or enough to put a slew of hotels along Boardwalk and Park Place. "We don't expect to make a ton of money," says Steve Soule, vice-president of the NBC Radio Network.
Trumpy and Criqui are something of an odd couple: Trumpy, opinionated, controversial in a blue-collar kind of way; Criqui, perfectly groomed, a good nuts-and-bolts announcer but lacking warmth, and as colorless as Cream of Wheat. Since retiring as a tight end with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1978, Trumpy has developed his iconoclastic style as both an NFL commentator on NBC-TV and the host of a weeknight sports talk show for WLW Radio in Cincinnati. When NBC added the one-hour call-in show as a sweetener in its bid to the NFL (as if $11 million weren't enough), Trumpy was the logical choice.
Firecrackers have a way of going off around Trumpy. In '78, when he left the team, he ripped Bengals owner Paul Brown for meddling with the club and was prohibited from traveling on the Bengals' plane forevermore. In '81, to the shock and dismay of his on-air partner, Bob Costas, he defended quarterback Richard Todd for pushing Steve Serby, a New York Post sportswriter who had criticized Todd repeatedly. In '80 he broke the story of Gerry Faust's signing at Notre Dame. Faust, who had been listening to the show in his car, called in from a gas station in Kokomo, Ind. and confirmed the news. And one night in '83 Trumpy spent his entire 2½ hours on the air talking with a woman threatening suicide. Eventually the police got to her home and averted a tragedy.
Then there was the woman who called to say she hated his show. "How come?" Trumpy asked.
"Well," the woman said, "my husband sits there listening to your show with a set of headphones on and ignores me and the children. He won't pay any attention to me."
"Do you want me to give him a message from you over the air?" Trumpy asked.
"Sure," she said. "Try it. His name is Mike. Tell him I'm going to the store now, and I'll be back around 8:30. Tell him to watch the kids and make sure the house doesn't burn down."
Trumpy put out the word. "Hey, Mike, listen. Your wife just called. She asked me to tell you she's going to the store, she'll be back around 8:30, and for you to watch the kids and make sure the house doesn't burn down."
Quickly, Trumpy returned to the telephone. "Done," he said. "Any reaction?"
"Yes," she said, enthusiastically. "He's nodding his head at me and waving goodby."
Since sports talk tends to be a regional-interest subject, call-in shows on national radio have traditionally flopped. Will Trumpy's be any different?
"I don't want this to be the kind of show you have in a lot of places, just rehashing what happened on Sunday," he says. "I can't remember a Monday night game when there wasn't some bit of controversy, some questionable call or play or non-catch. I want the people out there listening to have an opportunity to call in and say, 'I saw it this way.' They aren't all beer guzzlers in T shirts, you know. We also talk to doctors, lawyers, federal mediators and judges."
Why, those are the people who are Howard's buddies, right? Now if only he would call in one of these Monday nights....