Tony Kornheiser, who dyes the gray whiskers that steal into his
red beard and who wrote a book titled Bald As I Wanna Be, has a
great face for radio. He has an even better mind for it.
Here was Kornheiser, 52, a veteran Washington Post columnist and
ESPN Radio host, on Jan. 10 opining on the aborted nomination of
would-be Labor Secretary Linda Chavez, who allegedly housed an
illegal alien. "Linda Chavez purported that this was just a great
act of charity in Bethesda, Maryland, to have this woman live in
her house," said Kornheiser, whose talk show airs weekdays from
10 a.m. to 1 p.m., "but that, you know, occasionally she might
have said, 'As long as you're up, how about fixing margaritas for
12? And wear the maid's outfit, just as a joke.'"
Such discourse has no relation to sports, but who cares?
Kornheiser's is simply the most entertaining voice on ESPN Radio,
and if Entertainment isn't ESPN's middle name, well, it's its
first. "There's a constant push and pull with management," says
Kornheiser. "They request that I sprinkle the show with more
sports as if it were a Belgian waffle, and I remind them that
that's not why they hired me."
Kornheiser, who is syndicated across 210 stations, is more like
an everything omelette. Sure, he'll kvetch about the Lakers'
chemistry woes ("Isaiah Rider--Isaiah Rider, of all people!--is
saying that Kobe and Shaq need to put aside their personal
agendas"), but he'll devote an entire program to the Beatles, as
he did on Dec. 8, the 20th anniversary of John Lennon's death.
"That's the audience [sports fans who are also interested in
other subjects] I'm going for," he says unapologetically. "Sure,
I'll have an athlete on the show, but the questions aren't going
to be 'How's it hangin', baby?'"
With a daily average of 670,000 listeners, Kornheiser has roughly
half the audience of fellow ESPN Radio host Dan Patrick. He is,
however, the better listen, equal parts Denis Leary, pre-Tonight
Show Jay Leno and Woody Allen, a neurotic pool of dyspepsia,
erudition and, most of all, sarcasm. Patrick, as terrific as he
is on ESPN's SportsCenter, comes off on radio as well-informed
but too cute and, as when he somewhat facetiously chastised
Charles Barkley for not inviting him to his New Year's Eve party,
a tad self-obsessed. "Radio is totally who you are," says
Kornheiser. "You spend three hours a day in a spontaneous
situation. You cannot escape yourself."
In his case, who would want to?
pre-Tonight Show Jay Leno and Woody Allen.