The balls are in the air: The big red one of stupidity, like a clown’s nose defying common sense, the snarly green one of misogyny, and the crystal ball of true sports expertise. WDFN-AM (1130) keeps all of them levitated, as if choosing just one to play with would involve some kind of wimp-out.
Now imagine a sports fan who loves watching talents and abilities as they compete for glory, money, revenge and the pure thrill of it. Is that fan white, black or other? Male or female? Young, old, affluent, working class, straight, gay, asexual? Whatever the real demographics, Wojo-damus, he of WDFN’s evening drive-time "Stoney & Wojo Show," is playing to a hypothetical fan entertained by whining and self-indulgence.
WDFN’s imaginary fan only wants to know about big four corporate sports and the lower levels — college or the minor leagues — that feed into them. If it’s not baseball, football, basketball or hockey — oh yeah, and boxing — who cares? Which pretty much negates the station’s claim that it’s not bought and paid for by the home teams — although on-air jocks Rob Parker and Gregg Henson’s recent bad-mouthing of the Detroit Tigers and their new stadium has resulted in the Tigers withdrawing ads from the station.
But what else do these guys have to talk about? Certainly not soccer (too boring, according to ’DFN’s personalities, though millions of kids and adults disagree), women’s sports (only recently, as women’s basketball became big-time corporate product, did Wojo and company’s dissing of the "chicks" subside a tad) or track, golf, tennis, whatever.
The ’DFN imaginary fan thinks it’s funny when Rob Parker of the morning "Parker & the Man Show" talks about "going piggin’" — translation: Cruising for fat women who are supposedly so desperate for Rob’s carcass that they’ll go down at the drop of a zipper. Anyone who’s seen Parker knows this guy’s no Adonis — none of the DFN announcers are — so how does he qualify as anything but a hog? And who at the station thinks listeners really want a tasteless, Cro-Magnon, Jerry Springer approach to sports?
Parker has the nerve to interview Ernie Harwell, sports announcer of supreme class, with the same mouth that he uses to call WDFN’s Fabulous Sports Babe — the station’s only woman host — "a side of beef."
Speaking of the Babe: The pile of wise-ass, gender-based harassment she’s had to endure from ’DFN’s announcers is a sign of where the good ol’ boys are coming from. The Babe, a nationally syndicated host who goes on right after Parker at 10 a.m., talks about trades, draft picks, league controversies, sports politics, etc., regularly spicing her show with celebrity interviews and respectful banter with callers. She clearly knows of what she speaks. And her mostly male audience appreciates her expertise.
Rob Parker, who can only dream of having the Babe’s on-air chops, recently showed a spark of professionalism by interviewing major sports figures — Emanuel Steward, Lennox Lewis, Isiah Thomas — while his partner, Mark Wilson, was away.
Wilson, whose idea of a good time is to incessantly make fun of Tiger rookie pitcher Beiker Gaterol’s name, is like that little fat kid in high school who wouldn’t stop riffing on you until you and some other guys stripped him, put Heet on his nuts and tossed him in front of the cheerleaders.
Wilson is also the regular perpetrator of a lame routine called "What We’re Not Going to Talk About," a David Letterman-inspired, unfunny shtick guaranteed to make you reach for the dial. Until the recent refocusing of the Parker-Wilson show, what these fellas were too often not talking about was sports.
Lately, Parker seems to be losing his license to ill. Though he’s an African-American who comes on as a defender of everyday Joes and black folks in particular, he treated his audience this past year to painfully stereotypical "jokes" about other minorities.
"Hey, I’m just kidding," he claimed on the air, but station bosses might not have understood, since there’s been no more of this "humor." And one of Parker’s morning sidekicks, the phony-accented "Carlos," got the merciful deep-six before he could alienate more listeners with his Cheech and Chong routine.
When it comes to expertise, it’s not like the station doesn’t have the personnel: Pat Caputo on baseball, Art Regner on hockey, Terry Foster on basketball, Eric Pate and the Babe on whatever they want to talk about, form a sports-passionate, knowledgeable nucleus that gives the whole gang credibility.
But entertainment is the name of the game, and that’s the WDFN quandary in a jockstrap.
It’s safe to say that ’DFN’s real — not imaginary — fans are working people who probably have to put up with bosses and managers on the job. So when Henson (who is, ironically, WDFN’s program director) of the "Jamie & Gregg Show" — weekdays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. — tells callers to "shut up," it must sound real familiar. When he decides to have an insult tantrum on the air, he demolishes an idea that Regner and Foster, "The Sports Doctors," — weekdays, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. — promote in all honesty: that the station is for and of the people and the teams of this area, open to their opinions and participation.
Can a high-profile entry in the mass media sweepstakes avoid taking the Jenny Jones-Raw is War-Howard Stern approach to sports broadcasting? WDFN clearly sees itself as a mix of styles, a kind of nouvelle cuisine of ingredients. But combining a little caviar, a few turds, a couple of sensitive souls and a bunch of News-Free Press picket line-crossers doesn’t make a very appetizing dish.
Anyway, as they say in the circus, the show must go on — and WDFN’s incongruous juggling continues in the center ring. Maybe one day the real voice of the Motor City sports community will emerge from it all.