#98: The End of an Era
It was going to happen sometime.
Pittsburgh sportstalk ratings monger and long-time host of his own eponymous afternoon show, Mark Madden, has been pulled from the ESPN airwaves.
Unsurprisingly, it's due to a controversial comment. The one in question regarded ailing Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.
This is the life of a shock jock. He gains and retains his listenership by saying things off-the-cuff that most people would blush at even thinking, then continually testing how far over the line he can go before eventually succumbing to the taste of his own foot.
I compare this to last year's Don Imus debacle, just different in scope. Some might disagree as Imus insulted an entire demographic with one comment, whereas Madden just blurted his comment at one man.
Madden loyalists are leaping to his defense in a myriad of ways. One of the most interesting I've seen so far is that it's not nearly so big a deal because Kennedy is a "murderer", referring to the controversial-in-and-of-itself case of a young woman who drowned in the Senators car under mysterious circumstances nearly 40 years ago. He challenges that if Madden would have made the same comment about O.J. Simpson, it wouldn't even be an issue.
I can't say I completely disagree.
The removal of Madden from the airwaves was likely more of a corporate decision based on the fact that the Kennedys are still a very powerful national influence, and O.J. Simpson is but a shadow of his former self, practically convicted in civil court and in the court of public opinion. If Madden had been employed by an independent, Pittsburgh-only station, he might have been able to survive with a brief suspension.
But Madden is out there representing the Worldwide Leader in Sports; perhaps the one entity in the business bigger than than the King M.F.er.
My personal thoughts:
Three years ago, I would have been on the rooftops, proclaiming a sort of V-P Day for all of radio (Victory in Pittsburgh, by the way, not Vice President).
This was before I tried my hand at breaking into this industry. Before I hosted my first-ever sports talk show. Before I realized I am still mainly clueless in some aspects of the world of sports.
I personally did not listen to his show most of the time. The way he handled his callers, especially to my "customer service call center" background, was largely unforgivable and in no way entertaining. Even though I would admit at the time that the person called in just to hear himself on the radio.
That kind of treatment irked me more than some of the issues of sports that he would just gloss over to hide some things he wasn't sure about. I understand that was to ensure that no one would be able to catch him with an, "A-ha! That's not true! It says so right here!" or "You're contradicting yourself again!"
If someone were to do that, 10-second delay would see to it that those words wouldn't hit the airwaves, anyway.
That said, the Mark Madden Show was my impetus to actually try to do something about it. Get in somewhere and try to bring together an intelligent sports program that takes out all of that unnecessary confrontation - seriously, with the way Pittsburghers eat, they don't need their blood pressure increased any more! - where disagreements (even heated ones) are wonderful, but sophomoric name-calling and things of a disrespectful nature are heavily frowned upon.
Three years later, I have a weblog that receives a very pedestrian amount of traffic compared to several Pittsburgh Sports-based blogs; I have some demos of the few sports talk shows I've hosted; and I have hit the same wall that literally hundreds of would-be Pittsburgh sports broadcasters have run up against in an effort to prove they've got what it takes.
I have to grudgingly respect that Madden was king of the radio waves in Pittsburgh sports talk for a long time, even if he was using methods I thought were degrading to others.
Madden had what it took to break through, and he'll break through again.
Before too long, I suspect we'll see him on the other side: FoxSports Radio 970.