WGR Review

Part 2 on a Series of Buffalo Sports Media Outlets

One of my favorite comedy movies of all time is Private Parts starring Howard Stern. The movie showcases Stern’s rise to becoming the self-proclaimed “King of all Media.” Towards the End of the movie Howard Stern’s program director and nemesis, Pig Vomit (Paul Giamatit), goes over Stern’s extremely high ratings and one of the breakdowns was the amount of time the average person who hates Howard Stern listens to the show. The answer was 2 and a half hours with the average answer being, “I wanted to hear what he would say next.”

Now I’m not comparing the quality of WGR to Howard Stern. But the reason a lot of people listen or watch media personalities is because there’s something about being a jerk or villain that appeals to people. WGR hosts tend to get a pretty bad rap when it comes to how they treat callers, athletes, and the teams they talk about. Let me let you all in on a little insider information. OK, it’s not really inside info but its how talk radio is operated. If you read my bio, you’ll see that I use to intern at WGR. I got the internship because Bob Gaughan (former host) was my professor at Buffalo State College for a course on “talk radio.” Bob’s first lesson was that whenever you pick a topic for that day (Which Buffalo sports owners are worse or should the Bills take down OJ’s name?), you have to stick to your opinion. If you think the Bills will move, it has to be 100% for sure. No wavering at all! This is the way you cause a chain reaction with people calling in and telling the host they are wrong or right. You want the listener to pick a side. The Howard Stern explanation along with the crash course on talk radio is how you get WGR Radio.

The Players
Before I moved to NYC, WGR had 4 local radio shows a day. That number has been cut in half. The Howard Simon show airs from 6am-1oam, while the afternoon drive home is hosted by Schopp and The Bulldog from 3pm-7pm. Howard Simon (Who I actually interviewed for a class at Buffalo State) has been doing sports media in Buffalo for over a quarter of a century. He started off at WBEN as the Sports Director in 1985. He then moved over to Empire Sports/WNSA where he split duties for 8 years in the radio and TV departments. After John Rigas found out it wasn’t such a good idea to have his daughter use the corporate jet to pick up a Christmas tree in Canada, Simon moved over to mornings on WGR. Since then he’s been paired with Jeremy White, with the show offering a kind of old school/new school feel. At 3pm you can listen to Schopp and The Bulldog. Schopp, a former WNSA Employee is the lightening rod for the show. It’s that same Howard Stern situation (Schopp is no Stern) but people mostly listen to him because they hate him. The Bulldog claims that he is not a journalist but a fan of sports. It’s the yin/yang theory of radio.

The Good
Another reason to listen to WGR is they are the only media outlet in town that a fan could get access to coverage anytime during the day. And that’s a big key considering that there is not a sports affiliate in Buffalo. Sports fans are savvy, why do you think ESPN has 24 hours of live programming. WGR has become the monopoly of Buffalo sports, because if you are a listener who can’t stand what WGR Hosts have to say what real other choice do you have to get Buffalo sports coverage anytime you want?

Both WGR shows have co-hosts who work extremely well with each other. Howard Simon plays the fatherly figure, while White plays as if he’s the voice of younger fans. White just turned 30 and prior to that he was the only notable media personality in Buffalo who was in their 20’s. Schopp and The Bulldog is the show I primarily listen to mainly cause I am just getting to work by the time the morning show ends. Like I mentioned earlier, Schopp plays the antagonist perfectly. He runs the show (don’t worry, the blowing smoke up his butt will be ending soon or is it?) He sets up the topic for the day and is pretty much the point guy. Bulldog seems to provide the emotional fan’s aspect of the show. If I were to separate their personalities it would go something like this: Bulldog comes off as the rowdy guy who drinks beer and nachos at a game while Schopp seems to be sitting on his leather sectional couch enjoying sushi and a Pellegrino for a game. (I on the other hand like the Bills bar in Manhattan and hot drunk girls)

The Bad
Lets be honest over here. Whenever a stupid caller calls into either one of these shows and says, “yeah I’ve been a season ticket holder since 1987 and I think what they need to do is fire the GM and put in a guy like Jim Kelly to run the team and Ralph needs to sell the team to Thurman Thomas and BTW I miss the Blue and gold jerseys dam it!!” Normally after this guy’s rant a host will pretty much rip him a new ass and cut him off. You have to admit it’s like watching a car crash on TV, you feel guilty watching it but are kind of intrigued about what will come next. Some critics and fans may not like the hosts cutting people off and ridiculing their opinion but that is the norm in all of talk radio. The hosts always have to be bigger then the callers and when someone challenges their opinion they have to stop them in their tracks. And you can’t blame the hosts for going off on the callers, to be honest I think a lot of the fans who call WGR are a tad stupid (that will be a future post).

The Ugly
Remember my previous column about hearing opinions from talking heads? I wrote that I always think about whether or not the expert has any sort of personal or business agenda with the player or team. Well as entertaining as the WGR hosts are..they fail with flying colors on the agenda scale that I use. As many of you know WGR has a working partnership with the Sabres to Broadcasts all their games. Along with broadcasting the games they get special access and interviews with players, coaches, and the GM on a weekly basis during the season. WGR has maintained that they are critical of the Sabres and sometimes they have been (mostly players). The issue I have is that being critical to the Sabres is one thing, trashing and bad mouthing the Bills is another.

Say what you will if you’re a hockey or football purest, but both teams are very similar in how they operate on and off the field. They both have owners who are always looking to save money by cutting corners with their operations. They both have let free agents walk out the door and have hired a marketing and land developers to run their organization. The tale of the tape is dicey for both teams (hmm, smells like a future Blog). WGR makes Ralph Wilson sound as if he’s a bumbling fool who has lost his mind and is the reason the Bills haven’t made the playoffs in 9 years, and they may be right. But when ever they talk about what is wrong with the Sabres, they seem to always give ownership a pass and place the blame squarely on the players. That’s dead wrong. I’m not going to waste this blog with explaining what Mr. Mulligan/Mr. Seles have done to seriously mess up this franchise (Another future blog in the can), but they are at least a good 75% of the problem.

A couple of other notable contradictions between both teams on WGR:
The Buffalo News had an article with Rene Robert saying that Mr. Mulligan shouldn’t be running the team and that Mr. Seles only cares about making money. Schopp got on the defensive saying, “why should we care what Rene Robert thinks?” Well Mike, during the NFL regular season you have Thurman Thomas on your weekly show giving his opinions about the state of the Bills. So if you’re telling me I shouldn’t care about Rene Robert’s thinking, then why the hell should I care what Thurman Thomas has to say.

And call me crazy but every time a negative aspect of the Sabres comes into question the hosts have constantly defended the team. “The Sabres shouldn’t of had to run after Scott Gomez after injuring Ryan Miller. The Sabres would of made the playoffs if Miller and Vanek didn’t get hurt,” yet they fail to mention that the the team’s record against sub .500 teams is 20-29-5. Not to mention, I don’t remember the hosts saying that the 2007 Bills, who had the most games lost to injuries in the NFL, never said they would of made the playoffs if healthy. My personal favorite is how they still to this day down play Briere/Drury fiasco, as if it was the players fault for not wanting to stay in Buffalo and the Sabres did everything they could to sign them. The station always seems to have a tendency to overhype any sort of Sabres player movement. I almost vomited all over my lab top on Sabres trade deadline day after I heard Schopp say that all the fans should be happy that we added Dominic Moore and resigned Tim Connolly. Are you kidding me?! Dominic Moore? (Insert Bob Corkum joke)…Got to love the fact the Sabres gave Connolly a nice raise after missing 66% of his games over 3 years.

I’m also not crazy about the fact that Jeremy White is a paid spokesman for the Sabres ticket office, that my friends is a big conflict of interest. On a side note, the Station needs to put the Kobash on American Idol or Reality shows talk. I’m not sure if those topics are brought up because they go against Shredd and Ragan on the Edge. But seriously, If I want to hear that type of talk I’ll listen to Kiss or watch Entertainment Tonight.

Riddle trapped in a Enigma
That’s what my feeling is on WGR. I can’t figure out if I like or hate their programming. I think the hosts are good at what they do as far as working off each other and that they are successful when it comes to making the listeners of the show either love them or hate them. I also like the fact that they are the only Buffalo Sports media outlet that I can get original programming on the Sabres or Bills 8 hours a day (even though sometimes they have to do skits like “drafting your favorite country”)

I still think the station is extremely bias to the Sabres. If I was their program director, I’d have the hosts watch Mike Francesca on the YES Network. Francesca airs a simulcast of his show on Yes and WFAN in NYC. The station has the same arraignment with The Yankees as WGR has with the Sabres (It’s actually a more extreme deal because the Yankees own the TV Station he is on). When Francesca talks about the Yankees he holds no punches. I’ve heard the guy get into it with Brian Cashman and criticize Joe Giarardi to his face about how he has used Joba Chamberlain as a started and not in the pen. I’ve heard WGR’s interviews with Mulligan/Seles/Accountant, and they are soft ball questions that have me shaking me head afterwards.