Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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North Goes South

If you’re not from Chicago, you are probably in the blissful position of not knowing who Mike North is. In that regard, I envy you, regardless of the other circumstances of your life. Mike North has been a voice on The Score (WSCR-AM 670) since the station’s inception in 1992. In fact, he hit the airwaves only a few months before I moved here, which I sincerely hope is not a sign that he and I have some sort of cosmic connection. A primary difference between us is that my blather is heard only by those who happen to be within earshot, whereas Mike’s blather may be heard by anyone who picks the wrong radio station to listen to.

So who is this guy and why am I ragging on him so? Mike North was a career hot dog vendor and hot dog stand owner before he got into radio. The founders of WSCR apparently had a notion that Mike would bring the authentic voice of the fan on the streets to their broadcasts. I suppose they succeeded in some ways, but at a terrible cost.

Here’s the deal: If I take the trouble to tune into a radio program, it’s because it is providing me with something special; something to which I would not have access via more low-tech methods. If it’s a political program, I want the people talking to have studied their material. I want them to be articulate enough to give me new ideas, to take me to a larger world. Even if I don’t agree with their philosophy, I want to hear the sincere words of an intelligent, well-considered point of view. Hey, if I want shallow thoughts, I already have my own. If I want to know what some ignorant yahoo thinks, I can eavesdrop on people while I’m riding the bus. But if I’m tuning into the professional thinkers and talkers, I want to hear something more. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here – I happen to think that’s their job!

All of this applies to sports talk radio just as much as any other kind of talk radio. Unfortunately, there is a perception that sports fans will tune out if the level of discourse becomes too intelligent. There appears to be a theory in some circles that sports talk radio must pander to the slack-jawed, beer-swilling, Hooters crowd. Such a stereotype probably seems like an inviting target if one is not a sports fan.

But let me present myself as Exhibit A. Let’s start with the Hooters thing – I’ve never set foot in one and have yet to hear anything to make me think it’s my kind of place (with all due respect to the lovely ladies who I understand earn their livings there). Second, I’ve never been much of a beer drinker. Now I will admit to being occasionally slack-jawed, but two out of three ain’t bad!

OK, the preceding paragraph was intended more as comedy relief. My real point is that I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, and more to the point, a reasonably intelligent sports fan. There are a lot of issues, both inside and outside the lines, of which I would be happy to listen to some well considered discussion. Bob Costas and Dan Patrick come to mind as people who usually rise above the muddy field of sports talk and manage to both entertain and edify. I don’t for a moment think that I am alone in preferring their approach.

OK, let’s get back to Mike North. I have listened to him many times over the years, but never intentionally. What typically happens is that I tune into The Score to listen to some other program, e.g., a game broadcast, but I neglect to change the station when I’m done. The next time I turn the radio on, I don’t really think about who I’m listening to, but after a few minutes, I hear something so stupid or obnoxious or shallowly offensive that I reach up to change the station. Only then do I realize that yes, it’s Mike North again.

I have heard North’s humor described as “edgy.” I suppose I can agree with the term generally, except that we’re not talking about the cutting edge of modern comedy; we’re talking about the edge of a toilet bowl. Yes, that’s a crude metaphor; it’s the only kind that will do when talking about North’s work.

North’s last contract with The Score paid him about $1.6 million a year. I understand his ratings have been on a long downward trend, so when he entered into negotiations for a new contract, management offered him a pay cut in the neighborhood of 50%. North responded a few days ago by publicly announcing that he is done at The Score and will take his act someplace else.

Much as I would like to celebrate, I can’t do so quite yet. Let’s wait to see where North lands first. After all, he may simply sign on with someone else here in town, giving me a new radio station to avoid. I’m enough of a cynic that I believe he will be on the air somewhere soon, but my optimistic side is hoping it will be somewhere far from here. If you check out my “Current Music” selection at the top of this post, you’ll see what I’m rooting for.

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