Talk radio shows are almost always an acquired taste. To be more specific, radio hosts can take a while to get used to.
When you listen to KNBR as much as I have, you remember when Pete Franklin used the “flush” sound-drop to get rid of
callers. Or when Gary Radnich used to do the morning show with Kevin the Rat. Or when Bob Fitzgerald got into a spat with KNBR management over wanting to be the Warriors TV play-by-play guy, leading to his eventual dismissal and the hiring
of Rick Barry.
Remember John London? Scott Farrell? Larry Krueger? As Radnich likes to say, once you’re gone, nobody cares.
But KNBR’s lineup has stayed the same for a couple years now, ever since Barry (or as Radnich calls him, “The Famer”)
left and Rod Brooks was reunited with Fitz. Good for Rod, who seemed on his way to a heart attack at 42 if he had to keep working and arguing with The Famer every day. With the relative continuity at The Sports Leader in recent years, it seemed like a perfect time to give the my rankings of all five local shows. Mind you, this is just one man’s opinion, one based solely on how entertaining each show is on a consistent basis — to me. Feel free to comment on whether you
agree with the rankings.
Here are the rankings, in reverse order:
5. Murph and Mac
When this show started, it was downright annoying — a mutual congratulations society. Paul “Paulie Mac” McCaffrey knows very little about sports beyond memories of watching the 49ers and Giants in the 1970’s and 80’s, and Brian Murphy was clearly new to the radio game, trying to get by on cheerfulness alone.
In the past year the show has tightened up quite a bit, but still has some issues. Paulie is better suited to a rock station. Whenever a sports figure gets interviewed (and this show probably has more guests than any on the station), Murphy asks about 98% of the questions.
Paulie’s only real contributions are when the pair talk about Bruce Springsteen, Journey or The Police (which is nearly every show) or during one of his several cover songs featuring Bay Area athletes like “Lincecum” (to Van Halen’s “Panama”) or the incredibly terrible song about the Giants manager, which features the line, “Oh Bochy you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Bochy…Hey Bochy. It’s not that this show is bad, per say, but it suffers in comparison to the others, which are funnier and less about rock music for the over-40 set.
4. The Razor and Mr. T
This show has slid in quality over the years for two reasons: Ralph Barbieri has mellowed as he’s gotten older, so his trademark rants that have led to him being with the station for over 20 years have become more and more rare (Ralph definitely needs another O.J. Trial moment to get his juices flowing again — no pun intended). Tom Tolbert is strong in terms of NBA knowledge and delightfully immature stream-of-consciousness ramblings on subjects like pimples that are hard to pop or 40-ouncers, but he does far too many commercials (“Mr. T. here for…”) and doesn’t work on Mondays, the most important sports talk day of the week.
When Ralph and Tom are in a groove together (usually when they stray so far off course that they pretend to be upset about the show’sdirection, but the listeners know the pair are actually having a blast) the show is unstoppable and deserving of its drive time spot. They could use a little less diligent call-screening, however. Nowhere else does each caller completely suck
up to the hosts, to the point where it seems every person starts their call with, “Love the show, you guys are hilarious. I’ve been laughing like crazy the last two hours.” I know this show gets the best ratings on KNBR, but we don’t need an affirmation of the Razor and Mr. T’s greatness every fifteen minutes.
3. Fitz and Brooks
This is another show that suffers from attendance issues. Fitz has a busy schedule announcing Warriors games, Sabercats games, water polo, jai alai, professional Parcheesi and Tijuana donkey shows. Whenever the show is a solo effort hosted by Brooks, he gets a little too sensitive whenever callers disagree, to the point it becomes uncomfortable. When Fitz is alone he can take a little too much time spouting whatever the Warriors company line is that day.
But when the pair is together and not talking NASCAR, the show is outstanding. You can tell the pair genuinely like each other, as each host is about three times funnier with the other person there to egg them on. If you’re an NBA fan, the show is a gem in terms of inside knowledge and cutting through silly rumors, and the shows revolving around their competing predictions lead to some uproarious arguments, including Brooks forcing Fitz to call him “The Champ” for weeks after winning their NFL picks competition. Fitz and Brooks are sort of like Letterman in that the show gets better and better if you listen regularly.
2. Sportsphone 680 with Damon Bruce
Damon would probably disagree with being placed second, because part of his charm is his staunch belief that he is the top sports mind in the Bay Area.
It’s a nice change to have a non-Giants fan doing postgame shows for a little perspective on the all-too-often Giants losses. Also, Bruce gets credit for riling himself up over the Giants’ foibles, even if it might be more of a performance than anything else.
Damon also has three of the best sound-drops on the station, with “OY-YOY-YOY,” the Japanese strikeout call, “Ray Durham was at Momo’s” and Annie-baby’s, “Pound it, pound it, pound it, pound it.” He also plays the ancient KNBR promo song, “Take a Giants step and go,” which somehow never gets old either.
I got to give this to Damon: I didn’t really like his show when he first came on. It’s tough to deal with brash confidence from a guy you’ve barely heard of, especially a guy who isn’t from the Bay Area (Bruce grew up in New York, went to Indiana U. and roots for Chicago teams). Now I love listening to his show, the program with the fewest slow points of any on KNBR.
1. Gary Radnich
I’m going to get a lot of disagreement with this selection, and that’s why I love Gary so much. He’s the king of Bay Area media, and it’s not even close. His shtick is that he doesn’t care about what goes on, although from his encyclopedic memory and “great knowledge” it’s clear he does.
He has the quickest mind on the station, the one guy you don’t want roasting you at a banquet. He’s a middle-aged white guy who talks about hip-hop music and videos constantly (currently his favorite is Rick Ross, who his wife had to tell him is not suitable for his young children to watch or listen to). He jokes about how Senior Vice President Tony Salvadore doesn’t want him to allow everyone around him to contribute to the show, but his banter with Dan Dibley, Ray Woodson and producers Mike Holer and Patrick Connor lead to some of the funniest moments of the show (especially P-Con, whose blend of Southern bred philosophies and obscure sports knowledge occasionally even throws Gary for a second or two).
Sure, Radnich’s show has some slow spots from time to time (like the first and third hours during a slow sports week), but only Gary has Tony Bruno. A commercial-free half hour starting at 10am every morning, Gary and Tony go back on forth on every topic imaginable, and I can’t imagine a better 30 minutes (sometimes even longer) of sports talk anywhere. They’re definitely helped along with about a hundred different drops, most of the best ones from Dibley’s six-year-old (I think) son Quest. Whether it’s “bad knowledge,” “you gots to get down” or “Lee Hammer says no,” hearing
Gary’s favorite phrases out of the mouth of an obviously excited youngster not only gets the audience laughing, but Bruno as well.
Plus, even though Radnich gives an air of being above the standard “slider on 3-and-2” sports action, whenever anything important happens there is nobody else’s reaction I’d rather listen to. For that reason and the Bruno segment giving us the highest highs in talk radio of any kind (sorry, I’m one of those rare people who aren’t a slave to Stern), Gary Radnich’s show is the best on KNBR. Pretty good from a show that runs from nine to noon.