Bob Fitzgerald

BASG ranks the best shows on KNBR (Updated)

One thing that always drives me crazy about this blog is looking at the stats and seeing that the post where I ranked all the KNBR shows back in 2008 is still getting page views. It’s kind of unsettling when you feel like you’re misrepresenting yourself with something YOU wrote. However, things have changed. And every time I look at the numbers and see that post in the top 10, I cringe and wonder if people realize the post was written almost three years ago.

So it’s once again time to risk upsetting some people at The Leader and rank the major shows for the second time. Since KNBR hasn’t named a permanent host for Sportsphone 680, and Marty Lurie’s shows are pretty much just an extension of the Giants pre- and post-game shows, I’m leaving them out. So with no further ado, here’s how I’m ranking them in 2011. This time, there’s a not-really-scientific scoring system!

1. Damon Bruce (Previous Rank: 2)

Sample Sound Drop: “Pound it, pound it, pound it…”

As you probably know, Bruce is on KNBR 1050, a move brought about by a multitude of factors including Bruce’s habit of pissing off the San Francisco Giants and his palpable anger over having his show preempted by Giants games, Warriors games and 1-hour weekly team advertisements.

Since moving to 1050, we’ve finally gotten to see what Bruce wanted his show to be. Sure, the potential audience has a much lower ceiling, since Cumulus barely markets 1050 and the signal is so much weaker than the 50,000 watt flamethrower. But I’m rating shows, not Arbitron numbers. Clearly tastes in sports talk radio are incredibly subjective, but I find Bruce’s show to be a really good listen.

Sports Knowledge (1-10): 9

No complaints here, unless you’re a hockey fan. And since my own hockey knowledge isn’t anything I’ll be trumpeting anytime soon, I can’t knock him there. On an all-sports station where the hosts who stay up on all the latest sports news are few and far between, Bruce stands out as someone who actually reads all the news and blogs, and watches games. Not only that, but Bruce is the only host on the station who regularly attends games; I’ve seen him in the Warriors Media Room at least a few times.

Topics Chosen (1-10): 9

The only show to break down all the lastest news stories (in a segment dubbed “The Nooner”), 12-to-4 on 1050 is a time when you can hear the major talking points of the day. Bruce complains a lot about how nobody around here cares about college sports, but that doesn’t stop Tom Tolbert. If he wants to talk about a little college hoops from time to time, he shouldn’t worry so much about the minute-to-minute ratings. Of course, that’s easy for me to say.

Caller Maintenance (1-10): 8

He takes a lot of calls, has a “3-play” segment dedicated to the callers that takes up almost the entire last hour of the show, and for the most part he remains respectful to each caller. He lets callers make their points, and ditches callers who suck. Not much more you can ask for there, although the loss of a caller named “Annie” when the show moved to daytime was unfortunate.

Ass-Kissery (1-10): 8

He doesn’t kiss any ass when it comes to the big names, but he’ll hoover media members he respects. However, he probably has to do a majority of the booking for his own show, so it’s tough to fault him when he hands out effusive praise to writers who come on the show. Luckily, I usually agree with Bruce on the guys he respects (he recently did an awesome interview with Joe Posnanski).

Total Entertainment Value (1-10): 9

He isn’t quite as bombastic as he was when he worked nights, but maybe that’s a good thing. Since he seems happier (freer to do what he wants, anyway), the show’s funnier that it was on 680, and his show has always been pretty funny. Bruce’s show is a great listen in its current format — the show I’ve listened to the most over the last year by a pretty wide margin. Plus, Bruce’s show may have the funniest sound drops. Nachos, anybody? Yum! (You’d have to listen to know what those last two sentences are referring to.)

Total Score: 43

2. The Razor and Mr. T Show (Previous Rank: 4)

Sample Sound Drop: “The Green and Gold…”

Something weird happened since last time I ranked all these shows: Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert started giving a crap again.

The Razor and Mr. T show was my favorite a decade ago, when they were first paired. Whether together or solo, interviewing people or riffing off “News of the Weird”-type stories about German people injuring their privates, Ralph and Tom laid claim to the most popular regional sports talk show other than “Mike and the Mad Dog.”

Then Tolbert started doing NBA games, and soon it seemed like he was counting down the days until he could be a full-time basketball analyst for ESPN. He stopped working Mondays (which seemed to really take the wind out of Ralph’s sails as he had to try to re-create the same chemistry he had with Tom with guys like Lincoln Kennedy and Kevin Lynch).

Now, they’re back in the groove. Tolbert’s career as an analyst was cut short by the powers that be at ESPN, and now seems to have come to the realization that his future lies as a radio host, not as a color analyst (unless Comcast puts Jim Barnett out to pasture). Ralph still asks tougher questions than anyone else in the market. And now that both hosts have better attendance records, the chemistry has gotten back to the level it was in the early 2000’s.

Sports Knowledge (1-10): 8

Ralph totally defers to Tom on NBA matters (with good reason), and neither the Razor or Mr. T show incredible knowledge on players who aren’t well-known (although Tolbert’s gambling habits have helped him become one of the most eager college football yakkers on the station). However, when combined they have perhaps the widest range of knowledge when it comes to different sports. Ralph’s the No. 1 hockey guy on KNBR. They remain the only two hosts to ever seriously talk about boxing, and Tom even knows some UFC. Sometimes Ralph’s opinions on the hometown teams and players are based more on emotion than hard, statistical evidence, but at least that provides unintentional comedy from time to time.

Topics Chosen (1-10): 9

For the most part, the perfect mix of sports and extraneous B.S. They hit all the trending stories, but keep it mixed up with the nonsensical, ridiculous stuff that makes a show popular among more than just hardcore sports fans. They also hit the most different sports of any show, focusing on college sports as much as anyone around here.

Caller Maintenance (1-10): 6

This would be higher if they took more calls than they do, but they also have a lot of guests, so hard to fault them there. However, they treat the callers better than any other show out there. Ralph greets the callers and thanks them at the end like he would like nothing more than to give each caller a big, sweaty hug (unless the caller rips him, that is). They consistently let callers talk longer than on any other show, absolutely destroying the commercial clock in the process. One nitpicking point: some of the regular callers, like that guy who pretends like he gambles on local high school football games, can get a little tedious.

Ass-Kissery (1-10): 7

Barbieri is the only media member with access in the entire region who’s made Scot McCloughan soil his Dockers and Brian Sabean hang up his Blackberry in anger in the same calendar year. However, even though he’s known as the guy who asks the tough questions, Ralph knows where his bread is buttered. Larry Baer gets off relatively easy when talking to Ralph and Tom, and Don Nelson was treated like John Wooden even when it was clear to anybody with eyes that Nellie was mailing it in.

During particularly contentious interviews, Tom is content to hide behind the “whatever” persona (or take a bathroom break), allowing Ralph to act (and sound) like Pesci in Goodfellas without interruption. Can’t blame Tolbert, really. Sometimes you have to just let Ralph vent.

Total Entertainment Value (1-10): 9

No reason why these guys can’t go on for another 15 years. Some people can’t handle Ralph’s voice, but it doesn’t bother me (partly because it’s led to some of the best drops on the station, ones every show uses like “Oh, no,” and “Ahhhhh”). When they fight, it’s always good radio because it isn’t manufactured. These guys have learned not just to embrace their differences, but poke fun at them.

Total Score: 39

3. Murph and Mac (Previous Rank: 5)

Sample Sound Drop: Keith Richards laughing

I have to admit, this show has really grown on me (or the shows following Murph and Mac on this list have really fallen off, I can’t tell). Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey definitely like each other and have good chemistry, and their show seemed to get a boost of energy from the Giants World Series run that hasn’t gone away.

Sports Knowledge (1-10): 7

The NBA isn’t really much of a concern on this show, as they mostly tend to focus on the Giants and 49ers. However, they cover a fairly wide range of topics, and while Paulie Mac stays mostly silent during interviews, he proves whenever Murphy’s gone that he knows about much more than just Grateful Dead bootlegs.

Topics Chosen (1-10): 7

This show is tough to do, because the hosts have to set the tone for the daily conversation after waking up at 4am, which presumably means they miss a lot of what happens after 9pm the night before. They do a pretty decent job, although they tend to date themselves with their music discussions.

Caller Maintenance (1-10): 5

Does this show even take calls? It’s probably tough to entice people to call a radio show before it’s light out, but the calls they do take are mostly either regulars or callers whose sole goal is to praise Murph and Mac. The least caller-driven show on KNBR.

Ass-Kissery (1-10): 7

These guys are sort of known as the friendly “dudes,” and generally they’re pretty gentle with the local teams and personalities. However, extra points for dealing with an extremely cranky and vague Mike Singletary for so long. Not many people could have dealt with weekly punishment like that.

Total Entertainment Value (1-10): 7

Lots of good guests, and the energy to keep a 4-hour show moving along at a ridiculously early time slot (I know morning radio’s a big time slot, but I have a tough time figuring out how hosts handle it). In short, I like this show more every morning I turn it on while chugging my morning cup of coffee and eating Cocoa Pebbles.

Total Score: 33

4. Gary Radnich (Previous Rank: 1)

Sample Sound Drop: “Good knowledge.”

The thrill is gone. Years ago the show was full of laugh out loud moments, to the point where my friends and I would text each other in disbelief of what Gary had said at least three times per week. But whether it’s due to age, the pressure of working several jobs in a market that has surprisingly few media stars for its size, or a roster of sound-drops that has gotten increasingly stale, Gary and his show have gone from “hilarious at times” to “mid-morning time filler at work if Grooveshark isn’t working.”

Radnich is still capable of seizing on a bit and turning it into a laugh riot, but usually it’s the same old, “Nobody cares, let’s talk about how Ray is lying when he says he’d turn away Kim Kardashian if she showed up at his door in the middle of the night.” Even the Tony Bruno segment is losing steam.

Sports Knowlege (1-10): 6

Since the majority of what Radnich says on his show is radio schtick and not to be taken seriously, his missteps when it comes to RECENT sports knowledge can be glaring. For instance, a local radio host should know that the 49ers had TWO first round picks in the 2010 draft, not one. You shouldn’t need P-Con piping in to tell you. If you’re pretending you don’t know because it isn’t as important as having a wife, kids, three jobs and a huge house in Pac Heights, maybe you should get new material.

The man’s an encyclopedia (especially on the respective histories of local sports and basketball), and that at times is a bit in itself — one that’s still funny. Still, while Radnich has many strengths as an entertainer (for one, he’s the best interviewer KNBR has), making the audience wonder if he actually knows what’s going on in the 21st century isn’t always something to be proud of.

Topics Chosen (1-10): 3

When the s— really goes down, there’s nobody better to listen to. After Larry Krueger got fired, Radnich’s clock-destroying monologue was riveting. When Bonds was king, Radnich had that angle nailed. But lately, there’s been too much of a “old guy reciting TMZ” feel to the show. While he clearly chooses mundane topics at the beginning of his show (“Hi, I watched NBA Wives last night”), at times it also seems like he wants to avoid talking about what everyone listening wants to hear. Sometimes a big picture (read: Gary’s too above it all to care) approach to sports talk is cool, and sometimes it’s just a lazy way to avoid dissecting what’s going on in, you know, sports.

Caller Maintenance (1-10): 6

Gary takes more calls than any other show, but with mixed success these days. There used to be a roster of callers who provided humor and insight, now it’s a bunch of nondescript people who Gary cuts off if they don’t sound wealthy enough. OK, maybe that’s not fair. Sometimes Gary seizes on a call and milks it for all it’s worth, especially if that person wants to “suck him” to completion on the air, and those “bits” can be quite hilarious. However, intelligent dialogue with callers has become pretty rare from 9-noon. Of course, that may be due to the fact that people who have the free time to call KNBR from 9-noon might not always bring the most cogent thought patterns to the table.

Ass-Kissery (1-10): 9

The only asses Gary kisses with regularity are Al Davis’ and his own.

Total Entertainment Value (1-10): 6

Somewhere along the way, this show got boring. The “Dan Dibley as contrarian” thing has gotten old, but I don’t blame Dibley. If he didn’t do what Radnich wanted, he’d be gone (something Gary jokingly-but-not-really-jokingly alludes to from time to time). The sound drops Mike Holer uses have gotten stale to the point where I can’t believe I used to laugh at Dibley’s kid saying “phenomenal knowledge.” And finally, it seems like Radnich’s insecurities aren’t a “bit” anymore. He wants every job, and his attitude about younger media members (and “new” media such as blogs in particular) smacks of bitterness.

Total Score: 30

5. Fitz and Brooks (Previous Rank: 3)

Sample Drop: N/A

Back in the late 1990’s, when I went to UC Santa Cruz and listened to as much KNBR as humanly possible, this was my favorite. Well, maybe not ahead of Razor and Mr. T, but if they were No. 1 then Bob Fitzgerald and Rod Brooks were No. 1a. Now, I can’t even listen to a minute of it. When Bruce moved to 1050, I finally decided I’d had enough and stopped listening for good. What went wrong? Well, there’s attitude toward callers, the blatant homerism … well, let’s just dive in.

Sports Knowledge (1-10): 8

The thing is, between the two of them there’s not a lot of holes knowledge-wise. Maybe they have less-than-optimal knowledge of modern statistical metrics, but if you’re looking for statistical analysis, talk radio probably isn’t your thing anyway. Both guys are smart (and they know it, which is part of the problem). The problem is their agendas often color their judgment, causing them to make ridiculous never-ending arguments like Fitz’s claim that the NBA needs to put the top 16 teams in the playoffs, regardless of conference. Yeah, that will happen.

Topics Chosen (1-10): 6

Extra points for going national fairly often. Points taken away for outright censorship whenever anything bad happens to the Warriors or 49ers, and to a lesser extent the Giants.

Caller Maintenance (1-10): 3

For the few callers who make it past Holer and get to question something Fitz or Rod Brooks says, they better get their point(s) in quick, because Fitz and Brooks will shout them down every time. Fitz’s can be extremely patronizing to callers who dare disagree with his genius viewpoints, while Brooks gets downright angry. Not fun to listen to, either way. Very awkward.

Ass-Kissery (1-10): 1

Fitz has never met a Warrior he doesn’t love, until he’s traded to another team. Then that player’s terrible and selfish (Al Harrington is the best example of this, but that also goes for Baron Davis, Anthony Randolph, and many more). Coaches are never to be questioned. I don’t even know if they believe the stuff they’re spewing anymore, nor do I care. If this is the way the media game is played, I’ll just keep blogging for free.

Total Entertainment Value (1-10): 4

On the Internet, Fitz is widely (and derisively) known as “Giggles.” So I know I’m not alone in my disdain for this show. Bruce moving to the same time slot was an absolute gift. In all, a sad fall for a show I couldn’t get enough of when I had time to kill between classes when they first worked together. Back then, the show was funny and informative. Now, it’s the definition of lame.

Total Score: 20

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