For the sports talk radio fans, The SportsPhone is the only game in town.
April 10, 2008Every weekday, Fred Guzman and Bill Schindler squeeze themselves into a tiny room—a converted hallway, really—and spend three hours talking to each about sports. Their show, called The SportsPhone and broadcast on ESPN 550—one of the six Maui stations owned by the Pacific Radio Group (PRG).
Though ESPN 550 runs sports talk shows 24 hours a day, The SportsPhone is different. Broadcast from the PRG offices in Kahului (just around the corner from the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center), The SportsPhone offers locals a chance to ask questions, rant about the latest outrage or just listen to those who do.
Guzman and Schindler teamed up in January 2007. Schindler was new to Maui radio, though Guzman has hosted The SportsPhone since 2000 or so. Ratings data are closely held by radio people, but Guzman and Schindler say their show is very popular, though almost exclusively with males.
Unlike sports talk hosts like the iconoclastic Jim Rome or the sleep-inducing Dan Patrick, Guzman and Schindler somehow strike a balance between the technical and the outlandish. Humor, more so even than the almanac knowledge of all things sports that both men share, propels the show forward.
“The reason this works is that we’re incredibly different people in everything we do,” Guzman told me. “I’m kind of short, he’s tall. I’m an older guy who thinks he’s young, he’s a young guy who acts 80.”
Guzman is right—the two hosts couldn’t be more different. Schindler is originally from Maryland, but graduated from Pepperdine University in Malibu, where he studied broadcast news and called nearly 300 games for the school. Later he worked for the Alaska Baseball League.
A big guy (one of the running jokes on The SportsPhone is that Schindler enjoys food a bit more than most people), Schindler has a friendly, expansive smile and tendency to gesticulate during shows far more than his partner.
Guzman, on the other hand, has been a voice on Maui radio for the last 16 years. Born in Puerto Rico, Guzman spent two decades as a sportswriter and editor. For the venerable San Jose Mercury News, Guzman covered the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, Golden State Warriors, Stanford Cardinals, Super Bowls, NBA Finals, Olympics and other big time sports events.
He also spent two years as editor of the Morgan Hill Times, a tiny Bay Area paper. During that time, Guzman remade the “fixer-upper” paper into an award-winning publication.
Today Guzman is well known on the island, both as a sports talk show host (and as the “Sports Guru,” who chats every morning with Alakai Paleka on her KPOA-FM show) and as a longtime observer of local politics and current affairs. For 10 months, he hosted The Talk of Maui, a Fox News 900 morning show that delved into local issues (disclosure: Guzman had me on as a weekly phone-in guest). That program ended a few months ago to make room for a new statewide, two and a half hour Office of Hawaiian Affairs program that Guzman said will begin April 14.
Both men seriously prepare for each day’s show, coming to the studio with stacks of stories and notes, though any pre-show work requires surprising delicacy. Organize your thinking too much and the show will sound stilted; too little, and the program will be loose and dull. For a talk show to work, regardless of subject matter, it must appear to be organic—a series of live conversations which listeners can join at virtually any moment.
For this story, on April 4 I sat in the PRG studio during the broadcast of The SportsPhone. Guzman and Schindler riffed off my presence in a good-natured way, but during regular shows claustrophobia must surely set in. In his astonishingly detailed April 2005 Atlantic story “Host,” David Foster Wallace described the experience of hosting a talk radio show. “Try sitting alone in a room with a clock, turning on a tape recorder, and starting to speak into it,” he wrote. “Speak about anything you want—with the proviso that your topic, and your opinions on it, must be of interest to some group of strangers who you imagine will be listening to the tape.”
Wallace added that such a speaker’s words “should be intelligent and their reasoning sequential”; statements made “should be not just comprehensible and interesting but compelling, stimulating, which means that your remarks have to provoke and sustain some kind of emotional reaction in the listeners.” This naturally requires the speaker to “construct some kind of identifiable persona,” but any remarks “cannot have any of the fragmentary, repetitive, garbled quantities of real interhuman speech, or speech’s ticcy unconscious ‘umm’s or ‘you know’s, or false starts or stutters or long pauses while you try to think of how to phrase what you want to say next.”
It helps that Guzman and Schindler work as a team, playing off each other’s remarks with something between playful banter and outright disagreement, but they also have to do so in a room that literally used to be a hallway and has no real air circulation (after no time at all, it gets really stuffy and hot in there) while surrounded by a few computer screens, microphones, a mixing board, sports schedules, a poster advertising last season’s University of Hawai‘i football team, some acoustic foam and walls that seem much too close for comfort.
My April 4 visit to the station occurred on a day celebrating two solemn events. First, it was the day before the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball games, on which commentary dominated The SportsPhone’s first hour.
But the day I visited his show was also what Guzman calls “Old School Friday.” Every Friday, he plays a few funk songs, just to mix things up, usually on the order of one per hour.
“I started playing just bits of funk songs,” Guzman told me while Kool & the Gang played over the airways during the show’s first hour. “Then I got calls saying play the whole song. So I did.” Sometimes, Guzman added, people will complain today, but then fans will call in and gang up on the complainer.
The SportsPhone is eclectic, to say the least. Even someone not sufficiently versed in the infield fly rule or NCAA bracketology should find something of interest in the show. For the last few months, I took notes while listening to various shows. Here’s what I heard:
Schindler jokes about “harpooning the silver Mercedes” that constantly bedevils him on the roadway.
Schindler and Guzman go off on U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R, Pennsylvania) for equating the recent revelation that NFL officials had allegedly destroyed of videotapes in the New England Patriots spy case with the Central Intelligence Agency’s admission that it had destroyed terrorist interrogation tapes.
Guzman delves into fan psychology, observing that the emotional low a fan experiences over a loss by their favorite team is more intense than the thrill the fan feels when that team wins.
Guzman and Schindler discuss their reasons why Brooklyn Dodgers great Jackie Robinson should not be in the college basketball hall of fame.
After discussing how Houston Rockets won their 20th straight game, Guzman goes nuts over Schindler’s saying that he hates bowties but loves bolo ties.
They discuss the Tampa Bay Devil Rays changing their name to the Tampa Bay Rays. Schindler says its in reference to the sun’s “rays,” but observes that there’s still a devil ray patch on the players’ sleeves. Later Schindler uses the phrase “caboodles of money” when explaining why he thinks Major League Baseball “makes absolutely no sense.” The Marlins, he says, put on lousy baseball, but actually make a lot of money. Later still, Guzman reads a sports report saying Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O’Neill enjoyed calling former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy “Ron Jeremy,” saying he looked like the infamous porn star from the neck up. Guzman says he’s not familiar with Jeremy, but always thought Van Gundy more closely resembled Tony Orlando.
On April 4, Guzman and Schindler talked college basketball, NASCAR, a story about a hawk that attacked a 13-year-old girl named Alexa Rodriguez at Fenway Park, rumors that recently retired NFL great Brett Favre is “shopping himself out” to other teams, gossip involving Matt Leinart photographed drinking out of a beer bong, former University of Hawai‘i star Colt Brennan’s recent hip surgery, NBA star Kenyon Martin’s trouble with flagrant fouls, the fact that an average of just one pitcher per team staff threw at least 200 innings last season and an apparent rise in team mascot-on-athlete violence.
At one point during my studio visit, I asked Schindler if there are ever any times when he and Guzman have trouble filling the show. “Mid-February,” he said. “June, too. But this time [of the year] is good, and fall is good, too.”
The show, it seems, practically relies on regular callers. Guzman and Schindler, though practiced at the art of talking and talking about sports, clearly enjoy having fan participation.
“We’ve always encouraged the callers,” Guzman said. “But very seldom do people call to talk about local sports. This is a small island—people love it when you talk about it, but they won’t engage in it.”
Not many weeks into 2008, Schindler got to talking about how much he loves the Buffalo wings from his hometown. Soon, a regular listener called in saying he knew a guy in Buffalo who could beat his wings hands down. Soon other food items became involved, including some kind of hot wing sausage. Guzman told me the competition will happen, though—they’re aiming for sometime in May.
This isn’t surprising. We seem to live in a time that cries out for sports commentary from the “man on the street.” And specific knowledge of actual sports isn’t even required.
Don’t have an opinion on the Final Four? How about recent controversy over allegedly illegal consultations involving NFLdraft picks?
Has your baseball team already been eliminated from post-season contention? (Schindler, a Baltimore Orioles fan, knows something of this problem.) Then go off on the issue of steroids in the sport. Or rip the congressional hearings on steroids in the sport. Or take another tack and rip all the people and congressmen who are talking about steroids.
The sheer array of subjects that callers wanted to discuss on April 4 made me dizzy. “Rudy” was the show’s first caller. “I’d like to beat the love out of Love,” he said, referring to UCLA basketball star Kevin Love (whose team ended up losing to Memphis 24 hours later. Then Rudy shifted gears, throwing his hate on the entire Atlantic Coast Conference. “Man, I hate the ACC,” he said.
At one point caller “Ed” mentioned that he’d like to discuss a recent NASCAR scandal.
“Does it have to do with sex tapes and Nazis?” Schindler asked.
“Yeah!” Ed said, laughing.
Another caller, “The Source,” later asked Guzman, a Warriors fan, if he’d be rooting for the LA Lakers in their upcoming game against the Dallas Mavericks. “Yes,” Guzman said, “but just getting the words out is difficult.”
Near the end of the show, two regular callers—Rudy and “Long Suffering,” began going back and forth over a wrist injury that sidelined that latter.
After the show, I asked Guzman and Schindler if they thought radio’s days were numbered, given the stunning speed with which mp3 players and Internet music have proliferated throughout society.
“No,” Guzman said without hesitation. “People need company.”
“Especially talk,” Schindler said. “People may listen to music on their iPods, but they need the talk.”
The Sportsphone airs weekdays 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on ESPN 550. Listeners can call in by dialing 856-2836. MTW
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