The Sad State of Sports Talk Radio In Alabama

Jay WortherCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

I remember when listening to a sports radio show was a good way to hear scores, updates on your local teams and players, interviews with sports analysts, and the occasional human interest story.

However, if you find yourself in central Alabama in the afternoon, you are instead forced to choose between a static-filled AM sports talk show and a man named Paul Finebaum.

If you've never heard of Finebaum, like most people outside the state lines of Alabama, his show can be described as Jerry Springer on the radio—if the topic was perpetually "I Married My Sister and We're Being Evicted From Our Trailer."

I've lived within reach of the Finebaum broadcast for about three years now, and I have yet to meet anyone who listens to his show.

Is it because I work with white-collar professionals, who exceed the two-digit I.Q. maximum required to call his program, or are people simply embarrassed to admit that they engage in what might be perceived as a "guilty pleasure?"

Let me give you an example of a typical segment of the Finebaum show.

I'm sure most of you have heard of the story from SEC Media Days in Birmingham—home of the Finebaum show, by the way—where FanHouse.com blogger Clay Travis asked a certain Florida quarterback if anyone had ever been "Tebowned."

If you haven't heard the story, I won't retell it here since I'm not judging whether or not Mr. Travis was within his rights to pose the question.

A couple of hours after the Tim Tebow press conference, Finebaum takes to the airwaves, strongly criticizing Travis for asking such an inappropriate question. His stance on the issue, of course, becomes the immediate viewpoint of the lemmings that tune into his show.

I have no problem with Finebaum having his own opinion on the matter. I have no problem with his mindless audience being force-fed their opinions on the matter, either.  This is, after all, how he has achieved his current level of success.

Later in the program, Finebaum is fortunate enough to have Clay Travis as a guest on his show. In typical Finebaum fashion, he graciously welcomes Mr. Travis to his program and does not repeat the critical remarks that he used to provoke his listeners earlier in the day.

What follows can only be compared to what you might expect if Homer Simpson ever made it as a Jeopardy! contestant.

"Adults" with no more than a fifth grade education are encouraged to call Travis and assail him for the duration of his time on the air. What they don't know, however, is that he is a former lawyer and his biggest issue is trying to decipher what version of English is being used in the state of Alabama.

Being lucky enough to hear this exchange on an otherwise uneventful Friday afternoon, I applauded Travis for his handling of the situation. Once again, callers to the Finebaum show were exposed as dunces and sent running away with their tails between their legs.

After Travis ended his "interview," listeners continued to call the Finebaum network, proudly beating their chests over their glorious victory.

What is this? The callers think they've outsmarted the lawyer because they can scream "You're a Moron!" so loud that you can't hear Travis' arguments?

How can they possibly think that they have put Travis in his place when they haven't presented a single logical thought throughout the entire radio segment?

Of course, Finebaum splices together what recognizable words he could find from the session and creates a promo for his show that makes his callers seem as intelligent as possible.

The preceding example is a little out of the ordinary, as Finebaum's usual agenda is to act as a mouthpiece for Nick Saban and the University of Alabama (which is the reason he is so popular in Alabama in the first place). No matter the subject, however, the callers remain the same.

I worry that this is what sports talk radio has become.

Are there other shows in other markets where people who should not be allowed to procreate dominate the airwaves?

Is the problem here really more related to the fact that there are no professional sports teams to talk about in this area, so everyone is forced to listen to every version of "My team is great, yours sucks!" imaginable?

Or am I just missing the point entirely? Is radio soap opera the new wave of entertainment and I'm being left behind? Is that why Jerry Springer left America's Got Talent—so that he could start a new sports talk show?

I ask because Finebaum's show was apparently ranked by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 12 sports talk shows in the country.

I know this because he opens every broadcast with this little tidbit—and has been doing so for as long as anyone can remember.

Of course, I don't know when these rankings occurred, what the criteria were to be considered, or even if they ranked more than 12 shows. It may be that he can always claim this title, like Jimmy Carter still being able to present himself as President of the United States.

But if this is what qualifies as "the best," what kind of torture are those who aren't within earshot of these 12 subjected to?

I know, I know. Satellite radio is the answer.

The problem with satellite radio is that you don't get your local sports news. Even though there are no professional teams nearby, there are still several universities and some minor league teams.

Here is the bigger issue—you can't just turn off the Finebaum show if you're looking for sports information, because there is no alternative.

That's where they get you. All the producers look at area ratings, and if there's only one show in town, they can keep pushing it down your throat by pointing out how highly rated it is.

How about a decent alternative?

Competition is what makes products better, and by offering only a single show per time slot, the radio station is telling you that they know the product stinks, but there's nothing you can do about it.

I'd like to think that there is only one Paul Finebaum contaminating the airwaves, but I fear his "success" will spawn a new generation of sports talk shows with no actual sports.


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