The SOFA Awards!
Now in their eighth year, the SOFA (Sports media’s Outstanding and Forgettable Achievement) Awards are as much a part of the New Year’s tradition as college bowl games — and just as debatable. Here are the best and worst of 2002.
Best sports-talk radio show: Crunch Time, 9-11 a.m., WHB 810
Bill Maas and Tim Grunhard have the same kind of chemistry that makes Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long so successful on Fox’s NFL show. They like each other so much that they can trade the most cutting and demeaning remarks and still laugh at themselves. As former NFL players, these two ex-Chiefs attract national big-name guests such as 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci, NBA owner Mark Cuban and the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones — and they rarely disappoint by sucking up in their interviews. Calling Frank Boal a third wheel on this entertaining midday show would be an injustice to the wheel, though. He’s more like one of those half-sized spare tires that you hide in the trunk until you have a blowout.
Worst sports-talk radio show: The Show With No Name, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., KCKN 1340
Dave Armstrong and Tom Cheatham’s idea of a sense of humor is to call their midday gig The Show With No Name. That tells you all you need to know about the limited entertainment value of this duo’s work behind a microphone. Armstrong has great God-given pipes but pumps watered-down opinions through them instead of insightful commentary. Cheatham’s high-pitched squeak is right out of Deliverance. Every time he starts to talk, I get a vision of a toothless mountain man atop him hollering, “Squeal, piggy!”
Best radio host: Steven St. John, 6-9 a.m., 810
Steven St. John is not only the best talent on local sports-talk radio; he’s the most underrated. He plays second pork chop to Jason Whitlock on 810’s morning-drive show but could easily shine as the solo act he once was. St. John combines national and local sports acumen with a fall-on-the-floor wit rarely seen in KC or nationally. No one on the radio makes me laugh out loud as often as this former talk-show caller.
Worst radio host: Kevin Kietzman, 2-7 p.m., 810
No one has slid farther faster than the onetime king of KC sports-talk radio. Kevin Kietzman’s show has struggled for direction since last January. He sounds more desperate than ever to invent news rather than report it, and his catalog-sized supporting cast of “experts” is starting to yellow with sameness. How out of touch is he? He recently spent an entire show doing a four-hour infomercial for KCK’s new minor-league baseball team. Kietzman needs a makeover more than the Chiefs’ defense.
Best television sportscast: Metro Sports Zone, 6-7 p.m. and 10-11 p.m., Metro Sports
Dave Stewart and Metro Sports have taken a Big Bertha steel-head driver out of their cable-TV bag and whopped the living daylights out of their competition. This fast-paced, info-filled thirty-minute show is so good it has TV news programs thinking about giving up their local sportscasts. The detail-loving Brad Porter, the self-proclaimed “monster” of high-school sports Chad Harberts, and the off-the-ceiling Mick Shaffer are also important contributors to the zaniness that is the Zone.
Worst television sportscast: KSHB Channel 41, 10 p.m.
Todd Romero got an early Christmas present when Channel 41 informed him that his contract would not be renewed at the end of February. No great loss for KC viewers. The always bouncy, always important-sounding Romero never should have been hired in the first place. He’s just not very talented — nor is he likeable enough as a TV personality for viewers to forgive his shortcomings as a sports guy. Lisa Holbrook, 41’s second-team sports anchor, has made steady progress in the beautician’s chair, but that asset is soon forgotten once she starts speaking.
Best TV sportscaster: Dave Stewart, Metro Sports
Maybe it’s his petite size that makes Dave Stewart so likeable. Or the way Johnny Dare treats him like Tard’s big brother on KQRC 98.9’s popular morning show. Whatever it is, Stewart has shot past WDAF Channel 4’s Frank Boal as the hippest sports guy on the tube. Still, it’s not saying much for the competition when two fortysomething dudes with Eddie Munster comb-backs are the Mini Coopers of the local TV sports world.
Worst TV sports broadcaster: Len Dawson, KMBC Channel 9, 10 p.m.
Lenny the Cool slipped his Channel 9 sports-anchor gig into neutral sometime around 1985, and he’s been cashing big checks for coasting ever since. Dawson reportedly shows up for his 10:25 sports report a few minutes before airtime, then mispronounces a handful of names, introduces a feature or two and smiles at his thousands of admirers out in TV land as Larry Moore sends them to commercial break. Few ex-jocks have been able to parlay one big win into a more lucrative thirty-year shakedown.
Best sports interviewer: Bill Maas, 9-11 a.m., 810
Bill Maas will ask just about anyone anything. There are no boundaries in his sports-talk world, only uncharted, fertile valleys of controversy and embarrassment. When it comes to sports-talk radio, I don’t want an ass-kissing host lobbing softball questions to a paid interviewee à la Kietzman’s Between the Lines on the same station. Maas gets some of the biggest names in sports — Jim Rome, Mike Ditka and Rich Gannon — to come clean on his show. No one else in this market has ever come close to doing what he does.
Worst sports interviewer: Jason Whitlock, 6-9 a.m., 810
No one (except maybe Todd Romero) wants to be loved and accepted by the people he interviews more than Big Sexy. Jason Whitlock was at his best a few years back when most local sports teams hated him and he detested the soft underbellies of his brothers and sisters in the Kansas City media. His columns brimmed with passion and angst. Whitlock now thrives on being loved and being famous. He recently threw a Christmas party and invited guests from almost every local team and media outlet — then broadcast it live on the radio. Even Carl Peterson, his most famous foe, was there playing nice with Whitlock. Who’d have thought Joe Posnanski would turn out to be The Star’s bulldog sports columnist?
Best sports broadcaster: Bob Davis, University of Kansas basketball, Jayhawk Radio Network
No one in this market is even close to Bob Davis when it comes to supplying what I want in my play-by-play guy. His unmistakable voice is an entity all its own, having made the sport of basketball a religious experience in Middle America. There aren’t three kids in all of Kansas who can’t imitate Davis’ hyperbolic call of “SWISH!” His jump-out-of-your-skin enthusiasm can make even a Missouri fan crank up the volume.
Worst sports broadcaster: Ryan Lefebvre, Royals Radio Network
If you’re into up-to-the-nanosecond pitch counts, leave it to Beaver. Ryan Lefebvre has an uncanny ability to make a three-hour baseball game sound like a twelve-hour rinse cycle. I’m always concerned when I hear of summer auto accidents involving a driver who fell asleep at the wheel. How many of them lapsed into a narcoleptic coma because of the drone of the Beav’s play-by-play?
Best new talent: Wright Thompson, The Kansas City Star
The Star‘s sports department has finally hired a feature writer whose job it is to write feature stories. This Mizzou grad is fresh out of Columbia and comes as highly touted as any Star writer in quite some time. OK, so he’s the guy who tracked down Elvis Grbac outside of Cleveland and then wrote an October Sunday feature story on the ex-Chief without interviewing him. He must be good to get his editor to sign off on that one.
Best print journalist: Chuck Woodling, Lawrence Journal-World
Chuck Woodling isn’t afraid of ruffling a Jayhawk feather or two with a tough question or an even tougher opinion. He’s been around for more than thirty years — long enough to know that a successful sportswriter pens his or her words with his readers’ interests in mind, not his subjects’.
Most disappointing print journalist: Jeffrey Flanagan, The Kansas City Star
Not long ago, Jeffrey Flanagan’s page-two column in The Star was a must-read. But this past year it has deteriorated into a collection of boring statistics, worthless lists and stats, limp blurbs about the Packers or the Comets or who is working the TV booth for the Chiefs’ game. I’d ask that the paper’s sports editors find a fresh face with an ear for controversy to replace him, but then I’d probably be disappointed — the stiffs they run in Flanagan’s place when he’s on vacation make Walt Bodine look lively.
Best sports analyst: Stan Weber, Kansas State football’s Wildcat Radio Network and Metro Sports
Stan Weber packs a massive amount of sports knowledge into his oversized noggin. He’s never afraid to make a bold statement, and he’s always ready to back up his thoughts with an encyclopedia full of data. Weber isn’t Mr. Excitement, but he is an excellent communicator.
Worst sports analyst: Tie — Max Falkenstein, Kansas Jayhawk Radio Network; John Kadlec, University of Missouri, Tiger Radio Network
Max Falkenstein has been in the business longer than I’ve been alive, and I’m almost fifty. If he was ever any good, it was before I started listening to him thirty years ago. Max is as much a part of the Kansas landscape as winter wheat, but he adds zero to a broadcast.
John Kadlec is even worse as MU’s analyst because he insists on talking as though he actually knows something. Kadlec’s work in the radio booth gives us a glimpse of what John Madden will be like in another ten years.
Best sideline reporter: Chris Gervino, MU football, Tiger Radio Network
The sideline reporter is the most underutilized asset in almost every football broadcast. Chris Gervino steps outside the mold of a typical say-nothing sideline reporter by bringing the listener inside information that only he can see, hear and experience as he patrols the Tigers’ sideline. He has a sense of fairness in his reporting that I really appreciate in a broadcaster.
Best sports media outlet: 810
Since Jerry Green bought 810 in 1998, his team has done more to change the face of how Kansas City covers sports than any entity in the past twenty years. Although the boys at the station lack some of the initial drive and passion that made them the dominant sports outlet they’ve become, there is no denying that local fans are much better off now than BJ (Before Jerry).
Most entertaining TV-sports personality: Neil Smith, KCTV Channel 5
Channel 5 invited this former Chief to cohost its Chiefs pregame shows with Leif Lisec, and it has proven to be a runaway hit sitcom. Neil Smith, a New Orleans native, speaks in a language that makes Klingon sound reasonable. Here’s a sample: “You know why? I think why. This is the reason why. Because I think what New England did today, they ax-ually, they just everything you could probably the reverse they tried to do all kind of trick plays.”
Best sports scoop of 2002: Frank Boal, Channel 4
Frank Boal traded George Brett’s trust for the scoop of the year when he told his Channel 4 audience that the Royals had made the decision to fire Tony Muser. Boal had the story even before Muser, making Brett the obvious leak in the Royals organization.
KC’s top five most influential sports media figures:
5. Dave Stewart: He yaks at the largest radio audience in KC three times a week on Johnny Dare and Murphy’s morning show on 98.9. Thousands of locals get their only sports news from Stewart’s nipples … uh, er, lips.
4. Kevin Kietzman: His status has tumbled as an influential voice in KC sports because of his reputation for making up controversies every time he feels the need to pad his Arbitron ratings.
3. Frank Boal: He still demands respect because of his penchant for knowing what his audience wants before his competitors do.
2. Mike Fannin: The Star’s sports editor is widely unknown except for the fluctuating quality of his sports section. He shapes what Kansas City sports fans talk about every morning.
1. Jason Whitlock: With his column in The Star and on ESPN.com, a morning radio show and frequent guest appearances on national shows, Whitlock is everywhere.
Five of KC’s most underappreciated sports media personalities:
5. Kurtis Seaboldt: As producer of Soren Petro’s 4-7 p.m. show on KMBZ 980, Seaboldt is an immense talent who doesn’t get to display his ability to mimic voices and personalities nearly enough. He’s a master at producing entertaining sound collages.
4. Mick Shaffer: Metro Sports’ Shaffer is funny, flip and oblivious to the fact that he’s on television.
3. Kevin Wike: Wike’s play-by-play work for Metro Sports is so good that you forget he’s there.
2. Sean Wheelock: The voice of the Wizards is the media’s soccer guru of Kansas City.
1. Danny Clinkscale: WHB’s Clinkscale is a solid reporter and a solid host. He does solid play-by-play work. But he always manages to sound bored.