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Comedy Thu Sep 27 2012

Sports Radio 25th Anniversary Celebration: An Uncensored Evening of Celebrity Entertainment

From comedic commentators to frenzied fans, sports radio is an entertainment entity all its own; the format, now in its 25th year, will be honored via the "Sports Radio 25th Anniversary Celebration: An Uncensored Evening of Celebrity Entertainment." This action-packed evening, which benefits Parent Heart Watch, will be hosted by ABC TV's and Chicago native Michael Wilbon and WSCR's ("The Score") Dan McNeil, and will feature live music, comedy, roasts and more. Here, former ESPN Radio Chicago General Manager Bob Snyder talks about this sports entertainment extravaganza and and its recognition of a very worthy cause.

Sports and entertainment have always gone hand-in-hand; how would you describe the relationship between the two?

I think, at least with respect to the sports world, it's part entertainment and part influence. A lot of what goes on in the sports entertainment world actually influences a lot of what happens in the sports entertainment business. I'm not in the "Hollywood" world as far as movies and theater go, but in sports entertainment, the impact of sports radio really does impact the way the business and teams operate.

How would you say things are different today?

When you look at sports radio as the pillar of sports entertainment, you can trace it back to when it started 25 years ago and at that point, no business really had much of an influence on the way a team would operate with their PR, their business or the way they do things on the field. But the power of sports radio and entertainment has become such that teams do have to react to it.

Commentators and sports show hosts have always been an integral part of sports entertainment; in some cases, they're just as funny as any stand-up comedian. Talk about the evolution of these roles and their importance as they relate to the success of the industry.

You have to have substance behind the showmanship, but I don't know if the showmanship has changed that much over the years. Whether it was Joe Namath or Terry Bradshaw, these guys had larger than life personalities, but what has changed is that there are so many outlets. So 20-30 years ago, the only way Joe Namath could extend his brand was through one of the TV networks; now, you have cable, the NFL channel and so on. There is just more access--and because there are more opportunities, we see more personalities on the rise.

Over the years, what athlete would you say has been one of the most entertaining or has been a favorite among sportscasters?

One of them has to be John Madden, who unfortunately, for the fans, doesn't do much anymore. I remember having him on as a guest many times in Washington, D.C., and even at the radio station, people would stop what they were doing and listen to the interview. He was that good, that commanding, that knowledgeable and ultimately, that entertaining. We all miss him--he's alive and well--but he just doesn't do that much TV and radio anymore.

Thumbnail image for WILBON.jpg

Has there ever been someone where it was obvious early on that they would make a great on-air personality?

As an executive in the business, you're always looking for young entertainers--folks who have that "something special" at an early age. The most relevant example is the guy who's going to be master of ceremonies, Michael Wilbon. Michael was a newspaper reporter for The Washington Post, but his greatest charm and quotability were recognizable when he would be in the newsroom arguing sports with his fellow journalists. And sure enough, here we are 20-something years after Michael started writing, that he is the host of "NBA on NBC" and co-host of "Pardon the Interruption."

So, there are those who just have that "it" factor, then...

Yes. We all know people who ooze personality. Michael is a great example of somebody who was just clearly that way when you first met him, and on the field side, we don't have to look much further than "Mongo" [Steve McMichael]. When Mongo was on the field, he saw himself as an entertainer--and what did he do after he finished football? He went into the wrestling business, which is complete entertainment. He was able to take his personality and entertainment value and parlay it.

Today, a popular way for athletes to cross over in the world of entertainment is via reality shows--what are your thoughts on these shows?

Reality shows, I think, are almost all positive, simply because you really see the real deal; they just film everything and the team gives them unfiltered access. As fans, we get to learn the inner workings of the club and the relationships between players and coaches. That stuff really is compelling; it's all the things you'd want from an entertainment vehicle and moreover, you get a chance to decide for yourself who has the showmanship.

Speaking of reality shows, "Dancing with the Stars" has probably had the most pro athletes ever--especially football players. Why do you think this show, in particular, is so appealing to athletes?

That kind of reality program helps transform players to entertainers; and I think, in most cases, that's what they're looking for. But no matter who much we talk about entertainment, I think it's still often about money and in a case with something like "Dancing With the Stars," these performers are indeed trying to extend their brand and extend their earning potential through endorsements or other off-the-field endeavors. It seems to be a pretty successful model for many of them, particularly for those who have that showmanship [to begin with].

Let's talk about the ESPYS, which has easily emerged as one of the most entertaining awards shows on TV. What do you think that is attributable to?

More than anything, it's attributable to the ESPN brand which carries a lot of weight. When ESPN asks for different entertainers and elements to be part of the appeal of the show, they very much rely on the clout of the ESPN brand to make the ESPYs successful. I think they've done phenomenally well and absolutely maximized the concept to the greatest degree--from both an entertainment and a business standpoint.

"Sports Radio, 25th Anniversary Celebration," a show that will combine comedy, music and more is coming to Chicago. Tell us how the concept came about.

Ultimately it's a fundraiser--we've even joked that it's a "fundraiser on steroids." With this night, we wanted it centered on fun and comedy--with the comedy being a roast. We decided to do that because since I've been in Chicago, I've had some success with two roasts in particular, one for Mike Ditka and the other for Dan Patrick. We just feel that if we have good comedy and entertainment, we can make a night out of that, with sports radio being the backbone of it.

The show serves as a fundraiser for Parent Heart Watch, an organization that advocates protecting youth from sudden cardiac arrest--can you tell us about that?

For the show, as opposed to something simple, we decided to raise awareness for sudden cardiac arrest, with Parent Heart Watch as the beneficiary. This was my chance to rally around the industry that was good to me to generate awareness for both.

Sudden cardiac arrest in youth is something that happens way too often, with athletes dying in their late teens and early 20s. Unfortunately, it struck my wife [Michele] and me, too; our daughter was a high school varsity soccer player. But the reality though, is that there are a lot more of those than there are professional athletes who have this condition.

What do you want the audience to take away from the show?

At the heart of this thing, it's a good night for a really good cause. This is a very preventable happening and through all the stuff we're going to do that night, we hope the take away for people is laughter, but at the same time, they recognize that they are contributing to the awareness of something that is really important.


The Sports Radio 25th Anniversary Celebration will be held Saturday, October 6 at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.; tickets are $50-$150 and are available at the box office, Ticketmaster, or by phone at 1-800-745-3000.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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