REVIEW: Birmingham sports talk radio…A barren wasteland with an oasis or two

Birmingham, Alabama is the most crazed college sports city in the nation. Clay Travis is an attention seeker of Jimmy “the Mouth of the South” Hart proportions, but sometimes even a blind narcissistic squirrel finds a nut.

Recently his website conducted a compelling study on the most passionate college sports towns in the country. The study combined the television ratings of football and basketball to determine the top 25 most college sports crazed markets in the land. Who was number one?

It wasn’t even close.

Birmingham, Alabama dwarfed the other 24 cities on the Top 25 list, with a football rating more than 4 times higher than the next competitor.

Birmingham, or I should say, central Alabama residents are crazy about college sports. Mainly college football, but people in that area think, breathe and sleep college athletics like no other place on the planet.

The passion and fanatacism is off the charts, which is why media mogels like Paul Finebaum are voted by Sports Illustrated this month as one of the top influencers in sports media…even though he’s been off the air and out of sight since January.

So with this thought in mind, how in the world is sports radio in this down currently so freaking bad??

Make no mistake, right now it is abysmal. There are a couple of bright spots, but for the most part, Birmingham Sports Talk Radio at the moment is a garbage heap.

Here is the worst of the worst:

1. The Sports Czars – 12pm-3pm, CDT on 97.3 The Zone
A spin-off of the Rick and Bubba Show, if you are having suicidal thoughts, do not listen. It’ll push you to do it.

The show consists of Speedy, Helmsey and Greg Burgess, three characters from the successful morning show, sitting around and yucking it up for three hours. It’s hard to put into words how difficult it is to listen to this show, but basically if you want to listen in on three guys trying to manufacture good ‘ole boy banter between themselves, you’ve found your show.

Tune in and you might hear:
“Hey, did ya’ll hear about the Big 10 commissioner calling out the SEC, saying it wasn’t all that? Can you believe that? What do ya’ll think about that? Let’s take some calls…”

Making anything on National Public Radio more entertaining, The Sports Czars. Proof that riding the coat tails of a successful, entertaining morning program doesn’t mean success when flying solo.

2. The Matt and Scot Spectacular – 10am-2pm on WJOX 94.5
This show is fairly new, and so criticiscm may not be entirely fair, but so far it’s pretty hard to listen to. To their credit, Matt and Scot are at least seasoned radio professionals, and unlike the Sports Czars, sound like they belong on the radio. But it’s obvious they’ve been transported here by JOX to fill the slot vacated by The Roundtable when it moved into Paul Finebaum’s 2pm-6pm position.

One impartial observation, their voices are so similar it’s often hard to determine which is talking. A differentation in voices makes listening easier; the more similar they are, the more of a droning effect it can have on a show.

Look, the guys are trying, and it may get better. But right now they just sound like the new kid who moves to your school from Canada with the weird accent and hockey shirts trying to fit in at the lunch table. Still, the fact that they’re on opposite the Sports Czars gives these guys hope, but I really wish Scot would incorporate the extra and needed “t” in his name.

3. The Opening Drive – 6am-9am CDT on WJOX 94.5
The original bad sports talk radio show in Birmingham, the show features the ringmaster, the unobjective homer and the disinterested semi-celebrity.

Tony Kurre flanks Al Del Taco and Jay Barker for three hours every morning. To their credit they are joined by some good guests, but it’s hard to get past these three into the meat of sports talk.

Kurre is a likeable clown, but still a clown. Del Greco would defend Auburn if they were testing nuclear capabilities on orphans, and Jay barely knows what’s happening at Alabama, and takes vacation at the strangest times…like national signing day (does anyone else on the radio in the South do this?). The three are supposed to present a balanced forum between Alabama, Auburn and UAB, but it’s about as balanced as Louie Anderson and Anderson Cooper on a see saw. Al runs over Jay, Jay backs down, and Tony makes dirty innuendos. There’s your show.

4. Straight Talk – 10am-Noon on 97.3 The Zone
This show features legendary Alabama basketball coach Wimp Sanderson and longtime Birmingham media figure Matt Coulter. Matt and Wimp interview guests on the show, and usually have a fairly decent line-up.

It’s just clear that Matt’s job is to throw questions to Wimp, and Wimp’s job is to ask questions to the guests, usually via a cell phone from a golf course somewhere. It’s the best of the worst, but still not a good show.

These are the worst shows in Birmingham, the most crazed college sports town in America. But believe it or not, there are still a couple of bright spots.

1. The Roundtable – 2pm-6pm on WJOX 94.5
Filling the spot vacated by Paul Finebaum’s hiatus, Jim Dunaway, Ryan Brown and Lance Taylor have created a pretty good show together. The three used to appear 10am-2pm, filling the gap between The Opening Drive and Finebaum. But until Paul comes back on the air in May (that’s the rumor), these guys are king of the Birmingham airwaves.

Jim Dunaway is the consummate broadcasting professional, having been on Birmingham TV and radio for as long as I can remember. He toes the line of impartiality about as well as you can, though the Montevallo grad doesn’t shy away from his Alabama upbringing.

Ryan Brown is the weak link of the three, but is still good in the role he plays on the show. His color commentary is occasionally spot on, though it’s funny when Lance calls him out on something, usually without hesitation. It’s obvious Brown doesn’t like it when it happens, and he admits he doesn’t handle criticism well. This makes for entertaining radio.

Lance Taylor is an acquired taste, but is like that guy we all know with an other-worldly grasp on sports information, as well as other, random trivia. His old noon show with Ian Fitzsimmons was unbearable, but more because of Fitzsimmons brash and arrogant delivery than Taylor. But Taylor is solid with Dunaway and Brown, providing on-the-money insight on a regular basis.

The three have meshed together to make a pretty good blend of sports and entertainment. And, like I said, until Finebaum emerges again, they’re king.

2. Smashmouth Radio – 6am-10am on 97.3 The Zone
This one is surprising because it features Kevin Scarbinsky and Scott Griffin. Scott is a long-time Birmingham radio and TV guy as well, and Kevin has been in Birmingham sports media for ages.

But Scarbinsky has long seemed like the Finebaum wannabe, stoking the coals of controversy to see if anything crawls out. He was among the first in line during the impotent “T-Town Menswear story,” and seems to smell of smoke whenever fires like these are started.

Still, this show is pretty good. They feature a host of interesting guests, and seem to have them on when their flames are hottest. It definitely is to their advantage that they’re on oppostite the three stooges on JOX, but the two put together a show worth the listen.

Birmingham sports talk radio will get better, again possibly in May. But until then, this is all we’ve got.


(Follow ITK on Twitter for Bama news, commentary and smack.)