Most people I speak with say I am without a doubt the number one sports columnist in Tulsa. It's true; I just don't talk to very many people. So imagine the shock and dismay I felt when I penned a column last July and was taken to task.
Actually, 'taken to task' is a bit extreme, I was simply questioned. The sports director at 97.1 FM, The Sports Animal, didn't appreciate his station being compared to "New" Coke.
I was hesitant to retract my comments until recently. On second thought, I will not retract my original take. Instead, I'll update the situation with a double take. Fair? I think so.
The sports director at the Sports Animal, Kevin Ward, graciously invited me to visit the studio for a clear the airwaves session. Let's revisit my original concerns with his station.
My main problem with the Animal's version of sports talk radio was two-fold. The weak signal and the weak Tulsa coverage.
First, the signal. "You can drive down Riverside, right down here," says Ward as he points from the 55th floor of the CityPlex building at 81st and Lewis. "It's pretty fuzzy on the FM. You flip over to the AM and it's fine."
The Sports Animal runs simultaneously on 97.1 FM and AM 1550 in Tulsa. The FM channel broadcast out of Muskogee will be upgraded before the year's end.
"We are going from a 1300-foot tower to a 2000-foot tower. What that will essentially do for the Sports Animal, first of September -- late August, will put a city grade signal all across Tulsa. We are going five miles closer and 700 feet taller," says Ward.
The Animal also broadcast on AM 1490 in Muskogee. The multiple stations come in handy for high school football season.
Each station carries a different high school's game. Nifty.
The second complaint I raised was the content. From 11-2 in the afternoon, Al Jerkens covered the Tulsa sports scene to a T. Before and after his time slot, Tulsa may as well have been the lost city of Atlantis.
Today -- the station runs local programming from 9-2. The "Sports Morning" 9-11 show is hosted by Geoff Haxton. He has one of those real fake over-the-top radio voices. I've been assured it is his normal 'conversational' voice.
He is joined by local sports broadcasting legend Bob Carpenter and/or Channel 6's John Holcomb depending on the day of the week. It is refreshing to hear Tulsa talk from guys who understand the town.
Interesting note about Carpenter. For years he could be found on sports talk rival AM 1430 The Buzz. The 'Carpenter Call' was a staple of the afternoon show with Pop and Plank.
"I had been trying to hire Bob Carpenter since day one that I got here," says Ward. "I kept e-mailing him and calling him telling that I wanted him to be a part of what we were doing over here.
"Once he got back to Tulsa and started listening to the station and listening to his friends and hearing a lot of good things about what we were doing and then having him come up and visit -- that's when he felt like it would be a good time to come over," says Ward. Carpenter has been an exceptional addition to the talent pool.
The "Middle of the Day Show" airs from 11-2. Big Al Jerkens still pilots the ship. He is joined daily by Pat Jones, former Oklahoma State University head coach. A wide array of talent stops by during the week to chat including former OSU coach Eddie Sutton.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. No one does 'it' better than Big Al. TV, Radio, whatever. In fact, my favorite all-time Tulsa TV moment almost occurred outside Memorial Stadium following an OU victory several years ago.
An overzealous fan jumped in front of Jerkens during a live TV sports update. The fanatic did the typical -- "Go Sooners" yell and ran off. It appeared as though we may have Tulsa's first on-air pummeling. Alas, cooler heads prevailed and Big Al continued delivering the update.
Sports talk radio still contains a few empty calories. If the choice is babbling talk spewing from Oklahoma City or NASCAR updates, well, uh . . . Perhaps I'll have to listen to music again during various times of the day.
The Animal broadcast live from TU and ORU three times each this past basketball season. Again, the talent on board is phenomenal and vast.
I cover local sports media days because it is an easy way to get players and coaches under one roof at the same time. Each time I attend one of these event, the number of Sports Animal shirts grows.
It is almost like they are brainwashing Tulsa's sports journalists. Like a freaky version of the "Stepford Wives". Just insert a ton of overweight, out-of-shape middle-aged men in the place of the beautiful blondes. But otherwise, real similar.
What direction is the Animal heading? They have enormous aspirations. Ward envisions a day when Tulsa receives live updates from any and all sporting events related to Tulsa.
"I want to have a representative at every game that involves a Tulsa team -- home and away. Whether it involves the Oilers, 66ers, TU, ORU, the pro or college teams. I want people to know that if ORU is playing a baseball game and it started at 1 -- they can tune in to find out how they are doing.
"If it is the Oilers playing in Memphis tonight and the game starts at 7 - by 7:30 they can tune in and hear about what's going on with the Oilers.
"If anything is happening in the world of sports -- I want a sports fan to come to us first and say, 'something is going on, I've go to tune into the Sports Animal and find out what it is'."
The signal is getting stronger. Ward believes competition is good for sports talk radio. The two Tulsa options are very distinctly in their delivery.
Anything is better than the Crypt Keeper looking Don Imus at this point. No offense to the Crypt Keeper of course.
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