The next time you find yourself listening to your favorite sports radio show, just know Greg Gumbel won’t be tuning in with you.
Gumbel recently joined George Ofman’s podcast Tell Me A Story I Don’t Know. During their conversation, the acclaimed CBS broadcaster made it clear that he absolutely loathes the concept of sports radio. According to Gumbel, successful broadcasters should be able to express their opinions in a convincing manner without talking down to the audience, and that’s not the foundation sports radio was built on.
“People who listen to sports talk radio strike me as being anxious to be told what to think,” Gumbel explained around the 29-minute mark in the above podcast. “I certainly don’t need someone yelling at me, but I don’t need anyone trying to tell me what I should think about this pitcher for the California Angels whom I can watch for myself and make my own judgments.
“But there apparently is a huge audience for sports talk radio,” Gumbel continued. “Now, if you’re just tuning in to hear people argue and scream and shout, that’s fine. Good luck to you. Good luck in your early grave. Because I think it’s the most ridiculous thing on the planet. I have not heard, in my lifetime, more than an hour’s worth of sports talk radio and most of it that I heard is basically the lead-in or the lead-out from an interview that I might have done on occasion.”
I don’t know if Gumbel realizes it, but his rant on sports radio would make for perfect sports radio. Calling it “one of the most ridiculous things on the planet” is an extremely amplified hot take of an opinion, and claiming sports radio listeners are “anxious to be told what to think” is kind of talking down to the audience.
Credit Ofman for reminding Gumbel that he once had the opportunity to pioneer the sports radio industry, when he hosted WFAN’s first morning show back in 1987. Gumbel even co-hosted shows with WFAN icon Mike Francesa, who would go on to find a more suitable sports radio partner in Chris “Mad Dog” Russo. But instead of learning to love sports radio the way Francesa and Russo did, Gumbel claims WFAN taught him to hate the medium.
“That’s when I learned to hate it,” Gumbel stated bluntly. “It was something new and different and I thought I would try it. And about three or four months into a three-year contract I knew it wasn’t for me. Because I am not a guy who wants to sit there and argue and yet, that’s what the listening audience wants…I did not like it. I did not enjoy it.”
Gumbel claimed he couldn’t engage with the callers who wanted to argue about hypothetical trades and situations. “What are you supposed to do with that? Number one, I’m not the decision maker,” he told Ofman. “Number two, nothing that you or I say is going to influence that and to me that’s useless.”
Sports radio is entertainment. It may be “useless” in terms of being a productive societal contributor, but then so are fictional movies and other forms of art. At its best, sports radio should provoke thought, and welcome differing opinions while building a community. At its worst, the sports radio host is passive and says “what am I supposed to do with that?”