Beer and Radishes: A History of OKC Sports Radio through the archives of The Oklahoman…
8:30 AM EDT on October 17, 2013
If you're anything like me, you spent a good part of your formative years listening to Bob Barry help people pick golfers in the morning, Jim Traber scream at people in the afternoons, and Al Eschbach play Stump The Chump in the evenings. If the concept of any of this seems insane to you, then congratulations on having had a normal, well-adjusted adolescence, and carry on with your life. This post probably isn't for you.
For those of you still here, I thought the recent launch of The Franchise would be a good excuse to take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of the high- and low-points of the history of sports radio in the Oklahoma City market. Because I have this subscription to The Oklahoman sitting around, I decided to get my money's worth and dive into their archives. This is the result.
We begin with the man they refer to as The Legend of Sports Talk radio in Oklahoma City -- Al Eschbach -- which kinda tells you something about the quality of sports talk radio in Oklahoma city. Eschbach began his radio career on KTOK in the 70's and by 1984 had established himself as a force in the market:
(Editor's Note: Click the image to enlarge)
I know it's hard to believe that even back then Eschbach was doing whatever the easiest thing he could possibly think of and didn't want to fight and claw his way to the top, but it's true. Some things never change, I guess.
For instance, check out this 1985 letter to the editor that came with the awesome headline "Al Eschbach -- He Rates Somewhere Below A '53 Buick."
Good god, they were talking about who owed who a pizza as far back as 30 years ago!? This letter could be written today and it would not be out-of-place at all.
By the late '80s, sports talk in Oklahoma City wasn't just Eschbach, though. For instance, OU super-homer and anti-drunk driving advocate James Hale had his own show on WWLS, but things like that don't seem to work out too well when you get sent to federal prison, so Eschbach remained king.
Buoyed by his dominance of OKC, Eschbach left in early 1993 to move on and conquer another market -- Kansas City.
To fill Eschbach's fedora-shaped hole, local sports radio stations hired two of the biggest egomaniacs you will ever encounter during your time on Earth to fill the gap: "The Ultimate" Jim Traber and "Captain Huge" Bill Simonson. Traber's still around, of course, but Simonson didn't last too long, getting run off a couple years later for calling John Blake "Buckwheat."
Back in Kansas City where the listeners are apparently much wiser and more discerning than we are, Eschbach was a flop. He was fired after less than a year, and came crawling back to friendlier territory. In true Eschbachian fashion, he put the blame entirely on the Mormons. Of course he did.
With Eschbach back in the evenings and Jim Traber anchoring the afternoon timeslot, WWLS was an unstoppable force -- or so everyone thought.
A guy named Craig Humphreys who's family made a fortune selling AfroSheen started up his own sports talk station -- SportsTalk 1340 -- luring Traber away from WWLS and giving afternoon slots to himself, Mike Steely, and Dan Lutz (RIP). He even almost got Eschbach to jump from WWLS:
Good lord, that may be the most depressing thing I've ever read. Can you imagine being BBJ or James Hale and having to be at the mercy of the guy who makes jokes about how Slovenian women don't shave their armpits? To have to beg him? What a world.
Amazingly, Craig Humphrey's little start-up radio station thrived, and he eventually sold it to Caribou, and what was once a station that aired sports talk for 2 1/2 hours a day became a 24-hour behemoth. They would eventually re-brand as The Sports Animal, and buy WWLS and acquire Bob Barry Jr and Al Eschbach.
And at that point, the sports radio landscape stayed more or less up until a couple months ago, when The Franchise poached some of The Animal's second tier talent in an effort to make their own inroads into the market. We'll see how that goes.
Here are some other memories of local sports radio over the years:
• Some random caller calling in and announcing that OSU head football coach Bob Simmons was in the hospital getting a kidney transplant, and getting laughed off the air, only for it to emerge the next day that it was true.
• Jim Traber, after talking a big game for years and years about confronting Bobby Knight, finally getting the chance and wussing out.
• Jim Traber getting into a fight with Mark Rodgers on the air
• Jim Traber getting into a fight with football analyst Paul Maguire on the air
• Jim Traber getting into a fight with basketball player Nick Collison on the air
• Jim Traber getting into lots of fights with lots of different people over the years
• Jim Traber calling Patrick Riley a "Pathetic Sissy" and "Laboratory Janitor" over the air
• Jim Traber's wife getting into fights with weird Twitter accounts
• Dan Lutz making a racially sketchy joke and then suspending himself a week over the remark
• Mark Shannon being fired for making bad jokes about tragedies:
• The Houston Fiasco
• And, of course, Dean "The Stream" Blevins:
Anyway, those are some random memories. What other moments am I forgetting? Let me know. And follow me on Twitter here. As Running Girl would say, "I gotta run!"
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