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Madden: Arrogance a hit in Australia

Saturday, October 14, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia -- It would usually be a good idea to take advantage of being in a far-flung locale like Australia by describing it in a column. But since the recently concluded Sydney Olympics left most people (including me) feeling like they knew way too much about Down Under, forget it. Suffice it to say that I've seen a kangaroo, I've seen a koala, and the exotic dancers here have never heard of silicon.

No, today's column deals with a far more pressing matter: How to do successful sports talk radio.

The most important thing about doing sports talk radio is this: Be smart. Don't confuse being smart, by the way, with knowing a lot about sports. If you're smart -- and I am, having a tested IQ of 166 -- you won't take the time to learn that much about sports. There are far more enjoyable pursuits, such as using your intelligence to torment those who think they know a lot about sports.

Consider, for example, a guest stint I did on Brisbane, Australia, sports talk radio during my stay in Oz while working as a broadcaster for World Championship Wrestling. The callers didn't want to talk about Kordell Stewart and the Steelers -- which is why I briefly considered staying here for good. They wanted to talk about wrestling, cricket and rugby.

I refused to talk about wrestling. Sure, it was the sole reason the station wanted me on the air, but I wanted to establish right away that it wasmy show.

I had been fortunate enough to see a cricket match on TV the night before. I figured out that it's like baseball except that only one guy on each team wears a glove (two gloves, in fact -- Kevin Young should try that), that the man "at bat" wears goalie pads for some reason, and that the "bowlers" (pitchers) are all in better shape than Jimmy Anderson. I'm still not sure how they keep score, or why they bother keeping score. It's a stupid game.

The Brisbane team, however, had lost. I saw my opening.

In 15 short minutes, I had the listeners believing that the Brisbane wicket-keeper was the sole reason for the home team's troubles. I had them convinced that the third-string wicket-keeper is the man who could turn the team around. OK, so maybe he lacks the experience and polish of the No. 1 wicket-keeper, but surely his athleticism and his proficiency at winning in college would enable him to develop and develop darn quickly. Turns out there's no such thing as college cricket, and I didn't know the actual names of any of the wicket-keepers involved, but I was on a roll.

When a few callers figured out that I didn't have a clue -- and it took them a lot longer than it should have -- I took the conversation to my turf.

I said that cricket is an idiotic sport played by idiots and watched by bigger idiots. I said that while I didn't know how Jean-Sebastien Aubin would do "at bat," I know he has nicer goalie pads. I claimed that Barry Bonds would dominate Australian cricket, at least until the playoffs. And I admitted candidly that all the guys without gloves are better fielders than Pat Meares.

At this point, all my yelling and screaming had successfully obscured the fact that I know nothing about cricket. It wasn't long before I came off as an even bigger genius by claiming that I had seen the future of Australian rugby, and his name is Jerome Bettis. That hypothesis even had some logic behind it, since you pretty much just run straight ahead and get killed in rugby. Giant Eagle Jerome Bettis The Bus vegemite -- coming soon to an Iggle location near you, mate.

After an hour, everyone in Brisbane -- the six or seven who were listening, anyway -- believed that I was the Einstein of the jockstrap set. The radio station was begging me to take a job there.

I refused, but there's no doubting I was a big hit on Brisbane radio despite knowing nothing about Australian sports.

I had replaced sports knowledge with high-IQ articulate bombast. I had shouted down those who dared question me. I had made those who agreed with me feel like part of one big happy family. I had killed an hour and gotten a paycheck for it. No one was bored. Most important, I wasn't bored.

That's what sports talk radio is really all about: keeping yourself interested, or at the very least awake. Don't give the people what they want. Give them what you want and make them believe it's what they want. They will, eventually. If they don't, try Brisbane. It's an easy market.

You can be a total moron and do successful sports talk radio if your station's signal is strong enough. That maximizes the chance of people even stupider than you tuning in.

By and large, however, there is no substitution for pure, unadulterated intelligence. Combine that with humor, arrogance, passion, a modicum of sports knowledge, a joy for toying with the dull-witted majority and a genial tolerance for the well-informed and marginally bright minority and you,mon ami, are ready to sit behind a microphone, surf adult-themed Internet sites and guzzle soda for four hours every weeknight. Oh yeah, and to talk sports, too.

(One final hint: Write really inflammatory weekly columns for the local newspaper. That should generate a lot of critical reader response in the "letters to the editor" part of the sports section, thereby guaranteeing you the equivalent of a full-page ad for your radio show each time the letters get published, especially if you're lucky enough to have your column run on the same page and if you can ever get the darn cartoonist to play along.)

Mark Madden's talk show is heard 4-8 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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