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The Big Picture: Nightly sports report no longer a Guy thing

Monday, May 19, 2003

With three children under the age of 10 and a family outgrowing its Shaler abode, Guy Junker and the missus went house-hunting.

First, before submitting any bids, he figured that maybe he ought to check with his Fox Sports Net bosses about his contract expiring at the end of June.

Good thing.

Now Junker finds himself hunting a television home.

Unceremoniously let go by Fox Sports Net Thursday, this Pittsburgh sportscaster for a quarter-century, this inaugural co-anchor of one of Pittsburgh television's longest-running live shows, this Guy of Stan 'n' Guy, is suddenly and inexplicably and wrongly without a TV studio desk.

True, Junker is no Mike Lange, no Bob Prince. There will be no bobblehead dolls for him. There may be no widespread talk-show and letters-to-the-editor outrage, like when the Penguins positions of Lange and Paul Steigerwald were threatened precisely 10 years ago.

It's just that Junker is a straightforward sports reporter, a familiar sofa in the living room of our sports viewing, a sidekick in a long-running duo act -- and he deserves better.

"I'm very upset," Stan Savran was saying yesterday, the Lewis losing his Martin, the Jagr losing his Francis, on a local sports TV scale. "And, very secondarily, I think 'SportsBeat' is in great doubt. But that is very secondarily to what happened to Guy. I just feel so upset."

Our sports sensibilities have been shaken.

For 11 years, we have known nothing but Stan 'n' Guy.

Where did the love go?

"Very vague reasons," Junker called them, referring to the fateful Thursday meeting that followed two weeks ago the kind warning to hold off that house-hunting. " 'Going in a different direction ... things we can't even talk about in this meeting right now.' I'm not sure where all this came from. I really don't know."

I do: It came from Hollywood and it came from 2 Allegheny Center.

Ever since this franchise show -- albeit with relatively stagnant ratings between 1s and 3s in recent years -- and this franchise pairing of Stan 'n Guy helped to see KBL through to Prime Sports and Prime Sports through to Fox Sports Pittsburgh, the so-called geniuses behind the Fox Sports Net national and regional empire have not exactly taken to this "SportsBeat" provincialism.

Rupert Murdoch's cable minions respected the "SportsBeat" brand, a pregame show that otherwise could serve as an after-dinner, magazine-style weeknight program. They never seemed to understand its Pittsburgh underpinnings, though. They don't get it in Hollywood when it comes to sports radio on TV, but they get it in Highland Park and Harmony and Hempfield. Henry in New Eagle, what's on your mind?

There also was a personality conflict afoot in their 10th-floor studios. News director Shawn McClintock and Junker never seemed to coexist peacefully the past few years, even though Junker had been on the air in Pittsburgh almost as long as McClintock had been alive. News directors don't directly get on-air talents fired, but ultimately those bosses are left standing after the fallout of long-festering differences. Maybe there was something to such creative tension, though: "Pittsburgh Sports Tonight," where Junker also regularly served as co-anchor, was just awarded The Associated Press' state broadcasting award for best sportscast. "Network quality," assessed the North Carolina panel of judges.

It's certainly odd timing to present someone with an award and walking papers.

WPGH-TV just ousted sportscaster Matt Fine for budgetary reasons, so it's doubtful they would be able to make the intelligent move of picking up Junker, 46. Fox Sports Net, as with all Murdoch sports properties, likewise has been economically strapped. Maybe they will hire someone younger and cheaper. Maybe they will overhaul "SportsBeat," so as to spend even less money -- a portent for Savran, whose one-year contract, like Junker's eight-month deal, is set to expire in six weeks. Good thing the channel, which benefits from WBGG-AM being his primary employer, already has talked about re-upping Savran, hence all isn't lost for one part of transcendent sports TV in Pittsburgh.

"I have a lot of respect for what Guy's done here," said Larry Eldridge, the channel's general manager and a fellow obviously stressed by this turn of events. "We all do."

Junker cannot help but remember Fox bosses this past spring talking about possibly renting the Byham Theatre to tape the 3,000th "SportsBeat." Talking about, of all things, a Stan 'n Guy bobblehead.

In the end, the 3,000th show was The End for Junker there.

"I was the one who wasn't OK," Savran said of Junker's farewell Friday, the apparent conclusion to an 18-year working relationship that all began at WTAE-TV. "It really overwhelmed me as I walked in the studio. Three-thousands times is a lot of times. And my emotion at the end there was genuine."

Savran won't appear on "SportsBeat" for more than a week because of vacation.

Junker won't appear there again.

Our after-dinner house guests just won't be the same.


Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.

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