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The Big Picture: Pregame shows differ in appeal

Monday, December 09, 2002

The duel at 150 paces continued in the morning chill yesterday. Along the Ohio River, interloper WEAE-AM held down its snow-covered turf on the north side -- shore? -- of the Carnegie Science Center. Across Allegheny Ave., flagship WDVE-FM owned center stage beside Heinz Field's Gate A entrance.

They are separate but relatively equal pregame shows. They are so close, if you stand in between, by stadium Ramp D, the voices overlap. No need for me to do that, at least not with all the voices in my head already.

The WEAE show is geared as much for the eyes, nose, throat, gullet and raging male hormones as the ears, what with the free beer, Hooters girls, free wings, free beer, free hot dogs, Tailgater girls, free beer, free drinks, free games and ... did I say free beer, which comes in a 7-ounce sample? The WDVE show, meanwhile, is a slickly produced, ad-filled, music-rocking, stage production that is better heard than seen. Then again, the only reason these flagship fellas from Clear Channel moved outdoors two months ago was because the sports-talk rivals from ESPN Radio 1250 got there first.

The heat was on yesterday morning, pregame show vs. pregame show, at such close range they could almost see the other's breath. The one by the river had four guys in parkas and caps getting propane-supplied warmth. The one by the stadium had five fellas looking dapper in dress clothes and looking cold in a topless motif -- that is, they were men without hats. Funny, after the Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac read a WDVE spot for sponsor Lenox Heating, you had to wonder: What do these fellas have to do to get some product here?

First, a few words about a third entrant in the pregame radio duel. Sort of. WRRK-FM, a classic-rock competitor of the Steelers' flagship, goes live from the North Shore twice an hour, five minutes per, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on home game days this season. The station, also known as Channel 97, doesn't draw the same crowd as WEAE's nearly 200, but it does manage to give away all its free station keychains and bumper stickers. It used to do remotes from other locations around the new North Shore, but the bosses moved it to the Science Center entrance this year, explained disc jockey Monster Mike Weber: "Because they thought this would be more exposure." Yeah, to the public and to the elements.

Yet this duel mainly centers on the sports-talk AM and the Steelers' flagship FM.

On the one side from 10-1 sits WEAE's Jim Colony, Ellis Cannon, Mike Tomczak and Bob Smizik of the Post-Gazette -- with a show-opening appearance by the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette as well. They huddle underneath a generic, white-wedding tent. Wings and a Madden football video game (John, not Mark) are to their right, hot dogs and drinks and an inflatable game to their left.

These guys yuk it up more than the other fellas, invite more critical viewpoints and evoke reactions from the live crowd.

On the other side from 9:30 a.m.-noon sits WDVE's cast of thousands. Phil Kirzyc and WPGH-TV's Alby Oxenreiter open the station's proceedings, followed at 11 a.m. by Dulac, Steeler Digest's Bob Labriola, Pittsburgh.com's Jim Wexell plus Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley from the flagship broadcast team. Station sports director Mike Prisuta also stops by. As Kirzyc said, repeating the entire guest list on the air, "My god, did I leave anybody out?" Why, yes, there's Fox Sports Net's Guy Junker back in the studio as host, and then after noon there are Bill Hillgrove and Myron Cope from the toasty broadcast booth.

The flagship's pregame show is more analytical/reportorial than the other, with all five fellas on the stage spending significant time around the Steelers practice facility each week. They outnumber WEAE's intrepid reporter, Tim Benz, who spends his Sunday mornings filing phone reports from across the street in the stadium press box. Say this for WEAE's Tomczak: He did attend practice last week. The only problem was, it was a practice at alma-mater Ohio State, not the Steelers' South Side complex.

That didn't seem to detract one ounce from the party of parkas, though. There's entertainment and food on one side of the street, food for thought on the other. The choice of smorgasbords is yours.

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

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