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Fox Sports Net decides not to renew Junker's contract

Saturday, May 17, 2003

By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Stan 'n' ...?

A show that was transcendent in local sports television just won't feel the love anymore.

Last night's "SportsBeat" on Fox Sports Net was the last for Guy Junker, ending his 12-year run on that show and with the cable station.

Fox Sports Net management informed Junker Thursday that they wouldn't renew his contract, set to expire at the end of June. They mutually agreed that the show last night, one night later than what was scheduled to be their 3,000th "SportsBeat," would be the last hour for Junker on Fox Sports Net and alongside sidekick Stan Savran for 11 years.

Happy anniversary, indeed.

"I'm pretty numb," Junker said last night, cleaning out his desk. "Very sad to leave all these people. I mean, I love the people working here. There are two or three who have been here with me since day one.

"I always kid that I spend more time with Stan than with my wife. It's like the ballplayers, they always talk about missing the guys in the locker room. Not only that, I have to go out and find a way to support my family, and in a bad economy."

Junker, 46, has been working in the Pittsburgh market since 1981 and the surrounding counties dating to 1978, leaving only one year for a national sports-broadcasting venture that failed.

"This is the first time I've ever been fired," Junker said. "It'll be 25 years in October in radio and TV, and I'd never been fired. It's unique feeling for me."

The reason behind the move?

That remains a bit hazy.

Murdoch's sports-TV holdings -- Fox, Fox Sports Net and FX -- have had across-the-board cuts and write-downs and restructuring to varying degrees. There were hints of budgetary changes locally last year when Junker and Savran were signed to new contracts of roughly six months in length, far shorter than the multiyear deals of previous incarnations. In Junker's last contract, management locally and in the Hollywood headquarters wanted to pare back most, if not all, of his free-lance opportunities.

Junker remains employed on Steelers radio broadcasts, a Penn State football TV highlights show and with regular columns in the Pittsburgh Sports Report and the Tribune-Review.

"Guy has been an integral part of the growth and success of what was initially KBL and is now Fox Sport Net," said Larry Eldridge, the general manager of the local sports cable channel. "He has been a very talented and versatile reporter and anchor. He was in the saddle when 'SportsBeat' began in 1991. Over the years, he's helped that show become the fabric of the sports-television market around here.

"But when KBL evolved into Fox Sports Net in 1996, and the past two years especially, we've had a lot of change here structurally and philosophically. I anticipate there are going to be more changes ahead. This decision, which was a difficult one, was somewhat predicated on these anticipated changes."

Those changes could spell doom for "SportsBeat" as Pittsburgh has known it.

"I think it'll go on, I don't know in what form," Junker said. "As a talk show, it might be [in danger]."

In the end of the mostly taped hour-long show last night, using excerpts from their 2,000th special from 1999, Junker delivered a message to viewers who have watched him and the show since they started March 11, 1991, at KDKA-TV, moved to WPXI-TV and later got their own Allegheny Center digs.

"I would like to do 3,000 more," Junker told his viewers, whom he thanked for their loyalty and (mostly) pleasant treatment. Overcome with emotion, a misting Savran replied, "There won't be anybody who'll ever replace him in that seat."

Fox Sports Net likely will rotate current employees in that chair and might hire a new sportscaster, though it won't seem the same to longtime watchers -- who apparently have been tuning into "SportsBeat" at static rating numbers and into a "Pittsburgh Sports Tonight" that recently won a statewide Associated Press broadcasting award, with Junker as co-anchor.

They became a mantra: "Stan 'n' Guy, love the show." They had their faces plastered on Port Authority buses. They got their own Carnival cruise fan trip. They became local sports staples, thriving even after the 1990s end of popular postgame shows such as "Talkin' Bucco Baseball" and "Hockey Hotline."

Last night, they officially became a solo act.

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

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