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The Big Picture: TV can't Cope with our Myron

Monday, September 28, 1998

Half of the local folks at home watching every Steelers Sunday are doing only that -- watching.


Their audio portion comes from the radio.

All together now: Yoi.

"That blows my mind," said Myron Cope, the little fellow who is a big reason why roughly a quarter of a million Western Pennsylvanians turn down the TV sound and turn up the Steelers' radio broadcast. "It's the single thing that I am most proud of, the single accomplishment. Because when you stop to think of it, when people become a couch potato on Sunday . . . to do this is significant. You're battling Joe Blow's inertia."

Joe finds the strength to arise from the couch, traipse to the tuner and crank up the volume because he wants to hear Cope, Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin on WTAE-AM or the FM port of call known as The River.

Either that, or Joe reaches over for his stereo remote control.

Whatever, Steelers faithful are also radio faithful.

"It just became a loyal habit," said Tony Quatrini, the flagship's former director of sports sales, now working for WTAE-TV.

When the flagship station was owned by the Hearst Corp., just one year and three owners ago, Quatrini and the bosses used to commission research about this very market response. The NFL average for TV-to-radio tune-ins was around 35 percent. Quatrini remembered the Steelers' flagship and its 50-percent mark consistently finishing among the top three. And the last few surveys said: Blessed at No. 1 were the Cheeseheads.

"The invention of TV hasn't yet reached Green Bay," Cope kidded.

Henh henh.

Play-by-play announcer Bill Hillgrove, the colorful commentator's latest sidekick after Jack Fleming worked the majority of the previous 28 years with him, talked about how Steelers fans want more insight than the network announcers can offer. He talked about how the fans want more Steelers talk than what he calls the "waffle effect" - the network announcers' compulsion to say nice things about both teams. He talked about Cope.

"A lot of it has to do with the guy next to me," Hillgrove said. "His unique approach to the game attracts people who are not tried, true football fans. If you can appeal to the masses, that's the biggest thing you can do in this business."

"The man has done it for darn near 30 years," Quatrini added, "and has become the voice of the Steelers."

Imagine, the voice of the NFL's most physical team is a stuttering, scratchy dog-call of a sound once described by Cowboys receiver Billy Davis of Pitt as "anal." Yet the club's constants the past three decades have been defense, Rooneys, success, Terrible Towels and Mahrn. Remember whose baby the Towels were, too.

The fact that a sizable viewing audience regularly listens to Cope and Co. caused the radio broadcasters to make a change long ago.

"I decided with Jack that . . . whenever we made a goof or a mistake in the broadcast, we had to correct it," Cope said. "People are watching the broadcast, and if we didn't correct it, we'll look bad. We can't afford to do that, or people will laugh at you. That's not to say we won't make mistakes and not correct them. Maybe we won't [realize it] or they're too trivial to go back and correct."

Too trivial? Hmm hah.

One last thing about the new booth configuartion: Tunch Ilkin's grand, but the new TV monitor is a problem. After having the sucker on a perch for so long, Three Rivers Stadium folks placed the screen on a shelf above Cope's head. Everytime he gets excited, which is often, Cope jumps up and - boink - hits his splendid little cranium on the monitor. Hence, the cushion recently added to the monitor's underside and the new nickname for the colorful commentator.

Crash Cope.

Program notes

With John Fedko ailing, guest hosts for this week's "Fedko Fone Zones" at 11:35 p.m. on PCNC: Steelers kicker Norm Johnson and punter Josh Miller tonight and tomorrow; WTAE-AM's Mark Madden the rest of the weeknights.

So whaddya think of that computer-generated, first-down line across your ESPN Sunday night screen?

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