City Paper is not for tourists
Tony Kornheiser left the D.C. airwaves this week. Again.
Sometimes it seems like Kornheiser’s entire local radio career has been a never-ending oscillation between hosting his idiosyncratic, not-really-a-sports-talk show, and announcing that the show had been cancelled for some reason (had to work on a national show, had to work on Monday Night Football, still wanted to focus on writing, weather was bad, was suspended for disparaging remarks about a coworker, etc.).
So it’s probably foolish to get too misty over the show’s departure from ESPN 980, especially when it’s continuing on as a podcast, and also when—full disclosure—I’ve haven’t listened to it with any regularity in years. Kornheiser walked away with two years left on his contract as he and his crew figured out that the audience for a show that likes sports, but isn’t really about sports, was already online and owning the show means they keep the sponsorship money. But I’ve reached the age where nostalgia, no matter how cheap, drives a bigger emotional bandwagon than almost any other emotion.
I mean, I not only paid money to see Guns N’ Roses the other night, but I was nearly giddy when the band played “Patience” as part of the encore. (Editor’s note: Seriously? Oy.) If the football games at FedExField recreated the feeling of 1992 as well as that concert did, this entire town would be a whole lot happier. Point is: I’m a nostalgia victim.
Coincidentally, the one time I spoke to Kornheiser in person was at FedExField. He was in the middle of his ill-fated stint as part of the Monday Night Football broadcasting team, and I was just beginning my own ill-fated stint as part of the local sports media establishment. I decided to try to do a quick Q&A with Kornheiser as he walked from some pregame on-field broadcasting responsibility to go get set up for his in-game job.
I was nervous about this plan, for three main reasons. First, that I wanted to ask him about the openly hostile response to his work on MNF. This would’ve felt like a dicey plan under any circumstances.
The second reason was that I had really enjoyed his earlier work. Kornheiser’s now-legendary “bandwagon” columns covering the local team’s last Super Bowl run (which I probably read while listening to Use Your Illusion II for the first time) felt fresh and funny to me—their unserious tone and (half-joking) open support of the team presaged the career of Bill Simmons and probably 90 percent of modern internet sports yap. His local radio show, which crankily eschewed current players as guests, was the first time I realized how much more interested I was in hearing from sports media types than hearing from athletes. Kornheiser’s time as a national radio host overlapped with my time living away from this market, so he was a connection to home while I was in Colorado. That era’s live-mics-during-commercials “internet show” pushed some of the same buttons that Deadspin would later.
The third reason I was worried is that Kornheiser had a reputation for being prickly at best. He had shredded local radio icon Ken Beatrice in print years earlier, and had gotten future City Paper icon Dave McKenna fired from a freelance gig at the Washington Post for writing (in these pages) about that shredding. All of which, of course, was part of why I wanted to ask him how it felt to be on the receiving end of constant scorn.
The Q&A lasted about four questions—the length of time it takes to walk across a football field. Kornheiser was mild and pleasant and blunt about how he was dealing with criticism. (“I cash the checks.”)
I didn’t want to push my luck, and I thanked him for his time as we got to the tunnel. What stands out to me in hindsight about the experience was his reaction then—a sense of mild surprise that that was it. He wasn’t upset to stop talking, nor happy that the conversation was over. He was still very much an old-media guy, and he mainly just seemed surprised that a quick 350-ish words would be enough for a pregame blog post.
Which is similar to how I find myself feeling about his show now, as Kornheiser has become very much a new-media guy and the show makes the transition from its longtime home on the Dan Snyder–owned ESPN 980 to some podcast-based venture (I’m guessing Kornheiser was intrigued by the success of Simmons and his podcast network). I’m not gleeful that he’s gone, as some have been, nor am I particularly inclined to miss him. It just seems odd, is all, that that part of his conversation is already wrapping up. Again.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.