Frozen Teddy Bears and Asthmatics: A (Not-Quite) Full Day Listening to ESPN980

Here’s another guest post from the ex-Official Blogger of the Washington Redskins, Matt Terl. He has time on his hands, you see.

Sports talk radio drives me up the wall, but I’ve never managed to put my finger on exactly why. Now that I’ve got some time on my hands, I thought it might be instructive to listen to ESPN980 for a while and see if I could work up a detailed explanation — more detailed, at least, than “ugh”.

24 hours is the usual length of time for these sorts of studies. If I had been writing for Deadspin or Grantland or someone like that, I would’ve felt compelled to go around the clock. Writing just for myself, without so much as a blog on which to post the results, I figured that I’d shoot for a work day. Nine hours would let me sample the flavor of nearly all the shows ESPN980 has to offer, and I would’ve been able to judge the station on the full spectrum of its programming. Yeah, a workday sounded right.

I made it an hour. Barely.

Here’s my running log of that hour:

My experiment starts just after 8:00. Kevin Sheehan and Andy Pollin are talking to Redskins beat reporter Chris Russell about Rex Grossman’s turn as quarterback in the preseason opener against the Steelers. Sheehan wonders what it would mean if John Beck doesn’t start against the Colts Friday after a week of practice.

8:05: Pollin starts recapping Thom Loverro’s recent column about Richie Petitbon, who made some comments about Jack Kent Cooke’s failure to pay enough to bring Reggie White to Washington. I miss a pretty big chunk of this to drop my kid off at daycare. Having already read the column, I’m not overly concerned about missing the recap.

8:15ish: I finish at daycare in time to hear that Pollin has moved from recap to analysis of Loverro’s piece. Specifically, I come in as he’s explaining that the $3 million difference Loverro posits between Cooke’s offer to White and the deal White eventually took in Green Bay is much bigger than you might think, because the salary cap was lower, times were different, etc. Suffice it to say that it is a much more pro-ownership analysis than anything I’ve heard from Pollin in recent years.

Sheehan wonders what again what it would mean if John Beck doesn’t start against the Colts Friday.

“You and I watch exhibition games because we’re paid to,” Pollin says to Sheehan. His tone implies that anyone who enjoys watching exhibition games is a moron. I’m not sure what that would make anyone who enjoys listening to radio guys analyze an exhibition game two days later.

8:21: The best thing I’ve heard so far: someone (namely Sheehan) is finally reviewing Charley Casserly’s drafts critically. Very critically. Not quite sure how this has taken so long — if you look at Redskins drafts from 1989 to 1999, they make the last decade’s haul look positively Ozzie Newsome-esque.

8:40 or so: Lost several minutes trying to get the stereo in my office to receive 94.3, 92.7, or 980. Eventually realized that I had no antenna plugged in — on either band — because I listen to no radio whatsoever when I’m not in the car. Dug out antennas (antennae?), plugged them in, spent several more fruitless minutes trying to receive 94.3, 92.7, or 980. Failed. I would have better luck standing outside my front door and listening real hard in the direction of Redskins Park. Returned glumly to the online feed.

8:42: Doc Walker is giving some solid analysis, but his phone connection sounds like he’s broadcasting via Speak N’ Spell.

8:45: Pollin promises (or threatens?) to take our “Rex temperature” after break. Sounds invasive.

8:49: I’m sure the over-the-air commercials are terrible in their own right, but this “freeze your chidren’s stuffed animals to kill dust mites” anti-asthma ad on the online feed is grim.

8:50: Now it’s an anti-anxiety commercial (which has audio compression making it sound like a 64 kb/s MP3 you’d have downloaded off Napster in 2000). I’m cultivating an image of ESPN980’s target demographic as anxious people who live in dusty homes with asthmatic children. Really making the audience seem like an exclusive club I want to be a part of, guys.

Oh good, they’re taking callers. I expect to hear some anxiety (and possibly some asthma).

8:53: Sheehan: “If [Beck] practices all week, he should get the start.” This is the third time this hour that he’s made that observation.

8:55: Caller Fitzgerald tells Pollin that “dreadlocks” is a derogatory term and he should just say “locks”. Wikipedia assures me of the same thing, but has the dreaded [citation needed] tag attached. I will continue to use “hair” when referring to what’s under Tim Hightower’s helmet.

8:57: Ad for ADT security systems. I wonder why the listeners are so anxious after being bombarded by these cheerful messages.

8:58: A “be a dad” commercial, followed by a financial commercial, and then a commercial about how 1 in 6 Americans — including your neighbors and co-workers! — are battling hunger. At least the commercials are making the Redskins seem like an upbeat topic.

8:59: Asthma again. I’m thinking that maybe I should dust. (If you’re a particularly masochistic sort, you can listen to a bunch of these asthma ads here.)

9:00: A disaster readiness commericial from the New York City Office of Emergency Management. Leaving aside the peculiarity of a New York-centric ad on ESPN980’s internet feed (“What if disaster strikes and you’re uptown while your family is downtown?”), the sound effects meant to imply DISASTER! sound more like something out of Tron.

This ad has helped me refine my view of how views their listeners: justifiably anxious people who barricade themselves in their dusty homes with their asthmatic children, and horde food from their hungry neighbors while waiting for the MCP to hack the Pentagon’s computers. The similarities between ESPN980 and Radiohead’s OK Computer album are somewhat startling.


9:05: Oh, god, they’re rehashing the Spurrier era again. Somehow it’s not as grimly amusing as when Chris Mottram went over it recently. Perhaps this was what the disaster readiness commercial was meant to prepare us for.

9:12: Sheehan and Pollin are talking about the injury situations with LaRon Landry and Chris Cooley. Not as depressing as the hunger ad, but slightly more unnerving than the ad.

9:15: Teddy bears in the freezer again. There’s a picture on Flickr entitled “Frozen Teddy Bear” that does an excellent job conveying the sheer heartrending bleakness conjured up by the idea of frozen teddy bears.

9:16: Now there’s an ad reminding me to get my medical screenings. I was neurotic enough when I woke up this morning; now I’m verging on acute hypochondria.

9:17: Holy god it’s the kids with the asthma attacks again. This is insane. There is no way any human being could listen to this for more than a few minutes at a stretch.

9:17: We bounce back in from commercial with a snippet of Larry Michael’s play-by-play from Friday’s game, with commentary from Sam Huff. I’m just thrilled it’s not another asthma commercial.

9:18: They’ve brought back ESPN980 beat reporter Chris Russell, so I guess his appearances are hourly. Since it’s been an hour since he last broached the topic with Russell, Kevin Sheehan asks if Beck will be the starter for the Indy game, and that’s officially all I can take.

I can handle the incessant asthma commercials (so far), but this …

See, this question somehow manages to be simultaneously obvious (yes, it seems very likely that Beck will be given a chance to start), unanswerable (we don’t know, because Mike Shanahan will tell us whatever he wants to whenever he wants to and we will never know when to disbelieve him), and soon to be completely obvious (no matter how much this is discussed during the 8:00 hour of Monday morning, we will find out the answer at 7:06 Friday night, give or take a few minutes). And yet Sheehan is asking it at roughly fifteen minute intervals.

With an immense — almost frightening — sense of relief, I close the radio player window. I suppose I’ve learned something about what I dislike in sports talk radio: the endless cycle of ads and speculative conversation. But mainly I learned that ESPN980’s online ads are the most depressing thing in the world. Maybe I’ll give this another shot when I have access to a working terrestrial radio.

13 thoughts on “Frozen Teddy Bears and Asthmatics: A (Not-Quite) Full Day Listening to ESPN980”

  1. I came here to lunch on you for live blogging ESPN 980, but I gotta agree, there’s nothing more depressing and annoying than the gov’t ads they during commercials for online listeners

  2. I think sports talk is best as background when you’re in the car intermittently throughout the day. Listening to large blocks of it makes you hate everything (the 2-3 topics they beat to death, local ad jingles, schtick, etc…)

    Call 855-ROYALGLASS. Your broken glass, we’ll fix it fast.

  3. The only one of these that is flat-out impossible to conceive is Cowherd. I’m in awe of Steinberg just for being able transcribe brief, discrete chunks of that one.

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