Editorial: Radio Days Revisited

The Happy Return of ‘Sports Buzz’

Rich Parker and Rob Woodward don’t aspire to the heights of the golden age of radio, but the silencing of their Sports Buzz program made the local media scene a little bit blander, a little more generic.

For those who never caught the Sports Buzz on Saturday mornings, perhaps on a jaunt to the dump or supermarket, Parker and Woodward hosted a talk show that blended the zeitgeist of ESPN with the rustic Andy Griffith Show. (It must be noted that the word zeitgeist would not fly on Sports Buzz.)

It went off the air in December, when it was canceled by WTSL, but fear not, fans. As Valley News Sports Editor Don Mahler reported Friday, Parker’s and Woodward’s option has been picked up by another station, WUVR, 98.9 FM and 1490 AM, and their talk show returns this morning at 10.

The program is unique. Parker, a one-time pro golfer, and Woodward, a former pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, both rooted deeply in the Upper Valley, put on no airs. Their show resembles an overheard conversation at a local diner, from silly — and slightly off-color — jokes to talk ranging from Hartford High football to the Super Bowl. Deer season and ice fishing receive their due.

While each strictly plays the amateur on the radio, they bring professional perspective, since Parker once tried to sink putts for a living and Woodward faced major league hitters at Fenway Park. Many sports experts have not similarly tested themselves, which perhaps adds to the certainty of their opinions.

The first incarnation of the show seemed to have support in the Upper Valley, but it ran into trouble when listeners in Concord, where it was simulcast, resisted the program’s charms.

Was the show sometimes parochial? Yes, unapologetically so. But are Parker and Woodward a singular listening experience? Absolutely. They play themselves on the radio, and how often does a small-time radio host resist the temptation to imitate big-market stars? And, in the age of so much syndication, how many local performers even get a chance?

Local radio has reached a sad state. Syndicated programs predominate, and one hears the same rotation of right-wing talk hosts and hit songs from market to market on a long-distance drive. Concentration of ownership has accelerated this dreary trend. Clear Channel Communications operates more than 850 radio stations in the U.S., according to investor information on its website. Cumulus Media owned or operated 570 stations in 2012, according to The New York Times.

That’s the macro level. On the micro level, we again have one program with mostly local talk and hosts who say “wicked’’ without irony. At times the hosts’ elocutions bring to mind the late Dizzy Dean, a Hall of Fame pitcher and baseball announcer who tortured English teachers with ample use of “ain’t’’ and who once reported that “Zarilla slud into third.’’

  Longtime Upper Valley residents can remember when useful and engaging local radio wasn’t scarce. Personalities such as Ray Reed interviewed neighbors at the Hanover Inn, and radio stations sent reporters to cover Lebanon School Board meetings.

To desire such programming might seem as quixotic as wishing for morning milk train runs to Boston, but consider this: In a time when mighty radio stations are rendered irrelevant by tiny iPods, the case for local radio, and media, should not be easily dismissed.