Monday, May 7, 2012

Media Watch: Rating Chicago's Sports Announcers

Here are my ratings of Chicago's play-by-play announcers and analysts.  They are rated from best to worst.

Play-by-Play Announcers:

1.  Pat Hughes, Chicago Cubs Radio.  Play-by-Play announcers don't come any better than Pat Hughes, who is in his sixteenth year calling Cubs games on WGN Radio.  Like Steve Stone did for Harry Caray, Hughes had to carry Ron Santo towards the end of Santo's run.  Hughes did it with grace and kindness.  But Hughes isn't just a nice guy;  he never loses track of the game and always gets the call right.  Listening to Hughes is like listening to an old friend tell  a story, a real pro.

2.  John Wiedeman, Chicago Blackhawks Radio.  Long-time Hawks' fans may cringe when they see this, but I think John Wiedeman is as good as Lloyd Pettit.  I know, I know, that is blasphemy.  But Wiedeman, who just completed his sixth year as the Hawks play-by-play announcer on WGN Radio, is as fast and accurate on the calls as Pettit ever was.  I never have to guess what is going on when Wiedeman is calling the game.  He would be even better if the Hawks put a decent analyst next to him.

3.  Pat Foley, Chicago Blackhawks Television.  There is a big drop-off between John Wiedeman and Pat Foley.  Like most Hawks fans, I used to love Foley, but his calls of games have become secondary to his telling silly stories and his stupid "dree drity dree" (3:33 left in the period).  When Foley was doing both radio and TV play-by-play, radio listeners would have no idea what was going on in the game because Pat would be busy talking about something else.  The stories continue on TV now, but at least we can see the game.  I can see why Bill Wirtz got rid of Foley in 2006.   How can someone as  talented as Pat Foley be so bad?

4.  Neil Funk, Chicago Bulls Television.  A hero to those of us who labor in small market radio, Neil Funk worked in Danville, Illinois before making the big time.  Steady and solid, Funk has a face for radio.  The problem with listening to Funk is that you are subjected to Stacey King, who is just a joke.  Funk is the kind of announcer Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf wants.  Not much personality, just a meat and potatoes guy.  I'm still mad at Reinsdorf for letting Jim Durham go.  Durham's calls of Bulls' games were legendary! 

5.  Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, Chicago White Sox Television.  I used to be a Hawk hater when Jay Mariotti (my favorite columnist) was writing for the Chicago Sun-Times.  Hawk and Mariotti used to have legendary back-and-forth battles.  Unlike many Sox fans, I like Hawk's stories of Rocky Colavito and Ted Williams, but I can see how listeners could hate them.  The antipathy between Hawk and his analyst Steve Stone also hurts Sox broadcasts.  But at least Hawk says what he thinks about umpires, and major league baseball is second only to the NHL when it comes to crappy officiating.  If only Hawk weren't so corny!

6.  Chuck Swirsky, Chicago Bulls Radio.  I have trouble forgetting Chuck Swirsky's on-air arguments with Bob Collins when Collins was doing afternoons on WGN.  Swirsky was Collins' buffoon so it's hard accepting him as a legitimate play-by-play guy.  But Sirsky grew up during his Toronto exile, and his play-by-play is steady.  I just wish I could hear him!  WMVP's signal is difficult to get in the western suburbs after sunset.

7.  Jeff Joniak, Chicago Bears Radio.  A former booth announcer at WBBM radio, Joniak has certainly risen higher in sports broadcasting than anyone thought he would--maybe too high.  He never varies his touchdown call:   "Touchdown!  Touchdown Bears!"  Yeah, Jeff, we know we know, the Bears scored.  Joniak did "discover" Bears post-game announcer Jim Schwantz, however, and Schantz is as good as it gets.  I also can't forgive any of the Bears announcers for being so positive towards the team.  I listened to Joniak and Tom Thayer a week ago gush on and on about how good the Bears' draft was.  Take my word, sports fans, the 2012 Bears' draft was HORRIBLE!  Joniak is a homer to a fault.

8.  Len Kasper, Chicago Cubs Television.  God, I hate this guy!  I wonder if Len Kasper has a photo of Al Michaels in the booth that Len can kiss during the game.   Kasper tries to sound just like Michaels.  The Cubs have gone from having Harry Caray, the announcer with the MOST personality to having Kasper, "Mr. No Personality."  Now Kasper has embraced new Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein's sabermetrics, complete with graphs.  I'm not sure if Kasper is a computer geek or is just trying to brown nose the boss, but he is worse than ever this year.  Call the game, Len!  You have the best analyst in Chicago next to you in Bob Brenly.  Just call the blankin' game!

9.  Ed Farmer, Chicago White Sox Radio.  How much do I miss John Rooney doing the Sox games on the radio?  Lots!  Ed Farmer was Rooney's analyst, and Farmer was decent at that job.  But why in the world move him to play-by-play?  The word on the street is that Farmer hates his partner Darrin Jackson more than Hawk Harrelson hates Steve Stone.  I'd love to hear one broadcast when these two broadcasters didn't ask each other stupid questions.  That's all they do, ask each other stupid questions!  I've got a question you can use during the next game, Farmio, "Why do you hate me, Darrin?"


1.  Bob Brenly, Chicago Cubs Television.  If Bob Brenly could get a word in over the droning on of Len Kasper, maybe his extraordinary ability as an analyst would be better known.  Listening to Brenly dissect a game is magical.  Here is a former manager who knows everything there is to know about baseball.  Plus, he won a World Series as a manager.  I'm befuddled why the Cubs haven't hired him as their skipper.  Brenly has been much more critical of the Cubs than Steve Stone ever was, and the Cubs fired Stone.  If only Kasper would let Brenly talk more.

2.  Steve Stone, Chicago White Sox Television.  Steve Stone still carries the hurt of being fired by the Cubs, and he never misses an opportunity to bash his old team, which is unfortunate.  The only reason Stone is not first in these ratings is because of his hatred of partner Hawk Harrelson.  One of my former students is a producer at WGN-TV, and he tells me great stories about Hawk and Stony.  Hawk continues to call Stone "Stone Pony," and Stone hates that nickname.  But Stone is as good as Bob Brenly at analyzing a game.  My buddy Roger Coleman, a former broadcast executive, says Stone is the most arrogant s.o.b. Coleman ever met, but Stone can be excused for his arrogance; he's a great analyst.

3.  Ed Olczyk, Chicago Blackhawks Television.  If I were considering network analysts, Eddie Olczyk would be at the top of the list when paired with Doc Emrick.  But Pat Foley and Olczyk are too close of friends, and that friendship hurts the Hawks' broadcasts on WGN-TV and on CSN Chicago.  Listening to these two guffaw during the broadcasts is sickening.  When Eddie is analyzing, however, he is the very best.  He's a good interviewer too. 

4.  Tom Thayer, Chicago Bears Radio.  It costs a lot of money to live in Hawaii during the off-season so maybe that is why Bears' analyst Tom Thayer is such a homer.  In his defense Thayer saw the Bears spit out his fellow analyst Hub Arkush a few years back so maybe Thayer fears that if he tells the truth about the Bears, he will be fired.  There's a lot of truth to tell, Tom!  Thayer does know the game, however, AND he played on the Bears Super Bowl team.  I guess we should just be thankful that we don't have to listen to Mr. Republican, Dan Hampton.  Thank God for small favors!

5.  Keith Moreland, Chicago Cubs Radio.  Please, please, please, Cubs executives, please stop having Keith Moreland do play-by-play when Pat Hughes takes a crap during the fifth and sixth innings!  Moreland is horrible!  Let Jud Sirrot do the play-by-play.  As an analyst, Moreland is growing into the job, but his interaction with Hughes still has a long way to go.   Moreland DOES know baseball, and he did play for the Cubs.  Me?  I would have hired Dave Otto for the analyst's job.  I can't believe Otto is not on the air in Chicago.

6.  Bill Wennington, Chicago Bulls Radio.  Steady, reliable, Bill Wennington does a good job on color for the Bulls games.  I just wish I could hear the former Bulls back-up center more on the radio.  WMVP doesn't make it out to Sandwich at night.

7.  Darrin Jackson, Chicago White Sox Radio.  Darrin "D. J." Jackson has improved greatly since he did the television broadcasts for the Sox with Hawk Harrelson.  Hawk and D. J. didn't get along (Does anyone get along with Harrelson?)  The problem is that D. J. still has a long way to go before he becomes proficient at play-by-play, and D. J. does play-by-play for half the game.  Another Jerry Reinsdorf "safe hire," at least D. J. is better than former Sox analyst Chris Singleton.

8.  Troy Murray, Chicago Blackhawks Radio.  After the Hawks fell behind 4-0 in their last playoff game against Phoenix, I crawled in bed and listened to the end of the game on WGN.  I may be wrong, but I think Troy Murray actually cried as the game wound down.  Murray consistently stumbles through broadcasts.  The Hawks need to hire a better analyst.

9.  Stacey King, Chicago Bulls Television.  I almost puked when I saw the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times last Saturday.  There was a photo of Stacey King and inside a list of King's cliched sayings.  Watch Neil Funk when he and King are on camera, and King goes off about "hot sauce" or "too big, too fast, too strong, too good!"  Funk is noticeably uncomfortable.  The problem with all of King's cliched quotations is that they become old and therefore seem staged.  I've been so happy since the playoffs arrived, and I could watch the Bulls on TNT or ESPN 2 instead of CSN Chicago.  I sure haven't missed you, Stacey, even if I did have to listen to Mike Tirico!


  1. Justin MacKinnonMay 8, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Thanks for sharing this list Wyman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your analysis of the analysts.

    A few things..I love Brenly. He knows the game through and through, but he is probably cornier than Hawk. Sometimes I think he is reading his jokes out of a children's book.

    As for Pat Hughes, he is all class, but over the last few years he has slipped a little bit. At times, the drama he expects to happen gets the best of him. Just last night, he called strike three for the last out of the game only to retract it a second later. It saddens me to say it, but I believe he is no longer the best announcer in Chicago. Wiedeman's task is sizably more difficult and he is hardly ever lost or confused. He might just be #1.

    I'm also surprised you can stomach Wennington. He's downright silly, especially when he says "WGN." What is he doing?!

    You are spot on with the rating of the White Sox radio duo. I love listening to baseball, but they come close to sapping the enjoyment right out of the game.

    By the way, in case your wondering, I had you at Fremd my senior year in 02. Who's irish?!?

  2. John Wiedeman is very good, but to say his name in the same sentence as Lloyd Pettit is blaphemy, wrong, and likely an understandable amount of memory failure. Do us all a favor and get some tapes of Lloyd and put them on-line. Having to listen to Farmer calling games is painful.