As I listened this morning to the radio that gets me up and moving every morning, I heard news that put a somewhat gloomy start to my day. Tony Kornheiser, my sports radio/writing hero that was the basis for me attempting to do something in this field, accepted a buyout with the Washington Post, thus ending his sportswriting career with the newspaper. Kornheiser had been with the Post for 29 years and had built his career doing what, at the time, no one else did. He wrote with passion about sports, but he did it in a humorous way that made the game real to those of us who take it a little less serious. His success led to his radio show, PTI and Monday Night Football, but he still remained with the Post through it all, a newspaper guy all the way.
But as good as he was on writing sports, that is not where I fell for Mr. Tony. I loved his writing, but I completely fell for his radio work. In my view, there is no better sports radio personality alive than Kornheiser. He could talk about sports in the way that I related to more than any other….as a part of life, but not the most crucial component. He joked about what had happened the night before, taking the game seriously but also having fun. He also never let sports limit him in his scope of what he would do…..he brought people from other fields of life, ranging from Larry King to James Carville on to talk sports and whatever else they wanted to rant on. He would talk “American Idol” when necessary and had a political tinge that I loved. He was let go of his ESPN Radio show after disparaging comments on ESPN (which came in part because they wouldnt turn the microphone off the internet streaming when they went to commercials, producing some Clahh-sic commentary) and then went back to a local show in DC….which I have listened to online every day since. From 2003-current, I would turn on his local show, write him (what I thought were) clever emails and be overjoyed when he would say, “Matt in Raleigh/Lexington/Louisville writes…” As I once said in an email he read, “No one else could ever get me to write one of these, but you can.”
In an odd way for a man that I have only met once and have talked to only a couple of times, he has always felt like a kindred spirit. He will still continue PTI and MNF, and will do the radio show part time. But Tony is a writer at heart and his columns, when done well, are as good as it gets. I know that he isnt everyone’s cup of tea, but he is mine. If it werent for Tony making me realize that sportscasters and writers didnt have to be Mike Lupica, Stephen A Smith or Colin Cowherd, I would have never started this blog or pursued the radio gigs. We all have those who we have modeled some part of our life after, and in this small arena of mine, Tony was my model. I will still listen to his radio show, but I will miss his work, no matter how limited it had become, in the Washington Post.
One final Tony story….while working in DC, I was listening to Tony interview Jim Boeheim after he had won the national championship. They came back from the break and Tony was laughing and said to Boeheim, “Hey Mr. Bigshot, just won a national championship…..tell everyone what luxurious location Mr. Fancy Pants is in right now to celebrate.” And Boeheim laughed and said, “I am sitting in the Wendy’s Drive-Thru in Middlesboro, Kentucky.” As Kornheiser cackled, I nearly fell off my chair. Boeheim’s wife’s parents live in my home town of Middlesboro, which explained while he was there, but the phrase “Wendy’s Drive-Thru in Middlesboro, Kentucky” became a Kornheiser punchline. Later in the show, while talking to James Carville, he said he had to leave to go to lunch with Bill Clinton….when Tony asked where they were going, Carville didnt miss a beat and said “why of course the Wendy’s Drive-Thru in Middlesboro, Kentucky.”