Big Lead Sports Bar

9/10/2008

MONDESI'S HOUSE INTERVIEW: ESPN 1250'S STAN SAVRAN AND GUY JUNKER

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with two Pittsburgh sports media icons: Stan Savran and Guy Junker, who recently were reuinted for the 10 AM-1 PM slot on ESPN Radio 1250 after spending more than a decade together on FSN'S popular sports talk show, Sportsbeat, the program that spawned the now-legendary Pittsburghese phrase, "Stan, Guy...love the show!"
Quite frankly, Stan Savran has seen it and done it all in his career. After graduation from Miami (OH) University (also the alma mater of Big Ben, by the way), his stops included Columbus, OH; Lawton, OK; and Orlando, FL, where he called play-by-play in the World Football League in 1974-75. His first on-air job in Pittsburgh was at WWSW, in 1976. When WWSW changed formats in 1979, he then moved to KQV 1410.
From 1981-1991, Savran worked at WTAE-TV as a sports reporter and anchor while simultaneously hosting a sports talk show on WTAE-AM in a slot following the legendary Myron Cope.
Savran has hosted the popular FSN Savran on Sportsbeat weeknight program since February of 1992. From 2000-2004, he wrote columns for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and from 2001-2006, he hosted the 3-6 slot on Fox Sports Radio 970 AM.
During football season, Savran hosts the Mike Tomlin Show and the Mike Tomlin Press Conference in addition to his show on 1250. A member of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, Savran is without question one of the most respected and influential sports media personalities in the city's history.
Guy Junker, a Penn State graduate, got his start broadcasting high school football games in Uniontown in 1978 for $10 a game. Junker was WTAE-TV Channel 4's weekend sports anchor from 1984 to 1990, moving back into the role in September, 2006. Junker is the winner of five regional Emmy awards.
After co-hosting Sportsbeat with Savran from 1992 until 2003, Junker moved to ESPN 1250 AM to co-host The Junker and Crow Show with Eddy Crow, who recently slid into the 3-7 slot at 1250 alongside Scott Paulsen. The move to reunite Junker and Savran happened in late July, where they are now joined by Chris Mack.
Together, the pair worked together at WTAE and FSN for more than 18 years before their recent reunion.
I had a few questions I wanted to ask regarding their careers and their new direction, and they graciously granted my request for an interview. What follows is a transcript of our recent sit-down that took place in their studio just minutes after a taping of their show last week.

MH: After a few years apart, you two were recently reunited, bringing joy to countless Pittsburghers. Were you able to instantly recapture your chemistry, or had Guy already been too corrupted by Eddy Crow?

GJ: Well, we didn’t have anything to do with that breakup. But there were times when I would call him on the phone; we’ll be watching some unbelievable sporting events, we’ll call each other. We stayed in close contact and always talked at the Steeler games and the press box at the Penguin games. I think it’s been a pretty smooth transition.

MH: What are the pros and cons of doing a radio show as opposed to a TV program?

SS: Well, I’ve always enjoyed radio more. I’ve always thought it’s more of a theater of the mind and you have an opportunity to shape thoughts and opinions and there’s not the external distraction of the video. TV is a video medium and you’ve gotta be conscious of that. It’s been proven in studies that people, when they’re watching TV, 90-10 will react to something they see and not what they hear. When you’re doing radio, you actually have to concentrate on what people are saying. You have to be more creative and it leads to more substantive conversation about sports.

GJ: TV’s stiff and formal, too. I hate being dressed in a suit and tie, as Stan can attest.
We’ve been criticized by management at first on TV that all we did was a radio show on television. They tried to force feed more video, more guests…they harped for years on more guests until they started doing research and found out that our most highly-rated shows were the hockey hotlines, the Talkin’ Bucs where we just talked about the game that was just on, and the Sportsbeats where we had no guests. Our shows with Stan and I just opening up a line and talking about whatever we were going to talk about got higher ratings than when we had Bill Cowher on, when we had Bob Johnson on, or Mario Lemieux on, and they finally started letting us go. Even though it was TV and it is a visual medium, people seem to appreciate the talk for what it was even thought it was a radio show on television.

SS: Plus the fact that in all honesty, when you’re on TV and a caller says something stupid, you can’t roll your eyes at a guest or whatever. This happened about 1,800 times already in a month, you know, something stupid is said, you can roll your eyes, make faces…
MH: My website ran a poll in June called the Pittsburgh Sports Media Popularity Contest. Over 56,000 votes were cast for a total of 67 personalities. I recently reviewed it and noticed that your individual scores were #1 and 2 respectively among radio talk show hosts. What is it about your respective styles that endear you to the fans of Pittsburgh?
GJ: First of all, I’m not surprised that Stan got those numbers. I am surprised I did. For years when we were on the TV show I sorta felt like the second [fiddle], not that he made me feel that way, but he was so much more established.
First of all, I’m from Pittsburgh, my family was all steelworkers, and I grew up on the South Side. I remember filling in for Stan very early in my radio career on a holiday. And I don’t remember the holiday, and Zivko Kovalcik called. He called himself “The Mayor of the South Side”, and he really wasn’t from the South Side, I don’t think…he was from Squirrel Hill. And he said, “Where you from? You’re not really a talk show host or accepted until I call you!”
And I said, “I’m from the South Side for real,”, and he said [apologetically] “Oh. Ohhhhh.”
So two things: I think being a native person (I’m a Yinzer), and the other thing is, I think was sitting next to Stan for all these years, who was so established and respected.
Sam Nover said to me one time, “You know what, Junky? (he always called me “Junky”), I really admire you.”
And I thought another shoe was going to drop, with him setting me up for something. I said, “What are you talking about?”
And he said, “There aren’t too many guys in this town who can sit out there every night on TV and hold their own with Stan. He’s an encyclopedia. And you do it."
So two things: being a home guy, and all those years of being able to work with Stan, who was established, proving to people that I knew what I was talking about.
SS: I just always have felt, Don, that I just kind of fit here. I know there’s a new wave of talk shows, and a new wave of talk radio. I’m extremely flattered by your site’s poll. And I know that you’re supposed to be more entertainment-oriented now; that seems to be in vogue with talk all around the country. And I don’t want to be portrayed as a guy who’s clinging to an old ideal, but in some respects, I think that people want to talk sports. And I think I’ve got a sense of humor, I think that I can be humorous, I think I can get involved in the entertainment components. I don’t understand the internet as well as other people do, but I think it comes down to two things:
Number one, I’m flattered that I’m respected. That matters more to me anything.
And number two, I think Pittsburghers still want to talk sports. I don’t know if that’s true in Atlanta, I don’t know if that’s true in Chicago, I doubt that it’s true in L.A., but I still cling to the belief that it is true in Pittsburgh, and that in my view, good conversation, whether it be between me and Guy, or me, Guy, and the caller, is entertaining. I believe that. I always will.

GJ: We have a lot of the same philosophies, but I learned a lot of them from him. We used to get hammered all the time on TV, “Take more calls, take more calls,” and our idea wasn’t to get a bunch of people on.
This happens here a lot: a person will ask their question and they’re immediately cut off. They never get a chance to ask a follow-up question or to argue with you, and we always believed that in the course of an hour Sportsbeat, on a good night, if we had good callers, we might only get six or eight callers in. Because I would talk, Stan would talk, the caller would talk, and then we would go back and forth and you only get two callers and go to a commercial. But we liked that. I don’t like someone calling up and saying, “I have a question, I’ll hang up and listen.” Neither one of us believe that’s the way to go.
SS: It’s a talk show. It’s supposed to be a conversation, but I’d have to moderate that. Even when I was doing the show at 970, they told me, “It’s too slow, it’s not like it used to be, you’ve got to do this,” and so on and so forth. And at that time, I was competing against Mark Madden, so I thought the best way to handle that was contrast; not try to be the same.
MH: In the grand scheme of things, what place do you feel blogs have in the current and future sports media landscape?
SS: I feel that it falls into what I just talked about. I think people want opinion. Because of the internet, they can get the facts anywhere. It didn’t used to be that way. When I was doing a show here years and years ago back-to-back with [Myron] Cope, I was on from 8-9, and a lot of people didn’t have a way to get their sports information. So I would give out a lot of “here’s what happened today.”
We don’t have to do that as much today unless it’s a breaking story. But I think what people do want of you and expect is insight. YOUR take on a specific issue.
One, I think if 10 people watch a football game, I think what sets people apart is that a guy I’m watching comes up with a point of view that I hadn’t thought of. That, to me, is insight.
Number two, I think that a lot of people listen to the shows like ours because they want to validate their own opinions. And if they’re arguing with their buddies around a water cooler or lunchtime or whatever, they say, “Well, you might think that that’s wrong, but Guy Junker agreed with me,” and all of a sudden, that carries a lot of weight. And I do think that’s the value of shows like this. I think people want OPINION. They want TAKE. They want INSIGHT. And hopefully that’s what we give them.
GJ: I read the blogs all the time, Don, to gauge what people are thinking. We’re in meetings every day and we try to pick hot topics. For example, a couple weeks ago, when Pitt, Penn State, and West Virginia were all in the AP Top 25, first time since 1990, we started the show with, “Which one of those teams is a legitimate top 10, do you think there’ll be one that won’t be ranked at the end of the year…”
We thought we’d get the old Pitt-Penn State [banter], it was kind of a boring day at Steeler camp; we got nothing. Hour and 15 minutes, not a call, not an email, nobody seemed interested. So what I like to do is look at the blogs to see what people are talking about on that particular day. I’ve gotten burned with information that seems like it’s reliable on there, so I try not to use any hard fact information, just use it for the opinion. Sometimes I think it’s fun, although sometimes I think you find yourself getting totally ripped on some of them, and that’s never an easy thing.
For example, I was watching last week...Penn State was playing Coastal Carolina and there’s a running blog going on CBS SportsLine as the game’s going on, people talking about the game as it goes. I think that’s fascinating. There were Coastal Carolina fans throwing stuff in, Penn State fans throwing stuff in, that was interesting.
SS: I didn’t answer your question directly. I like the blogs because I get sports opinion and I get sports insight. I didn’t think of that. It’s something to consider.
GJ: I use it for column ideas sometimes. When I’m struggling for column ideas, I see what people are thinking about, maybe it’ll get my brain moving.
MH: What's the most memorable event you ever covered?
SS: I would say the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup. It just came as such a surprise, and it was so new to everybody, and it was fresh. It was like finding a present under the Christmas tree, or, I can’t speak for this, I’m not a parent…your first newborn. I was at Channel 4 at the time. I went to every game, home and away, every practice, I traveled with them…that was my job. In fact, because I was so active with Channel 4, there were nights I didn’t have to do the talk show on 1250. But it was just a thrill. I probably got a little too close to it and I got a little too emotionally involved, and I remember saying on the talk show one night, “I’m asking you people for help.”
And I always conducted shows like that. I mean, I shared a lot of my personal life with those people. When my parents died, it was a topic.
And I said, “I want your opinion…I find myself openly rooting for them to win the Stanley Cup," and I said, “That’s not my job.”
People called in and offered opinions, and finally, I said, “You know what? I finally decided that I wanted them to win the Stanley Cup so bad that I can’t stand it, and I’m not going to hide it. Hopefully it won’t affect my objectivity.”
But that’s how emotionally attached I got to that team. That was just the greatest.

GJ: I worked at Three Rivers Stadium as a vendor and I was there for the Immaculate Reception and watched that, although that was not covering, it was the single greatest moment I ever witnessed in person.

Covering, for me it was the ‘79 World Series. For one, because baseball’s always been my favorite sport, and I was only a year out of college. I was making $100 a week, and this little radio station in Beaver County sent me to Baltimore and I’m there talking to Bob Prince and all these people that I’ve only watched, read, and listened to, and I’m thinking this is the greatest thing in the world. I’m in the locker room at the World Series, I love the Pirates and I love baseball, and the seventh game of that series when Eddie Murray hit that line drive that Dave Parker slipped and fell, I literally almost wet my pants. I’m not kidding ya. It was so exciting to know, especially after the last out, to know that in the next minute I would be in the middle of all that fracas in there. And because I was so young.
Super Bowl 40 was great, but you get a little hardened to it, and you’ve been around. You know, Penn State and Miami was big because I was a Penn State grad and the way Miami behaved at that Fiesta Bowl …I did openly root, and I was happy they won.


MH: Over/under: 9 wins for the Steelers this season?
SS
: Initially, I would’ve said right on the number, leading toward under if I had to go. But because of the rest of the AFC North, which is, I think, going to be significantly worse than I initially imagined, and Cleveland’s injury situation…I’m going to go over by one.
GJ: I think they definitely win the division - I think they can win it with nine. If I pressed my mortgage on it, I would say nine. If I had to go over or under, I would go over before I would go under.


Finish this sentence: If I were Dave Wannstedt, I would…
SS: Re-examine my philosophies. If I’m going to spend all that time successfully recruiting high-end talent, take the shackles off. Let ‘em go. College football is a different game than it was when Dave coached in college or even in the last 10 years. Teams run the spread,,,I mean, you have to run the spread. But athletes win games, he’s got athletes, and he’s got to take the harness off.
GJ: He was asked this week if he had a package of spread plays, and he said “no,” so I think “modernize”. I think if I were Dave Wannstedt I would modernize. He’s loyal. I wouldn’t say fire Matt Cavanaugh, but I would have a long talk with him about what we’re doing.


If I were Joe Paterno, I would…
GJ: Retire after this year.
SS: And I would announce it now. He should’ve done it in the spring.

When you’re not watching sports, what’s on your television?
SS
: There are a couple of dramas that I particularly enjoy. I make sure to DVR those because I’m usually not home at night. And I also watch a lot of political shows. I’m a political junkie, I’m really into it, so most nights this time of year, I’m watching CNN or MSNBC.
GJ:I’m not a sitcom guy, I don’t sit down and watch weekly shows at all, but I love The Sopranos and I love Mad Men on AMC. Other than that, I’ll watch movies. On Sunday nights on Turner, they have silent movies. I’m talking 1920’s Charlie Chaplin, stuff like that. When I get home from anchoring the 11:00 news on Sunday night, I usually flip that on. Can’t watch an entire hour-and-a-half of a silent movie but I’ll watch 20 minutes of it. Huge Stooges fan, too. But I don’t watch that on TV, I’ve got them on DVD.

---

Thanks again to Stan and Guy for taking the time for this interview. Below are a few Stan and Guy links for additional information on the duo and where to find them.

---

STAN AND GUY LINKS:
Stan Savran [FSN Pittsburgh]
Guy Junker [WTAE-TV]

3 comments:

P Niddy said...

love the site, love the show -- nice work

AJ said...

One of my first jobs after college was answering phones and screening calls for Stan & Guy when they did the Sunday night Steelers Roundup show on 'DVE.

I'll never forget when I let a caller get past that asked Stan if he had ever seen Greg Lloyd's penis. I thought those guys were going to kill me after the show, but they laughed about it.

Sean said...

Great interview! Don, Raul, love the blog!