In broadcasting, sometimes that nice person you see or hear on the air is really a jerk.
In the case of KMPC's Joe McDonnell, it's the other way around.
McDonnell goes through some kind of transformation when he gets behind a microphone. Nice-guy Joe suddenly becomes an ogre. He has been described as a Howard Cosell without brains--or worse.
But the real Joe McDonnell, who has been working in sports radio in Los Angeles since 1975, is generally liked by athletes, coaches, fellow media members and others who come in contact with him.
"I love Joe," KMPC partner Doug Krikorian said without a trace of the biting sarcasm that permeates his radio work. "He's a great guy. He really is."
McDonnell has called Krikorian everything from Sirhan Sirhan to Saddam Hussein. And McDonnell likes Krikorian.
Imagine what McDonnell says about people he doesn't like. You don't have to imagine if you've been listening. You know.
"I'm honest," McDonnell said.
That honesty, if that's what you want to call it, has gotten McDonnell into hot water more than once with his KMPC bosses, Bill Ward, the general manager, and Len Weiner, the program director.
Weiner said not long ago that he was trying to reel in McDonnell, to tone him down and give him a little sophistication.
Well, it seems to be working.
"I've been refined," McDonnell said. "I'm now a kinder, gentler Joe McDonnell."
McDonnell no longer calls anyone an \o7 idiot,\f7 formerly one of his favorite words.
"It's no longer in my vocabulary," he said.
McDonnell, 36, started in radio at KGIL in 1975, when he was 19. He left KGIL in 1982 and became a free-lancer, working for AP radio, UPI radio, Mutual radio, NBC radio and Unistar.
In the summer of 1988, he went to KFI to become a producer for his close friend, Chris Roberts, who did a nightly sports talk show. In December of that year, McDonnell began doing his own weekly sports show on Sunday nights and also did fill-in work on general talk shows.
"At KFI, I was weaned on combative radio," he said. "The program director thought that was the only way we could compete with KABC."
Said Roberts, now a KMPC colleague: "In my nine years at KFI, I worked for seven different program directors. The one who was there when Joe first went on the air wanted the on-air people to create controversy. He'd say, 'Once you take a call, it's time for combat.' We followed Tom Leykis and we were supposed to be like him."
Said McDonnell: "At KMPC, they want me to be a nicer guy. And I've changed, I really have. The real me is coming out."
KMPC management, besides working with McDonnell on his on-air persona, is also working with him, and encouraging him, regarding a weight problem.
KMPC's Ward insisted that McDonnell get into a program, and McDonnell signed up at the Sports Performance and Rehab Center in Brea.
"It's a complete program, including exercise," McDonnell said.
"I'm not into it full-blown yet. So far, I've just undergone a lot of tests. Fortunately, I'm healthy."
Ten years ago, McDonnell got into a program and lost a lot of weight. Problem was, he put it all back on--and then some.
"I don't want the same thing happening again," he said. "This time, I want to do it right."
The people who like McDonnell and Krikorian like their irreverence.
The other day, they were all over colleague Larry Kahn, arguing that the signing of relief pitcher Roger McDowell by the Dodgers to a two-year, $3-million contract was a waste of money.
Things got heated, to say the least. Afterward, Scott St. James, leading into a news segment, said, "I quit drinking two years ago, but after hearing that, I thought I was back in a bar."
Most professional broadcasters would call it bad radio. But whatever it's called--bad radio, honest radio, combative radio--it isn't boring.
Also, the "McDonnell-Douglas Show," as it is called, almost always has an impressive list of guests. A high point was when McDonnell and Krikorian got Magic Johnson to take calls at the height of the controversy surrounding his re-retirement.
This week, McDonnell and Krikorian auctioned off a jersey signed by Magic for $6,000, with the money going to the Magic Johnson Foundation and AIDS research. Even their critics would have to admit that was good radio.
There are two attractive boxing shows on television this week. Michael Carbajal, fighting in his hometown of Phoenix, heads a pay-per-view card at 6 p.m. Saturday. And Sunday at the Mirage in Las Vegas, Julio Cesar Chavez, Terry Norris and Greg Haugen are in separate bouts that will be televised by Showtime at 10 p.m., a delay of three hours. . . . Oscar De La Hoya's second professional fight is part of Saturday's pay-per-view show, which promoter Bob Arum is essentially distributing himself in partnership with the card's headline fighters.