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Sports Weekend | TV-RADIO LARRY STEWART

There's Tumult at ESPN Radio

July 19, 2002|LARRY STEWART

There must be something about sports talk radio that makes things so turbulent. Or, as Bob Costas might say, it's a wacky business.

Jay Mariotti, upset with management about how his show was marketed, among other things, abruptly left the Sporting News Network in March.

Also in March, Dave Smith and Steve Carbone got fired by KXTA (1150) for obscenities in a column by Carbone on a Web site controlled by Smith.

In May, Jason Jackson, who had a national midday show on ESPN Radio, was fired, allegedly for comments in e-mails to colleagues that had sexual overtones and were deemed inappropriate.

This week came the news that Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser was suspended for a week for comments he made on his national morning show on ESPN Radio. Kornheiser was critical of ESPN management after his senior producer, Denis Horgan Jr., and an associate producer, Kelvin Alvarez, were fired last month.

Kornheiser's suspension brought to light not only the firings of Horgan and Alvarez but also the dismissals of two producers who worked on Dan Patrick's show. Also, five other ESPN employees who worked at the network headquarters in Bristol, Conn., were suspended.

According to sources, the firings and suspensions were for clicking on to adult Web sites and forwarding material to colleagues.

After the Jackson matter, ESPN began monitoring computer use by employees.

But the story gets even more intriguing.

Kornheiser was particularly irked at the firing of Horgan, whom he calls extremely loyal and talented. After he complained about it on the air, he was told to refrain from such comments by ESPN Radio's general manager, Eric Schoenfeld.

But Kornheiser continued to discuss the matter during commercial breaks, which until about three weeks ago could be heard over the Internet.

Schoenfeld also was displeased that Kornheiser read an Associated Press story about the elaborate goody bags presenters at the recent ESPY Awards show would be getting. Kornheiser had a running gag about the bags, saying he wanted one.

According to sources, Schoenfeld, in Bristol, warned Kornheiser's two new producers that he'd "beat them to a bloody pulp," or something like that, if Kornheiser continued to mention the goody bags.

The two producers in turn reported Schoenfeld to ESPN's human resources department, saying they were physically threatened. That led to Schoenfeld being suspended for a week.

Meanwhile, Horgan has been hired by Keith Olbermann to help him write his "Speaking of Sports" and "Speaking of Everything" commentaries for ABC Radio.

"Denis is just one of the funniest, one of the brightest guys, one of the most loyal, one of the best workers I've ever worked with," Olbermann told the Hartford Courant. "If you've got rules that force you to get rid of a decent guy like Denis Horgan, there's something wrong with your rules."

As for Kornheiser, he remains perplexed by his suspension, which included television as well. He and fellow Post columnist Michael Wilbon are the co-hosts of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption."

"When my agent called me [last Friday] and told me I was suspended for a week, I was stunned," Kornheiser said from Washington on Thursday. "My agent only told me there were a series of things that bothered management.

"I still haven't talked to anyone from ESPN, but I would sure love to hear from someone."

Kornheiser does his show from the ESPN Zone in Washington. His producers are in Bristol. He said he's not aware of much that goes on in Bristol and hadn't heard anything about improper use of company computers involving adult Web sites.

Kornheiser said after this week he is taking a pre-planned two-week vacation.

Chris Moore is filling in for Kornheiser on radio, and Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard is occupying his TV seat.

Kornheiser has done his ESPN Radio show since January 1998. It is carried by 243 stations, including KSPN (1110) in Los Angeles weekdays from 7-10 a.m.

He reportedly has a five-year contract with ESPN that pays him $500,000 a year.

"I think I have a relatively conservative show," he said. "I stay away from bad language and think I do a good job. I want to come back after my vacation, but I don't know what they're thinking."

An ESPN spokesman declined to comment, saying the network does not discuss personnel matters. However the spokesman said Kornheiser is expected back Aug. 5.

Open Confusion

ESPN was scheduled to go on the air with the first round of the British Open at 5 a.m. Thursday. But ESPN actually came on the air at 4:30 a.m. with "bonus coverage," since Tiger Woods teed off at 1:10 a.m. PDT. The bonus coverage enabled ESPN to show Woods live on the 16th and 17th holes. He parred both.

The problem was that ESPN didn't decide on the bonus coverage until it was too late to publicize it. So unless you happen to have been up at 4:30 a.m. Thursday watching "SportsCenter," you probably missed it.

With Woods teeing off at 5:57 a.m. PDT today, ESPN will be able to show his entire round.

Proper Perspective

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