For one of the few major league cities without a sports radio station until a few years ago, Milwaukee now has two on the AM dial, WAUK (1510 Days/1290 Nights), the first and the ESPN affiliate, and WSSP (1250), the new kid on the block.
And the big names on the two stations duke it out every afternoon, Steve "The Homer" True on WAUK and Peter Brown on WSSP.
You can't listen to both at the same time, so if you are a sports junkie, how do you decide? And decide you must. It's not fair to either of them to switch back and forth. It's not fair to you. Talk radio is like a family. Switching back and forth is like switching mothers or brothers. It's just not done.
Let's forget the signal strength and the fact that WAUK switches frequencies at night. Let's concentrate on the two most important times of the day for talk radio stations, afternoon drive time. That's where the stars are, even more than morning drive. You can't compare the two morning drive times because WAUK does a national show and WSSP does a local show.
So let's take a look at the big boys.
The Homer is a Milwaukee veteran. He has been around for a decade and a half at least and worked in Madison before coming here. He does the play by play for Marquette basketball. He knows this city and its teams.
Peter Brown comes here from somewhere else. He's had a national show and been a local guy and has absolutely no information about himself on the station's website. But, he has worked at sports stations like New York's WFAN-AM and Chicago's WMVP-AM, and has been an anchor for ESPN Radio and a regular on Fox Sports Net's "I, Max" show. And, now we've got him.
Let's talk about their two shows.
The Homer clearly has learned over the years that talking about the Green Bay Packers is a ticket to full phone lines. "All Packers, All The Time" is an occasional mantra.
He has opinions and isn't afraid to express them. He keeps his show moving along and is relatively courteous to callers. He also gets local guests on the air with him and isn't afraid to ask difficult questions, although he's not a controversy hound by any means.
The Homer is an adult and it shows. He likes intellectual discussions just as much as he likes visceral reaction to sporting events. He doesn't back down on his opinions, but isn't afraid to admit that he doesn't know something.
Now let's take a look at Brown and his show.
A number of years ago there was a Pulitzer Prize winning novel called "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Tool. That title aptly applies to the Peter Brown show.
Or maybe dunces is the wrong phrase. Maybe it should be an afternoon with a bunch of little boys playing sports talk radio.
Talk about immature and childish.
Brown sometimes has a partner, but I have no idea what his name is. The two of them delight in talking about women's breast size, hot chicks, sexual adventures and misadventures, the team of girls which represents the station, bad eating habits and just about every other gross subject that nine-year-old boys might find funny as they gather behind the garage.
Brown's partner delights in swearing on the air. Nothing severe, like the F-bomb, but milder swear words that those nine-year-old boys think makes them sound like grown-ups.
Brown has a steady parade of guests, some of them nameless assistant coaches from schools around the country, who he universally lauds as a geniuses in their profession. They have these long rambling discussions about blocking schemes, zone defenses, film studies and other X's-and-O's stuff that would bore John Wooden to death.
Just as The Homer isn't afraid to admit that he doesn't know something, Brown won't admit that anybody else knows something he doesn't know. He lauds his athletic prowess as a younger man and his knowledge of looking at film and "breaking things down."
Homer has a sense of humor that is gentle and funny. Brown has a sense of humor that is vicious and uncomfortable.
The other day, The Homer had Travis Diener on to talk about his first year in the NBA and the camp that Diener is holding for kids this summer. The Homer read from the pamphlet: "Learn all the skills to be a basketball player, passing, shooting, dribbling, trash talking, conditioning, etc." Funny.
Brown the other day was talking about the Brewers. "I was ready to say they were something special, but then the Twins came to town and after that weekend, this road trip has taken on the C word. Crucial, ha, ha." Not funny.
One thing must be said: it is not all about the host. Station management figures out what its target audience is and then decides on what type of programming to offer. WAUK decided that its audience is sports fans who are grown up and have an appetite for information and a chance to debate issues with hosts. Throughout the day you actually get some sports news from this station.
WSSP decided that its target audience was little boys with their first copy of Playboy, who have sexist attitudes toward women, like to swear and think sports is mainly about blasting coaches and teams. Throughout the day you get news that comes from the Journal Sentinel and is old by the time you hear it.
Here's what makes good talk radio: A host who gets interesting guests that mean something to his audience, asks questions that we'd like to have asked, is funny when it calls for it, treats callers with respect, knows enough to know he doesn't know everything and focuses on local sports. Controversy is part of the program, but it isn't the entire program.
Here's what makes lousy talk radio: A host who thinks he knows everything, gets guests nobody knows or cares about, asks questions that are too technical, behaves with his partner like a boy sneaking his first cigarette, keeps callers on the line forever and tries to put them in uncomfortable positions and pretends that he's a fan but is really out to cut and question support for local teams. Bad talk radio has controversy for controversy's sake.
The Homer is one type, Peter Brown is the other.
Editor's note: The author, Dave Begel, is a weekend columnist for OnMilwaukee.com and a former sportswriter and talk-show host in the city. This article represents the opinion of the author and was neither solicited by nor subject to the approval of OnMilwaukee.com editors. OnMilwaukee.com is a promotional partner with Good Karma Broadcasting and trades advertising with its local affiliate, Milwaukee's ESPN Radio 1510 Days / 1290 Nights.