Keeping Radio Gary Free of Bettman Bashers
One of my first thoughts about this deal -- along with the fact that the program will be a production of NHL Radio specifically and not XM Radio primarily -- was that it reminded me of another tough New Yawker who was willing to take his lumps on the air: Rudy Giuliani, who hosted an "Ask the Mayor" broadcast on WABC Radio. Every crack-pot, nit-picker and conspiracy theorist in the city would call in, and Rudy would go from sympathetic ear to caustic critic faster than a homeless guy running from the cops in Giuliani's Disney-fied Times Square.
I'm not sure if "Radio Gary" will sound anything like "Radio Rudy," although there's no question that Bettman doesn't shy from his critics, sometimes to a fault. Combine that with the fact that Gary has ... ahem ... a few critics amongst the fans, and it could make for some explosive radio -- which is why XM and the NHL aren't taking any chances.
Joe Thistel, director of programming for sports and talk on XM Canada, told me that "NHL Hour" will be one of the first call-in shows on XM Home Ice with a several-seconds delay. "We don't have any delays on our shows now. It's a technical thing, really. We don't have a delay now, but we're going to put a delay in," he said.
In our conversation Monday morning, Joe also addressed the obvious question about a Gary Bettman radio program: Will there be any way to keep those fans that foam at the mouth at the very mention of his name from attacking him on his own show?
"We want to prevent those people from coming on. We want valid questions, valid concerns," he said. "You've got to screen the calls properly, be professional about it before they come on the air. You certainly don't want those types of callers who call in for the sake of yelling at the commissioner."
Having listened to XM Home Ice for last two months, I can tell you that the callers aren't the typical sports-talk radio mouth-breathers. They're respectful fans who generally just seemed pleased to have the chance to chat about hockey with the hosts. Even if they have a bone to pick with a host, the rhetoric never boils over. "If they want to call up [XM afternoon host] Phil Esposito and they don't like Phil Esposito because he did this or he did that, most people are respectful," said Thistel. "We hope they have the same kind of courtesy for the commissioner. But obviously there are people out there who would just like to come in and create a name for themselves."
"To Gary's credit, he's willing to step forward and do it," he said.
Thistel hopes Bettman will appear at least once, but sometimes twice, a month. ("He's obviously going to be our first choice," said Thistel.) Other shows will be hosted by Clement and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly or Senior Executive VP of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell, who could perhaps share some of his twisted logic for the length of NHL suspensions.
While I'm not a fan of prejudging something before giving it a fair listen, I can't help but anticipate a few things about Radio Gary. First of all, unless someone finds a way to really rattle his cage, there's no shaking the guy; Bettman stays on message like George Bush with a teleprompter in front of him and a transmitter with Dick Cheney's voice in his ear. We'll hear plenty about revenues being up, salaries being down and the NHL having the best fans in professional sports. We'll hear nothing about how the players may have actually won the lockout.
But it will be worth listening to for those few moments when disgruntled puckheads figure out a way to pierce his armor -- if those moments survive the dump button, that is.