On paper, it's a mismatch. In the blue corner, wearing shades, with decades of attracting ears at Toronto's FAN 590, ladies and gentlemen … Bob McCown. In the red corner, wearing TSN Radio sunglasses, a veteran of 16 years in a bunch of places as host and reporter with a Gemini nomination for sports reporting … put your hands together for James Cybulski.
As we said, a mismatch on paper. But that's why they play the games. Just ask Buster Douglas.
Cybulski was named as TSN's afternoon drive host last Thursday, culminating months of speculation and false leads. Where TSN promptly wrapped up its morning man Mike Richards last January, the search for an afternoon host dragged on for months. There was blue-sky talk of a George Stroumboulopoulos strategy. Damian Cox of the Toronto Star left TSN at the altar, bolting to rival FAN 590.
As late as March 27, Off The Record host Michael Landsberg (who declined to be interviewed for this piece) was reportedly still part of the equation. But shuttling Landsberg from the TSN studios in the suburban Toronto neighbourhood of Agincourt to the CHUM radio campus on Richmond Street downtown through 4 p.m. city traffic was not feasible.
This left Cybulski as the last (TSN) man standing come April 13's startup date. Having worked for FAN 590 program director Rob Gray in Vancouver and with executive David Mitchell in Ottawa radio, Cybulski was a known commodity. Having the Algonquin College graduate already under TSN contract didn't hurt, either. Adding Gareth Wheeler, formerly of Sun TV's The Grill Room, as producer and other voice squared the circle.
But why should Cybulski feel he can knock McCown off his perch when the best efforts of Bill Watters on AM640 could only put a minor dent in the ratings for McCown's Prime Time Sports? "I don't see it as a competition so much as it's a choice," the 37-year old says. "We have a wide variety of sports TV networks these days all surviving, why not on radio? I think we can a bring a fresh perspective to the market. There's lots of room for creativity in this slot to talk more than just sports."
Still, James, this is taking on an institution, right? "Listen if anyone doesn't think there's some trepidation, they've crazy. But this is the opportunity of a lifetime, three hours in prime time in the biggest market in the country. Why wouldn't I be excited?"
WHO CALLS THE SHOTS
Radio insiders are watching who will have the hammer between corporate cousins TSN and CHUM when it comes to running TSN Radio 1050. They were mandated by the new Bell bosses to mount a sports radio station and to work out the power-sharing details. TSN has an unbroken string of success in TV sports broadcasting; CHUM has the failed TEAM Network concept (with its - mostly - thriving orphans in Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver). Hmm.
Certain factions want the studios to be located in TSN's Agincourt office; CHUM would prefer it to stay in its downtown haunt. (After some "discussions," studios are reportedly being prepared at TSN.) CHUM has the radio expertise, TSN the sports know-how. Is the wandering path to an afternoon host indicative of the management style or is the bold grab for Richards, a former Rogers employee, a sign of things to come? Answers a week from Wednesday.
OVERS AND UNDERS
If you missed that dull roar Saturday, it was about a billion Indians celebrating winning their first World Cup of cricket in 28 years. TV estimates suggest another billion were watching worldwide on TV (including here in the middle of a frozen north night). India won by six wickets with 10 balls in hand. According to ESPN's Cricinfo, the match nearly didn't start when match referee Jeff Crowe didn't hear the coin-toss call. "There's some confusion over who's won the toss. What drama. And they are doing a re-toss. No one heard who called what. Kumar Sangakkara has won the re-toss. Sri Lanka will bat, a massive moment." Massive, indeed.
The broadcasts didn't lack for Pierre McGuire-like critiques. ""The only person who can control [India's]Sreesanth is Sreesanth," Sri Lanka's Tillakaratne Dilshan said. "It is beyond my control, and I don't think too much about." (Sreesanth surrendered 52 runs in eight overs). It's beyond us, too. Where's my char wallah?
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