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The Globe and Mail

Bob McCown reaches sports radio summit by his own route

If Bob McCown of Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto were a movie, he'd be Tin Cup. The itinerant golf pro, oblivious to public sanction, dunking one shot after the other into the pond at the U.S. Open just because he can. From his trademark shades (he says studio lights hurt his retinas) to his aversion to interviewing athletes, McCown has always emptied the sleeve of balls his own way. Often at his own peril.

He can jump on a story too soon or nail it. Love him or hate him– he probably feels the same way about most of us, often at the same time. But after decades on the Toronto media scene (Usual Suspects picked NFL games on his Global TV show in 1983), McCown has finally touched the face of the Radio God, achieving the top rating in the male 34-to-54 demographic in the latest BBM audience measurements for Toronto radio. With a 13.5 share in his 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. (all times Eastern) time slot, the bearded host of Prime Time Sports nudged aside classic rock station Q107 (12.4) and 680News (11.6).

Spring is typically the strongest time of the year for sports talk radio, and this 13-week ratings period encompassed the NHL trade deadline day – a phenomenon that sends needles off the charts in many ratings books. But it's an achievement to keep people interested in sports when the local NHL team is doing a double Salchow into a half-filled glass of despair, the NBA team is a rumour and the major-league baseball team hasn't started playing.

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McCown does it with a lineup heavily weighted to U.S. personalities and sports business stories. He also subscribes to the concept that the best athlete interview is no athlete interview, a rule of thumb we wish more sports radio programmers followed.

With valets Stephen Brunt and Damien Cox in tow, McCown defied the odds of Toronto sports mediocrity, thereby dragging the entire Fan 590 along with him. McCown's warm-up act of Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro nailed an 8.4 (in the same 25-to-54 demographic) while Globe and Mail columnist Jeff Blair rose to 5.0 from 3.7 in his late morning slot.

With McCown under a new contract, expect to see the ratings remain similar for the foreseeable future. Or until McCown blows himself up, which is always an intriguing possibility. For him and us.

TSN happy

Over at TSN Radio, a joint effort of TSN and CHUM, they're still placing their faith in Toronto in building a younger crowd after failing to get the exclusive rights for Toronto Maple Leafs radio broadcasts (they're to share them with the Fan 590). CHUM's Robert Gray says the company's sports-talk experience in Vancouver, where its Team 1040 rules the afternoons, is their barometer. "The overall station and show PPM [Portable People Meter]estimates are about what we had expected going in," he said in an e-mail. "We aren't going anywhere but up, poised to continue to grow audiences and revenues going forward into this fall with addition of more live play-by-play properties and personalities to our on-air roster."

The star for TSN remains Mike Richards' morning show (6 a.m. to 9 a.m.) that has, in less than a year, surpassed the Fan morning show in 18-to-34, 18-to-44 and 18-to-49 male market share. It's not earth shattering but it's a start, Gray says. TSN Radio has moved into new studios at TSN headquarters in the Toronto suburb of Agincourt and is hoping to simulcast its radio content on TSN2 by the fall. But it still has a long slog ahead to overtake a Fan 590 led by McCown.

Justice department

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Elliotte Friedman made an excellent point on Hockey Night in Canada's Hot Stove panel Saturday about how teams across the NHL have decided to go with size and intimidation once more – following on the Boston Bruins' example in the playoffs last year. Even Boston's victims last June, the formerly swift and skilled Vancouver Canucks, have felt that, with the way games are being officiated, they needed to add size in Zack Kassian, Byron Bitz and others.

Why? Talk to players, coaches and management around the league (even the liberals) and you'll find that they're in favour of retaining fighting and intimidation because they don't trust the NHL's justice system. Lacking faith in a standard where goal posts move on a weekly basis, they want the right, as Friedman suggests, to settle things themselves.

There was no better example than Todd Bertuzzi of the Detroit Red Wings fighting Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber during Game 2 of their series after Weber pulled the WWE turnbuckle routine on Wings star Henrik Zetterberg in Game 1. Detroit felt the league should have suspended Weber. When the NHL didn't agree, the Red Wings took the Tony Soprano route.

It all makes you wonder where we'd be if the 2011 Canucks, purveyors of skill, had won the Stanley Cup. Might we be looking at a very different NHL?

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