By Lindsay Toler
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By Allison Babka
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There was a sense of entitlement among the fourth estate, as well as a certain pecking order. During one elevator ride, two former co-workers met and exchanged greetings. After one told the other he was still working in Quincy, Ill., he got off at his floor and the elevator doors closed. "Quincy," said the media type left on the elevator. "I'm glad I escaped that hell." This from someone working for a Des Moines station -- clearly one man's heaven could be just another city in Iowa to somebody else.
Sportswriters who make the cut to attend a humongous event like this are spoonfed quotes and data like so many carp awaiting crackers. Within an hour of any press conference, full or edited transcripts of quotes are printed and left at the press-release table. Because there are truly not that many questions worth asking of athletes -- the basic query, how the are athletes feeling, is guessed easily according to whether they won or lost -- there's little reason to pursue quotes beyond the ones being publicly distributed. Most professional athletes either have little new to say or purposely avoid being spontaneous for fear of stepping on somebody's toes. As Miami Dolphins tackle Manny Fernandez said in Hunter Thompson's "Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl," in 1973, player interviews during Super Bowl week were like "going to the dentist every day to have the same tooth filled."
The media center was on the lower levels of the Hyatt, and large portions of it were filled with sports-radio talk-show hosts, gabbing over the airwaves and taking calls from their hometown markets. As a result of technological advances, these sports jocks can go anywhere there's a phone line and broadcast with studio-quality sound. The portable gizmo that allows this to happen is a digital phone-line hook-up about the size of a gooey-butter cake.
Sports-talk radio in other parts of the country tends to be more edgy than it is in St. Louis. Listening to a call-in show at its best is like sitting on a barstool next to somebody with a funny take on or weird insight into sports. Far too often, though, it's more like listening to someone who at the very least ought to lighten up and pursue other interests, if not seek professional counseling.
For Greg Marecek, who runs KFNS (590 AM), there was little choice about sending his troops to Atlanta. The Super Bowl, he said, is to KFNS what the presidential election might be to KMOX.
"This is our business. I've said to spare no expense. If we can't cover, wall-to-wall, the biggest thing that happens in our niche, sports, then we shouldn't be in the business," Marecek said. "This is where we should be. We have been completely sold out. It's been a tremendous January. We're doing 16-18 minutes (of ads) an hour. People are buying station IDs, top-of-the-hours, Rams updates, Super Bowl updates. There's plenty of expenses, but it doesn't come close to the gains we make in audience."
Marecek wasn't sure what the final cost of bringing about 10 people to Atlanta would be, but he said he knows that his audience back in St. Louis is "four or five times larger" and that his ad rates will "reflect that." On Friday, as he stood next to the table where KSDK-TV's Frank Cusumano and the Post-Dispatch's Jeff Gordon were holding forth, Marecek seemed most excited that his station was going to broadcast live from superagent Leigh Steinberg's party on Saturday.
"I don't know if anybody else (from media) in the country is in the party, but we are because (KFNS host) Mike Claiborne and Leigh Steinberg are friends and fellow agents," Marecek gushed. "This is the glitzy deal. This is the movie-star list. This has become the Academy Awards dinner, the party of this event. Ted Kennedy is on the list. You name the Hollywood starlet, and she's there."
Hollywood starlet? Let's hope Ted didn't offer any of them a ride home.
"The other neat thing is we're going to be in the Rams' hotel on Sunday," says Marecek. "They've allowed us to come in for the victory celebration. We're there. Wherever the party room is, we'll be right outside the door."
KMOX's Karraker filled Charles Jaco's 2 p.m. slot for several days, meaning he was on the air at least four or five hours a day in addition to doing sports reports during drivetime. Because of the demands of doing the KMOX shows and conducting player interviews, Karraker admitted that he hadn't "gotten the flavor" of this year's Super Bowl atmosphere. He did notice that it was less crowded because of the icy weather and a bit tamer as a result of the personalities involved:
"You don't have anyone popping off. Usually you have one player at the Super Bowl who becomes the media star and the media gravitates to him every day. Well, we don't have that on either team. The other thing is, because of the weather here in Atlanta, people who might have been here earlier in the week aren't here. There's just not as big of a crowd. Normally it's packed by Thursday."