Sports talk landscape changes, but Charles still comes out on top

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Baltimore sports talk landscape -- never as active historically as other big cities -- absorbed some rather large changes in the past year, what with Jeff Rimer's departure from WBAL (1090 AM) and the naming of Josh Lewin as his replacement, as well as Stan "The Fan" Charles' move to WWLG (1360 AM).

WWLG, which already had Nestor Aparicio as a host, also moved to strengthen its sports hand with the introduction of a new nightly show, starring longtime Baltimore radio veteran Ted Patterson and Spiro Morekas.

The ratings, from Arbitron's spring book, indicate that WBAL dominates the market, while the WWLG slate is struggling to find an audience, but remember that Lewin, while talented, gets a significant boost from the station's association with the Orioles. What have all the changes done to the talk show field? Here's a look:

Nestor Aparicio: Anything goes on the "Sports Forum" (6 p.m.), where Aparicio, a former Evening Sun sports editorial assistant, fires off barnyard epithets, ill-timed sound effects, misogyny and just all-around irresponsibility.

The examples of Aparicio's infantile behavior are legend, but here are a couple, just from this week.

Aparicio, whose show is sponsored by a beer company, repeatedly plays a sound effect of a beer being poured on a show that airs in evening drive time, which alone would be indefensible, if it hadn't happened the other night during a discussion of the life of Mickey Mantle, whose problems with alcohol have been long chronicled.

Just the other night, Aparicio continued his practice of firing off an opinion before using any facts to back it up. He criticized Orioles batting coach Lee May's 1995 work, which is certainly acceptable.

But "Nasty Nestor," as he bills himself, went on to denigrate the former Oriole first baseman's career by saying that he had become a batting coach in Kansas City because of "nepotism" with former Royals manager Hal McRae, and said that May had been a poor mechanical hitter during his career.

First, May, who was a teammate of, but is not related to McRae, was first named hitting coach in Kansas City in 1984, seven years before McRae became manager there. Second, May was a three-time All-Star and slammed 354 home runs in a career that spanned 18 seasons, hardly the statistics of a hitter with poor mechanics.

But then, if you don't care about either your reputation or that of the people that you talk about, as Aparicio apparently doesn't, information only gums up the works.

Stan Charles: Charles, the veteran of local radio talkers, took a big gamble in leaving WCBM (680 AM) in April for the lower wattage at WWLG, and to some extent, the gamble did not immediately pay off, as callers were slow to find his new location, and Charles, himself, kind of foundered.

But when producer Paul Mittermier, the best at his craft in town, came over, "Stan The Fan's Baltimore Sports Exchange" (10 p.m.) took off and more closely resembled the old show, which is consistently excellent.

Though the program has an Orioles bent, Charles is not afraid to take on any topic and chat up any guest, including a sports economist during last fall's baseball strike. And his rotation of co-hosts, including Mat Schlissel and Curt O'Neill serve as fine compliments to Charles.

Depending on his mood, Charles can be prickly to his callers, and has a tendency to shout down or poke fun of those who don't get to the point immediately, but, usually, from the time that bouncy theme song kicks in until sign-off, Charles' exchange is the best show in town.

Josh Lewin: By every measure, Lewin's "SportsLine" (6 p.m.) is an improvement on Rimer's, if for no other reason than Lewin, who had been the voice of the Rochester Red Wings -- the Orioles' top farm team -- provides more information and in

a more pleasant manner.

Lewin has worked hard at learning the area, and the term newcomer probably no longer applies 11 months into his stint. His "Countdown to Baseball" show, though technically not a part of his talk show, is one of the best new programs to come along in quite some time.

That said, Lewin's talk show work has slid a bit since the beginning of baseball season. He has fallen into the predictable trap of going exclusively with the Orioles, which is understandable given that WBAL is the team's flagship station. Still, it would be good for Lewin, who is finding his talk show wings, to broaden his horizons a bit.

Also, Lewin has developed an occasionally tiresome tendency to ingratiate himself with the team, with a constant use of nicknames and talk that doesn't seem appropriate for someone who purports to be an objective observer.

For instance, he said last week that, save for manager Phil Regan, no one was "more frustrated" with the Orioles' collapse ++ than himself and that he came to Baltimore wanting to be part of a winning team. That kind of stance leaves criticism and praise seeming hollow.

But, Lewin is off to a really good start, and the past year has shown that if he sticks with the talk show format, he'll develop into an excellent host.

Ted Patterson and Spiro Morekas: At first, the notion of a show like "SportsNight" (8 p.m.), which, on most nights, goes head-to-head with Orioles radio broadcasts, seemed suicidal for Patterson and Morekas, the voice of Towson State sports.

But the two men, who alternate hosting duties, have settled on an ESPN radio-style format with frequent scoring updates and interviews with broadcasters and writers that is a winner, even if the calls don't come.

Morekas is a solid questioner, while Patterson's knowledge of the market, combined with his possession of interviews with legendary figures like Howard Cosell, Jackie Robinson and Mantle, makes "SportsNight" a reasonable alternative to Orioles games.

HOW THEY RATE

Here are the ratings for nightly Baltimore-area sports talk shows for the period from March 30 through June 21, among listeners 12 and over as compiled by Arbitron:

OSH LEWIN, WBAL, 6-8 p.m.: 8.1 rating, 20,650 listeners

NESTOR APARICIO, WWLG, 6-8 p.m.: 1.0 rating, 2,400 listeners

STAN CHARLES, WWLG, 10 p.m.-1 a.m.: 1.4 rating, 1,800 listeners

TED PATTERSON & SPIRO MOREKAS, WWLG, 8-10 p.m.: 0.2 rating, 450 listeners

[The ratings are the property of Arbitron. All rights reserved.]

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