Steve Melewski, sports director and baseball program host for WBAL Radio, has not been heard on the station's airwaves since last week, after a vehement argument with a top station executive less than an hour before his show was supposed to begin.
Melewski would not comment yesterday on his status, but the WBAL executive, Jeff Beauchamp, said Melewski unexpectedly quit during the argument on Friday.
"He resigned 40 minutes before he was due on the air," said Beauchamp, vice president and general manager for WBAL (1090 AM). The departure "sent me scrambling."
Beauchamp said Melewski confronted him in a hallway about a shift in the broadcaster's work schedule. Beauchamp would not divulge details, but said the dispute involved a change "in shift" - that is, during his regular evening hours. He steered Melewski into an office after voices were raised, but the broadcaster declared twice that he had quit, Beauchamp said.
Melewski would not talk yesterday about the incident or his relationship to the station. But he defended his performance on the air, saying he had provided professional coverage of the region's most prominent sports teams.
"My reporting is top-notch, my reporting of them is fair, my work ethic is outstanding," Melewski said yesterday. "I've never had a job in my life that I wanted more or worked harder at. I brought a lot to the station. I've worked incredibly hard and had a myriad of successes."
A Baltimore native, he joined the station full time in 2000 after two years as a part-time employee. During the baseball season, Melewski, 43, has served as the host of the pre-game and post-game broadcasts centering on the Orioles.
Melewski won Maryland Sports Broadcaster of the Year honors in 2001 from the National Association of Sportswriters and Sportscasters. Some fans have complained on other programs' airwaves and on fan Web sites that his approach has been too gentle toward Orioles owner Peter Angelos and his team's executives during the team's recent years of poor performance.
Although he said he had not precipitated Melewski's departure, Beauchamp said there had been concern about the strength of the ratings of Melewski's shows. Former sports director Josh Lewin attracted 60 to 70 percent higher ratings, Beauchamp said. (Making precise estimates of audience size in this market can be tricky because the time of Melewski's shows often varies night to night.)
"Just as the Sunpaper depends on its circulation, so we depend on ratings," Beauchamp said. "For the past year and a half, we've been discussing how to make the show more compelling, more interesting so that we can generate the ratings that we want."
He said the right tone would be more like Lewin's broadcasts incorporating an entertainment sensibility into sports programs. "The coaching and critiques went on because [Melewski] had not reached the ratings goals that we had set," Beauchamp said.