Thursday, July 31, 2008

RADIO: Get Out the Salami and Cheese, It's Over!

We are hours, not days, away from the end of the Chuck Swirsky era. I think I will miss him on the airwaves with The Fan 590 AM radio and on the Toronto Raptors basketball broadcasts. But some of his idiosyncrasies will not be missed.

The Swirsk, as immortalized on Saturday Night Live, is a force of nature. His eternal optimism and boosterism for his adapted city and country were refreshing, but wearing. If there was one thing that bugged me about Swirsky, it was that he wouldn't get mad at what he saw or heard, when it was shoddy and below par entertainment-wise. The lowest he would go, in the face of absolute horrid play, was to say, "Let's face it folks, tonight, the Raptors have not played well." He'd follow up by promising better for the next game.

In all honesty, as an employee of the club, he COULD NOT rip the club. But sometimes, as a listener, I wanted him to get as mad as I was at what was going on before our eyes. He couldn't meet me half-way.

On his radio show, he perpetually had to mention to interview subjects that he wasn't shining them on or buttering them up, and then would proceed to do so. He didn't ask tough questions. But, because of his Larry King-like interviewing style, and history in both Chicago and Detroit, he got a fair representation of athletes and coaches to come on his show. And truthfully, he really wasn't all that different from the rest of the hosts on The Fan. Even Bob McCown, is more lustre than bluster when it comes to interviewing people, not that he doesn't huff and puff pre- and post-interview about how tough he is. The difference is that McCown won't have jocks on to babble while Swirsky would.

Having detailed what I didn't like about Swirsky (missed bemoaning his second favourite phrase, 'Onions, baby, Onions!'), let me tell you he injected enthusiasm into Raptor broadcasts that was welcome. Like Joe Bowen, his inflections rose and fell with the game, allowing one to follow what was going on, even if you weren't paying sole attention to the TV screen. He ran an excellent broadcast with Jack Armstrong, entertaining and informative. You could tell they enjoyed working together. I've said my piece about his work with Leo Rautins, which I blame more on Rautins.

The radio show was worth listening to during the afternoons. He was never offensive and had a regular three interviews per hour after the opening hour's call-in show. He genuinely loved Toronto and Canada and that's always good to hear somebody from somewhere else say. I never, ever picked up the phone and called into the station to complain about him, which I HAVE done for other announcers at the station.

Swirsky leaves to return to the States, and to Chicago specifically, for family reasons. He's taking a paycut to return to the Chicago Bulls as their radio announcer. It's a mark of the man that not one person I've listened to or read, in print or on the web, has not respected his wish that those reasons be kept private. I'm going to respect that decision too, and not even speculate.

He wasn't perfect, but Swirsky will be missed. Reluctantly, it's time to "Get out the salami and cheese," one last time. Good-bye Chuck.

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