Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mr Tony

Today's first topic is another of my writing mentors/influences, Tony Kornheiser. For those who don't know, Mr. Tony writes a sports column for the Washington Post and, along with his Post colleague Michael Wilbon, hosts a show on ESPN called Pardon the Interruption, or PTI. Most importantly, to me anyway, he also has a two-hour radio show broadcast out of Sportstalk 980 WTEM in Washington, DC. He is smart, funny, honest enough to admit when he is wrong and humble enough to make fun of his often inflated ego.

Growing up in the DC area, I read his column regularly and am old enough that when I went to college, I had to go to the library to find actual hard copies of the Post to keep up. Do you remember those long wooden rods that had the newspaper threaded through them? It took some effort to find those columns in preInternet times. Then again, if I had unlimited Internet access in college, I probably would have flunked out. Nearly did without it.

Mr. Tony's radio show is a mix of sports and pop culture with some politics or other matters creeping in as he is inclined. I had always enjoyed the radio show as time and work permitted since its debut in the late '90s, but I became an obsessed listener when I left my job to work as a freelance writer in March, 2004. The show went off the air that spring due to Kornheiser's conflicts with ESPN Radio management, but resurfaced as a local program in the fall.

The last segment of the show is "Mr. Tony's Mailbag," where he reads emails from listeners. Sometimes he comments on them, particularly if he feels he needs to set the record or the emailer straight. One day, I took the bait (I'm supposed to be a writer, right?) and sent an email. Not only did he read it, he said, "That's funny." This simple transaction sent my obsession into overdrive. I became a fanatical emailer, sending several a day, listening intently to see if my submission would make the cut. The show airs from 9:00 to 11:00 am and is repeated from 11 to 1, and I would listen to hear my email twice or sometimes listen again to see if somehow I had missed it. Once I called the station from a golf course and asked them to leave me on hold so I could see if I got on the air.

In a way, it's pathetic, but in another way it's encouraging and validating. If a guy whose work I enjoy and admire thinks that something I wrote is good enough to fill some time on his radio show, I feel like I might actually be able to write for a living. It hasn't worked out that way just yet, but it feels like a step in the right direction. So if you tune in to hear Mr. Tony, be sure to listen for any emails from "Bill in Phoenix, Maryland."

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