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The Czabe: A silver anniversary in sports radio


Steve Czaban says it’s an oversight.

The veteran sports broadcaster, celebrating his 25th anniversary in the business, has a lengthy resume that lists work in local markets such as Washington, Chicago, Charlotte and Milwaukee, as well as national gigs with Sporting News Radio and ESPN Radio.

But there’s no mention of Fox Sports Radio, where “Czabe” spent seven years (2002-2009), the last five in the morning drive spot. His contract wasn’t renewed when Fox decided to put Stephen A. Smith in the time slot instead.

“They treated us great at Fox,” Czaban said during a recent phone interview. “They wanted to go in a different direction. That happens in the business.”

He said he was unaware that Fox doesn’t appear on his bio and the omission is unintentional. But he let everyone know his thoughts in a December 2009 blog post. “This was not my choice, or desire,” he wrote. “My agent wants me to spin it in one of those ‘we decided to mutually part ways’ for anybody who wanted to know. But I’m not good at lying.”

However, he’s great at sports talk, which is why the McLean, Va., native spent just eight months away from the syndicated airwaves before resuming his national show via Sporting News Radio (now Yahoo! Sports Radio). “The Steve Czaban Show” is heard locally on Sports Talk 570 and he also co-hosts “The Drive” on ESPN 980, meaning he’s on air for nearly eight hours each day.

“I guess I’m lucky that there’s a different focus on the national show,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of things we can talk about nationally. On the other one, we’re digging into the nuances of what’s important locally. I couldn’t do that many hours of one style of show each day.”

When he graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara, Czaban dreamed of having a career like local play-by-play legend Steve Buckhantz. But Czaban quickly realized that those jobs are very limited and open infrequently. He was calling basketball games and doing a one-hour talk show on KTMS in Santa Barbara – where fellow UCSB alum Jim Rome began – when homesickness and an appetite for more passion set in. So he moved back home in 1994.

“As nice as it was being in California, that side of the country moves in different rhythms,” Czaban said. “The importance of sports and fanaticism is different out there and I never felt truly at home. I didn’t miss winter but I did miss seasonality. To me, the seasons go hand-in-hand with the sports calendar.”

He did some work for WTEM-AM 570 until accepting a job in Chicago, where he spent three years before relocating to Charlotte. His afternoon show was doing fantastic when the general manager decided to give Czaban the morning slot.

Shortly thereafter, Czaban experienced his first taste of the industry’s cruel, bitter side.

“(The GM) let it go for one month exactly and decided it wasn’t working out,” he said. “I was fired summarily and not paid the rest of my contract. My first child was born four weeks prior to that. That was the fun part of the business, but it was a blessing because I started filling in for ESPN Radio after that.”

But he had no desire to relocate to Bristol, Conn., so he turned down a full-time offer and returned to WTEM to join “The Sports Reporters” with Andy Pollin in 2000. The two spent more than a decade together until the station paired Czaban with former Washington tight end Chris Cooley and Al Galdi in 2013.

Having grown up and spent most of his professional career in the D.C. market, Czaban said it gets a bum rap among sports towns. While it’s not in the big four of New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia, Czaban said D.C. is “right in the mix” with any other major area.

“It’s not our fault that there isn’t a kind of blue-collar industry that some other cities have that breed the beer-and-a-shot sports fan who goes to a little bar with no windows to watch local games, hang out and drink,” he said. “We’re a more professional city. And it’s not our fault that our teams have sucked for so long. I think we’re a very solid sports city and we don’t have anything to apologize for.”

He also has no remorse for the abundance of time spent locally on the NFL and Washington’s franchise. Local critics who claim Czaban & Co. never talk about other area teams are “flat-out wrong” he said. “I can show them the logs.”  But he said you can’t overdo it with the NFL, particularly with storylines as juicy as RG3 and other burgundy-and-gold dramas.

Yahoo gave Czaban’s a three-year renewal in October 2013, a few months before ESPN 980 extended his local contract by the same length. “Czabe is integral to the success of our station,” VP of Programming Chuck Sapienza said in a release. “We look forward to three additional years of Czabe, Cooley and Galdi.”

Czaban never saw this coming 25 years ago.

“Being in this business like being on the run from the law,” he said. “You never take anything for granted beyond the end of your current contract. It’s a deal you have to make peace with in your mind, that ‘Hey, this may not work out and I’ll have to go to Plan B.”

Being bumped by Stephen A. and being canned in Charlotte haven’t stopped Plan A. It’s working out just fine.

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