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Wiebel's absence will be noticed

OPINION -

April 09, 2002|BY BOB PARASILITI

It seemed awfully quiet on Monday.

It's a little more quiet than usual. That's partially because my big mouth was silenced once and for all.

It was a quiet that most people probably didn't notice, but for a few die-hard sports fans, it was like not having peanuts at a baseball game.

Yesterday was the first in an eternity of Mondays to come without Russ Wiebel.

For those of you who missed it, Russ last week ended his SportsLine program, which aired like clockwork from 6:19-7 p.m. every Monday on 1240 WJEJ-AM.

With little fanfare and even less notice, he informed his fans that April 1, 2002, was the last show.

After 40 years of broadcasting - both full time and part time - and a few decades of the SportsLine show, Russ is hanging up his frequency.

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The final sign-off was the latest step in Russ' humbly silent regression into retirement. And he finished his local mainstay program with the quiet, unassuming class which is the trademark of the man behind the microphone.

There were no long goodbyes. No speeches. That's not Russ' style. He wouldn't even let me get in a word of acknowledgment to commemorate the situation or to thank him for the opportunity he gave me.

Between you and me, that was probably Russ' way to prevent shedding a few tears.

Over the years, Russ knew he wasn't going to steal any listeners from the Jim Romes and ESPN Radios of the world. The program rarely kicked up anything in the way of controversy.

Heck, if Russ Wiebel is a shock jock, I make George Will look like a comedy writer.

But Wiebel tried to run an open forum for local sports fans to talk about local sports issues. Outside of a couple of vocal loyal listeners, the airtime was spent as a private sports conversation between Russ and myself, broadcast for the eavesdroppers of the world.

There were the old jokes of, "Hey listeners, we know you're out there. We can hear you breathing." And Wiebel would remind everyone who made a call to call back sometime at 301-739-2323.

A hearty few did.

Still, Wiebel had his fans. It started with his wife Helen, who listened every week and sometimes called to keep the two of us from falling asleep.

Others would stop him on the street and tell him they listened every Monday. When Russ asked, "Why didn't you call?" The response usually was "You guys were interesting. We just liked to listen."

Well, after 40 years of broadcasting - both full time and part time - and a few decades of the SportsLine show, Russ is hanging up his frequency.

In the Mondays to come, I'll probably think back on the 13 or so years that Russ had me on as his guest.

I think I'll always reminisce about the days when I was starting out as a writer in the Hagerstown area and filled in a couple of times on the show and how he made me feel comfortable in front of a mic.

I'll remember the old days when my good friend Trav Ruppert - another person I have failed to keep up with - was running the broadcast board and interjecting comments about "His Ponies" (the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts) and some of the jokes we'd tell when we got off the air.

But most of all, I think I'll remember the show fondly for what it stood for.

It was a down-home, easy listening outlet that tried to take sports and its many problems and reduce the business to the games that they actually are.

For me, it's where I found my voice. It made me think and look at sports from a lot of different angles and become a little more analytical. Russ encouraged me to get on the soapbox and spout off ... as long as I would stop at 15 seconds before 7 so he could give the station identification before the start of the network news.

But most of all, I'll remember the man who made it all happen.

Russ is bashful about taking bows for what he does.

He did broadcasts of local high school games in their heyday and continued to put his shows on the air when advertisers were drying up because of the bad economy.

He was so adamant about airing those games, Russ usually volunteered his time to make sure the broadcast cost didn't ruin the budget.

Russ spent his career showing an unselfishness that many people could never understand. He didn't do all of it to hear himself talk. He did it to make sure everyone was able to hear someone talk about them, their sons or daughters and their accomplishments.

In this era of the local mantra "Do it for the kids," Russ - along with Helen - is the only one I know who took it to heart. That's probably why so many people refer to the Wiebels as "Mom and Dad" because of the caring way they followed local teams.

And now, the volume has been turned down.

For now, Russ has scaled back his radio duties to WJEJ's early morning sports report. Come June, he plans to stop getting up at 3 a.m. and turn to a life of playing golf and just watching local games.

When that happens, I think the local radio scene will change forever.

Gone will be the days when most local broadcasters will be homespun. And it might be awhile before the local kids have their games broadcast on radio airwaves again.

To most, that's probably not an idea that will rock the world , but the loyal local sports fan might grow to miss it.

This is to thank Russ for all he has done. For the county, for the kids ... and for me personally.

Yep, Monday nights are going to be awfully quiet from now on.

Believe it or not, Dad, your work won't be forgotten.

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