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Chris Christie Tries His Hand At Sports Radio

Jul 12, 2017
Originally published on July 12, 2017 5:30 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are not usually in the business of reviewing other radio shows, but today, we make an exception. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has wrapped up a two-day tryout for a sports radio hosting gig on New York station WFAN, and commentator Mike Pesca has thoughts.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: The erstwhile elected official has traditionally toiled in familiar realms - law, lobbying, cable news, bloviation. Of late, a few have tried their luck at hoofing, but neither Tom DeLay nor Rick Perry made it past the second week of competition in "Dancing With The Stars." So on the day when a Monmouth University poll put him at a 15 percent approval rating, Chris Christie, New Jersey's sitting governor, sat in the host's chair at America's biggest sports radio station, WFAN, and took a call or two. Here he is talking to Mike from Montclair.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)

CHRIS CHRISTIE: You're a bum.

MIKE: You know, you have bad optics. And you're a bully, OK?

CHRISTIE: So let's - so let's just - oh, bad optics. Mike, I'd love to come look at your optics every day, buddy.

MIKE: And you have the lowest approval rating...

PESCA: You want optics? I'll show you optics. Christie went on to explain that Mike from Montclair was from an area that was particularly inhospitable to him - yeah, New Jersey. Despite Christie's struggles with optics, his strength at argumentation seemed to bode well for him in this role. The former federal prosecutor is a good talker, an eager combatant who does know New York sports.

However, it became clear that what passes for a scorched-earth truth telling from a governor feels like obvious pablum from a sports radio host. Christie opined that the Knicks' owner was aimless, that the Mets' rotation was enfeebled. But in sports talk, this is the equivalent of saluting the troops and vowing to root out waste, fraud and abuse.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)

CHRISTIE: But to me, it's the leg injuries to our position players - you know, Gsellman with a hamstring, Walker with a hamstring, Cespedes with a hamstring. There's got to be a way...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You know...

CHRISTIE: ...To do this better.

PESCA: It's not that Christie necessarily needed to uncork a vitriolic rant about the Yankees' bullpen, but it is a failure to connect with the common man when there's a tape of you getting 10 times as fiery about a teacher who's worried about her pension as you do a million-dollar closer who walks in the winning run. I mean, can we get one guy out? That's what they pay you for.

Christie also doesn't neatly fit into the usual sports radio archetypes. The most familiar tandems are smart guy and buffoon. Then there's jock and professional broadcaster or traditionalist and wild man. Christie isn't really any of these. He demands the deference normally afforded the jock, but the only professional hardball he played was over budgetary issues and infrastructure funding.

See, you might think sports radio is about anger, but it's really about channeling the audience's anger, being an avatar through which all the frustrations of long-suffering fans of the Mets, Jets, Nets, Knicks and Yankees can find catharsis. Yes, even the Yankees fans see themselves as victimized. Christie understood all this as governor, where he burned with a passion, but his stint as sports talk host felt more like a fantasy camp than a battlefield.

MARTIN: Commentator Mike Pesca hosts the Slate podcast "The Gist."

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Which character is he - the smart guy, the jock...

MARTIN: No comment.

INSKEEP: ...The professional broadcaster? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.