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When it comes to making decisions about broadcast announcers for professional sports teams in the Washington area, it would seem the majority of owners of these teams are absolutely clueless.
They just don’t understand the bond fans end up having with these announcers. They are the voice you heard that told you everything would be all right when the team was going through a tough streak. They are the voices you rejoice with when the team has a huge win.
They are part of the experience, and to many, part of the family when they turn on the television and watch a game. You can't help but notice when the games are on network television, as it just seems strange without the locals. Those national guys don’t know what the local guys know, they act like they’ve discovered the theory of relativity when someone passes on a tidbit of information on the team, and they quickly become annoying.
Despite this bond, Washington owners seem to view them as interchangeable parts that no one will notice. What the Wizards did in jettisoning long-time announcers Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier was awful. Because of their consistent mediocrity, I had lost interest in the Wizards and the NBA, but still watched for years because Buck and Phil were like a comfortable old sweatshirt. They weren’t going to lie to you, but they weren’t going to be blatant homers. They understood the high points and heartbreak of previous season, and sometimes said things just as you were thinking the same.
But then the Wizards decided to make a change for change’s sake. Buck and Phil wanted to be back, but the team went younger and cheaper. My old friends were gone, replaced by two strangers.
I haven’t watched the Wizards since.
The Redskins also did this with their radio team years ago. Sam, Sonny and Frank had been so much a part of my viewing routine, there were times I actually drove 60 miles to visit friends and family just to be in a market where their radio broadcasts were while I was traveling. For a decade, the sound was always turned off on the television, while the wisdom of Sonny, the old school “rub some dirt on it” philosophy of Sam, and the smooth moderating style of Frank streamed from the radio into the den.
Frank’s voice was so distinctive, I once played in a golf tournament where he was in my foursome. The first time he opened his mouth, all I could hear was “Touchdown, Washington Redskins!” I even told him after listening to so many games, playing with him was like playing with the voice of the Almighty.
But the team owner – notorious for fixing things that weren’t broken - wanted to install his guy in the booth, and Frank was gone. Some fans didn’t mind the move, saying Frank had lost a step or two in calling a game, but I don’t care if he lost a mile or more, he still was the distinctive voice of the team. And when you watch highlights of old Super Bowls, there are some with the television guy’s voice in the background, and there are some with Frank calling the play and finishing with “Touchdown, Washington Redskins.”
Guess which one still gives you goosebumps.
Which now brings us to the most recent actions of the Mid Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and the Washington Nationals. MASN controls the broadcasters and they have fired Dan Kolko, Alex Chappell and Bo Porter. The mainstays in the booth – Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo – will still be back, but they’re the only ones. Everyone else is gone.
Chappell and Porter have only been with the broadcast team for 2 years, so they haven’t quite established the bond with fans that will make their departures unbearable. But Kolko is another story.
Dan, to me, is one of the great media success stories in the area. Every kid wants to be that guy in the dugout with the microphone, asking questions to players of their favorite team and getting paid to do it. Dan realized that dream through hard work and staying at it, starting as a blogger (and as you can see in reading this site, if I can do it, anyone can blog) and then becoming the Nationals dugout reporter from 2014 to 2019. After that, he moved into Johnny Holliday’s spot in the pregame and postgame shows.
Dan’s appeal has been that he was not this classic, professionally trained broadcaster. He didn’t have that announcer “thunder throat” like Gary Thorne on the Orioles broadcasts, and he didn’t dress like he’d just come out of a modeling agency with every hair in place, every color matching. He was just one of the guys, and the audience and players quickly took to him.
His interview with Gio Gonzales where Gio – after being dared by Max Scherzer - worked in the word “meow” 11 times is a classic. Jason Werth came across as a gruff, intimidating person many would think twice about asking a tough question to, but Werth liked and respected Dan.
This led to more legendary answers, like when Werth described recently departed Jonathan Papelbon as the “D.C. Strangler” (Papelbon had just gotten into an altercation with Bryce Harper where it looked like Papelbon had his hands around Harper’s neck) to Kolko. Or the time he seemed frustrated with fans and through Kolko’s mic answered a question ending with “people can kiss my a$$. I could care less.”
You knew Werth liked Kolko in only the second month he was a dugout reporter, as in the course of an interview, he ended it with a “Mean Girls” reference, saying “And good for you, Dan Kolko. You go, Dan Kolko.”
But the best came at the end of his first season in the dugout. The team had just clinched the 2014 NL East title, and the players were celebrating after the game, spraying beer everywhere. They didn’t view Kolko as a broadcaster. They treated him instead as a little brother who was part of the team.
First Gio dumped a can of beer on him. The Werth, again yelling “you go Dan Kolko” as he tried to drown him with fermented beverage. Others followed until Dan started to cough, saying some had gone down the wrong pipe.
“There is no wrong pipe!” shouted Kevin Frandsen into the mic.
A legend had been born. You can’t say “there is no wrong pipe” without thinking of that wonderful, happy and zany moment in Nationals history.
The Washington Nationals were given the opportunity to pay their salaries and have them continue, but they declined. That could be because they want to take every avenue to force MASN to keep them and pay them first. The team stated “to say that we are incredibly disappointed and upset by MASN’s decisions would be a gross understatement. To be clear — these decisions were made by MASN and against our wishes.”
The Nationals can fix this, and I hope the team realizes Kolko’s value and steps in and does the right thing. No, he can’t hit, run or pitch. But he has been part of the fabric of the team from the very beginning, and he is a comfortable and endearing figure to those of us who watch.
Washington sports team owners in the past have ignored such value.
Here’s to hoping the Nationals this time are different.