(Part 2 of a two-part series)
In July 2009, there were players on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster with names like: Trai Essex, Willie Colon, Doug Legursky and Aaron Smith. All have long since departed from the Steelers. At the same time, the voice of Stan Savran was in jeopardy of departing from the Pittsburgh sportscasting scene as well.
[pullquote]Longtime Pittsburgh sportscaster Stan Savran speaks his mind in candid New Pittsburgh Courier interview, including thoughts on the 2009 cancellation of his popular sports show, his health issues, and how much longer he wants to play on Pittsburgh’s sports media field[/pullquote]The only indicator of any fireworks that the Steel City had experienced during the beginning of an otherwise uneventful month was a slight fog that may have been lingering from the pyrotechnic displays celebrating the Fourth of July. But a separate set of fireworks were soon going to be ignited by an unforeseen shakeup in the Pittsburgh sportscasting universe.
The date was July 7, 2009. “Savran on Sportsbeat” was cancelled by FSN Pittsburgh and Savran’s future with the station was up in the air. Savran’s vivid recollection cut through the fog of his firing on that fateful day with clarity and honesty. When I inquired to Savran about his emotional state on the day that the show was cancelled he said, “I was devastated.”
He repeated it again, almost as to make sure that his point was made: “I was devastated. A lot of people who may have been a little bit younger may have forgotten or may have not realized that I was at Channel 4 (WTAE) doing sports on the 11 o’clock news for 11 years. Some people may have also forgotten that I had done the Steelers on TV for five seasons. Whenever I go, and I mean go, not retire, I think most people know me and will remember me from my time on Sportsbeat. The thing that struck me, Aubrey, was that it seemed so unnecessary.”
Savran really opened up to me in our sit-down interview. “It was an executive decision by people that didn’t live in Pittsburgh. They were not aware of the peculiarities of Pittsburgh. They were Fox people based in Los Angeles. Everything about them and their culture indicated that this wouldn’t play well in L.A. Well we’re not in LA. Backend of the story…before they fired Guy (Junker) in 2003, the L.A. people tried to fire me, because I didn’t fit the slick and smooth image. This big shot from L.A. came in and I got wind of it and I knew what was going on. Anyway, my bosses took this guy out to dinner. L.A. was going to pull the trigger. There was this guy and his wife, (one of my bosses told me the story afterwards) that were in the restaurant. He was going to pay his check. He had this big Steeler jacket on, the one with the four Super Bowl trophies on it. The general manager of the station at the time called the guy over and asked him, ‘Do you know who Stan Savran is?’ The guy answered, ‘Are you kiddin me? Stan Savran, he’s the best sportscaster in Pittsburgh.’
“The two local guys just looked at the guy from L.A. and he dropped it.”
However, that was not the end of the story because Savran alluded to the fact that, “Since they couldn’t get me they went after Guy and fired him, which was just as devastating.”
Savran continued on talking about his former Sportsbeat partner and friend with reverence and how the bean counters still had a few issues as far as being in control was concerned.
“The thing that was the most upsetting was that we were on the air for 18 years, the people loved the show. The ratings were good, the salespeople told me that they made a lot of money. It was just the L.A. people once again saying that the show didn’t fit their image or their philosophy. The other thing was, we started that show from scratch. Guy was on the air with Bob Pompeani (of KDKA-TV) for a year before they even brought me on. They were on the air before I was fired from Channel 4. I became available, they used to do the broadcast out of KDKA, but then they signed a new contract to do it out of WPXI, which meant Pompeani could no longer do it and they needed a new host. In those days, doing the show was not a sure thing. When I came over to Sportsbeat it was week-to-week. You never knew if it was going to be there the following week. They eventually went out and found a major sponsor, Genesee beer and that saved the show.”
Savran, like all of us, has taken a look at his life and some of his choices from career, marriage, health and beyond.
“I’ve had seven major surgeries in the span of four years. I’ve had four back surgeries, I’ve had open heart bypass surgery, and I’ve had surgery for two brain tumors. I don’t know whether being run down had an ill-effect on my health. But I’m not going to do that anymore. I get asked all the time about retiring, I think about it but I feel good because all the issues that I just mentioned have been taken care of. The other issue is, I still like what I do. I’ve thought about cutting back, maybe giving up radio or TV.”
Savran continued, “I can’t retire unless I can answer this question: What would I do all day? You asked me a minute ago what advice I would give young up and coming broadcasters? My first piece of advice would be to tell them that there is no substitution for preparation and hard work. You can’t skate by. Besides the issue of competition, personal pride in your work should play a large part of it. If you’re not committed to it, don’t get in it, because that’s what it takes, even if you just want to keep your job. This is not a 9-to-5, or punching a clock. I am not going to complain. I don’t know what my life would be like if I didn’t have this. I was married for 15 years and I eventually was divorced and my schedule was an issue. Understand what you’re getting into, it’s great and its fun especially if you’re a sports fan, but it takes a total commitment from you.”
With his contributions to the Western Pennsylvania sports landscape, when and if Savran decides to hang up the gloves, most will miss his wisdom, wit and charm. I’m sure that when and if that time ever comes, it will be a devastating blow to the credibility of the Pittsburgh sports media.
(Read the entire two-part series at newpittsburghcourier.com, search Sports, Aubrey Bruce)
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