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Published: Friday, 5/25/2012

COMMENTARY

TV sports has lost a lot locally lately

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo television sports has been a stepping stone and it has been stability. More recently, sadly, it has been a pink slip.

One leading station, WTVG, has had six sports anchors/directors stop off since the late 1970s on their way to the big time. In whatever order, the station offered John Gillespie (left for Milwaukee) Michael Reghi (later a major league baseball and pro basketball announcer), Neil Hartman (now Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia), Jeff Blanzy (later 11 years on air at the ABC-owned station in Chicago), Ryan Burr (now an anchor with ESPN), and Rob Powers (now the top guy with WABC-TV sports in New York City).

The other ratings leader, WTOL, has had two sports directors, Orris Tabner and Dan Cummins, in the past 50 years.

Yes, a stepping stone for some, rock-solid stability for others.

Don't tell that to Eric Haubert, Howard Chen or Joe Rychnovsky. In the life-ain't-fair department all are unemployed.

Haubert apparently learned of his dismissal from WNWO, a station whose class must be about as snake-belly low as its ratings, after his job had been posted and, just possibly, filled. Thanks for working your butt off, but don't let the door hit it on your way out.

Chen and Rychnovsky got caught in an unusual squeeze at WUPW when the Fox affiliate was sold and the new owners entered into a shared services agreement whereby WTOL is handling the station's local news, weather, and sports programming. It's one of those deals that can't make anybody happy except for the guy pounding the adding machine.

If you ever saw Haubert, Chen, or Rychnovsky without a tripod in one hand and a camera in the other, well, it must have been a day off. They were overworked and underpaid, but I doubt underappreciated, at least by their peers in the media and by viewers.

"The three of us are cut from the same cloth," said Chen, a WUPW employee for seven years and sports director since Dec., 2008. "We knew the disadvantages we were facing, but we worked hard, we were competitive and had a lot of pride. We didn't focus on the problems; we found solutions.

"Joe and I always said to forget the [overall] ratings, that we wanted to be in the conversation over who was putting on the No. 1 sports segment. And I think we were in that discussion. I think we elevated it, starting with Brad Fanning [his predecessor; Fanning is now on the air in Kansas City]. That was the biggest compliment."

Haubert paid his compliment eight-plus years ago when he turned down a contract extension with a station in Raleigh, N.C. to return to his hometown, which currently ranks as No. 74 in the nation in market size.

"I left a top 30 market to come here and work under one of the greatest sports broadcasters in Toledo history, Jim Tichy," Haubert said. "That was an honor. I wouldn't trade that for anything, nor would I trade five years as sports director in my hometown after Tich retired."

Haubert was a one-man band during most of his years as sports director at WNWO. Chen went a stretch at WUPW as a one-person sports department. The top-rated stations have no such constraints but you would never have known the disparity by the effort these guys put forth.

"It was never a burden; it was my job," Haubert said.

Now, Chen is going home to Houston without a job. Haubert is waiting "for another door, maybe a better door to open." The lovably-offbeat Rychnovsky is tending to his two weekend morning radio talk shows, a part-time gig on The Ticket.

And Toledo TV is poorer for their absence.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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