The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik on the continuing escapes of WEAE’s Mark Madden.

Madden, who has made himself one of the best known media figures in the region at least partially by inflammatory statements, sexual innuendo and insulting popular sports figures, has been ordered to tone down his act by his bosses at ESPN in Bristol, Conn., or face dismissal.

According to multiple sources, Madden was close to being fired when the full extent of his on-air behavior was made known at ESPN headquarters.

Although the local station has long used the ESPN brand, it was under the direct control of ABC Radio. When Disney, the parent company, sold off most of its stations, the remaining sports stations last spring came under more direct control from ESPN headquarters. When made aware of the sexual nature of some of Madden’s comments, ESPN, concerned about its wholesome image and that of Disney’s, acted swiftly.

According to several sources, ESPN received a tape recording of Madden’s show, displaying his propensity for off-color comments, from a listener.

To ensure he behaves, the board operator on duty for Madden’s show, which airs weekdays from 3-7 p.m., has been told to dump any off-color remarks by Madden and go to the built-in seven-second delay that all talk shows have. Usually, the board operator must be alert for off-color remarks made by callers. Now his primary duty is to keep a leash on Madden.

Off-color remarks, sexual innuendo and attacks on public figures are a small part of Madden’s show, but they have become his calling card and enthrall his listeners who wait for him to go off on somebody. His attempts to defame such popular sports figures as Arnold Palmer, Jerome Bettis, Franco Harris, Jim Leyland and Myron Cope are part of that act.

Typical of his rants was this one, made about a year ago when he was fired as a panelist on a sports discussion show on WTAE-TV and tried to place the blame for his dismissal on the Steelers in general and owner Dan Rooney in particular:

“The Steelers are like the Mafia. The Steelers are like Pittsburgh’s own version of the Kremlin. Don’t even tell me it’s run by good people. Don’t even tell me the Steelers are run by good guys. Never tell me Mr. Rooney is anything more than another typically greedy control freak again. That’s all he is.”