The New York Post’s Phil Mushnick mentions today that former WFAN howler Pete Franklin, brought to the station in 1987 in an attempt to establish a late-afternoon drive time presence, passed away last month in California.
Franklin’s last-angry-man style didn’t play well in New York, mostly because he had no local background to speak of (though flying off the handle every 10 seconds hasn’t hurt his successors much). While his “Pigskin Pete Predicts” segments were a Friday afternoon highlight, much of the time, Franklin seemed to be trying way too hard to stir shit up, which was a tad unseemly for a broadcaster who sounded as though he were a hundred years old. Dubbed “The Howard Stern of Sports” in one unflattering profile, said tag was picked up on by none other than Howard Stern, who made Franklin a figure of ridicule for a brief spell, before returning to his favored targets of Scott Muni and Don Imus.
It should also be said that Franklin was frequently criticized by Mushnick for the former’s excessive vulgarity and rudeness to callers.
Noting that Cleveland was where Franklin established his persona and experienced the ratings success that brought him to WFAN’s attention, the Plain Dealer’s Bob Dolgan wrote the following in an obituary published this past Friday :
Franklin was the first man to make a street fight out of Cleveland radio, using a mix of egomania, hokum and cruelty. Before he arrived in 1967, radio personali ties spoke quietly and courteously, in civilized tones. Franklin changed all that. He screamed and berated listeners, often calling them “creeps, jerks and morons.” He would never talk to children, shouting at them to go to bed and stop bothering him. He was not above humiliating callers who were nervous or had slight speech problems.
He always was ready to attack sports personalities. Former Indians manager Frank Robinson, former Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien, general manager of the defunct Cleveland Barons hockey team Jack Vivian, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the late Yankees manager Billy Martin were targets of some of his most unbridled diatribes.
“He orchestrated his show like a maestro,” said Joe Tait, the radio voice of the Cavaliers, who met Franklin in 1970. “He knew exactly what he was doing at all times. He was a master of sports talk.”
In 1983, Stepien retaliated by suing Franklin for defamation of character and by taking Cavs broadcasts off WWWE AM/1100, Franklin’s station.
Franklin once said his on-air personality was purposely obnoxious, as a form of showmanship, but few believed him. He appeared to enjoy his attacks too much to be faking it.
Franklin’s habit of attacking sportswriters was another ground-breaker. Until Franklin came along with his version of shock radio, Cleveland sportswriters never were criticized on the air.
Franklin added humorous touches to his talk shows. He would conduct mock funerals for Cleveland sports teams that had been eliminated from pennant and division races. He surveyed the sports scene through segments entitled, “As the Ball Bounces,” in which he affected the voice of a lisping poet.
He gave nicknames to regular callers, such as “Mr. Sour Apple,” “Mr. Know-It-All” and “The Swami.”
Mike Trivisonno, who has a sports talk show on WTAM AM/1100, began calling Franklin’s show in his late teens. After a few conversations, Franklin sarcastically nicknamed Trivisonno “Mr. Know-It-All.” The nickname soon became a badge of honor. One of Cleveland radio’s best host-caller relationships lasted 20 years.
“I respected the hell out of Pete Franklin, and he respected me as a caller,” Trivisonno said. “There were times he’d have me on for the whole segment. I always wanted his job. . . .”
“Pete’s the reason I’m here. He was just a fantastic talk-show host. He was such an honest guy; he didn’t sugarcoat. And his retention was incredible. He was a genius.”
His only weakness was in interviews, where he would lose his bluster and become strangely fawning, even when talking to raw rookies.
Franklin was often booed in public but said that did not bother him.
“I laugh all the way to the bank,” he said.
In one memorable Stadium pressbox confrontation, a sportswriter who had been victimized by Franklin’s slings and arrows called Franklin every obscene name in the book. Franklin just sat quietly and took it, his face flushed in embarrassment.
Cleveland was good to Franklin. It was the only place he ever succeeded in broadcasting.
“I talked to Pete once about the keys to his success,” said Geoff Sindelar, who spent many years as a sports-talk host in Cleveland and knew Franklin for 30 years.
“He told me two things: ‘If somebody calls up and makes an idiot of himself, tell him he’s an idiot, but if the guy has a decent, solid point, talk to him; and stay away from the players and the GMs and those people, because if you get too friendly with them, there’s no way you can go on the air and say they’re garbage if they’re garbage.”