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Homer Runs

Calculating the pluses and minuses of rah-rah sports coverage.

Sports fans come in every size, shape and disposition, but most fall into one of two categories. Members of the first group prefer to think positively about their favorite teams -- to celebrate when they succeed, mourn when they misfire and keep hope alive even after the mathematical possibilities have been exhausted. In contrast, folks who fall into the second classification love to bitch during the bad times, and when things are going well, they still expect the roof to cave in at any moment, figuratively speaking. No wonder such anticipators of catastrophe typically consider anyone with a sunnier outlook to be deluded and incapable of objectivity. In other words, a homer.

Denver journalists and broadcasting figures can be sorted in much the same way, with the number of personalities who display homer proclivities far exceeding curmudgeons at most stations. The ratio is generally closer at The Fan, the city's senior sports-radio signal, but the push and pull between these two extremes became more obvious beginning in January. That was when aggressive intellectual Sandy Clough, who'd manned the morning show for several years alongside cohort Mike Evans, was moved to evenings to make room for Tom Manoogian, also known as Lou From Littleton. Manoogian, a KOA veteran, describes himself as a "glass-half-full type of guy," but Fan program director Tim Spence goes a step further. "I'm not going to hide it," he says. "Lou is the biggest homer this side of the Mississippi."

The hosts admit that they're polar opposites. "I didn't go to journalism school to be an unbiased reporter," Manoogian allows. "I'll leave that to the Sandy Cloughs, the Mark Kiszlas, the Terry Freis, the Dave Kreigers. That's their job. They report the sports news the way they see it, and God bless them. I tend to be more of a fan than a journalist."

"His style is not my style, but that's a matter of personal preference," Clough counters. "There's probably room for what he does somewhere in the mix. But it's not the talk radio I was brought up listening to. It was a little more opinionated, at times confrontational. And as far as sports talk was concerned, I just thought you were getting paid to tell people what you think and why, and not just who you're rooting for."

Clough isn't immune to homerism accusations. He says some listeners have called him a shill for effusively praising the Colorado Avalanche, which has a contractual relationship with The Fan. This knock is fairly simple to refute; he generally tells e-mailers to check the team's record over recent years and then get back to him, which they seldom do. In the late '80s, though, he thinks he may actually have given too many free passes to the Denver Nuggets because he was close to the team's coach at the time, Doug Moe. The criticism he received for his encomiums back then "was probably justified," and although he doesn't say the same about more contemporary gripes, he knows they come with the territory. As he puts it, "There isn't a person in this business anymore who isn't sometimes criticized for being too hard or too soft."

True enough, but the latter charge still rankles Manoogian. When it's mentioned, his voice turns much darker than when he's delivering his usual blizzard of cheery, familiar catchphrases; he calls anyone he likes "Cuz," compliments guests via the suck-up question "Who's tougher than you?" and frequently drops the clause "long story short" into anecdotes that often stretch out to the distant horizon. "There's 42 radio stations in town," he says. "No one has to listen to any particular station if they don't enjoy what they're hearing."

Regarding the homerism allegation, he believes it's based largely on selective hearing. He gently chided the Broncos after their humiliating November 3 loss to the New England Patriots, and before the previous week's game with the Baltimore Ravens, he said, 'They've got no left tackle. Blake Brockermeyer has seen better days. Their quarterback, Danny Kanell, hasn't played for two years. They're missing Ian Gold, and the linebacking corps is the strength of their defense. They're going to have a tough time winning this game.' Now," he asks, "does that sound like a homer?"

Many would say yes, since homers tend to repeatedly make excuses for their darlings that they'd never offer to opponents. To Manoogian, though, he's just being himself. "I like to take the approach of being positive for the teams I support," he confirms. "I'm a season-ticket holder to the CU Buffs, the Broncos, the Rockies and the Avalanche, and I want the local teams to do well. I find no benefit for my daily work to go on the radio and criticize people personally."

Manoogian's approach mirrors that of a good salesman, which he was for many years and remains in most respects. He prefers to portray himself as a sports nut who invented the Lou From Littleton moniker so that his father, who owned a South Broadway used-car lot where Manoogian worked, wouldn't know his son was calling radio stations on company time. Granted, this tale is true, as is the story of his being hired by KOA on the strength of his calls to the outlet. Yet he wasn't really an average Joe when he joined the staff in 1994. He'd worked on the sales side of two media operations, Channel 31 and Channel 4, before becoming director of sales for the Rockies in 1992. Manoogian concedes that his position raised conflict-of-interest questions at KOA before he came on board as an employee. Then-general manager Lee Larsen "called one day and said, 'Tom, you can't call KOA as Lou From Littleton, because we know you work for the Rockies,'" he remembers with a laugh. His solution was to start phoning other stations.

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