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One big chat room

'Radio Row' is capable of generating wall-to-wall sound

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was relatively quiet yesterday morning along that sporting highway known as "Radio Row."

Boston once had its "Newspaper Row," when the city's daily papers were on Washington Street downtown, but "Radio Row" is mobile, springing up anew each winter at the site of the Super Bowl.

This year, it is in a former train station, a high-ceilinged period piece that has been renovated and expanded into the Osborn Convention Center, home to the international media covering the events around Sunday's Super Bowl.

"Quiet" is a relative term along "Radio Row," because these folks talk for a living, often loudly. This morning, a solo host from Tampa's WDAE ("The Sports Animal") is making more noise than either of Boston's talkers from WEEI or their counterparts at New York's WFAN. The Boston and New York people were sitting close enough to each other to trade barbs during breaks.

In past years, stories abounded about producers literally fighting over guests who were naive enough to walk the gantlet of radio stations working the Super Bowl.

"I've seen a producer at another station's table, with his hand actually grabbing the collar of a guest's shirt so he won't get away when he finishes his visit," said Dale Arnold as he sat scouring the Internet for interesting stories as part of the show prep with Bob Neumeier for the 10 a.m.-2 p.m. "Dale & Neumy" on WEEI.

The "A list" guests have learned. Yesterday, Fox vice president of communications Dan Bell was arranging a way to slip Troy Aikman and Terry Bradshaw, a pair of Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks, in a side door so they could appear on The NFL Network.

"There's no way they could walk down Radio Row," said Bell. "The stations would be on them like locusts, and both guys are on tight schedules today."

"A guy like ESPN's Chris Berman, who has a lot of friends in radio, just can't come in here," said Arnold. "It's hard to say no, but he'd have to and leave people with hard feelings."

So how do you get around that?

"I'd always rather interview a guest in person," said Arnold, "but if you have to interview someone by phone, you do it, even if they're in a hotel right next door."

None of that was happening yesterday. Scheduled guests came and went, usually without being harassed, and PR agencies and agents wandered through the room, trying to set up appointments for their clients with stations.

Part of the quiet stemmed from the fact that not even half of the 89 accredited stations were set up (most will be arriving today), including both "Eddie & Jags" and "The Diehards" from Boston's WWZN. Another factor was that Radio Row has grown so much that it's been split into four separate double rows, with two along the main corridor and the others at each end of the main foyer, the better to utilize the building's space.

The quietest hours along Radio Row are early morning, because few talk radio stations have their own morning drive shows.

WEEI, of course, is an exception, with "Dennis & Callahan" ruling the morning drive hours these days. Still, even its operation is exceptionally quiet on this day. A lengthy interview with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his son Jonathan fills the 8-8:30 segment, a stretch that keeps the hosts off the air even longer with six- to seven-minute commercial breaks at each end of the interviews.

Station producer Doug Lane is prepping to go to Media Day at Alltel Stadium to tape interviews for use throughout the week. At those mass interview sessions, radio reps join the 779 accredited newspaper journalists and 150 credentialed magazine writers, not to mention the swarms of mini-cam-toting TV people and still photographers.

Morning show producer Steve Ciaccio would be happy except for one thing: The "instant replay" machine that holds thousands of sound bites used to punctuate comments and conversations is broken, a victim of travel.

As "The Big Show" rolls on in the afternoon, the machine still is out of order, leaving producer Andy Massaua without one of the key tools of his trade.

"Andy and Ciach have amazing memories," said afternoon factotum Pete Sheppard, who was preparing his next sports flash. "They've memorized hundreds of numbers. That's how they call up the bits."

Meanwhile, longtime NFL standout Rod Woodson is sitting in with host Glenn Ordway and cohosts for the week Fred Smerlas and Steve DeOssie. "You messed up and called him Ron," said Massaua after the segment. That could mean good fodder for the afternoon "Whiner Line," but Ordway seems destined to escape his slip of the tongue. "Callers are more apt to dump on DeOssie or Fred," said Sheppard.

DeOssie's hands dwarf a laptop as he types and talks, making final arrangements for the "Patriots Tailgate" party they're throwing and hosting in downtown Jacksonville Friday from 7-midnight. Given the lack of entertainment options in town, it seems a given that the $150-a-head event will sell out, as should WEEI's $200 Super Saturday Party at Sneakers in Jacksonville Beach from noon-4 p.m. that benefits the Boomer Esiason Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis.

While much of "Radio Row" hits the road right after the game, WEEI's shows all will emanate from Jacksonville through Monday, hoping to celebrate a victory with shows that will bridge the gap from Game Day to Parade Day.

And there will be "instant replay" -- as in the sound bites. Producer Lane has disassembled the machine and found a broken fuse. He makes a temporary repair with a bit of wire and dispatches Ciaccio to the local Radio Shack for a replacement part.

Just another day on the Road to Babble-On.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com 

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