As a sports fan who spends a good amount of time driving during the week, sports talk radio is near and dear to my heart. Often, it’s the place I turn to get a recap of the game the night before, and I am always looking to learn something new from the hosts and the interview guests on each show.

The quality of San Diego’s sports radio has been heading downhill for years, and it looks to be on the verge of a full collapse. How did we get here?

1090 Makes the Same Mistake Twice

The Mighty 1090, fresh off of losing its lawsuit to Scott Kaplan and Billy Ray Smith for breach of contract and wrongful termination, is being sued by former morning show host J.D. Hayworth for breach of contract and wrongful termination. I bet the station’s lawyers are thrilled about that.

The result of the 2012 lawsuit brought “Scott & B.R.” back to the 1090 AM airwaves, and put about a half-million of the station’s money into the pockets of the show’s hosts. In addition, 1090 AM changed its entire lineup around to fit Kaplan and Smith’s schedules — they’re now on during the evening drive time instead of in the morning. Who knows what kind of shifts we could see as a result of the lawsuit by Hayworth.

Morning Show Malaise

There are not a lot of good options for San Diego sports fans during their morning commute.

“Hacksaw” Lee Hamilton, promoted to the morning drive-time slot during the 1090 AM lineup shuffle last year, has been soundly criticized by fans, co-workers and even co-hosts. Since the firing of Hayworth, who had formed one half of the “Hacksaw & Hayworth” show, a rotating group of local sportswriters has come aboard what is now called the “Hacksaw & Company” show.

I spoke with 1090 AM Program Director Mike Shephard this week, who said Hacksaw is a very polarizing figure in San Diego.

“Fans either love him or hate him,” Shepard said.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who loves him. Hacksaw spends most of his time berating callers and defending his illogical talking points with arrogance in place of facts. But I won’t discard the idea that they exist. Yet.

Shepard also said the station had not settled on a full-time co-host yet, and that he was happy with the rotating line-up so far.

Over on 1360 AM, “The World of Sports According to Chris and Ben” continues to tease fans with intelligent conversation about local sports franchises. Ben Higgins does his research and educates listeners (and callers) without talking down to them or calling them names, something Hacksaw could learn from.

His co-host, Chris Ello, is another story. Ello seems to take every disagreement from the listeners as a personal attack. He may not call his listeners of his show “bleeping idiots” like Hacksaw regularly does, but he might as well. Ello regularly insinuates that anyone who disagrees with him is doing so out of hatred instead of maybe, possibly, having a valid point.

Morning sports radio is supposed to be informative and fun. Unfortunately, if you are looking for that on your radio dial in San Diego County, your best bet is to deal with the static of Los Angeles’ live broadcast of The Dan Patrick Show on 570 AM.

Misuse of Talent

Between 9 a.m. and noon, there is no local sports radio in San Diego. “The Jim Rome Show,” is playing on 1090 AM and “Jay Mohr Sports” is on 1360 AM . Both are rooted in comedy, and neither has a local focus. ESPN 1700 AM is even worse, broadcasting financial advice shows during that bloc.

It gets better. If, for some reason, you missed “The Dan Patrick Show” live from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on 570 AM, 1360 AM plays a tape-delayed version beginning at noon every weekday. If you can’t wait that long, podcasts of each hour of the show can be found on iTunes several hours before the broadcast on XTRA Sports. That’s right, 1360 AM follows up three hours of non-local sports radio in the middle of every weekday with three hours of tape-delayed, non-local sports radio in the middle of every weekday.

Meanwhile, radio talent has been sitting on the bench for some time now.

Craig Elsten, who works as an occasional fill-in for other 1090 AM hosts, hasn’t had a regular weekday show of his own in years, though he’s much more fun and informative than most of the guys with regular time slots. Yet, Shephard said (sternly) that Craig isn’t being considered for a weekday show of his own.

Kevin O’Connell, the former SDSU Aztecs quarterback, was a semi-regular guest and co-host on 1360 AM after being cut by the San Diego Chargers. O’Connell is everything you would want from a radio host: He mixes humor and humility with expert analysis and clean sound bites. Yet, XTRA Sports never found a spot for O’Connell to get behind the mic regularly. He has since been signed by ESPN to do commentary on college football broadcasts, but Darren Smith has him in every week for the best hour in San Diego sports radio.

Troubled Times Ahead

Speaking of “The Darren Smith Show,” rumors are swirling that the host is heading for the door as soon as his contract ends in 2014. As bad as San Diego’s sports radio is now, it’d get much worse without Smith, whose show is undeniably the best sports radio San Diego has to offer.

John Gennaro

I'm John Gennaro, contributor to Active Voice and managing editor of Bolts from the Blue. You can tweet me @john_gennaro...

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