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Jump to TSN 'bittersweet' for Mike Richards

The Calgary Skyline as seen from a park east of the downtown area. PHOTO BY FRED LUM/ GLOBE AND MAIL

Fred Lum

Mike Richards is breaking radio silence.

The popular host at Calgary's FAN 960 disappeared from the airwaves last Thursday to become the first morning-drive host at TSN's startup radio station in Toronto. Since then, he has been silent about what he led him to take on his former employers at Rogers Media Inc. - as early as April. ( The Mike Richards Show will be heard on 1050 AM in Toronto and, by September, on the TSN2 TV channel weekday mornings.)

In an exclusive interview with Usual Suspects, Richards says he regretted vanishing suddenly from the market where he'd come to dominate the prized 25-to-54 male demographic. But the chance to move back to his hometown and help TSN challenge the supremacy of the FAN 590 was simply too good to turn down. The offer was also superior to one he'd turned down last September to become morning show host at the FAN 590.

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"It was a very bittersweet moment, believe me," Richards said Thursday. "We'd been talking with both TSN and Rogers people in Toronto. Rogers wanted me to remain in Calgary for now, while TSN was ready to go right away with my dream job in Toronto. It came down to a decision late Thursday. Once I'd made up my mind, there was no going back to the FAN in Calgary to say goodbye to the great folks who'd supported me for six years in my adopted home town."

Richards would not discuss contract matters, but Usual Suspects has learned that Rogers executives failed to get Richards to sign a non-compete clause, which freed the 47-year-old to make the move to TSN immediately. He's already consulting with TSN officials about the format and staff of the show he'll host from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Eastern).

For Richards, who felt he was almost out of radio when he moved to Calgary in 2005, the move is sweet vindication over industry types who felt the former comic could never carry his own show.

"I always had faith I could do it, but the people in Calgary showed there is a market for a sports guy who makes people laugh and acts silly sometimes," he said. "I know some radio people think it won't work in Toronto, but they're in for a surprise."

His biggest regret? "I'm really going to miss those fall afternoons coaching kids football at Shouldice Park at the foot of the Rockies. I never thought a Toronto boy would say this, but Calgary is a very special place, and I will miss it dearly."

Oops, There It Is

Bob McCown of FAN 590 has done much good journalism on the Phoenix Coyotes sale. Wednesday was not one of his better days, however.

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As has been reported, McCown declared the public bond issue - upon which sale of the Coyotes to Matthew Hulsizer is predicated - to be dead. Only to be told subsequently by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly that the issue was still alive. (Maybe in the sense Ted Williams's head is still alive in a cryogenic vault, but nonetheless alive for the moment.)

Everyone can make a mistake jumping the gun (McCown's soon-to-be co-host Damien Cox can empathize), but it begs the question: How would this play out if TSN Radio was already on the air?

Would his competitors ride him for it? Would they ignore him? Would they get the story first?

It's going to be interesting as the sides try to break scoops first if corners are cut - as happened Wednesday, when a call to the NHL would have kept McCown's Coyotes genie in the bottle.

On the same topic, executives are still assessing a challenger to take on McCown. TSN Radio program director Rob Gray is reportedly canvassing his old Vancouver station, TEAM 1040, for candidates to work in Toronto on the startup.

For counter-programming, maybe TSN should visit a name the FAN itself considered last summer: George Stroumboulopoulos. Maybe an afternoon gig might tempt the CBC star to return to his first love in sports.

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More McCown

Rogers is bulking up for the TSN challenge by giving McCown a new set and a three-hour time TV slot on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet Ontario starting March 7. Currently McCown's Prime Time Sports is shown for two hours on a delayed basis.

McCown has always told Usual Suspects he's indifferent to the TV product beyond wearing his shades. Apparently folks upstairs at the Rogers factory think otherwise.

We are told the shades can stay.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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