LEE “HACKSAW” HAMILTON
Another sports radio icon is out of a job. This one had been coming for a long time.
Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton has been dropped by XTRA Sports radio in San Diego. Hamilton’s firing (errrr “mutual parting of the ways”) likely marks the end of a 21 year run in the southern California market.
Not only was Hamilton a longtime NFL play-by-play announcer with the San Diego Chargers, but he was one of the first superstars of sports talk radio. People tend to view the sports talk radio world from a New York/Boston/east coast prism, but before there was a “Mike and The Mad Dog” or WEEI the nation’s FIRST all sports station was anchored by one man. That man was Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton.
Anyone who was from southern California not only grew up listening to “The Saw” but likely practiced an impression of him at some time. Hell, the first couple years that Jim Rome was on the air his entire schtick was to make fun of Hamilton, do impersonations of him and generally do everything just the OPPOSITE of how Hamilton ran his show. You’ll notice that Rome is successful. Hamilton, unfortunately, has had his career spinning in a downward spiral for the better part of a decade.
The sad truth is Hamilton may have been the worst talk show host who ever lived. Most people would find it unbelievable that a guy could survive for over two decades in the nation’s number two radio market yet absolutely SUCK (the signal from Hamilton’s station reached LA and he even had a show there for a couple of years though he was always based out of San Diego.)
You had to hear Hamilton to appreciate how REALLY bad he was. His “style” was to read a litany of unrelated sports stories over the air then yell, “React!” to his listeners. If they didn’t call in Hamilton would scream at them and chastise them for not calling. If they did call in it was a string of unrelated calls on topics that Hamilton was NEVER informed on. That might have worked in 1975 when you were the only guy in town with a sports wire and a microphone, but through the years with the advent of the internet, ESPN and satellite tv So-Cal radio listeners gradually became aware that Hamilton was worse at his job than anyone in America. Yet, in his career obituary, written this week in the San Diego Union Tribune by Jay Posner, Hamilton implores, “Who wants to hire the best sports talk show host in America?”
It was this combination of utter incompetence melded with enormous ego that literally made Hamilton the real-life Ted Baxter and such a legend. Even people who HATED his show listened every day-at least into the ’90s.
I’ll never forget being in San Diego to cover the Super Bowl one year in the late ’90s and turning on XTRA specifically to hear Hamilton. Basketball player Damon Stoudamire had just been traded. Not only did Hacksaw get the team wrong, but for some reason he constantly mispronounced the player’s name as “Stood-er-MEER.” And he misprounounced Stoudamire’s name every half hour in his updates ALL DAY LONG. Keep in mind, Stoudamire had not only played in the freakin’ Pac 10 but had been a star. He played against UCLA and USC four times every year. Even more embarrassing, Hamilton used to be the play by play voice for Arizona State basketball (Stoudamire went to Arizona.) I vividly remember being EMBARRASSED just to be from southern California while Hamilton was announcing.
On top of that, after 11 years as being the Chargers play-by-play guy, he lasted all of ONE GAME with the Minnesota Vikings because he also happened to be an unrepentant racist. An African American newspaper exposed racist comments made by Hamilton on his talk show. The article was written by the father of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Hamilton’s career has been plunging downward ever since. And the guy NEVER changed, never worked harder and never got any better. He was a dinosaur who refused to adjust. I remember the last time I heard Hamilton’s radio show (he had been demoted to weekends). I was driving from San Diego to Anaheim for a UFC event. It was during the NFL season and he was talking to some guy who had written some boring HOCKEY book. I literally remember shaking my head and CRINGING.
By the time the end came Hamilton was so insignificant that the Orange County Register placed the news of his departure towards the end of their radio column. Five stories AFTER they wrote about Pet Place Radio moving to a different day on KGIL. How’s that for summing up a 21 year career?
The final insult came recently when Hamilton went begging for the announcing job at lowly Boise State University. He wasn’t even one of the four finalists for the job. This was a guy who had done NFL games, Pac 10 and network radio who is a California broadcasting Hall of Famer. What a shame.
It’s popular now to claim the internet and blogs did in Lee Hamilton. Posner’s piece contends as much. He writes that these days anyone can comment on message boards and blogs. According to Posner, “No longer could a caller-driven talk show survive.”
Nonsense. Sports talk radio not only exists, but is flourishing in every market in the country. J.T. The Brick does a successful “caller driven” nationally syndicated show just a few miles from Hamilton’s house today. He’s successful and heard on hundreds of markets. It’s simply Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton who couldn’t survive. Like the rest of the dinosaurs, he’s now extinct.