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How far we’ve come: Charley and the “Mad Dog” in Peoria

Charley Steiner sits back and relaxed, a can of Coke in his hand, in the lobby of the Caterpillar Global Communications Center. He smiles with a satisfied look on his face, taking in all that’s going on around him, reflecting on his years at Bradley and the future.

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo also sits in the GCC, but he’s upright. He’s composed – as composed as someone nicknamed the “Mad Dog” could be – as he beams with energy. He talks quick, but controlled.

It’s the annual Charley Steiner Sports Communication Symposium, and it’s the highlight of the semester for Sports Communication students. Panels full of esteemed guests from the sports industry start in the morning and accumulate with a finale at the Pelow Pavillion. Here is where a conversation takes place between Steiner, a Bradley alumnus and Los Angeles Dodgers radio play-by-play man, and Russo, a pioneer of sports talk radio.

The Steiner Symposium is still a young event, only four years in the making, and according to Steiner, it has come a long way yet has a long way to go. Last year’s guest list featured journalist Larry King, and this year’s agreement that Steiner struck with Russo appeared to prove exciting once again.

With a range of issues being discussed that concern sports communication, Steiner and the Mad Dog were able to touch on a few specific topics with The Scout.

One issue regarded by many fans today is criticizing sports play-by-play announcers for making mistakes. A lot of these complaints are pointed towards older broadcasters, Marv Albert being a prime example of one professional who is constantly barraged with fans’ objections.

To this, Steiner said that fans and social media create a concoction of criticism, an “echo chamber” of sorts; platforms like Twitter merely gave way to negative comments. He questioned why fans would even go after such revered broadcasters. He’s a firm believer in the moral of “respect your elders.”

“Even if I had Twitter back then, I don’t think I’d use it,” Steiner said.

Having worked for the Dodgers since 2004, Steiner said that sometimes the monotony of sports can drain one’s passion for it. Referring back to leaving SportsCenter in 2002, Steiner said he left because he got tired of knowing everything about everything in sports every single day. He said he finds those moments momentarily nowadays.

“The older you get, the longer the season gets,” Steiner joked.

Russo also joined the conversation, addressing the media portion of the industry. Russo has had an extensive background in sports talk radio, including co-hosting “Mike & the Mad Dog” with Mike Francesa from 1989 to 2008 on WFAN, the first 24/7 sports talk radio station.

Now working with SiriusXM Radio and MLB Network, Russo described the difference between working in the terrestrial AM and FM radio industry and the satellite radio industry.

“Satellite believes in the celebrity having a channel,” Russo said. “The Beatles have a channel. Billy Joel has a channel. Jamie Foxx has a channel. That’s how they changed [the radio industry].”

Russo said that if he wanted to talk about Seattle Seahawks football for two hours he could with satellite, but with terrestrial radio he could not. The local audience had him pinned to the local teams.

With 30 years of experience behind him, Russo said that the art of making predictions on the radio was rooted in life experiences. He said that most of the predictions he makes are based on historical context, which is fitting for the Mad Dog, who graduated from Rollins College in 1982 with a degree in history.

But it’s success that surrounds Russo’s name. It’s his name that draws the crowds into Horowitz Auditorium on a Thursday afternoon and fills Peplow Pavillion at night. And what is “success” to him?

Russo says that if you work in a local radio station, no matter the size, and the local audience knows your name or the local baseball team knows your name, he would consider that a success. People don’t need to know your nickname, just your first name.

With the symposium concluding after Russo and Steiner’s panel, another pair of legends have come and gone to the Hilltop, but we shouldn’t forget all the others that came too.

We saw several athletic directors, award-winning journalists, professors with great research and even the President of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So many stories, successes, trials and tribulations explored and discussed.

The best part?

We get to do it all over next year with another unique well-versed group.

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