Charlie "Tuna" Edwards has spent more than two decades bouncing up and down the radio bands of St. Louis, so it's not a complete surprise to hear that he's landed a new, on-air gig. His latest may be the most curious, yet most fitting.
Scheduled to begin appearing on WXTM ("Extreme Radio," 104.1 FM) this week, Tuna's newest job will be as the sports guy on the 4-6 p.m. shift, during which he'll add "updates, interviews and reports. I'll find celebrity guests for Friday afternoons. All kinds of staged stuff. It'll be very extreme. I'll be the black Howard Stern of St. Louis. If I think that Mark McGwire's being a jerk, I'll say so. I may stage a fight with Tony Twist. That kind of stuff."
In fact, the original idea, he says, was to insert his bits into the breaks on Stern's show, "but the schedule was just too tight."
In recent years, Tuna has been found on both KFNS (590 AM) and the short-lived KKWK (1380 AM). At the first station, he was often heard accompanying Bernie Miklasz, especially on Friday mornings, a move that clicked with the two hosts coming across as a nice tandem, Tuna doing his Tuna thing, Miklasz reining in his co-host when emotions got too hot, callers losing their cool regularly. On KKWK, though, Tuna, Howard Balzer and John Hadley -- none of whom is shy about getting in the last word -- often trampled one another. With one too many voices trying to be heard, the veteran trio never quite came across as a team.
When Tuna got a job selling club seats and luxury boxes for the Rams, a lot of folks also wondered whether that was the end of the line for him on sports radio. After all, how could he continue to critique teams when in the employ of one? Miklasz says, "At least he's upfront about working for the Rams. I know a lot of people in the sports media who are angling behind the scenes, making little freelance deals, trying to get in tight with an organization, maybe sniffing around for a potential play-by-play broadcasting job. But, of course, they claim they're independent. And that's a joke. At least Tuna is honest."
He's also the type of air talent that people love to hate. Softer-spoken and genuinely nice in one-on-one situations, Tuna's "on" mode is often maddening to listeners, especially a core of white listeners who are vocal in arguing about some of Tuna's obsessions, such as Brock Olivo, the Mizzou tailback who was featured ahead of Ernest Blackwell and Devin West in 1997. That debate raged for months, and people kept calling, kept getting angrier, kept pushing the race issue.
"I'm saddened that so many people seem to hate him, because they don't know the real Tuna," says Miklasz. "But it's his fault, because he wants to play the role of the show-biz Tuna, the character that's constantly infuriating sports fans."
In his new role, on a station that features rock like Korn, Metallica, Ratt and Limp Bizkit, it'll be interesting to hear how Tuna fares with a listenership that may not be as familiar with his antics. He says that guests such as Dennis Rodman and Don King would be on his wish list and that all of his former stunts will pale in comparison with what's coming.
Says Tuna, "Telling me to be extreme is like telling me to go out and find some money."
As they say, it should be "interesting."
"A" TEAM: There was a small, attention-grabbing note in a recent edition of Soccer America, the nation's top periodical on the sport. Writer Paul Kennedy was recapping the A-League season, noting the ups and downs of individual teams. The item of local interest was a mention that St. Louis was considered as a "home" site for the Project-40 team that plays in the A-League, the tier of the sport directly below Major League Soccer.
The Project-40 squad comprises young pros who've opted to leave college (and, in one case, high school) early. Last season, the unit traveled to every game -- a permanent road team -- and the league would like to ease their burden by finding a home city. St. Louis was noted as being a good spot for expansion because MLS is already in Nashville and Chicago and because it would make for easier Midwestern routing.
St. Louis soccer types have wavered on whether to pursue an A-League team or wait for MLS expansion/moves, which are becoming an increasingly unlikely prospect, with the city seldom mentioned as a candidate in national circles. The thought of the Project-40 team is an intriguing one in that there wouldn't be the natural draw of picking up "name" local talent as an attendance boost, even as the team would be loaded with some of the best young players in America, several of whom were called up to MLS last season.
HIGH HOOPS: The Keep Hoop Alive Classic '98 is on tap for this weekend, in its second year of bringing a full slate of girls high-school basketball action. For those of you who've never attended a high-school tourney, be aware that the energy in the gym is usually at a peak. With a good number of the top teams in the area playing this all-girls event, there should be an "up" mood at the UM-St. Louis Mark Twain Center.
This year's edition kicks off this Sunday, Dec. 6, with an 11:30 a.m. start, as Visitation faces Quincy, Ill. The additional games are: 1 p.m., Poplar Bluff, Mo., vs. St. Joseph's; 2:30 p.m., Rosary vs. Carrollton, Ill.; 4 p.m., Carthage, Ill., vs. Taylorville, Ill.; 5:30 p.m., Springfield (Mo.) Glendale vs. Gateway Tech; and 7 p.m., Parkway West vs. Nokomis, Ill. For ticket information call Margo Garvin (she recently brought an ABL exhibition game to the same gym) at 727-5599.
FINDING A VOICE: Speaking of women's hoops, it's nice to hear live calls of St. Louis University's women's team on WGNU (920 AM). Despite a high turnover of both coaches and roster spots over the past three-plus seasons, coach Jill Pizzotti's got a competitive team on her hands, so the exposure is nice -- another small recruiting chip and an option for sports fans flipping through the dial.
As for the radio deal, it came about in large part because of the efforts of AM veteran Skip Erwin, who does play-by-play for the broadcasts. Handling the color commentary this season is Kevin "Kevy Kev" Pulley of Magic 105, though you seldom hear him, as Erwin breathlessly calls the action with nary a pause in his delivery. He simply doesn't allow Pulley a chance to get a word in edgewise. If the growth of women's sports is to happen, it'll need media play, especially on smaller outlets such as WGNU. Right now, Erwin's heavy-handed stamp on the action is so severe that the natural flow of the contest is often lost.