Pete Franklin (September 22, 1927 – November 23, 2004), nicknamed "The King" and "Pigskin Pete", was an American sports talk radio host who worked in Cleveland, New York and San Francisco. He is widely credited with pioneering the more aggressive, acerbic and attention-grabbing form of the genre, which has since been adopted by generations of sports media personalities, and bringing it to a multinational listening audience.
Early life and career
Franklin was born September 22, 1927 in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. His first broadcasting job was for Armed Forces Radio, and his first radio station job was in 1952 in Oakdale, Louisiana. "I worked 70 hours a week, and my main job was to get to the station early and kill the snakes with a baseball bat," he said of his Louisiana assignments. "They came out of the swamp to the heat of the generator. And I read the farm news. The glamour of show business."
He later worked at radio stations in North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, California and Texas, often as a disc jockey. He worked as operations director for WOIO in Canton, Ohio, before moving to WERE (1300 AM) in Cleveland in 1967 to host a sports talk show from 7 to 11 PM, after which he hosted a multi-subject talk show from midnight until 5 AM.
WWWE in Cleveland
The zenith of Franklin's career came when he hosted Sportsline on 50,000-watt Cleveland AM station WWWE ("3WE") 1100-AM (eventually renamed WTAM) from 1972 to 1987. Arguably the most popular host on the station, he was popular for his extensive knowledge, outspoken opinions, gruff demeanor and rude banter with callers. Among his trademarks were playing the sound of a flushing toilet as he cut off callers he considered offensive, playing funeral music when the Indians were hopelessly out of contention for the season in question (thus giving them a "proper burial", usually in midsummer given their poor play at that time), his winner and the loser of the day preceded by appropriate introductory music for each, and boasting that his station’s nighttime signal could be heard "over 38 states and half of Canada" (a claim still stated on air by WTAM talk-show hosts to this day).
His caustic personality was a primary reason why "3WE" lost its status as the flagship station of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers in 1981 when he feuded with team owner Ted Stepien. Franklin and Cavaliers' radio voice Joe Tait openly questioned Stepien's ability to operate the team after multiple poor trades and unwise free agent signings leading to a depletion of talent. He went so far as to refer to Stepien again and again by his initials, "T.S.", which Franklin said stood for "Too Stupid." (Ultimately, the NBA itself agreed with this assessment, seizing operational control of the franchise from Stepien for what it considered destroying its financial viability, and instituting what would be known as the "Stepien Rule".) Stepien retaliated by canceling WWWE's radio contract and firing Tait.
Franklin popularized several regular callers by giving them nicknames like "The Swami", "The Prosecutor", and "Mr. Know-It-All." The latter eventually became Franklin's full-time replacement, and today his show is known as the "Mike Trivisonno Show".
In August 1987, Franklin announced he had been hired by upstart all-sports station WFAN in New York City to be its afternoon host starting the following month. His initial contract with the station was for two years and $600,000. But his act wore thin in the Big Apple, where critics and callers alike disliked his condescending style. New York Times columnist George Vecsey wrote that Franklin was a "so-called big name ... whose specialty was hurling insults at fans who knew vastly more than he did." After much controversy and dismal ratings, he resigned in July 1989 two months before the end of his contract, and was replaced by the Mike and the Mad Dog program.
He returned to Cleveland and "3WE" immediately afterward. The station even held a press conference to herald his homecoming, but management dropped him after a year. He moved west, working at KNBR 680 AM in San Francisco from 1991 to 1997 and mostly hosting his own show. He revived his "Winners and Losers of the Day" in sports, and his "Pigskin Pete Predicts" during the football season from his Cleveland days. He later joined Bob Fitzgerald as co-hosts of The King and The Kid.
Franklin returned for a third time to the WTAM airwaves in 1998, briefly hosting Sportsline but from a studio in his California home. He joined KNBR's sister station KTCT 1050 AM in 1999, and finished his broadcasting career there in 2000.
Pete Franklin died on November 23, 2004 at age 77 in Nipomo, California after a long illness. He was survived by his wife, Pat, and two children.
- Dolgan, Bob. Pete Franklin, the ultimate Cleveland sports talker: Life Stories Revisited", Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10 December 2004, reprinted 2 June 2011 (retrieved 6 June 2011).
- Findagrave.com, Peter "The King" Franklin page, 10 May 2010 (retrieved 6 June 2011).
- New York Times, "SPORTS PEOPLE; Franklin Joins WFAN", 21 August 1987 (retrieved 6 June 2011).
- Pluto, Terry. "Pete first, last word in sports; Franklin was pioneer in talk radio", Akron Beacon-Journal, 10 December 2004.
- SFGate.com, "Former KNBR talk-show host Franklin dead at 76", 10 December 2004 (retrieved 6 June 2011).
- Taaffe, William. "The Mouth That Always Roars", Sports Illustrated, 22 November 1982 (retrieved 6 June 2011).
- Tucker, Ken. Radio Monitor, "Sports Talk Pioneer Pete Franklin Dead At 77", 11 December 2004 (retrieved 6 June 2011).
- Vecsey, George. "SPORTS TO THE TIMES; Mad Dog Is A Preppie!", New York Times, 2 February 1991 (retrieved 6 June 2011).