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Woody: Beware The Open Microphone

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 17 2010

Rusty Wallace has done time on both sides of the microphone. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer

It’s surprising that there aren’t more on-the-air-bloopers like the one ESPN commentator Rusty Wallace let slip awhile back when he called Kyle Busch a “dumb a..” following a Nationwide victory at Chicagoland Speedway.

Rusty apologized in a statement: “I made an unfortunate remark regarding Kyle Busch. There’s no excuse and I certainly know better.”

Wallace’s shot has been heard ‘round the world, thanks to YouTube, and reaction has been mixed among race fans. Some are outraged and others want to nominate Rusty for an Emmy.

The reason why it’s surprising that there aren’t more such slip-ups is because more and more broadcast booths are staffed by ex-racers with zero broadcasting or journalism experience.

They know motors but not microphones and sometimes – as happened with Wallace – they forget that their every utterance may be on the air.

We ink-stained newspaper wretches used to resent the radio and TV guys because their mistakes immediately dissipated in the air, while our goofs were etched forever on newsprint.

That’s no longer the case. With the advent of replays, rewinds and the internet, verbal blunders can go viral and be replayed ad infinitum.

In the old days if a listener had overheard Wallace’s muffled remark he might think, “Did he just say what I thought he said? Naaaa, surely not.” And that would have been the end of it.

Now the listener can click “re-wind” and there it is – again, and again and again …

Some believe ESPN should have suspended Wallace but I think that would be too harsh. It was an accident. He didn’t intend for his comment to go out on the airwaves.

Should he have said it at all, even in a private off-the-air conversation? Sure, why not? If that’s his opinion of Busch, Wallace has a right to express it as long he doesn’t do it on ESPN’s airtime. Who among us has never expressed a personal opinion in the workplace?

Trust me, reporters constantly express their opinions of drivers when they’re sitting in a press box. Rusty didn’t say anything that hasn’t been said plenty of times before. His only mistake was inadvertently saying it on the air.

While neophyte broadcasters often make boo-boos, they aren’t alone. Even the top professionals sometimes blunder.

Larry Munson, retired University Georgia announcer, is the all-time best as far as I’m concerned. But even the venerable Munson once was a victim of an open mike. (I refuse to call it a “mic.”)

Before going to Georgia, Munson spent many years in Nashville calling minor league baseball and Vanderbilt basketball games. It was during of one those games that a timeout was called. A weary Munson swatted the “Off” switch on his mike, leaned back in his seat, and sighed to his booth-mate: “What a (bleeping) way to make a living!”

But the “Off” switch wasn’t completely off. Munson’s comment was beamed out to shocked listeners.

There was a big stink, with some calls for Munson’s firing. He survived the uproar and continued one of the greatest broadcasting careers in history. But from then on Munson always double-checked to make sure his mike was off before he did any muttering.

You can bet that Rusty will do likewise.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 17 2010


  • CJ says:

    There have been many times that I’ve thought the same thing about Kyle Busch and I don’t normally swear. Rusty just said what many people have thought or said themselves. Plus, as stated, Rusty always has an opinion and he doesn’t mind sharing it. I don’t mind that.

    The broadcasters are only human and I’ve heard and seen a lot worse just walking around the fan area at the track on race day. If he had known he could be heard he wouldn’t have said it.

    And to comment on Ed G’s remark, Rusty is less biased about Stephen than Darrell Waltrip is about his brother and team. Or Michael is when he’s a commentator during a Truck race. They are REALLY ANNOYING! I mute them out! Rusty is harder on Steve than most fathers would be. Rusty has pointed out many times when Steve has been in the wrong and fortunately those are getting less and less often. In Cup if a driver is in the top 12 in points they get a ton of coverage. Steve and Brendan are both in the top 10 (again) and deserve to have good runs pointed out. And most of the time it isn’t Rusty that points it out, it’s one of his coworkers.

    • ed g says:

      CJ, I wasn’t too clear, perhaps. I meant that Rusty is a complete homer for Junior. I expect him to be biased in favor of his son (and would be disappointed if he wasn’t)and as you pointed out, he can and does comment on Steven’s mistakes. However, his excuses for Junior driving past his pits multiple times ( for instance)were laughable at best.

  • ed g says:

    The larger point is that Rusty Wallace is a very poor broadcaster. He is consistently wrong when he predicts what the action will be, misidentifies drivers and car numbers and can offer nothing besides “aeropush” as an explanation for any racing incident or racing action. He is an unabashed cheerleader for a certain driver (in addition to Steven) and excuses his every miscue, which have been quite abundant for several years. Rusty was a good a driver as ever slid into a Cup car, but he is horrible as a broadcaster.

    That said, calling Kyle Busch a dumb ass is hardly a crime of any kind. Or inaccurate.

  • James says:

    Last weekend in Michigan during a pit stop in the Nationwide race Saturday they had a camera and mike on with a tire changer. He performed the right side tire change, then ran to the left side, removed the lugnuts and when he went to remove the tire, it didnt budge because there was still one nut on. He dropped the F bomb quite clear, proceded to remove the lug nut, and change the tire. The ESPN guys apologized for the language and said something about how frustrating the job can be or something. Understandable, but just shows that those inside voices do come out sometimes!

  • scorer27 says:

    Anybody who has ever been around Rusty knows how impressive it is that it took this long for something like that to happen. It was destined to happen! He has always been one of the most open & foul mouthed people in motorsports but he is also probably the most honest too.

    To me one of the most entertaining things to do when you are at a Cup, Nationwide or truck race is dial up the tv or the radio broadcast on the scanner. Not for what they say over the air but what they say during commercial breaks. That is when you get their real feelings. That is when you hear them talking about Wallmendinger, Juan Pablo’s inability to take the blame for anything, JWT and his ability to be involved in any accident on the track and so on. They are always saying crazy stuff during the commercials and it amazes me they can go right back to the broadcast and not slip up more often than they do. But that is why they have a female voice in their ears counting them down to return to brodcast mode.