By Kyle Dorau / Sports Editor
The commercials finish airing and there is minimal buildup. The radio goes from zero to a hundred miles per hour in mere seconds.
“Get ready for four hours of The Back Page in your future!” The man with the booming voice who is shouting those words seems extremely comfortable in the small radio booth in which he stands.
This is how Jason Page welcomes the listeners to his show based out of ESPN Radio 1410 in Hartford.
The program also airs locally on ESPN Radio 1300 in New Haven, and has been around for over a year.
The first time I met Jason Page was in the press box at Arute Field for a CCSU football game. He strolled in after the game had started, and sat down immediately to my left with the producer of his show, Evan Wilner, in tow.
Over the course of the game, we talked and realized we shared a mutual co-worker. By the end of the game, he was telling me details about his contract negotiations with Clear Channel.
At the time, I thought to myself, “Wow, what an ego.” But in a business like sports radio, ego is an essential tool of the trade. Radio personalities are in charge of hours of show time, they’re the star and what they say goes. They can’t be as successful as Page without a dominant personality.
The ego seems primarily based on pride in his accomplishments and knowledge of the sports world. There are times where he seems self-conscious, but that works in sync with his decisiveness – the same decisiveness that allows him to rant and speak freely in each segment of his program for four hours at a time.
While Page does have the characteristics of a sports talk radio host with his outgoing personality and off-the-cuff opinions, he’s a lot more like the fans than the typical sports media. He openly admits that he would rather be in the stands with fans than be on press row.
He is not a journalist, and doesn’t try to toe that line. He’s a commentator who clearly enjoys his job, even if it is grueling at times.
And comment he does. On anything and everything. Even during our interview, he would comment on anything that caught his eye, or in this case, nose. Someone who apparently overdid it with cologne walked by, and Page paused for a moment.
“God, did he drown himself in that stuff?” he asked, stopping in mid-sentence. “You smell that?” He also managed to interrupt a conversation about the Yankees to point out how terrible the pizza provided by CSU was.
Opinions like those are what make Page polarizing. Those who listen to his show either love him or hate him. What matters to him is the fact that those people are listening.
“People who don’t like me are still listening to me, which is what I like even more,” he says. “Fine, you disagree with me, but you’re still listening to me, so you must find me entertaining on some level.”
A fan base in particular that he finds opposition from is that of Red Sox Nation. His strong opinions tend to irk Boston fans at times, who accuse him of being a New York homer.
“They can’t be objective, and they hate anybody who is,” he said about Red Sox fans. “All people hear is me knocking on the Red Sox. They won’t hear when I praise the Red Sox.”
Another group who seems to have Page pegged as biased against their team are fans of the University of Connecticut teams. His criticism of Hasheem Thabeet has been a hot-button topic for Huskies fans in the past 12 months.
It might also be fueled by the fact that Page pays attention to CCSU sports and those of the smaller schools in the area. He regularly interviews coaches from Central, Quinnipiac and Yale on his program.
“There’s something more to Connecticut sports than just the UConn Huskies,” he said. “UConn loves the fact that they have a monopoly on the whole state, and I want to try and break that up a little bit and let people realize that… you’ve got two [other] talented teams in our listening area.”
Those quotes are his honest opinions, and that honesty is what makes Page refreshing to listen to. The way he carries himself on the air is exactly who he is off the air.
“If you’re phony, people are going to hear it,” he said.
Wilner, the show’s producer, attests that Page is a radio personality in every sense of the words. “He’s very talented,” Wilner said. “A lot of on-air talent, they can be assholes at times. Jason certainly fits that at times, but there are other times where he’s the easiest person in the world to work with.”
Both Wilner and Page worked in the sports department at Sirius Satellite Radio before coming to Hartford, and their working relationship continues to evolve as time goes on.
“He allows me a lot of freedom,” says Wilner.
Page has carried a torch for smaller schools like CCSU and Quinnipiac in the time that The Back Page has been on the air.
Howie Dickenman and Tom Moore, the head coaches for each school’s Men’s Basketball program, each do a weekly interview with Page on the air.
Page described Howie as very “old-school,” and “the antithesis” of Blue Devils Football coach Jeff McInerney, who is widely recognized as more media-friendly.
He recalls the story of how he was approached to book Coach Mac as a guest by CCSU’s Sports Information Director.
“Tom Pincince called us up and he was like, ‘you guys should have Coach Mac on during the season.’ And I was like, ‘Good lord, it’s CCSU Football for crying out loud!’”
Page remembered how McInerney’s personality won him over.
“The first day we talked to him, he came in the studio. As soon as he walked out, I looked at Wilner and said, ‘We’ve got to have him on every week.’ He’s such a character, and he makes you want to have him on.”
In a market where there is a clear demand for sports, The Back Page is a locally driven show which touches on national issues. It’s an alternative to New York or Boston stations that ignore Connecticut, or local talk stations that only have time to discuss sports for an hour or two a day.
His focus on Central is a major reason to tune into The Back Page. College students are not typically the target demographic for sports talk radio, especially in this age of iPods and mp3 players.
“We’re fun. It’s a fun show. It’s not typical X’s and O’s sports radio,” Page said. “If you’re the pocket-protector-wearing sports geek who wants to talk about the backup tight end on the New York Giants, you’re not going to want to listen to this show.”