Kevin Sylvester did not become a fixture in local broadcasting without having a gifted voice, and he certainly hit all the right notes in a phone conversation last week after the Buffalo Sabres announced a new role for him in the team's broadcasting lineup.
The good news for Sylvester is he will host a new weekday radio show on WGR 550, "Sabres Hockey Hotline," which debuts 10 a.m. to noon on Monday.
The other perhaps not so thrilling news for him is that his role in the Sabres' TV broadcasts was scaled back when the team announced new announcer assignments. Sylvester will no longer fill in as play-by-play man when Rick Jeanneret has a night off, nor will he remain as host on the pregame, intermission and postgame shows on TV.
Sylvester spoke enthusiastically about his new radio venture, while admitting that he will miss traveling to road games as part of the television team.
"This is my fourth stint on WGR; that station can't seem to shake me," he said, laughing.
Sylvester went from college at Fredonia right to WGR in the mid 1990s. He later worked for WBEN 930, then moved to Charlotte, N.C., and did a radio show there for two years. He returned to WGR in 2002 as morning show co-host, to work for the Sabres in 2005, and now will be on the station each weekday. He has also hosted a radio golf show for the past seven years.
Since the Sabres made the announcement about Sylvester's new show on WGR, he says a lot of radio listeners have been congratulating him on knocking ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd off the air here. WGR has carried Cowherd's show in the same 10 a.m. time slot.
"I've been on Colin's show a few times," Sylvester said. "I think he does a great job. He talks a lot of NBA, and the NBA's not nearly as big in Buffalo as hockey."
Sylvester said that every year the Sabres' broadcast operation meets in the offseason and evaluates things, and this year was no different.
"[Sabres management] told me the plans and I'm moving forward," he said. "I had a great seven seasons" on TV.
He will continue to contribute feature segments to the TV broadcasts, as well as to the Sabres' official website.
Sylvester has mixed emotions about no longer going on the road trips.
"It was always exciting going to all of the cities, being at the games," he said. ‘On the other hand, I have three young kids and my wife has a career, so it's a blessing to be home for them.
"I'll never forget one day when we were doing a [broadcast] rehearsal in Atlanta. My daughter called me that day to tell me she scored her first basket in a game. That's a moment I will never get back."
Sylvester is executive producer as well as host of the new radio show, which will be broadcast from the team's retail store at First Niagara Center. He remains a Sabres employee, so don't expect to hear much franchise bashing on "Sabres Hockey Hotline." But he's unlikely to run out of things to talk about, even in hot-weather months.
"I hope I don't run out of topics," he said with a laugh. "That's going to be the challenge. I'll have to make it interesting enough every day to make people listen."
Rome vs. Stern
Things got surprisingly contentious on Jim Rome's national radio show last week (WGR, noon to to 3 p.m. weekdays), when Rome asked NBA Commissioner David Stern about speculation among some fans that the draft lottery was fixed. The New Orleans Hornets beat the odds to secure the top pick while t-he franchise was officially owned by the league. (On Friday, the new owner, Tom Benson — who also owns the NFL's Saints — took over the franchise.)
Stern took offense when Rome asked him, "Was the fix in for the lottery?"
"Shame on you for asking," the commissioner replied. The exchange got more and more testy, and Stern finally said he had to go do more important things, like go talk to Stephen A. Smith. (Score that one as a low blow.)
Stern came off as sounding cranky and condescending. A lot of pundits have said Rome was out of line for the way he asked the question. This corner doesn't agree. Sure, he could have put it more diplomatically, saying something like, "What's your answer to the perception out there that the lottery was fixed?"
Rome took the more direct route. Should only Bob Ley on ESPN's "Behind the Lines" be permitted to ask hard questions?
Mike Wallace of CBS practically had shrines built to him during his career as a tough questioner of government officials, including while he sat in Tehran with Ayatollah Khomeini.
Sports and world affairs might be worlds apart, but I don't have a problem with sportscasters trying to commit journalism once in awhile.