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Salad days for Mr. Mac
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/14/2008 3:59 PM

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Dare I suggest that Dan McNeil has attained a calm maturity?

The host of the self-proclaimed "afternoon saloon" on WMVP 1000-AM is never going to be accused of being mellow - not as long as the Bears keep aggravating him with their offensive-line woes and Rex Grossman.

Yet there's no denying things are going awfully smoothly for Danny Mac these days. I can't even recall when his last suspension was.

Mac and co-hosts John Jurkovic and Harry Teinowitz are back on top of the Arbitron ratings among men ages 25-54 in afternoon drive, having finished first in that demographic in the quarterly spring ratings book with a 5.3 percent share of the audience. That's far ahead of the 3.2 share posted by their counterparts Dan Bernstein and Terry Boers on the competing all-sports station, WSCR 670-AM.

The Cubs and White Sox are in first place as well, offering plenty to talk about.

"We certainly have plenty of stuff to go around now," Mac said at the station earlier this week. "It's been the best baseball season since sports radio was born in this town."

As for the Bears, this being a Bears town even in the midst of a double pennant race, "Car wrecks cause gapers' blocks," Mac said matter-of-factly. Even there it hasn't hurt that he and Jurko were early and eloquent skeptics about the Bears and their off-season maneuvers.

"We both understand you don't write a team off in training camp," he said, "but they are not going to be capable of fielding an offensive line."

How sweet are things right now? Just when the dog days arrive and it seems we'll never get to September, with the start of the NFL season and the formal baseball pennant race, along comes the Olympics.

"We're into the Olympics, shockingly," he said. "It's a nice departure from baseball."

It's not as if karma suddenly took a shining to Mac, however. It's more a case of putting in the work in advance to take advantage of the good fortune when it arrived. Mac, Jurko and Harry recently celebrated their seventh "manniversary," a remarkable longevity in a business as turbulent as radio is right now, and longer than anyone might have expected.

"I didn't know what to expect," Mac said of their early days. "I thought it had potential. It felt really awkward at first, though. It took me several years to get used to the three-man weave. It just didn't seem there was enough mike time for everybody."

Speaking of the birth of sports radio in this town, Mac was there for it at the Score, where he teamed with Boers to form the "Heavy Fuel Crew" before switching to partner with Dan Jiggetts.

That didn't last, and neither did Mac's stay at the Score, but after a little time off between assignments WMVP had the good sense to sign him and put him in afternoons with Jurko and Harry. They've been there ever since.

"About three years into it, I think we figured it out in distribution of airtime and who gets deferred to on what," Mac added. "I'm more comfortable with three now than with two. When one of these two guys isn't here, I prefer having a third come in."

The other big contribution to their success they had little say over.

When Tom Waddle joined the station early last year and teamed with Marc Silverman on a midday-morning show to follow Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic's syndicated ESPN Radio program, it halted any speculation that Mac, Jurko and Harry would be broken up to fill the other shift, and it gave them a local show to bounce off.

"There's no doubt it's helped us," Mac said. "If you look at it as a relay race, we've always gotten out of the blocks strong with Mike and Mike. They've had a stranglehold on the Score for several years. But we didn't really have anybody running that middle leg between 9 and 2.

"Waddle and Silvy have definitely given us a boost," he added. "Their success has given the radio station a shot of adrenaline it needed, because the morale here in the building's better because everyone's pulling for the other guy."

With Waddle and Silvy having beaten the Score as well in the adult-male demo in the spring book, even Mike Tirico's afternoon show has benefited. Now it's just a matter of WMVP maintaining that momentum with Arbitron's shift from diaries to the people-meter technology. That, however, is not something Mac is overly concerned about.

"I don't spend much time thinking about where to from here, to be honest," he said. "There's no point in it. We're trying to plow 'em down ratings book after ratings book. I like the mix. I like the producers," Ben Finfer and Danny Zederman.

"The five of us have a pretty good understanding of each other. We're not afraid to call each other out when it needs to be done. We all have a lot of contract time left."

Mac himself has a deal that runs into 2010, and he isn't concerned about negotiating an extension yet. Stay on top until the time comes, he seems to suggest, and that will take care of itself. Sounds like a remarkably mature approach.

tcox@dailyherald.com