An era in Baltimore sports broadcasting will come to a close Feb. 5, but at the same time, an extraordinary legacy will still be preserved.
The evening time slot on WBAL, NewsRadio 1090, that has been devoted to sports talk for more than 30 years is retiring its signature name, "Sportsline." But when the show's popular host settles in front of the microphone Feb. 8, things will sound much the same, as the newly christened "Brett Hollander Show" begins.
Hollander, who has been directing the conversation on "Sportsline" since 2010, is the most recent host in an impressive lineup of on-air talent that spans more than three decades.
The show's subject matter and tenor will remain largely the same, and any broadcaster would certainly be happy to have a namesake production, but even Hollander can't help being nostalgic about what those hours -- defined by the direct, simple title "Sportsline" -- have meant to listeners.
"I grew up listening to WBAL and 'Sportsline,'" said the 31-year-old Hollander, a Gilman School alumnus. "To be part of a line of broadcasters like Gerry Sandusky and Josh Lewin and Steve Melewski and Jeff Rimer has been a dream come true for someone like myself. I grew up about a mile from where our studios are located [on TV Hill].
"In this [radio] business, you have to understand how special and rare it is for a show to survive more than 30 years with a single name -- with basically the same format in what has been generally the same time slot."
During the years, the starting and ending times and duration of "Sportsline" have shifted slightly, but it consistently has been the station's evening anchor. It now occupies the 7-10 p.m. spot, Monday-Friday.
During the final week, when the show was still using its longtime name, Hollander interviewed many of his predecessors with most of them waxing nostalgic. That was certainly the case for Melewski, who now covers the Orioles for MASNsports.com.
Melewski sat in the "Sportsline" chair from 2000-03 and was one of Hollander's guests the night before the show's name was retired.
"I never wanted a job more or worked harder for one," Melewski said during his interview with Hollander Feb. 4. Melewski, like Hollander, grew up in the Baltimore area as a diehard Baltimore sports fan.
Some others who were stewards of "Sportsline" were Baltimore Sun sports columnist Peter Schmuck and Greg Sher.
WBAL program director Scott Masteller said the reason for the name change was simple.
"This is about recognizing Brett and all the contributions he has made to covering sports on WBAL," Masteller said.
The change makes sense in several ways. It is consistent with how the other WBAL talk programs are identified, meaning they carry the name of the host. And by shedding the explicit reference to sports, Hollander is afforded a bit more latitude in his discussion topics.
"Look, we are a sports show. Sports is what I love, and that's what we'll continue doing," Hollander said. "But I occasionally like to cross over into pop culture and whatever else I think will be entertaining, so this change is a little helpful in doing that."
However, fans need not worry that the region's long-running sports gabfest will be much different from what it has been during the years. After all, WBAL is the radio flagship of the Ravens, so there will be plenty of discussion about the purple and black.
Hollander has developed a genial yet authoritative style that has made him a comfortable companion to the area's fan base. He tries to avoid cliché topics, and he attempts to lend perspective when emotion sometimes gets the better of fans.
"I'm not going to go over the 'Is Joe Flacco an elite quarterback?' debate a million times or harp on the Orioles' starting pitching," Hollander said. "We'll talk about Flacco and about the Orioles, but I want to find fresh ways of looking at everything."
Hollander also feels it's important to remind fans that sports are meant to be enjoyed, and that sports can be entertaining and even fulfilling in the absence of the Ravens winning the Super Bowl or without the Orioles making it to the World Series.
"I love sports. I'm passionate about sports. But it is not life and death," Hollander said. "Sometimes there are great moments in a losing effort, and sometimes from a loss, you have an opportunity to learn and grow"
"I remember right after the Ravens won their last Super Bowl someone calling and wanting to talk about next season," Hollander continued. "I told him, 'Let's just enjoy this for a while.'"
Former WBAL radio general manager Ed Kiernan, now retired, hired Hollander and vividly remembers the job interview.
"Here was this young fellow in his 20s, and he was a historian about the show," Kiernan said. "Not only could Brett identify all the people who had worked on 'Sportsline,' but he could describe the essence of the shows. Importantly, he was a local guy; he had gone to Gilman. In a market like Baltimore, that's important. For a show like that one, and you have a hiring tie, the local person should win the tie."
Hollander knew what he wanted to do professionally since he was a child. His father, Rich, worked as a television reporter in the 1970s and 1980s.
While still at Gilman, Hollander was an intern at WBAL, interestingly enough working for "Sportsline."
Both in high school and at Dickinson College, where he majored in political science, Hollander worked on his broadcasting skills for school radio operations. His first paycheck job in broadcasting was doing traffic reports and news updates. Hollander moved up the ladder quickly, and the climb led to the local CBS Radio operation, where he was able to get more experience in sportscasting at 105.7 The Fan and sister station 1300 AM. Then came the opportunity to host "Sportsline" on WBAL.
"This was what I always wanted to do. This was my dream," Hollander said. "I realize how fortunate I am to be part of this heritage that 'Sportsline' has represented, and I can't imagine doing this in any place other than Baltimore."