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From Snakeskin to Pigskin, He’s a Natural Host : Radio: Steve Edwards of ‘A.M. Los Angeles’ has overcome skeptics to host the Southland’s top-rated sports show.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a boy growing up in the Bronx, Steve Edwards acted out his deepest ambition regularly while attending Yankee games. Fairly brimming with baseball trivia and commentary, he pretended to be the play-by-play announcer.

Those play-acting days are long gone. Now, Edwards--best known for hosting “A.M. Los Angeles” for seven years with a constantly changing stable of attractive, chatty sidekicks--is the star of his own sports talk show on KABC-AM (790).

And since he signed on in October, his program has become the top-rated sports show in Southern California, according to Arbitron ratings data.

Edwards seems to have come full circle, having started his broadcasting career reporting sports on radio 20 years ago.

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“This is a return to my first love,” Edwards said. “Anyone who knows me, anyone who grew up with me is not surprised to hear that I’m doing this.”

But those who don’t know him personally are at least a tad surprised to hear he’s doing sports.

The sports show seems an odd match for Edwards who, along with co-host Tawny Little, spends mornings chatting up celebrities, supervising audience members’ fashion makeovers and hairstyle updates on KABC-TV Channel 7’s “A.M. Los Angeles.”

Indeed when he signed on as host of KABC-AM’s “Sportstalk” in October, industry watchers were skeptical. But Edwards seems to have ultimately won over those who initially doubted his ability to talk sports.

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Times sportswriter Larry Stewart wrote in March: “When radio station KABC tabbed Steve Edwards as its replacement for Ed (Superfan) Bieler on ‘Sportstalk,’ the obvious reaction was: ‘Why Steve Edwards? Why not Regis Philbin? Or Cristina Ferrare? Or Oprah Winfrey?’ But Steve . . . has shown a fair knowledge of sports and what’s more important, his pleasing personality and class come across well.”

And the audience seems to have given Edwards its stamp of approval too, judging not only by the number of listeners--which doubled from the last ratings period--but also by their qualitative assessments.

Edwards recounted a recent show where he felt he was off his mark:

“I asked my producer on the air, ‘Am I, like, on ether or something? Are things really bad today?’ ”

Later that evening, Edwards went to a Dodgers game and several people yelled at him from the stands, “You weren’t that bad!”

Edwards’ show, which ranked No. 1 among sports talk programs in Southern California in the latest Arbitron survey, came in seventh overall among programs in that time slot. “Sportstalk” doubled its key audience of 25- to 54-year-olds in the latest survey, having gone from an average audience of 14,600 on any given quarter-hour to 29,200 people, according to Arbitron figures.

Edwards is the first to say he is no sports expert. But he is an enthusiast.

“In my normal life, I spend a couple hours a day on sports and now I get paid for it,” he said.

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Most of all, Edwards is a genial and well-informed host. His style can best be characterized as pleasant, personable and noncombatant.

“He’s a very down-to-earth individual with a very warm kind of charisma,” said KABC program director Michael Fox.

Prior to his sports show, which airs at 5 p.m., Edwards hosts a two-hour program on news and current events also on KABC.

One morning he interviewed MTV sensation Pauly Shore for “A.M. Los Angeles,” then had convicted Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy as the call-in guest on his 3 p.m. news-oriented radio show. Afterward, he discussed the NBA draft on “Sportstalk.”

Edwards said he does not find such transitions even mildly jarring. “I go from one to the other in life, that’s what I do,” Edwards said.

There is some direct overlap between his television and radio shows in the area of human relations. For instance, on his radio show Edwards recently discussed the re-emergence of the male “brute” on the dating scene and a book which details how men over 50 can attract very young women. Those topics, which he dubs “that men and women stuff,” might also be covered on the morning show.

After starting in radio, Edwards moved on to television news reporting (working with Linda Ellerbee and the late Jessica Savitch) and eventually to hosting magazine-style shows like “A.M. Los Angeles.” He has been a Los Angeles television fixture since 1978 when he began hosting KCBS Channel 2’s “2 on the Town.”

Since making his way onto Los Angeles television, Edwards said, he would often run into KABC General Manager George Green at industry gatherings and discuss talk radio. One day, Green told him he had a slot open and suggested Edwards give it a shot.

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Though it is clearly his radio show that most compels him these days, he defends the rather fluffy subject matter dealt with on “A.M. Los Angeles.”

“Nobody is less interested in fashion makeovers,” he said over lunch recently. “Nobody is less interested in fashion than I am. I don’t care. But I find it’s such a basic experience for those people who get involved. They’re so happy, it really jogs their self-esteem.”

Edwards has noticed that a good portion of the calls he takes on his sports talk show are from women, a fairly unusual phenomenon for sports shows.

This is likely due to his being a household name among women, who are the core audience of “A.M. Los Angeles.”

“I guess they feel like they know me,” Edwards said. “I have a degree of intimacy with people that starts right off the bat. A lot of women will call in and say, ‘Gee, this morning I saw . . .’ and a lot of guys will say, ‘Give my regards to Tawny.’ ”


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