By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
In his first public appearance since his syndicated sports-talk radio show was unceremoniously yanked off the air, Paul Finebaum had pretty much one thing to say — that he couldn’t say anything.
Finebaum was the featured speaker at the Greater Gardendale Chamber of Commerce annual banquet at the Gardendale Civic Center on Thursday night.
His show, which originated at WJOX in Birmingham and was syndicated across the southeast and also carried nationwide on SiriusXM, went off the air after his contract with Cumulus Broadcasting expired Monday.
Finebaum joked at the opening of his banquet speech that he worked on his remarks “from 2 until 6 on Tuesday, and then again on Wednesday” — the time slot where his show used to run.
After the banquet in an interview, Finebaum said he couldn’t talk on the record about his status.
“I can’t say a word. There’s just too much going on right now,” he said.
Finebaum has been at legal loggerheads with Cumulus ever since the company merged with Citadel Broadcasting, the original owners of WJOX, over contract issues related to the merger and Citadel’s previous bankruptcy proceedings.
His status as a free agent of sorts has made him an attractive target for several media operations. He has been publicly courted by WZNN 97.3 The Zone, the sports-talk rival of WJOX, for several months; the Gardendale-licensed station has even run on-air spots noting the countdown until his contract expiration.
Finebaum has been a frequent guest on various ESPN shows over the past couple of years, and his show’s spot on SiriusXM has exposed him to a nationwide audience — which led to an unusual trip to Waterloo, Iowa in October 2011. That’s where het met up frequent caller Robert Fisher, who has cerebral palsy. That visit led to an experience like he had never seen before, Finebaum said in his banquet speech.
“This one thing was the most special, and the most important,” he said. “It was the most remarkable experience. As we went down the street, everyone had their Iowa Hawkeye flags out.... His parents, Mike and Marcia Fisher, told me it was the greatest day of his life.”
Fisher was able to come down to Alabama on the weekend the Crimson Tide played Ole Miss, where he became an instant celebrity as he visited the Quad on campus.
“There were lines of people waiting to meet Robert from Iowa,” Finebaum said. “His father is a former military guy... who told me that when Robert was a little kid, he was quite frankly embarrassed, because my kid was in a wheelchair and couldn’t do anything.... But today, watching these Alabama football fans line up to meet Robby, I looked over to my wife and said, ‘You know, that’s my boy.’ I’ve never been prouder of anything in my entire life.”
Since his on-air departure, Finebaum has been through an unusual few days.
“The first day was crazy because of the way it all happened,” he said. “But today [Thursday] was the first day it felt a little weird.”
Various published reports have mentioned a three-month no-compete clause in Finebaum’s contract, that takes effect after the end of his employment. Again, he would not comment on the record because of legal ramifications.
When asked if any of the media reports about the details were true, Finebaum simply chuckled and said, “You’re a good reporter.”