Pittsburgh's biggest mouth has been silenced. For now.
ESPN officials said Wednesday the network has "parted ways" with popular radio personality Mark Madden after the Pittsburgh-born shock jock made an "inappropriate, uncalled for and wrong" on-air comment May 21 about Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Madden told listeners he was sorry Kennedy had been diagnosed with a brain tumor because he hoped the Massachusetts Democrat "would live long enough to be assassinated."
Kennedy's brothers, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, were assassinated in the 1960s.
"Clearly, the comment made last week was wrong," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said yesterday.
Though Madden apologized on the air, ESPN officials "considered the entire picture" and decided to "remove him from the air" Tuesday night, Krulewitz said. He hadn't been on-air since Thursday, the day after his Kennedy remarks.
Madden hosted a local sports call-in show weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on 1250 ESPN.
He had made a name for himself -- and generated high ratings -- by being rude, opinionated and controversial.
Madden regularly criticized local sports icons, including Hines Ward and Myron Cope, and often ridiculed his own listeners. In a show last week, he accused one caller of being drunk and belittled another for his lack of hockey knowledge.
Reached by phone yesterday, Madden would not discuss his removal.
"No comment. None. Bye-bye," he said before hanging up.
Rarely at a loss for words on the air, Madden might have cause to stay quiet.
ESPN officials would not say Madden had been fired and would not discuss the financial terms, if any, of Madden's removal. Being taken off the air does not necessarily mean his contract was terminated, meaning Madden might still be collecting his salary.
"My guess is (ESPN) said they'll pay him a severance, but that he can't comment," said Michael McKay, president of McVay Media radio consultants in Cleveland.
ESPN officials would not say how much Madden makes or for how long he is under contract.
Madden's rough style was not always popular, and he was losing listeners among his core audience of young and middle-aged men.
Among 18- to 49-year-old male listeners, Madden drew an average of 23,500 listeners in winter 2008, down 38 percent from the previous winter, according to Arbitron Inc. radio statistics. His numbers among males aged 25 to 54 dropped 37 percent during the same period.
But Madden also had faithful followers who said his boorish behavior belied a deep understanding of the local sports scene.
"Big fan, big fan," said Phil MacDowell, 35, a general contractor from Cheswick. "I'm sure he offended people, but I just love listening. He makes sports interesting, gives it some humor."
Shock jock radio hosts -- including Howard Stern, Michael Savage and Madden -- are a "high positive, high negative" prospect for radio stations, McVay said.
"For every person that likes him, there's one person that hates him," he said. "The hope is you build up a big enough fan base around him" to offset the protests.
Savage made headlines last week when he responded to Kennedy's grim diagnosis by playing songs on-air by the punk band Dead Kennedys.
After years of battles with the Federal Communications Commission, Stern moved his act to Sirius Satellite Radio.
Don't expect Madden to follow.
"My bet is that someone in the Pittsburgh market will look and see if he is salvageable," McVay said. "His value is certainly greater in Pittsburgh than anywhere else."
Local sportscaster John Steigerwald of NewsRadio 1020 KDKA said Madden's listeners will follow him to another station.
"To be outrageous, to have that 'car wreck on the side of the road' appeal, that's a talent," Steigerwald said. "But part of that talent is the ability to know where the line is