Airing it out
Love them or hate them, sports wouldn't be the same without them.

They're the next best thing to a ticket to the game. They bring Chicago's teams into our living rooms, our offices and our cars. From the exhilarating victories to the crushing defeats, we've shared some of our best sports moments with them.

They're the men and women behind the microphone ... the news anchors, play-by-play broadcasters and analysts who cover Chicago sports. At their best, they're as comfortable as a well-worn recliner and as indispensable as the remote control. They validate our enthusiasm, reinforce our assumptions or feed our discontent. At their worst ... well, forget the worst. We're here to pay tribute to the people who make our games worth watching or listening to.

Welcome to the Elmo awards, RedEye's recognition of the best in the sports broadcast business, an All-Star team of the airwaves and cable lines. Before anyone asks: There are no gift bags.

Why the Elmos? Oscar and Tony were already taken. And the red statuette with the big round head is a not-so-subtle nod to the distinctive RedEye honor boxes you've no doubt seen around town. Besides, nobody doesn't like Elmo.

To help make the tough calls, RedEye turned to two Tribune sports staffers with broadcasting backgrounds, Jim Harding and Chris Kuc. Their comments accompany the lists of nominees.

All decisions of the judges are final and will remain that way unless significant "cash incentives " are involved.

HEAVYWEIGHT ANCHORS
And the nominees are ...

Jill Carlson, WFLD-Ch. 32: Lombard native became first female weekday sports anchor in town ... Has talent to go national.

Dan Roan, WGN-Ch. 9: His Sunday night "Instant Replay" show is weekend's best ... Not flashy, just likeable.

Mark Giangreco, WLS-Ch. 7: If you've only got three minutes a night, make it memorable ... Smart, funny and doesn't take sports too seriously.

Mark Schanowski, WMAQ-Ch. 5: Refreshingly straightforward, no gimmicks ... Carries load for weak Ch. 5 crew.

Howard Sudberry, WBBM-Ch. 2: If it seems like he's been around forever, it's because he just about has been ... Solid and steady.

The envelope please...
The winner: Mark Giangreco, WLS-Ch. 7. Fun and informative ... What's not to like?

PLAY-BY-PLAYAZ
And the nominees are ...

Pat Hughes, Cubs radio: Great storyteller who knows baseball history ... Understands nuances and pacing of a radio broadcast.