Friday, June 27, 2008

KSWD "The Sound" radio in Los Angeles made technology news earlier this week with the unveiling of outdoor electronic billboards with digital display capabilities. This station is believed to be the first radio station to use this technology to display the title and artist of each song currently playing on the station, while the billboard itself is made to look like an MP3 player.

This is the same technology transmitted to newer radio receivers, especially in cars, which also provides the frequency and/or station identification. Even though KSWD is a music station, it brings up the question of how sports radio stations can also use this technology.

Within 24 hours, I thought of several uses, but not quite in the same way as the music stations will. For a music station, the primary purpose is to show the song currently playing. For a sports station, it is not always about what is currently on the air. It's not like they are going to flash "Steve from the west side thinks the Yankees will make the wild card" so that people will tune in.

The local pro and college teams final scores can be displayed into the next morning rush. This could be especially effective in the east and central time zones when the local teams play a late night game (such as west coast) and people commuting early wouldn't have stayed up to see the game. (Whether or not in-progress pro scores could be flashed is probably going to be a legal issue for stations which do not carry that team's play-by-play.)

But there is more. This is an opportunity for a sports station to flex its local muscles. They could transmit high school and small college scores, which are not always readily available. A solid credibility builder if you could be driving to work in the morning and see that "Sports Radio K555 - West Field 83 East Field 77" on a billboard the morning after a big high school basketball game. In large and most medium markets, fans are hard pressed to hear any high school basketbal or football scores on the radio, even on sports stations. As a result, this technology creates supplemental sports coverage not otherwise available, while promoting the image of the station. Other uses include upcoming schedules, such as "Cardinals vs. Braves tonight 7:05 PM on Sports Radio K555", "Bob & Bob preview tonights tournament game today at Noon", "Football preview tomorrow at 6:00", "Coach Smith Show taking your calls at 8:00 PM", and the list goes on.

In a way it bothers me that a music station is using this technology before a sports station is. Sports stations boast of "up to the minute scores and coverage", but for potentially hundreds of thousands of drivers in a given market, they can only read what song is playing 'right now'.

A nice scoop by Neil Best of Newsday for breaking the news that the NFL Network is about to name its new play-by-play voice to start this coming season. Even if a relative handful of homes will get NFL Network, the choice of Bob Papa, voice of the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, is a solid one. Since NFL Network games never conflict with other games, Papa will not miss any of his Giants games. Papa replaces Bryant Gumbel, and is a welcome addition.

Now that the Big Ten TV Network has its deal with Comcast to provide significant coverage in most of the Big Ten states (although fans residing in Iowa disagree, while less than half of Ohio is still without), it will be interesting to see what the BTN announces next. The football schedule is expected by mid-July, with each of the 11 teams required to be shown in at least one non-conference and one Big Ten Conference matchup during the season. The BTN is reportedly looking into adding more hockey telecasts, but this is compounded by the fact that 6 of the schools do not have hockey among their sports offerings. The BTN carried the Big Ten Baseball tournament and the NCAA Regional Softball tournament (from the U. of Michigan) this past spring.

I think the BTN should be aggressive, especially after the millions of dollars they reportedly sought from cable operators which will in turn cost consumers more whether they want BTN or not. There should be cameras everywhere. Tennis, golf, lacrosse, swimming, gymnastics, and any other Big Ten competition. Several of the Big Ten schools have radio/TV programs and production courses and stations. Let the top students produce telecasts and have them shown on BTN. Make BTN a true showcase for the entire schools and all student-athletes, and less a money grabber for showing a few football and basketball games not selected by ESPN or one of the TV networks.

With the SEC possibly starting its own network, the decisions made by Comcast after one year of BTN on expanded basic (with their future ability to move BTN to a higher cost tier) will be closely watched. OK, I'm a sports fan, but I understand that those who are not are bitter about being forced to spend several dollars per month more to support sports telecasts they don't want.

Our best wishes to Pat Summerall on a speedy recovery. The 78 year old Summerall was hospitalized late last week and underwent emergency surgery to stop internal bleeding. Summerall has worked in 2008, having called the New Year's Day Cotton Bowl game from Dallas, which is near is current home. While I have said over the years that I find Summerall to be the most overrated and boring play-by-play voice ever on a network, I respect his accomplishments and hope for the best for him.

If Major League Baseball revealed its starting lineup for the upcoming All-Star Game at Yankees Stadium, and it was on TBS during its Sunday July 6th national telecast, would anyone hear it? We will find out, eventually.

NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY: WOR 710 will again carry Rutgers University basketball and football next season. Starting this year, Chris Carlin will handle men's basketball play-by-play in addition to football which he has handled for the past 4 years. Carlin also continues as morning sports anchor, while hosting New York Giants pre and post-game shows on WFAN, and co-hosting the SNY Loud Mouths show.

LOS ANGELES - A 50-year broadcaster was honored by the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium this past Tuesday (June 24) night. Yet this time it wasn't Vin Scully. Jamie Jarrin, who came to the U.S. from Ecuador in 1955, was saluted in a special tribute for his many years of handling the Spanish broadcasts of Dodgers baseball.

CHICAGO - While it is the end of an era with WSCR The Score not renewing 16 year host Mike North's contract this week, the speculation begins about what happens to both WSCR 670's morning show, and to North. Since North had often veered away from sports during the morning show, the rumored replacements from either midday or afternoon drive truly are all sports. If either team is named to replace North, either the team would have to adjust to not being 100% sports, or the station would have to become 100% sports. Given that Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio have beaten WSCR in some key demographics in the morning in Chicago in recent years, I'm thinking that WSCR sticks with sports. Mike North was quoted as saying he will be back on the air, but it likely won't be on WMVP (ESPN Chicago) which won't be moving Mike & Mike any time soon. But I can't see North bringing a sports audience to a non-sports station, and I don't see a Chicago sports station hiring North.

SAN ANTONIO - KGNB-AM is set to eliminate the sports talk but stick with the play-by-play. But in a market which hosts only 1 "big 4" pro sports team (the NBA Spurs) eliminating Sporting News Radio probably won't make a difference. The station will instead air country music, but will continue with a schedule of sports and news updates. The station will continue to air Astros baseball and Texans football, and will reportedly continue to air at least 3 of the local high school football broadcasts.

NEW ORLEANS - WODT 1280 has, as of Wednesday (June 25) morning, eliminated its syndicated sports programming as well. The station dropped its mix of ESPN and Fox Sports programming, and it is too early to tell if or who will pick them up in the New Orleans market. WODT had been doing sports since 2003, save for a few weeks following Hurricane Katrina. The station has switched to a gospel format, which may or may not stick since a sister station at 940 AM is presently gospel. 940 AM is not, however, expected to switch to sports.

VIRGINIA - The University of Virginia football and basketball broadcasts will have a new play-by-play voice starting in a few weeks. Dave Koehn was named last week to take over. The 32 year old Koehn comes over from his Vermont basetball and baseball duties to the ACC school. Our congrats to Dave!DES MOINES - KXNO 1460 has the return of afternoon Marty & Miller show on Thursday (June 26) afternoon following the suspension of co-host Marty Tirrell. The market veteran issued an on-air apology on Tuesday about deragatory comments about his visit to the U.S. Open. Tirrell is a sports talk pioneer in the Des Moines market, helping to bring the format local in the mid-90's.

DES MOINES - KXNO 1460 has the return of afternoon Marty & Miller show on Thursday (June 26) afternoon following the suspension of co-host Marty Tirrell. The market veteran issued an on-air apology on Tuesday about deragatory comments about his visit to the U.S. Open. Tirrell is a sports talk pioneer in the Des Moines market, helping to bring the format local in the mid-90's.

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