Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sports Media Update - August 7th

Fans of all sports radio have choices in many markets between the constant phone calls format and the ESPN Radio sports information format. Where there is a choice, I will almost always go with what I call the "information" format. It is a matter of personal taste, but I listen to sports radio to gather information. I like to hear an interview with a player, coach, team executive, college administrator, along with updates, previews, and reviews of the games of the day.

There are those times when I actually do want to hear what the fans think, rare as they may be. I happened to be in Boston last Thursday when the news of the Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers trade broke. Knowing there would be a mixed reaction, I had the chance to listen to Boston's WEEI for a couple hours. In addition to official reaction, they basically became "all Manny" until 11:00 that night, as it happened that the Red Sox were idle that day. There was one instance where hearing the same opinions, positive or negative, really were interesting listening.

Those fans for it or against it had similar reasons for their feelings. As always with fans talking, it was the "I agree with the last caller" sort of thing. But the one thing that came through loud and clear was the passion of every fan that called in. While it is too bad there aren't nearly enough passionate topics during the course of a sports day, this was one instance of a major sports station staying with a big story, and bringing out the passion enough to keep it interesting for everyone.

Meanwhile, the death of Skip Caray this past weekend was certainly a huge loss for baseball fans everywhere. His unique combination of honesty and humor will be missed. I have enjoyed reading and hearing the tributes to Skip from fellow announcers, players, coaches, managers, and family members. It is well deserved. But in tribute, I find something missing.

This is not to compare Skip Caray to Howard Cosell. I mention Cosell because in my opinion Cosell and Skip Caray have something in common. Like them or not, they each pioneered one aspect of sports broadcasting which is very much a part of what we see and hear today.

Like him or not, Cosell is remembered for pioneering an announcer being critical of a player during a broadcast as well as for bringing us more than a 2 person TV broadcast team. Skip Caray brought fun and humor into a national telecast, as well as being the first primary voice for multiple major league sports events on a cable network.

True, Bob Uecker was a few years ahead of Caray with bringing humor into both his local Milwaukee Brewers broadcasts on WTMJ and on ABC-TV's national games. But Caray did the Braves from the first days of WTBS being a cable superstation calling the majority of innings for more than 140 telecasts each season for several years starting in the late 70's. He was the sports announcer heard the most by cable viewers even before ESPN existed. Yet he was not the typical or conventional announcer one would expect from being in the national spotlight and calling "his" local team.

Not only did Skip call practically all of the Braves games for WTBS, but he also called more than half of the NBA Atlanta Hawks games for several seasons, and an occasional college football telecast. When Turner Sports first got an NFL cable package, which again was history, Skip Caray called a series of Sunday Night NFL games. Maybe he won't be remembered for his NFL work, but the point is that Skip Caray was the first to call that many pro baseball, basketball, and football games on a cable network. WTBS was Atlanta channel 17 when Ted Turner got the idea of putting his channel out on satellite in the late 70's and let the nation see his Braves and Hawks practically every day. For myself and people over the age of 40, that was a major reason why I wanted cable TV. And when I finally was able to get it, Skip Caray was the voice that made it all real. Thanks for everything, Skip!

Meanwhile, Fox Sports Radio has unveiled a new Sunday morning show which will be geared toward fantasy football. Fox Fantasy Freaks will air on football Sundays from 10 AM until Noon ET, and be hosted by former WOAI and KTKR San Antonio's Nate Lundy along with fantasy football writer Michael Harmon.

NEW YORK - While Mets fans anxiously await this season's stretch run, I wonder if the degree of success will have an impact on the team's radio situation. It seems to be under the radar that there still has been no announcement about Mets Radio after this season, when WFAN's contract runs out. My hunch is that WFAN will bid to keep the Mets, but only to a certain point that makes sense for them. I think that the Mets will expect increased revenue based on their going to a new stadium for next season, and they just might get it from WEPN which would bring MLB to ESPN's New York affiliate.

Yet I think that WFAN will have baseball in 2009, and be carrying a team that will open a new stadium. If the Mets broadcasts go elsewhere, look for CBS to move the Yankees games from WCBS over to WFAN. This would clear WCBS to return to true "all news", and keep WFAN with baseball broadcasts most nights. CBS Radio did a similar move in Chicago when they moved their Chicago Bears NFL broadcasts from the former WMAQ over to WBBM Radio for the duration of a previous contract.

On the football side, Giants fans get stumped for the Super Bowl champions' pre-season opener this Thursday (Aug. 7) in Detroit. WNYT Channel 13 has been forced to bump its scheduled telecast of the game due to NBC Network commitments. WNYT's original reponse is to air the game on its 13-3 digital channel. As if the relatively low percentage of people that can even get that channel would know where to find the game? Since this digital channel is not available at all on NYC area Time Warner systems, Time Warner cable TV's channel 3 will show the game.

Can't wait for the jokes on Friday about Giants fans in NYC tuning in to WNYT-TV for a Giants game and seeing "Last Comic Standing" instead. How quickly they forget the Super Bowl.....
In Detroit, the game airs live where it is supposed to, on its new pre-season TV station, WWJ-TV with CBS-TV's Gus Johnson on the call and former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard as analyst.

CHICAGO - Sports radio WSCR 670 "The Score" rounds out its revised late morning lineup starting Sept. 2nd, when new 10 AM to Noon host Lawrence Holmes will team up with former Chicago Bears standout Dan Hampton. Hampton had been a part of WGN Radio's Bears related programming for several years, even though WGN no longer carries the Bears broadcasts. But WGN Radio has discontinued its 3 hours of pre and post-game programming surrounding Bears games making Hampton available. The station's move of Mike Mulligan and Bryan Hanley to morning drive, replacing Mike North, made the Holmes-Hampton combination possible.

OKLAHOMA CITY - The new NBA team, formerly the Seattle SuperSonics, will be heard on 640 AM and 98.1 FM WWLS The Sports Animal starting a multi-year deal. The 24 hour sports station is already planning pre-game and post-game programming along with coach shows and a weekly NBA show. Matt Pinto, who comes to Oklahoma City after handling radio in Seattle, will be involved with OK City broadcasts, but his status is not definite, possibly since TV rights have not been awarded yet. Rumored play-by-play candiates include former TBS/TNT's Ron Thulin and Bob Carpenter, who has handled Oklahoma University hoops on TV in addition to his Washington Nationals duties.

DENVER - Winter sports teams on the move. Sports Radio 1510 AM becomes the new flagship station for both the Nuggets and the Avalanche starting this season. But there is a lot of work to be done and look for several related announcements over the next 4 weeks. The station has yet to name either broadcast team, leading to speculation of changes, nor where conflicting broadcasts will be heard.

ATLANTA - Braves catcher Brian McCann begins a weekly radio report on The Zone 790 AM, thanks to an exclusive local sponsor.

INDIANAPOLIS - WFNI 1070 AM came in 17th in the market in the recently released ratings, the station's first spring book since converting to all sports at the start of this year. This is one instance where it is too soon to judge. The first big test won't be until the fall ratings book comes out in January, showing listenership during the Colts season, along with Indiana University football season and the start of Pacers basketball season.
With no major league baseball team, and with the Indy 500 dominating for a couple weeks in May, the station has yet to have significant compelling reasons for local sports listenership.

MEMPHIS - ESPN Radio is movin' on up. As of this week, ESPN Radio in Memphis is heard on WSMB 680, and the stronger signal is expected to benefit compared with 730 AM's. KQPN 730 will remain all sports, and next door on the radio dial, and is already known as Fox Sports 730. WSMB continues as the Memphis radio home for University of Tennessee football and basketball.

RALEIGH - Extensive national play-by-play comes to 99.9 FM The Fan which has joined Westwood One. The Fan will broadcast national college football and basketball games whenever possible, along with NFL Sunday doubleheaders and Monday Night Football.

EUGENE - University of Oregon fans lose out in the latest round of cutbacks. KEZI-TV has dropped Ducks football telecasts, based on "too many restrictions" from the school's marketing deal with IMG. Yes, a college team is priced out, and costs some of the school's fans the opportunity to watch their team. No word yet on a new station. In other words, it will take a big bill for the Ducks.

No comments: