Monday, December 22, 2008

Sports Media Report - December 22 update

The Pittsburgh Pirates have named their new play-by-play voice to replace the retired Lanny Fratare starting this coming season. Chosen over 200+ candidates is 42 year old Tim Neverett, most recently in the Denver area hosting studio coverage and doing fill-in for Rockies TV. He also hosted sports talk on Denver's 1510 and 560 AM, along with Mountain West Conference play-by-play.

Neverett began his baseball broadcasting career at age 19 when he called games for the Nashua N.H. class AA farm club of the Pirates. Our congrats to Tim, who was considered to have been runner-up to Brian Anderson two years ago for the Milwaukee Brewers TV position.

While we are days away from the official debut of MLB-TV on most cable systems across the country, the channel is already on the air and showing recent World Series films plus a few extras on rotation until Jan. 1st. A personal friend alerted me to it, and I know of 4 different cities which now have MLB-TV already showing, so be sure to check if you have digital cable.

MLB-TV makes its debut next week, on New Year's Day at 6 PM ET, and reportedly plans to show Don Larsen's perfect game from the 1956 World Series in what is believed to be the first re-airing of the telecast. Looks more interesting to me than the bowl games that evening.

On the football side, Sports Business Journal reports that the NFL is revisiting its radio rights package after this season. Or, as we might be saying very soon, packages. The League is looking at additional possibilities beyond Westwood One, based on stock price and recent financial issues with parent CBS Radio. I think this translates to getting ESPN in on the bidding, since a Monday Night Football radio package would give both TV and radio to ESPN. I'm sure the NFL wants some of those millions that ESPN just spent on the BCS, and here is a way they can get it, along with millions more from other networks and sources. Look for at least one announcement around Super Bowl time. The NFL's deal with Siriux XM continues through the 2010 season.

NEW YORK - After 40+ years of reporting sports on TV and radio around New York and nationally, Sal Marchiano has retired. His final sportcast came last Thursday (Dec. 18) on WPIX-TV instead of Friday as previously thought, after 14 years on channel 11. Many across the country may remember Sal from a stint on ESPN.

Going back even further, Marchiano used to fill in on "Howard Cosell Speaking of Sports" back when the ABC Radio Network was only the ABC Radio Network.

As for WPIX-TV, Lolita Lopez is handling the weeknight sportscasts, but is considered an interim replacement.

CHICAGO - Sports radio 670 WSCR The Score is trumpeting carrying the entire NCAA Tournament this March. As much as I like to see sports stations carry play-by-play instead of fans merely giving their opinions on the games, this announcement is much ado over very litte.

Local college teams, such as DePaul, Loyola, University of Illinois Chicago, and Northwestern, are not expected to be a factor if they even make the tournament. Then, the station acts like it has to move its White Sox exhibition game schedule around to make room. Give me a break. Even with the increased ratings its White Sox coverage delievered last summer and fall and coming off a Central Division championship, the station again plans to broadcast just five (count 'em, 5) entire exhibition games.

WSCR claims a nine game exhibition schedule, but four of them are what they call "interactive" broadcasts. The station did this during March of this year. What it really amounts to is a talk show including the White Sox broadcasters who are at the exhibition game, and occasional updates about what is going on in the game itself. As if they couldn't have talk shows with the broadcasters at night or at other times. Do they really think we would rather hear who the fans think should be the starting White Sox center fielder, or hear how that day's center fielder is doing at the plate?

SAN FRANCISCO - While many NFL cities await this coming Sunday's final day of the regular season and the playoff implications, 49ers fans will hear the final call of long-time voice Joe Starkey on KNBR 680 against the Redskins.

This move is not a retirement; rather a schedule reduction for Starkey after more than 20 years of calling two football games most weekends. Joe will continue as the voice of Cal football.

Cal football was there long ago for Starkey. Most of you know the "The band is on the field!!" call of the legendary 1982 college game. That was Starkey doing what he has done since 1975 for the Golden Bears. In a way, this will be the toughest 49ers "loss" of the season.

St. LOUIS - It seems like our weekly update on the new WMVN, which finally starts next week after months of planning and hiring. Sure enough, Bob Ramsey will join 101.1 FM on Jan. 2nd, it's first day as a sports outlet. He will team with Randy Karraker for afternoon drive. Ramsey is already being heard on that frequency as St. Louis University basketball already moved over last month. The St. Louis Post Dispatch speculates that D'Marco Farr (the former Rams player) might be a participant on that program to some extent.

OKLAHOMA CITY - They may have gained an NBA team, but they are about to lose their second sports station. Jox 930 AM is airing ESPN Radio programming, but this is a temporary move until a new format is unveiled. The station no longer shows up in the ratings and has let go of its local talent. The biggest contributors to its demise were the death of afternoon co-host Jack Mildren and losing out on the bidding for the NBA Thunder to rival (until now) WWLS.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sports Media Report - December 16th Update

Several moves on the play-by-play scene over the past few days. While the upcoming MLB-TV Network gets ready for its Jan. 1st debut, its newest studio host is Victor Rojas, who has now officially been named to the post. Rojas had been considered a possible candidate for the open San Diego Padres job.

In Chicago, after nearly two months of waiting, Darrin Jackson has decided to accept the White Sox radio gig as the #2 voice behind Ed Farmer. Jackson comes over from the TV booth after trying to catch on with one of the national networks since the announcement was made that Steve Stone is moving from the White Sox radio booth over to the TV side.

In Los Angeles, Spero Dedes and Mychal Thompson will continue handling Lakers radio, but will be changing flagship stations after this season. Starting next season, the Lakers will be heard on KSPN 710 beginning a multi-year agreement. This ends a 30+ year association between the Lakers and 570 KLAC. If KLAC wants to continue to carry the NBA, they figure to have a shot a Clippers broadcasts. KSPN is, in effect, dumping the Clippers to take the Lakers, which nobody except Clippers management will question.

This past Sunday (Dec. 14) was a busy one for Spero Dedes. After hosting NFL Gameday Morning" on the NFL Network for 3 hours (keeping in mind the show airs starting at 6 AM Los Angeles time), Dedes was on the air at 6:00 PM to call the Lakers vs. Timberwolves game from the Staples Center.

On the Dodgers side, it seems there is a rare TV opening for a play-by-play voice for about 40 of the Dodgers road telecasts when Vin Scully does not travel with the team. This translates to road telecasts east of Colorado.

The team has been moving Charlie Steiner over from the radio booth for the past 3 seasons and had Jerry Reuss fill in on the radio side with Rick Monday. This change means that Steiner and Monday will call every game on radio only and it appears that Reuss is out. TV analyst Steve Lyons is under contract for the 2009 season, as is the 81 year old Scully.

Scully will be inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame this coming April.

In Columbus, WBNS 1460 The Fan has expanded its surrounding coverage of the NHL Blue Jackets. "The Coach's Show with Ken Hitchcock" airs each Wednesday from 3:00 to 4:00 PM, and "Breakfast With The Blue Jackets" airs at 10:00 AM each Sunday with the team's broadcasters.

On the TV side, a tremendous weekend just concluded for football viewing. Hours before NBC-TV set a Sunday Night Football viewing record, CBS scored its third highest ratings of the season with a 15.3 overnight from its Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore thriller during Sunday's late game. This was despite Fox-TV having the Vikings - Cardinals game on against it in several markets including Chicago. However, the early blowout by Minnesota probably contributed to the CBS-TV audience.

The week before (Dec. 7th) was the highest rated NFL (afternoon) telecast so far this season when Fox-TV drew a 17 rating for its doubleheader game telecast of Dallas at Pittsburgh.
The Big Ten Network continues to do what it can to attract viewers it hopes will ante up some bucks to continue with the BTN for the 2009-10 football and basketball seasons. The network airs, for now, on expanded basic on many cable systems, with the plan to move it to an extra cost tier before next fall. While many believe this will not come to fruition, the network is continuing its appeal to sports fans.

BTN is unleashing what it terms "new" classic Big 10 basketball telecasts from years gone by as a showcase to the caliber of talent the Conference has produced over the years.

Let's be real about this. If ESPN Classic were actually doing what it set out to do and did for its first couple of years, this BTN announcement wouldn't even have made the sports pages. Maybe this will start spreading the news to ESPN that its "Classic" Network is seriously under its potential. Now, while Classic continues to feed us poker and game replays from within the past 10 years, it looks like conference and pro league networks see the value of showing "true" classic telecasts.

Here is the Press Release from the Big Ten:

+ + + + + +

Network Airing 16 New Basketball Classics on ‘Greatest Games’

Series features five Big Ten national championships

CHICAGO – Where can fans watch Big Ten legends such as Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Glenn Robinson, Deron Williams and Keith Smart square off against basketball greats like Larry Bird, James Worthy, Tayshaun Prince, Jacque Vaughn and Chris Paul? Only on the Big Ten Network this winter on the popular series The Big Ten’s Greatest Games.

In all, 16 new classics will debut during the course of the basketball season.

The Greatest Games schedule features five Big Ten national championships, including Indiana’s title games in 1981 and 1987, Michigan’s championship game in 1989 and Michigan State’s titles in 1979 and 2000. Additional games from the NCAA Elite Eight and Sweet 16 will air throughout the winter, as will memorable regular season classics.

“When fans get together and reminisce about their teams’ great moments, these are the games they talk about,” Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman said.

Many episodes of The Big Ten’s Greatest Games will include insight and memories from legendary players and coaches along with reporters who were on hand to cover the event.
Northwestern’s 2005 overtime victory against Iowa premiered on Dec. 1 and the Illinois’ 2004 ACC-Big Ten Challenge win against Wake Forest debuted on Dec. 8. Both games will re-air several times during the course of the season.

The upcoming schedule includes:

December 16, 8pm ET – 4/3/2000 – NCAA Championship Game – #5 Michigan State 89, #11 Florida 76

Three Michigan State seniors Morris Peterson (21 points), A.J. Granger (19) and Mateen Cleaves (18) led the Spartans to a national championship in Indianapolis. Cleaves overcame a second-half knee injury. Udonis Haslem scored 27 points for Florida in a losing effort.

December 23, 8pm ET – 3/30/1981 – NCAA Championship Game – #14 Indiana 63, #12 North Carolina 50
Philadelphia’s Spectrum was the scene of an Indiana national championship for the second time in five years. The Tar Heels led for nearly the entire first half, but Ray Tolbert and Landon Turner shut down future NBA stars James Worthy and Sam Perkins in the second half. Isiah Thomas, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, scored a game-high 23 points to go with five assists and four steals.

December 30, 6pm ET – 1/20/2001 – Minnesota 78, Indiana 74 (OT)
Minnesota trailed 68-55 with 3:18 to play in regulation before going on a 14-1 run to tie the game and force overtime. Dusty Rychart scored 21 points, including two free throws with three seconds remaining in the extra period, to lead Minnesota past Indiana, 78-74. Kirk Haston had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Indiana.

January 6, 7pm ET – 3/24/1994 – NCAA Sweet 16 – #6 Purdue 83, #11 Kansas 78
Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson (44 points) and Cuonzo Martin (29) combined to score 73 of Purdue’s 83 points to slip past Jacque Vaughn, Greg Ostertag and Kansas, 83-78. The victory sent head coach Gene Keady and the Boilermakers into the Elite Eight for the first time in 14 years.
January 13, 7pm ET – 3/26/2005 – NCAA Elite Eight – #1 Illinois 90, #8 Arizona 89 (OT)

Top-ranked Illinois engineered one of the most amazing comebacks in NCAA Tournament history, rallying from 15 down with four minutes to go. Deron Williams’ three-pointer tied the game at 80 with 39 seconds left. Then, the Illini made two defensive stops in the closing seconds of regulation and on the final possession of the game to reserve their place in the Final Four.

January 20, 7pm ET – 4/3/1989 – NCAA Championship Game – #8 Michigan 80, #11 Seton Hall 79 (OT)
These two teams produced one of the wildest and most exciting championship games ever, the first national championship game in 26 years to require overtime. Rumeal Robinson made two free throws with three seconds left to cap Michigan’s improbable run to the title under new head coach Steve Fisher. Glen Rice scored 31 points for Michigan and Robinson contributed 21.

January 27, 9pm ET – 2/23/1993 – Ohio State 81, #1 Indiana 77 (OT)
Ohio State rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to upset top-ranked Indiana, 81-77, in overtime in Columbus. Jamie Skelton’s three-pointer with 40 seconds left in overtime broke a 77-77 tie. The Hoosiers missed an opportunity to win it in regulation at the free throw line. Greg Graham led Indiana with 21 points and Derek Anderson had 20 for the Buckeyes.

February 3, 8pm ET – 2/7/2004 – Iowa 84, Indiana 82 (2 OT)
All five Iowa starters scored in double figures, led by Greg Brunner’s 23, in this double-overtime thriller. Indiana forced the first overtime period by intentionally missing a free throw with one second remaining and getting a tap-in from Patrick Ewing, Jr. However, Jeff Horner’s off-balance lay-up with two seconds left in the second overtime gave the Hawkeyes the win in Bloomington.

February 10, 7pm ET – 3/30/1987 – NCAA Championship Game – #4 Indiana 74, #10 Syracuse 73
Keith Smart’s jumper in the final seconds lifted Indiana to a national championship, 74-73, against a star-studded Syracuse team that featured Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas. Steve Alford led Indiana with 23 points, and Smart’s 16-footer became one of the most famous shots in college basketball history.

February 17, 8pm ET – 11/29/2000 – #23 Wisconsin 78, #13 Maryland 75 (OT)
Kirk Penney scored five of his 18 points in overtime to help Wisconsin to a win against Maryland in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Charlie Willis chipped in 15 points in the game, which was played at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center. The Terrapins’ lineup featured the backcourt of Juan Dixon and Steve Blake.

February 24, 8pm ET – 3/20/1987 – NCAA Sweet 16 – #6 Iowa 93, #17 Oklahoma 91 (OT)
In a match-up between two of college basketball’s fastest-paced teams, head coach Dr. Tom Davis, B.J. Armstrong, Roy Marble and the Hawkeyes faced coach Billy Tubbs, Stacey King and the Oklahoma Sooners. Kevin Gamble of Iowa swished a three-pointer with one second remaining in overtime, leaving Oklahoma without a chance to inbound the ball and earning the Hawkeyes a place in the 1987 Elite Eight.

March 3, 7pm ET – 3/27/2005 – NCAA Eight Elite – #5 Michigan State 94, #2 Kentucky 88 (2 OT)
Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team defeated Tubby Smith’s Kentucky Wildcats in double-overtime in one of the most memorable NCAA Tournament games in history. The second-seeded Wildcats rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final 5:25 of regulation, capped by Patrick Sparks’ buzzer-beating three-pointer that bounced on the rim four times before dropping. The teams needed two overtimes to determine a winner. Michigan State’s Alan Anderson made four free throws in the final 15 seconds to send the Spartans to the Final Four.

March 10, 8pm ET – 3/20/1999 – NCAA Elite Eight – #11 Ohio State 77, #10 St. John’s 74
Scoonie Penn scored 22 points to go with eight rebounds and eight assists to help the Buckeyes get past Ron Artest and St. John’s. The victory propelled Ohio State to the Final Four. Michael Redd scored 20 points for OSU.

March 24, 8pm ET – 3/26/1979 – NCAA Championship Game – #4 Michigan State 75, #1 Indiana State 64
Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird, two of the greatest players of all-time, squared off for the first time, triggering one of the great individual rivalries in basketball history. In the end, Magic’s Michigan State team was too much for Bird and previously undefeated Indiana State, which lost 75-64. Magic scored 24 points with seven rebounds. Bird tallied 19 points to go with 13 rebounds and five steals. Michigan State’s Greg Kelser added 19 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sports Media Report - December 9 update

Congrats to former All-Star shortstop and long time baseball TV analyst Tony Kubek on being honored with the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award. Kubek, now 73, will be honored in Cooperstown at the July 26, 2009 ceremony.

Kubek helped to pioneer the role of a national TV analyst for many years on NBC-TV's Game of the Week. Although today's baseball analysts often get critical and more personal during a broadcast, Kubek helped to define the role.

It probably seems like science fiction to younger fans who can't comprehend the era when baseball fans would get one "out of town" game per week. That was NBC-TV each Saturday afternoon throughout the season. The home or local team couldn't be shown. The network would do a "back-up game" most weeks which would feed into the markets (or sometimes one market when a Canadian team was featured) of the two teams participating in the "main" game.

There were no "live looks", multiple nights of games on cable. and for that matter many local teams would only televise half of their games or less. Kubek helped provide the window to the "outside world" of baseball for millions. He got to work with the likes of Curt Gowdy, Bob Costas, and Jim Simpson, as well as Joe Garagiola. Those were also the days of (gulp) one color commentator for the entire telecast. There were no studio hosts, sideline reporters, or third men in the booth for the vast majority of Kubek's run.

The early to mid-80's brought additional baseball coverage to cable, such as USA Network's Thursday Night Baseball, but the color commentators at the national level generally maintained the Kubek influence of explaining the plays and the game and not being overly critical.

In addition to his NBC-TV work, Kubek also did color for the Yankees and Blue Jays. In fact, he becomes the first broadcaster to win this honor who called games for a Canadian team. Fittingly, Kubek was a part of NBC-TV's final "Game of the Week" telecast in September of 1989. That was the end of an era. The 1990 season opened with ESPN beginning its relationship with MLB including multiple telecasts each week (with doubleheaders on many Wednesday nights) and the debut of "Baseball Tonight".

To me, the best news is that Kubek lived to experience this announcement.

The only downer about this is that a few others who are also qualified didn't make it. At least not yet. Lanny Frattare, who just retired after a 30+ year run as the voice of the Pirates is among them, along with long time Red Sox voice Ken Coleman. Dave Van Horne, who could just as easily have been the first broadcaster honored who called a Canadian team (long time Expos voice) also did not get in this time, nor did the late Joe Nuxhall for his years as part of "Marty and Joe on Reds Radio" in Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, NBC-TV did make an announcement within hours of Kubek's award, although very much coincidental. Sunday Night Football is exercising its right to flex scheduling and has changed its December 21 telecast. Gone from NBC is the San Diego vs. Tampa Bay game, and (understandably) now on their schedule is the game between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers in what is very possibly a playoff preview. CBS-TV will now have the Chargers game at Tampa at 1:00 ET on the afternoon of the 21st.

DALLAS - The Metroplex now, as of this past Monday (Dec. 8) has three sports stations. 105.3 FM became "The Fan" at 3:00 PM in a surprise move. The station hopes that the buzz surrounding the Cowboys' playoff chances and the upcoming BCS bowl games will result in a good start. Almost all of the programming on the talk station before it is gone, except that Chris Jagger and his morning crew are staying in place. It is also expected that "The Fan" will change call letters from the current KLLI.

Personally, I see one possible obstacle. KESN ESPN Radio for Dallas is at 103.3 FM, while The Fan is at 105.3. While the PPM is there to measure the audience, the PPM does not help listeners tune to the frequency they desire. A listener could be scanning the dial and hear sports on 103.3 and not make it over to 105.3, or perhaps mistake an advertisement for the ESPN Radio which is more established and has the better known brand. Here's hoping that they go by something like "105 The Fan" and keep the ".3" out of the equation.

St. LOUIS - It seems like every week brings another announcement about the upcoming new sports station, now known as Movin' WMVN. The station has just announced that Derrick Goold will bring his "The Hot Corner" baseball beat show over from KMOX on Sunday mornings to "Movin'" starting in February. Goold, also the Cardinals' beat writer for the Post-Dispatch, will host 8:00 to 10:00 AM each Sunday.

Across town, KFNS just happens to be revising its lineup starting December 15th, 2 weeks before WMVN starts. Frank Cusumano will start his show an hour earlier at 9 AM, with Jeff Gordon and Jeff Vernetti moving up to Noon to 2 PM. The station plans a rotating hour at 2:00 including veteran personalities such as Howard Balzer and Jay Randolph Sr.

SAN DIEGO - XX Sports 1090 has gone into cost-cutting mode this month. Bill Werndl and Joe Tutino are both on the outs from their respective shows where they each served as co-hosts. For now, John Kentera continues in the early afternoon spot, and Darren Smith stays at 3 - 7 PM. No word yet as to whether or not each will be given another co-host or continue solo or with guest hosts.

No word yet about a new Padres TV voice, replacing Matt Vasgersian who moves on to host on the upcoming MLB-TV Network. Among those reportedly interviewed are Dave Sims of the Mariners and Victor Rojas of the Rangers.

CHICAGO - The MLB-TV Network also will likely have an impact on baseball broadcast coverage in Chicago. Word is that at least one of the two among Dan Plesac and Darrin Jackson will also be hired as a studio analyst by the new network. If Plesac is chosen, there will be a studio analyst opening for Chicago Cubs telecasts on Comcast SportsNet. If Jackson is chosen, there will be an opening in the White Sox radio booth. Jackson is expected to learn of his "fate" by the end of this week.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Steve Dahl signs off Chicago's JACK-FM

It's the radio version of the chicken or the egg. Rumors were abundant all week that Steve Dahl would be fired any minute from Chicago's JACK-FM as CBS Radio continues its cost slashing.On Friday morning (Dec. 5th), Dahl told the remaining listeners that we was signing off and ending his show.

It's the old "You can't fire me - I quit!" story, unless there is more than meets the ear. Dahl's contract is/was supposed to run well into 2011. I suppose it is possible that both Dahl and CBS have agreed to make it appear as a resignation to avoid further embarassment.

So what does this have to do with sports? Not much, except that Dahl is known among baseball fans over the age of 40 for his role in "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park in Chicago when his blowing up of disco records started a riot between games of a doubleheader. The result was the White Sox having to forfeit the 2nd game against the Detroit Tigers, the most recent forfeit (and this was July 1979) in MLB.

Since then Dahl has become a White Sox season ticket holder and tried to make up with White Sox fans by making his presence at the games known and talking up the team. Many baseball fans who were upset about Dahl's laughing about that incident on the air are probably laughing about Dahl today.

CBS has suffered with JACK-FM in Chicago, although a recent tweak toward more 80's music has stimulated a few more listeners into November. Yet, Dahl's ratings got to the point of being worse than some of the music hours. Let alone that Dahl was the only live voice on the station.I'm betting that there will be no replacement named, and the station will go right back to their music format in the morning. Dahl was moved over to JACK-FM due to a format change at the former WCKG Radio on which he did afternoons for a few years as his ratings bounced up and down.

CBS Radio had dumped its Oldies format on 104.3 FM to become JACK-FM, which has yet to catch on in Chicago. Meanwhile, WLS-FM and its oldies format, consisting of former 104.3 personalities, has now entered the top 6 overall in the November monthly Chicago ratings, taking that format to near its highest level in recent memory.

Meanwhile, CBS Radio in Chicago has already rid itself of the $1,000,000+ contracts of morning hosts Mike North (formerly WSCR-AM) and Eddie and Jobo from B-96 FM. Next comes Dahl. Ooops, this is supposedly a resignation.During his "sign-off" speech on the air, those few who were listening heard him complain about how the PPM audience measurement is hurting those stations which don't play music because the PPM's account for "background listening".

I suppose Dahl was too busy inventing his excuse to notice that WBBM-AM is a top rated station in Chicago, and they have been all news for 40 years. Hardly a background choice, especially in today's economy.Come to think of it, this story today is probably the most people who have heard about Steve Dahl in a number of years.

Speaking of Chicago and the White Sox, broadcaster Darrin Jackson is under consideration for an analyst role with the new MLB Network, and expects to hear within the next week. If and has he gets that role, the White Sox would then need a #2 radio voice to work with Ed Farmer. This would be 3 partners in 3 seasons for Farmer if it happens. Stay tuned..........

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sports Media Report - December 2 update

The Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame will be inducting its 2008 class on December 16th in New York. The second set of inductions includes Vin Scully and Curt Gowdy from the play-by-play side, along with executives of paramount importance to televised sports as we know them today. Chet Forte, Don Ohlmeyer, and Ted Nathanson are also going to be inducted.

While it is easy to wonder why those names were not among the very first group inducted last year, keep in mind that last year's charter group included Jim McKay and Howard Cosell from the on-air side. Others in that group included Harry Coyle, Ed Sabol (NFL Films), and former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

The NFL will continue playing one regular season game in London next year. Although the 2009 NFL schedule is still in formation, a rare matchup between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been scheduled for Sunday Oct. 25, 2009 at Wembley Stadium in London. The start time will again be in coordination with U.S. television schedules. CBS-TV will have this telecast at 1:00 PM ET. Next year will be the third consecutive year of a regular season game in London, with all being AFC vs. NFC matchups.

HOUSTON - The latest round of radio ratings show a victory of sorts for Mike & Mike and their syndicated ESPN Radio morning show. KFNC 97.5 came in at the top of the 25-54 men demographic. That is news enough on its own when a syndicated show tops a major market in such an important demographic. What makes the story more interesting is this happening after KFNC picked up Mike & Mike from KMBE 790 which dropped it to carry a local show.

I think this signifies still another changing trend about radio and television. It appears that listeners and viewers are making choices based on quality ahead of location. In the instance of Mike & Mike doing better than any other Houston radio sports show in the morning, it shows me that people are not making a "local vs. national" distinction. They want the best show they can find, wherever it comes from. It wasn't always that way. Stations airing syndicated shows were looked down upon and rarely made a dent.

On the TV side, look at how the combined audiences of ESPN, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC have taken away from local news and sportscasts around the country. Same theory. Radio especially needs to increase their local impact. The Mike & Mike success is the result of a good show, but also the result of the positive branding that ESPN has developed. I have to believe this audience consists of a lot of men unable to watch, or to continue watching, ESPN in the morning who then follow on the radio. Some of this could be the lack of success among the Astros and Texans this year, leaving sports fans to crave more national coverage. Yet, in some cities, local sports talk does even better when one or more of the teams is not winning, as the fans have more reason to pick their favorite team apart.

It will be interesting to see how the other sports stations in Houston react with their morning shows over the next few weeks.

CONNECTICUT: Even though it begins with only telecasts of various high school games, congrats to CTSN-TV, the Connecticut Sports Network. The state's first 24 hour sports station made its official launch (Tuesday Dec. 2) from its Hartford studios. For now, CTSN is showing replays of playoff and title games in football, soccer, volleyball, and a couple of others. Plans are in the works to add some live telecasts of local college hoops, and eventually to add coaches talk shows and the like.

CHARLOTTE - Once again sports fans need a scorecard, but in this case it is to follow their local radio stations instead of the athletes. Mornings on 99.9 The Fan began carrying ESPN Radio programming this week (Monday Dec. 1). The Bull AM 620 has now officially dropped Mike & Mike and added Don Imus. (That's easy to remember - associating Imus with "Bull".) 850 AM The Buzz now airs Dan Patrick's radio show live from 10 AM to Noon. 99.9 FM goes local for one whole hour middays, as "Sports Lunch with Mike Maniscalco" is heard from Noon to 1:00 PM.

BATON ROUGE: This past Monday (Dec. 1) was the season debut of LSU Basketball Coach Trent Johnson's weekly radio show at 7:00 PM. The show airs live from a Baton Rouge restaurant on 100.7 FM The Tiger (how appropriate!) and on the LSU Sports Radio Network. However, to the best of my knowledge the show is not streamed live. The show is hosted by Jim Hawthorne and will air throughout the basketball season.

BILLINGS: The nation's newest sports station made its surprise debut on Monday morning (Dec. 1). 105.1 FM dropped music and picked up ESPN Radio.