Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sports Media Update - Jan. 27th

Sports radio and the Super Bowl. For this column, these are both the "big game" over the next 10 days. We may actually find out how "big".

The game itself is always a huge audience draw capping off a day which is really more of a national holiday than some of the true national holidays. Over the last few years, especially, many of the local sports stations in larger markets, including some without NFL teams, set up shop for the week leading into the game on press row covering the Super Bowl. Members of the participating teams, along with players and coaches from NFL teams past and present also attend and go up and down the rows of station tables.

Over the years, unless my favorite team is in the game, I have personally reduced the amount of time I spend listening and watching sportcasts during the days leading in to the Super Bowl. I don't like being tired of hearing about the game long before it happens. And from talking with others around the country, I'm definitely not alone in feeling that way.

Why is this year different? I'm sure it's not, at least as far as the sports stations staffing radio row in Miami. But this year we have many of the NFL markets being measured monthly with the PPM system. We have seen steady growth among many of the sports stations, including some markets with more than one sports radio station increase their audience in recent months.

I, for one, will be curious to see if or how the ratings are impacted for the sports stations emphasizing the Super Bowl during the last week of January. The ones not in Indiana or Louisiana, that is.

If the out-of-market sports stations with a table at Super Bowl week show an audience drop after months of increase, maybe we will finally see the end of the hour after hour about the Super Bowl by next year. But if the increase continues, well, then I guess I'll continue my tradition of not listening and watching the endless Super Bowl hype for years to come. But now we will know. The ratings information is distributed every month, rather than every quarter so we will benefit with more specific audience information.

Then again, the TV ratings for the AFC and NFC Championship telecasts were sensational. But that is game action, and not a talk show. Early reports show that Fox had the biggest audience for the NFC game than any TV program (sports or not) other than a Super Bowl since 1998, and that was the Seinfeld finale.

The Colts vs. Jets game was the highest rated AFC Championship game in 24 years.

Now we'll see if those viewers prefer to wait until the Super Bowl game itself, or if they really want to talk about it day after day.

NBA-TV is making more strides this season, its first on some of the larger cable systems. I am looking forward to a new show the network is producing called "Making the Call". The show will focus on rules and regulations. The debut show premieres on Wednesday (Jan. 27) with Ronnie Nunn, the NBA Director of Officiating, as the primary guest. I'm sure there a few head coaches who would have liked to have done the questioning!

The network will be showing plenty of games over the next few days, picking up local telecasts:

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 27 Los Angeles Lakers @ Indiana Pacers
FRIDAY, JAN. 29 Boston Celtics @ Atlanta Hawks
SATURDAY, JAN. 30 Atlanta Hawks @ Orlando Magic
SUNDAY, JAN. 31 Phoenix Suns @ Houston Rockets

It will be interesting to see if the true basketball fans prevail over the big market casual fans for next Tuesday (Feb. 2), when NBA-TV presents its "Fan Night" game. One of the choices is Detroit at New Jersey. That game is only news because one of the those teams will probably win a game. Yet, those are both huge TV markets. The logical choice is Atlanta vs. Oklahoma City in a battle of 2 hot teams making strong playoff runs.

On the baseball side, ESPN has announced some of its upcoming Sunday Night Baseball matchups:

April 4 Opening Night: New York Yankees at Boston
April 11 St. Louis at Milwaukee
April 18 New York Mets at St. Louis
April 25 Atlanta at N.Y. Mets
May 2 N.Y. Mets at Philadelphia
May 9 N.Y. Yankees at Boston
May 16 Philadelphia at Milwaukee
May 23 N.Y. Yankees at N.Y. Mets
May 30 Texas at Minnesota
July 4 Kansas City at L.A. Angels
July 11 Chicago Cubs at L.A. Dodgers
July 18 Philadelphia at Chicago Cubs

Yes, 2 of the first 6 weeks are Yankees vs. Red Sox. As if that is a surprise.

Spring training games could be abundant this season more than ever. No official word yet from MLB Network, which picked up about 30 telecasts last March. ESPN has announced it will televise 10 exhibition games from March 22 through Friday April 2, during the last 2 weeks of exhibition play.

ESPN will kick off the regular season with 5 games on Monday April 5 (making it 6 opening games counting the April 4 Yankees vs. Red Sox telecast). American League fans will enjoy Cleveland at Chicago White Sox and Minnesota at L A Angels. National League fans will enjoy St. Louis at Cincinnati, Chicago Cubs at Atlanta, and San Francisco at Houston.

In addition to its Saturday Game of the Week, Fox-TV might be moving 2 of its telecasts into prime time. USA Today reports that one would be in May and the other in June. As good as that sounds for baseball fans, that seems too early in the season to offer a compelling matchup for prime time.

BOSTON: Baseball fans in the Boston area get an interesting opportunity this Thursday (Jan. 28) evening. The Cambridge Center for Adult Education begins its "Homerun in Harvard Square" seminar series at 6 PM. The guest will be none other than Peter Gammons, now with MLB Network. Upcoming confirmed guests are Tom DiBenedetto, Red Sox partner; Jed Lowrie, Red Sox infielder; and Larry Silverstein, attorney/special counsel to the LA Dodgers. Details at www.ccae.org.

CINCINNATI: Great idea from Fox Sports Ohio to promote the upcoming Reds season. The Network has taken a group of telecasts of significant Reds games from the past 40 years and synced the audio of the radio broadcasts with Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall.

Included in the Monday night series will be Game 4 of the 1970 World Series, Tom Browning's perfect game, the clinching 1976 NLCS game vs. Philadelphia, Tom Seaver's no-hitter vs. St. Louis from 1978, the 1985 game in which Pete Rose breaks the all-time hit record, and Game 7 of the memorable 1975 World Series.

It's too bad that the rest of the country can't enjoy these, especially with the hometown flavor of "Marty and Joe on Reds radio". Here is a regional network producing this, while the nationally available ESPN Classic sticks us with poker, bowling, boxing, and probably tiddly winks in prime time.

BALTIMORE: Anita Marks is no longer a part of afternoon drive on The Fan 105.7, and also shown on MASN, after nearly 4 years. She had been co-hosting the show with Scott Garceau.

SAN FRANCISCO: Extra Sports 860 will no longer be living up to its name as of next week. KTRB will begin running the syndicated Michael Savage show from 3 to 6 PM as of Monday (Feb. 1). No other changes have been announced as of press time, but it seems odd to only take out the afternoon drive sports show.

KANSAS CITY: Former Royals pitcher Paul Splittorff continues to make good progress recovering from the infection which took him away from the majority of Royals telecasts last season. He recently joined Dave Armstrong and Jon Sundvold on a Kansas University basketball broadcast, and plans to join them again for a game or two during February. The number of Royals games Splittorff will work during the upcoming season has yet to be finalized.

LINCOLN: Former Nebraska University linebacker Adrian Fiala will no longer be a part of the Nebraska football broadcast team, which he had been a part of since 1996. He worked with current play-by-play voice Greg Sharpe, as well as Jim Rose and Warren Swain. Sharpe and Matt Davison will handle the call for the 2010 season.

Lincoln's KLMS 1480 AM has officially dumped ESPN Radio and its sports programming after 12 years as a sports station. Whether temporary or not, the station has gone oldies.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sports Media Report - Jan. 20th update

In recent years, this has been the week to start reducing time spent listening to and watching sports talk shows in order to limit hearing about the Super Bowl over and over and over again.

Not so this time around. It is getting to the point where even the sports stations are not reporting what is truly sports "news" when it comes to the Super Bowl. The sports outlets are making it a media event instead of a football game. I can understand if music stations and local TV newscasts take that angle, but it's getting out of hand.

All of a sudden sports stations, sports TV talk shows, and sports related web sites are bringing us "news stories" about how many commercials are sold, what singers will be performing, and which advertisers are spending big bucks for the game.

Am I the only one who resents seeing the "stadium name" story showing up in "Sports Headlines" all afternoon?

As a sports fan, I don't care how many millions CBS is getting for the commercials. I don't care who will be advertising. I don't care what stadium the game is being played in.

I never thought it would get to the point where I might actually welcome hearing from the row after row of sports anchors sitting at media headquarters for a week interviewing the same people over and over again. At least they focus on the game itself.

A player injury won't be as important as this week's name for the stadium hosting the game. If this doesn't stop, they might as well have a CBS "Festival of Commercials" and let two good NFL teams play a sudden death series of downs at halftime. What's next? Please remember this is about a football game. At least on the sports stations and outlets.

I'll admit that I rarely report or comment on NASCAR, but this is strange enough to catch my attention. The NASCAR web site now features an interview with a racing team owner who complains about certain commentators on the national TV coverage:


He is certainly entitled to his opinion. Yet, it is the opinion of others, namely the "name brand" commentators that are a big part of the reason so many people are watching the telecasts in the first place. Somebody needs to tell him that times have changed. The "don't say anything bad about anybody" approach died in the 70's when Howard Cosell went prime time to "tell it like it is". He should be glad there is so much interest in the telecasts. If it works, don't fix it.

MIAMI: Ed Freeman and Jeff Fox have a new contract for the 1 to 3 PM spot on WAXY The Ticket 790. Yet, the station won't quite be all sports, as it has picked up a syndicated non-sports show to air from 1 to 4 AM.

TAMPA: WFLA 970 has hired Allyson Turner to be part of its morning show team starting next Monday (Jan. 25), working along with Jack Harris and Tedd Webb. While at Miami's WQAM, among her responsibilities was producing Hank Goldberg's show. She replaces Sharon Taylor, who was let go several weeks ago after nearly 10 years with the station.

PITTSBURGH: The Fan comes to Pittsburgh in the form of the city's first FM sports station which debuts on February 15th. Unless another FM station were to suddenly forge ahead, KDKA-FM 93.7 will become The Fan on the President's Day holiday. Until then, "B94" will continue to play the hits and cross promote the CBS owned Star 100.7 FM which figures to inherit its music audience.

CINCINNATI: The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Andy Furman, who hosted SportsTalk on WLW for more than 18 years, could return to the local airwaves as quickly as the first week in February. WQRT-AM, which airs syndicated non-sports programming, is reportedly looking at opening up the 5 to 7 PM weekday spot for its first local show.

BALTIMORE: Fox Sports 1370 AM is taking a chance on Baltimore fans being interested in the NHL Washington Capitals, especially in areas where the originating signal from D.C. does not come in. This past weekend, WVIE began with the first of nine Capitals broadcasts they will carry this season. Nothing further has been announced beyond the regular season.

DALLAS: For all of the accolades, and deservedly so, that Brad Sham has gained over the years for his calls of Cowboys football and other sports, his baseball counterpart is also making history. Rangers voice Eric Nadel has again been named "Texas Sportscaster of the Year". Eric certainly knows the drill by now. This marks the fifth time he was won the Award. Keep in mind this is a statewide award, not just for the Metroplex.

BANGOR: The Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics may be "the" teams throughout Maine, but following them in the Bangor area just took on a new challenge. WAEI 97.1 and WABI 910 decided to pull the plug on carrying WEEI Boston sports programming, citing a contract dispute after 16 months of the arrangement.

Neither side is talking much, but it would appear that WEEI is not pleased with the decision. This is based on WEEI issuing a statement to "remind" Bangor area residents of the WEEI online stream.

WAEI and WABI immediately switched over to Fox Sports programming, which they had only been carrying overnight. Sounds like everybody loses on this one.

TAMPA: Despite the Buccaneers disappointing season, Sports Radio 1010 has brought back its weekly hour focused on the Bucs. Each Wednesday from 5 to 6 PM J. P. Peterson and Scott Reynolds host, with the show scheduled to air each week throughout the entire off season. That's plenty of time to do nothing but look ahead.

Meanwhile, sorry that we have two deaths to reflect on this week. Art Rust, who hosted sports talk on WABC Radio New York in the 80's, passed away last week. A lot of fans consider Rust's show to have laid the foundation for WFAN before the 80's were over.

From Hazard, KY comes word that Ernest Sparkman died at the age of 84 this past Friday (Jan. 15). Sparkman, who played college hoops at the University of Kentucky long ago, broadcast Kentucky Sweet 16 High School Basketball tournament games for 40 years. WSGS-FM, of which Sparkman was one of the owners for a long time, is the only station to broadcast every tournament game for the past 61 years.

NBC-TV has announced its Jan. 31st NHL Game of the Week. Detroit will be at Pittsburgh in an obvious choice since this is a Stanley Cup Finals rematch. The Penguins will also be feature this Sunday (1/24) with their game from Philadelphia. What is nice is how NBC is maintaining the 12:30 PM ET start for its Sunday telecasts. I contend that a consistent starting time is far more important than some of the networks realize. For example, ABC's Sunday NBA package, which hasn't started yet, tends to vary the start times when not doing a doubleheader.

NEWPORT NEWS VA: The "757 Club" with Johnny "D" DeCandido and Bartley Barefoot on WXTG 102.1 and 1490 AM has been moved to a later time, now airing weekdays from 5 to 7 PM. The Chris Myers Show from Fox Sports has moved into the 3 to 5 PM spot.

GREEN VALLEY WV: WAMN 1050 has changed ownership and has ended its affiliation with ESPN as of this week and now is a music station. WKEZ 1240, which will continue to carry Fox Sports, becomes the area's only full-time sports station.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sports Media Update - Jan. 14th

This started as a private discussion based on my comments over the past few weeks about the recent growth of ratings for sports radio including more than one station in some markets increasing. I still do not think it has anything to do with PPM's taking over.

It has to do with establishing credibility among sports fans. Radio and TV stations which have cut back on or haven't had a true sports presence are losing more and more sports fans, and the audience response reflects this.

Granted, I am old school about sports and news reporting. I was born and raised seeking to break stories and get the scoop on my competition. There was a time when my sportscasts would compete against another top local radio station, and I would actually record theirs while I was on the air and listen back to what my competitor reported on prior to my next report. I had to know I had better information and hopefully better reaction to the big stories of the day.

And I would never mention another radio station. It was considered a "no-no". These were things I learned from watching other news and sports reporters. I once had a News Director who urged me to mention that I was anxious to watch a local team's road game on TV that night. When I questioned that, he told me that mentioning the game being on TV could keep people from listening to the radio broadcast on our biggest competitor radio station, I made it a point to make references to televised games.

What does this have to do with today's ratings? They are a reflection of change. These days, for some reason, it has become acceptable, if not the norm, for radio and TV stations to openly refer to other radio and TV stations. It shows. It seems like many sportscasts today are rumors of what might happen in place of looking at upcoming games. And every rumor seems to include its source instead of verification.

Listen to or watch a sportscast on a station that does not have a sports reporter. Count how many stories include a "ESPN is reporting that....." or "Fox Sports says.....". Therein lies the problem. These "stories" remind me and others like me to simply listen to another outlet to get my news.

Granted, the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien "story" is not sports, but this is an extreme example of my point. In the old days, this "story" never would have been anywhere other than on an NBC station. Yet, CBS, ABC, and Fox Radio and TV stations have covered this "story" as if there audience needs this information. It is really a reason to watch NBC and see how this comes out. Just the same, hearing what Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, or ESPN have reported that day gives me a reason to go right to those sources for information. I'm here to tell you that people are wise to this, and it is reflecting in the overall growth of sports stations.

Same theory on the TV side, where some local stations are reducing or eliminating sports coverage on local news "because of" ESPN. Instead of trying to out perform them locally. As a result, SportsCenter thrives while local news ratings drop in the 25-54 male demographic.

Yet, it doesn't stop there. This past Tuesday morning, I read an A P story about the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars reducing some ticket prices for next season. The story goes on to give a primary reason for this being that 9 of their 10 home games this past season were blacked out. Silly me. I thought sports teams were trying to win. Yet, this wire service story had no mention of the fact that the Jaguars again failed to make the playoffs. Here's a thought. Maybe if they had made the playoffs, ticket sales wouldn't be such a concern.

Meanwhile, February 1st is the date that this year's winner of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters will be announced. Some major choices this year, including the late Skip Caray, the recently retired Lanny Frattare (Pirates), Reds legend Joe Nuxhall, and Jon Miller of ESPN and 4 MLB teams over the years.

Ten regular season games from the NBA Development League will air during February and March. What makes this curious is that the network showing them happens to be Versus. Some dismiss this story because it's not as if this will create a demand for Versus from those cable and satellite systems which still don't (or can't) carry it. I have to believe, since Comcast owns a big chunk of Versus, that this is the start of Comcast looking to forge a better relationship with the NBA prior to taking over NBC.

NBA-TV has added Matt Winer as a studio analyst starting next week. Winer had been with ESPN since 1991 and a big part of the NBA coverage. This comes on the heels of ESPN losing baseball analyst Peter Gammons to MLB Network. Before coming to ESPN, Winer was with KSDK-TV in St. Louis, where he was hired to replace Trey Wingo when he had left that station to go to ESPN.

It seems rare for NBC-TV to grow its sports coverage (Comcast anyone?), but the network has announced it will televise six key horse races this spring which lead up to the Kentucky Derby in May. These will include the will include the Louisiana Derby, Lane's End Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Bluegrass Stakes and Arkansas Derby.

CHICAGO: The growth of ratings for the NHL Blackhawks telecast have led to Comcast SportsNet Chicago adding 18 'out of town' NHL telecasts for the remainder of this broken season. To their credit, the telecasts are well chosen, such as Detroit at San Jose on Feb. 2nd.

St. LOUIS: KFNS sports radio has added Howard Balzer and Andy Strickland to its afternoon show, along with Jay Randolph Jr. KSLG 1380 now has Joe Pelusi, Charlie Marlow, Mike Wellington, and Hanna Hercules handling middays, with Evan Makovsky on from 1 to 2 PM. WXOS 101.1 introduced Bob Stelton as a co-host with Bryan Burwell to replace Pat Parris.

PITTSBURGH: The Cannon was shot down from WPGB-FM 104,7. Ellis Cannon is out from his weeknight sports talk show in favor of political talk instead. In addition, Cannon is out from Fox Sports 970 sports updates and pre-game shows on Pirates and Steelers broadcasts on other Clearance Channel stations.]

DENVER: Market veteran Jerry Schemmel has been added to the Rockies broadcast team for this season, replacing the retired Jeff Kingery. This comes despite his having reduced his role on NBA Nuggets broadcasts to cut back on travel. Schemmel is also in his first full seasons as football and basketball play-by-play for Colorado State University.

NEW ORLEANS: WIST 690 has switched from music to sports to start the new year. It carries Stephen A. Smith and Dan Patrick, but is adding local programming, including Eric Asher, Eric Richey, and Kenny Wilkerson, formerly of WWL.

SPARTANBURG: Another sports radio simulcast is born. 97.1 FM is now carrying WSPG 1400 ESPN programming in a move to increase the signal coverage. The station will continue to carry Atlanta Braves baseball for the upcoming season.

WILMINGTON NC: John Smist becomes the new weekend sports anchor at WECT-TV. Smist has left Bangor's WLBZ-TV after almost 6 years to accept this position.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sports Media Report - January 4th update

Unfortunately, the loss of a unique journalist and broadcaster starts out the new year and decade, even if his age is 87. Sorry to learn of the death of Bill Gleason this past weekend, the long long time Chicago columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Southtown Economist. Yet, many around country knew of him for helping to pioneer the concept of regularly scheduled sports writers appearing on electronic media.

Back in 1975, WGN Radio Chicago decided to experiment with some Sunday afternoon time following Cubs or Bears broadcasts, and gave an hour to a group of local sports writers to discuss the sports news of the week with strong opinion. The "experiment" soon went permanent and expanded. In the late 1980's, "The Sports Writers on TV" was formed by then SportsChannel Chicago, and was also shown in other "SportsChannel" cities including Los Angeles. Anyone who saw or heard this show knows how programs such as "The Sports Reporters" on ESPN got started and evolved into others such as PTI. Those shows will continue to serve as reminders of what Bill Gleason helped to start.

When I was covering games in the Chicago area for radio in the mid to late 70's, I always enjoyed my talks with Bill Gleason. He was one of the rare breed that always wanted to hear ideas and opinions of others, regardless of their age. I miss him already.

It's hard to believe how much sports media space leading into the new year and decade was taken up by the anxious moments while cable and satellite providers negotiated with TV networks about carrying of programming. Some of the negotiations had a "happy" ending, while others didn't. But it has gotten out of hand.

Some cities nearly lost all of the Fox-TV channels, both cable and over-the-air. Others still don't get NFL Network after literally years of "negotiations". Around the country, the cable and satellite operators blame the networks, and vise versa. You know what? It's time to blame them all.

Suppose you just signed up for new cell phone service, but then the carrier tells you that with this plan you can only call certain area codes but not others. You would, of course, be outraged. For years you have been able to call into any and every area code you want.

Suppose you just signed up for internet broadband service for a monthly fee. And then found out that you could not log on to certain social networks because the only broadband provider in your building doesn't access them. That wouldn't fly, would it?

Yet, cable and satellite TV providers are in effect doing this to us. Why are they getting away with it? Who are they to tell us which channels and networks we can and can't watch?

Every one of us, whether cable or satellite should incur a minimal monthly charge for the service the company we select is providing, as well as to receive all of the local over-the-air channels serving our area. Beyond that, it should be the choice of the customer.

We all have seen how much cable/satellite monthly fees have skyrocketed over the past five years. For what? The cable/satellite company we hire still provides the same services and benefits.

Any and all additional channels and networks should be available to us for an optional additional fee. No matter where we live (in the U.S.) we should be able to get the NFL Network, Versus, Big Ten Network, and others, if we want it and if we want to pay the price for it. Period.

Most sports fans are not able to receive every sports channel they want, and it isn't about price. Choices are limited. But it is just as unfair that people who are not sports fans are also paying several dollars each month for sports channels they don't even watch.

I don't have any small children in my household. Yet, I'm paying each month for kids' channels. I am forced to pay for channels in languages I do not speak or understand, and channels dedicated to religions I do not participate in. Along with others that for whatever reason I never watch. All this while I can't get certain sports channels I would pay a couple bucks more a month to get.

Where is our government to protect us from this? I'm sure many of you remember the period in the early 80's when local politicians were setting regulations for cable companies to install and build their local systems, subject to government approval. And when regulations about back yard satellite dishes were put in place. If there was or is some government control, then where did it go?

Currently, I am looking into starting a web site and pursuing avenues to alert local politicians that TV viewers everywhere deserve to make their own choices. I would rather do that than read article after article from around the country about networks blaming cable companies and how sports fans are often deprived of watching sports events that are important to them.

Of course, this is not only an attack on the networks and the cable/satellite providers. Going to an a la carte channel selection across the country would level the playing field for all concerned. Any of the channels and networks that charge too much will feel it in the wallet, too.

Overall, it now costs way too much to be a sports fan. Not only is going to games getting priced out, but the cost to simply watch games on TV is getting out of hand. Now it's time for us as fans to negotiate.

Meanwhile, NBA-TV continues to step up its game coverage. While ESPN and TNT offer a reduced load of national games surrounding the New Year holiday, the Network is offering games every possible night. On Tuesday night (Jan. 5), NBA-TV is presenting a live doubleheader picking up local telecasts. The Network has added the Orlando at Indiana game at 7 PM ET and studio analysis as a lead in to its Fan Night voted selection of Houston at the L.A. Lakers at 10:30 PM ET.

What makes this wonderfully unique from the ESPN and TNT doubleheaders is that NBA-TV will devote at least 7 hours of live coverage for the night. In addition to a full pre-game show before the first telecast and post-game wrapup after the second, there could be nearly one hour between games with studio analysis.

NBC-TV finishes the regular season with 15 "wins" in the Sunday night ratings for its 16 weeks of telecasts. No surprise that the Jets game vs. Cincinnati scored well in the ratings at the start, but for the numbers to hold up in spite of the game being a blowout speaks well for the NBC team.

For the upcoming weekend, NBC has slated Tom Hammond, Joe Gibbs, and Joe Theismann to call the Jets rematch at Cincinnati for Saturday's first game. Then at 8 PM ET, the A team of Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth will call the Dallas vs. Philadelphia rematch.

Then, on Sunday, CBS will have the Ravens–Pats game at 1 PM ET with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, while FOX will have the next game at 4:30 ET with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman calling the Green Bay vs. Arizona rematch.

As one who does not like having this Wild Card weekend anyway, the thought of 3 of the games being a one-week-later rematch takes away even more, but the show must go on.

The MLB Network continues to improve seemingly every week. This Wednesday (Jan. 6th) features the debut of Peter Gammons, who begins with the Network's telecast of the Hall of Fame announcement.

ESPN is producing the Big East (Conference) Network Game of the Week in regional syndication this season, and has lined up a group of TV stations that will cover 41% of the U.S. The list of cities covered includes the usual suspects such as NYC, Chicago, Philly, Boston, D.C., Hartford, and Pittsburgh among others. What makes this year's group of stations so interesting is that markets including Tampa, Orlando, and Los Angeles are also included, with L.A. being among the first-timers. Pretty soon it might be called the "Big Deal" game of the week.

MIAMI: The WFTL group of AM stations which feature regional and national sports programming primarily north of Miami have just hired a well known Miami area sports personality for afternoon drive starting next week.

Ed Kaplan will handle the 4 to 7 PM spot on 640 AM and 2 other stations which also carry the same feed. Since being let go by WQAM in 2007, Kaplan had been retired until this past October when WFTL brought him in to host Yankees related programming surrounding the recent World Series broadcasts.

Kaplan is a pioneer of sorts in the market. He was the first to host a sports show on WQAM when it was still a mostly music station in 1986, and helped to transition 560 into a full-time sports station. For those not old enough to remember Sonny Hirsch on WKAT in the late 1960's, Kaplan introduced a lot of sports fans to this format.

CINCINNATI: Quick recoveries sometimes happen on the field, but it is great to see this one in broadcasting. Ken Broo was on the air on Sunday (Jan. 3) from Noon to 3 PM on "SportsTalk" on WLW. Quite an accomplishment, considering that Broo, also Sports Director of Channel 5 TV, had emergency heart surgery on December 24th after one artery was discovered as being completely blocked. Now that's a Happy New Year!