Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - May 26th update

This has been one of my complaints about MLB and NFL telecasts in general over the past few years, and now it seems to be spreading to radio. As a viewer or listener tuning in for the start of a game, especially a local team's game, I'd like to know the starting lineup before the first pitch or kickoff.

On the baseball side, we learn about the pitching matchup for the upcoming game, and that is understandable. However, in many cases I already know the matchup. In the case of some regional or national telecasts, the matchup could be a reason for tuning in. Now that more and more teams start their games at 7:10 (or 1:10, etc.), this allows more time than years before for the telecasts to set the scene. We will see the announcers talk up the pitching matchup, the weather, the current winning or losing streak of the participating teams, and seeming everything else - except for the starting lineups.

Most of the time, I am expected to wait until the bottom of the first inning is starting before I see the home team's batting order. Why is that? If the telecast started 30 seconds before the first pitch, maybe I could understand. Now I don't even know who is batting cleanup for the home team until after 3 outs have been made. When watching an American League game, I don't even know who the DH is, or where he is batting in the lineup until later on. This is more aggravating on TV, because there is the ability to show the batting orders on the screen, even as a bottom line scroll, minutes before the game itself begins.

For years, I have taught my students, both at the college level and privately, about putting the batting order and related information about players in the game at the top of a broadcast, BEFORE the action starts. It just might keep a viewer or listener captive once they know the team's best hitter is batting 3rd in the very first inning. Why is this not a priority anymore?

I go back to the days of some teams actually having the local public address announcer read the lineups on the pregame shows when the team was home.

Yet, now the radio side is going more in the opposite direction. As if all we need to know is who the starting pitchers are. At this rate, some local broadcasts will have a sponsor for every batter in the lineup when they announce it.

Granted, football is out of season at the moment, but it's the same gripe there, especially on the TV side. The network televising the game has just done a one hour (or longer) pre-game show. Now, the NFL games no longer start at 1:03 or 4:05. The telecasts have more time than ever before to open up.

Yet, each team's first offensive drive, often an important indicator of the game to come, is buried while the televising network THEN shows us the starting running backs and receivers. And then the defenders. It sometimes happens where a key play has already taken place before viewers are introduced to who is playing the key positions already involved in that play. Again, if the telecast had just signed on, or it is a late game joined in progress, it is or would be understandable to need to recap the players in the game instead of the play.

Obviously, this is not stopping people from watching or listening. The TV ratings for anything and everything live in the four major sports over the past couple of years prove that. Now radio ratings for baseball are going up and up around the country this season.

Now if us viewers and listeners could be better informed about the game's participants before it starts, we'll get even better coverage of the early plays. Sometimes I think if Abbott & Costello were writing a routine today, it would be: "Who's on first?" "Not sure, we'll have to wait until the next half inning." And the audience would go home without so much as a chuckle.

Meanwhile, there are times when rumors and 'possibilities' in sports media are justified as a call to action. The possibility of Winnipeg getting back into the NHL is one of those. While no one knows for sure that the Atlanta Thrashers would actually relocate in time for the coming season, CJOB Radio management has already been quoted locally as expressing an interest in broadcasting the team's games. CJOB currently airs Manitoba Moose hockey and Blue Bombers (CFL) football, yet is not an all sports station. Sports Radio 1290 is, yet only carries the baseball Winnipeg Goldeyes for local play-by-play. In this instance, these stations figure to be ready to, if I might, face off against each other should the team relocate there.

Sorry to learn of the passing of Paul Splittorff, who will forever be identified with the Kansas City Royals for whom he pitched and later broadcast for. He lost his battle with cancer earlier this week at the age of 64. Splittorff eventually added basketball to his broadcast duties, appearing on many Big 12 Conference game broadcasts over the years.

This past few days also brought us two separate instances of sportscasters putting themselves into a "news" story. WEPN 1050 sports anchor Jared Max suddenly decided to reveal that he is gay during his 5 to 6 AM shift one morning last week. Max had been on WCBS-AM New York for 16 years without this information having been public. At least some other sportscaster didn't report the "rumor" first.

Then, this past Wednesday WKYC-TV sports anchor Jim Donovan, who has been with the station since 1985, revealed on the air that he is going on medical leave due to needing a bone marrow transplant in his ongoing battle against leukemia. Dave Chudowsky will add to his weekend sports anchoring to fill in for Dononvan.

HOUSTON: KILT 610, which continues to lead the sports radio pack in Houston, is planning its 2nd annual Fan Fest for Saturday June 4th at the Reliant Center. Among those scheduled to appear to meet and greet the fans in attendance are Dan Pastorini, Warren Moon, Robert Horry, and Jose Cruz. It is great to see sports stations engage with the fans this way.

Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton managed to find a reason to enjoy the existence of interleague play last weekend (May 20-22). Milo made a rare road trip when the Astros went to Toronto to play in the former SkyDome for the first time. That made it a total of 59 major league ballparks from which Milo has called a MLB game over the years. Keep in mind there are 30 teams total, and two of them (Boston and Chgo. Cubs) have had the same ballpark during Milo's lifetime. It's safe to say that it wasn't the lure of the Astros vs. Blue Jays "rivalry" that gave him a reason to make the visit. But in this era of broadcast rights changing and some announcers not doing every game of their team, Milo may hold the distinction of the most MLB ballparks for many many years. It's as though Hank Aaron should say, "There's a new baseball broadcasting king of all time........and it's Milo Hamilton!".

MILWAUKEE: The trend around the country of stations carrying baseball in April gaining in audience most certainly continued in Milwaukee. The April ratings showed a rise from WTMJ 620 as it began still another season as the Brewers' flagship station. WTMJ is a news/talk station with some sports programming to go along with its extensive local play-by-play roster (Brewers, Bucks, Packers, U. of Wisconsin). However, the latest ratings were a disaster for the 2 full-time sports stations. WAUK ESPN 540 literally lost half of its overall audience since the previous ratings book just a month prior. In fact, WSCR The Score 670 from Chicago (75 miles away) actually matched WAUK's overall ratings for the month, while WSCR does not talk Milwaukee sports at all. (WSCR rarely gives the Brewers scores on its so-called "Scoreboard Updates".) Rival WSSP dropped 25% of its audience, although that is from a .4 to a .3 overall, and trails both WAUK and WSCR.

I know a couple of people who are on WAUK and can tell you it's not from any major changes or from lack of effort. This news supports my theory that sports fans want to watch and listen to the games and get opinions from "experts" online and during the games instead of the same "fan on the street".

PORTLAND: As of this week, "The Game" no longer simulcasts on 101.1 FM, now only airing on KXL-AM 750 while the FM changes to another format. It will be interesting to see how many listeners who had been on the FM side will regularly switch over to the AM dial for their sports talk lineup.

BALTIMORE: Even though the Orioles and Washington Nationals are settling in the lower half of the respective division standings, the fans are watching their games on TV this season. Orioles telecasts on MASN were reportedly up about 24% compared with the same period last season, through the first 26 telecasts. A more detailed report shows that the ratio of increase is much higher from the D.C. area for Orioles games. Yet, D.C. area viewers are not choosing the O's over the Nationals games (tempting as that may be).

The Nationals' TV ratings, while not matching those of the Orioles, are up more than 70% for their MASN telecasts thus far.

SCHEDULES: There will be plenty of nationally televised baseball over the Memorial Day weekend, as we have come to expect.

Friday night (5/27), MLB Network shows Cinci vs. Atlanta. On Saturday afternoon, MLB Network shows San Francisco at Milwaukee in the 4 PM ET slot usually reserved for Fox. Fox continues its prime time baseball coverage with 6 regional telecasts on Saturday night.

The TBS Sunday afternoon game has Boston at Detroit, while Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN has Cinci vs. Atlanta.

On Monday, Memorial Day, MLB Network shows Minnesota at Detroit at 1 PM ET, and then Milwaukee vs. Cincinnati at 7 PM ET. These are all, of course, in addition to the usual local telecasts.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, and we leave you with the Big Ten Network's just announced list of prime time football games it will show this fall:

Sept. 2, 7:30pm ET Youngstown State at Michigan State (10th night game 88-year history of Spartan Stadium)
Sept. 10, 7pm ET Virginia at Indiana
Sept. 17, 7pm ET Arizona State at Illinois
Sept. 24, 7pm ET North Dakota State at Minnesota
Oct. 8, 7pm ET Michigan at Northwestern (13th night game in Northwestern’s home stadium history)
Oct. 15, 7pm ET Northwestern at Iowa
Oct. 22, 7pm ET Penn State at Northwestern

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