Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - July 27th Update

Fans are pleased to have their NFL football coming back and knowing that the regular season will open as scheduled and plans can be made. We also saw an example of the NFL's media partners jumping on the end of the lockout and adding to the positive vibes felt by the fans. Within 24 hours of the end of the lockout, the networks began to announce their TV schedules for the regular season, as well as pre-season TV schedules.

I mention this because it came at a time when fans knew they could get enthusiastic about the upcoming games knowing they will be played as scheduled. This is exactly what I pointed out last week regarding the NBA's TV partners. While it is understandable that the NBA needs to have a schedule in place, the publicity surrounding its release was tamed due to the current lockout status of the players. Yet, ESPN/ABC, TNT, and the NBA Network came out with their national TV schedules, even within the uncertainty. The NFL took advantage of the timing to announce national TV games, whereas the NBA wasted the opportunity.

Speaking of announcing upcoming telecasts, the Pac-12 Conference TV deal just announced has become more thorough than most originally thought. The Conference is planning to have a national cable network as well as six regional networks including pay-per-view possibilities.

This will all begin next August (2012), with the regional networks based in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and "mountain regions". The Conference will show about 850 live events each year, including approximately 350 events on the national feed. This will include every football and basketball game not carried on a national telecast partner.

ESPN/ABC used this week to, in addition to its NFL telecast schedule, announce its extensive plans for the upcoming college football season. This season will be the first of its 12 season agreement with the ACC, a new 8-year exclusive on BYE home games, and at least 50 games (various conferences) which will only be available via stream on

In addition, there will be an increase in games shown on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, along with a "Kickoff Week" stretch of 32 telecasts in 5 days from September 1 thru 5.

BOSTON: WEEI wasted no time in expanding its Patriots and NFL coverage once the lockout ended. Former Pats linebacker, and ESPN analyst, Ted Bruschi will join "The Big Show" with Michael Holley and Glen Ordway on Mondays from 4 to 6 PM during "Patriots Monday". He will also help with the Coach Belichick interview segments each week.

CHICAGO: WMAQ-TV Channel 5 went internal to replace sportscaster Daryl Hawks who passed away this past May. The station is returning Mike Adamle to full-time status. Paula Faris and Peggy Kusinski will continue in their roles.

CINCINNATI: Andy Furman is moving back to afternoons to talk sports on WQRT 1160 starting next Monday (8/1), moving from 7 to 9 AM (which he occupied since January) to the 5 to 7 PM spot. Furman's show is the only pure sports show on the station, and station officials reason that he will be able to secure more guests with the later time slot.

PITTSBURGH: The success of the Pirates this season will also likely impact the team's future on local radio. Now that people care that the team's radio contract is up after the current season, word is that KDKA-FM The Fan is about to enter the bidding for the rights for next season and beyond. However, this may not be the typical bidding war. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates wish to continue to control the advertising, the announcers, and the overall broadcasts, as opposed to selling the rights to the highest bidder.

TAMPA: Now that the NFL is all systems go, WTSP-TV 10 takes over as the pre-season station for the Buccaneers starting a new 2-year agreement. Chris Myers and John Lynch remain as the announcing team. However, the home pre-season games WTSP can televise are not sold out yet. Thus, the possibility remains that the games will not be able to be shown live, thus reducing the overall value of the package. If and as these exhibition games do not sell out, the station would be forced to air the games on tape delay.

SEATTLE/TACOMA: KJR 950 is planning a push for the minor league Tacoma Rainiers by broadcasting its Friday afternoon drive show with Mike Gastineau and Elise Woodward from Cheney Stadium on July 28th and again on August 12th. The game broadcasts air on sister station South Sound Sports 850.

PENSACOLA: While ESPN Radio is leaving some markets. Pensacola will have a full-time AM/FM combo for ESPN Radio starting on August 8th. WBSR 1450 and 101.1 will become the markets only full-time sports station.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - July 21 Update.....

This is a very challenging week for the sports reporting media. At least, it should be. I spend a lot of time commenting and fielding questions about what I call "the separation of fact and rumor" when it comes to on air (or online) reporting.

Specifically, there is the matter of handling "reporting" on the current NFL and NBA lockouts, in effect as of press time. It is one thing for the sports talk show hosts to share the rumors about upcoming votes, settlements, and what would happen if and when regarding getting training camps open and starting the games. That part is speculation and opinion, and that's what sports talk is all about when it involves the fans.

Where I take exception is seemingly every sports media outlet having somebody "reporting" that an end to the NFL lockout is coming any minute now. If I were reporting a sportcast today on radio or TV (and I'm sure a few of my critics gleefully point out that I'm not), I would report that there is "nothing yet" regarding an end to the lockout. If I were hosting a talk show, I would then be speculating about if these meetings that are supposed to happen will happen, and what they mean. It's the difference between reporting and speculating.

Instead, too many "reporters" are predicting times and days the NFL lockout will end. They want to have been right in their prediction. It seems nobody keeps track of predictions that don't happen. That's the problem here. In a way, it is (or should be) like how a play-by-play announcer is taught never to speculate when a player is injured on the field or court during a live broadcast about the nature of the injury. You say "It appears to be the right knee", and leave it at that. And the announcers wait until they are given an official update from a team official.

A true reporter should wait until there is definite "news" about the lockout before reporting it.

The other challenge for the media this week is the NBA schedule announcements, despite a lockout also in progress of NBA players. On one hand, I can understand the NBA wanting to get their 2011-12 season schedule in place. Tickets need to be printed and sold, teams need to make their travel plans, sponsors need to plan game promotions, and on it goes.

It is "news" to local NBA team fans as to when their team's opener and a couple of other key games will be played. However, I can't help but wonder if announcing this so soon is good or bad for NBA publicity. The local headlines around the country I heard and saw were, understandably, focused on the "if there is a season" and "if the lockout settled in time.....".

In this instance, the reporters are not "reporting" rumors or predicting whether or not these games will be played in the way they seem to be this week regarding the NFL's situation. While handling the NBA schedule news with more true reporting, it looks as though the NBA put out millions of dollars worth of publicity which isn't necessarily favorable. Learning that the champion Dallas Mavericks are scheduled to open their season against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls would normally be an exciting and favorable announcement for the NBA. Having every sports outlet "reporting" that this and other such games may not even be played does nothing to increase the enthusiasm of the NBA fans.

Then it stunned me when within the same afternoon of the schedule announcement, ESPN/ABC, TNT, and NBA-TV began pumping out their planned national schedules. These telecasts, as of this writing, are not yet factual due to the lockout. Never mind that they announced games they plan to show in 2012 before many teams have come anywhere near finalizing their roster and representing a threat to contend.

Seems like wasted publicity to me. These networks would have been better off to hold back their announcements until or unless the lockout is settled. They would have done better to wait until hours after the lockout is over and then start hyping those telecasts they know for certain they'll have. A "We might be able to show you these games....." announcement is really speculation and not factual.

Meanwhile, it is factual that Versus, or hopefully a more memorable name for the network by the end of the summer, is enhancing its expanded NHL coverage for the coming season. The network has, to its credit, managed to secure the full-time services of play-by-play voices Mike "Doc" Emrick and Dave Strader to handle the vast majority of the NHL telecast workload. Emrick leaves the New Jersey Devils TV booth after 21 seasons, while Strader leaves the Phoenix Coyotes play-by-play job. Strader has also previously called Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings games, as well as calling NHL games on ESPN between 1996 and 2004.

If the NHL avoids a labor action and gets its season started as scheduled, we know its national telecasts will be all the better for it.

ATLANTA: The Fan 680 has decided to do an afternoon lineup swap. Buck Belue and John Kincade will have their "Buck & Kincade Show" shortened from 4 to 3 hours and move up to the Noon to 3 PM slot. The "Chuck & Chernoff Show" with Chuck Oliver and Matt Chernoff moves from the Noon spot into the 3 to 7 PM position. This move makes sense, at least for the short term. Chuck & Chernoff have done very well with their early afternoon ratings, and can also focus more on the Braves contending and the coming SEC Football season during afternoon drive, in the event the Falcons' pre-season doesn't get started.

DENVER: KOA certainly thinks there will be a full Broncos season, or they could find themselves risking a powerful position in Denver afternoon drive. KOA 850 has increased the sports presence on "The Dave Logan Show" from 3 to 7 PM. The Broncos play-by-play voice will be talking sports, with a co-host very likely to be added. Former NBA player Scott Hastings used to co-host with Logan during that time. KOA continues with newscasts and traffic reports during Logan's show. The significance is that Denver already has The Fan 104.3, ESPN 1600, The Ticket 102.3, and Mile High Sports 1510 + 93.7 with sports shows at the same time. But if the NFL lockout doesn't end soon, one has to wonder how long this will be the case on KOA.

BOSTON: Another of those "if there is an NFL season" media stories. If and when, WEEI 850 and 103.7 will again carry the Westwood One NFL package of both Sunday and Monday NFL broadcasts. One change in the Westwood One package for the coming season is that the NFC and AFC Championship Games and Super Bowl broadcasts can air in every market without home team blackout. Thus, if there is a season and if the Patriots get to the AFC Championship Game, WEEI could air the national broadcast against the Pats' local call of the game.

NEW YORK: Len Berman is reducing his schedule once again. Berman has given up his Monday and Friday morning sports anchor spot on John Gambling's WOR Radio. Ironically, replacing Berman is Bruce Beck of WNBC-TV. Beck had replaced Berman at WNBC-TV a few years back. Even if only the 2 mornings per week, Berman's segments continued to be popular among NYC sports fans.

LOUISVILLE: I guess we'd be surprised about the interest in University of Louisville basketball. U of L has a couple of exhibition games (yes, college basketball exhibition games) coming up in the Bahamas. The team will play against the likes of the "Commonwealth Giants" and the "Real Deal Shockers". Yet, plans have been unveiled for those games to be televised live back to Louisville, and for those games to be broadcast live on WHAS 840 Radio. For those who are not aware, WHAS is not one of those 500 watt stations with nothing to put on all day. It is a 50,000 watt powerhouse. I'm sure that transplanted fans of the "Real Deal Shockers" are just as delighted they'll be able to hear and see these games live. No wonder there is so much speculation about ending the NFL and NBA lockouts!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - July 15th Update

We have all witnessed the amazing growth of the audiences for live play-by-play of the major sports on TV and in many cases on radio as well. There have been many reasons for it, including the onslaught of HD (and related) TV technology enhancing live telecasts, adults spending less time viewing typical prime-time TV fare, and enough big name players and teams to keep the seasons interesting.

Major League Baseball went into its All-Star break having every division race with at least one team closer than 5 games out of first place. That is a major plus, since it seems every year at least one team has a huge lead by this point.

I have to wonder if Baseball isn't alarmed about its viewership, however. The Washington Nationals have come from nowhere to being at or slightly above .500 for most of the past two months. That "nowhere" lasted several seasons. Yet, local TV ratings show that Nationals games shown on MASN (and MASN2) are down 24% vs. last season. It can't be that fans prefer to watch the Baltimore Orioles, which have struggled and been below .500 again this year.

The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off a post-season appearance and have a winning record, yet their local TV ratings are down a reported 37% thus far this season. The Florida Marlins, in part from a horrendous streak of losing 19 out of 20 games, have seen a 26% local TV audience drop as well.

This is not to say that local telecasts are sinking. Not the case. The Cleveland Indians' rise in the standings (or maybe that should read "rise TO the standings") reflects in their local telecasts being up almost 80% for this season. Pirates telecasts are up about 33% on Root Sports Pittsburgh.

In addition, local Reds, Brewers, and Royals telecasts are each up at least 24%, a more significant accomplishment for the Royals given their comparative distance from first place.

Why the concern? The All-Star Game on Tuesday (7/12) is being considered as the lowest rated of the prime-time telecasts of the Game, showing about a 9% decline from last season's game.

Again, MLB has every division race still in tact. Also, this game is the only MLB game available over a 3 day stretch. Every team has at least one All-Star player and managers (whether you agree or not) make an effort to get almost every player into the game.

Adding to this is the fact that we have no definite starts to the NFL or NBA seasons. The NHL doesn't start its regular season until October. Of the 4 "major" sports, this should be baseball's time to shine. And attract those millions of viewers hungry for live sports action.

You can't tell me that millions and millions of people knew about Joe Buck's voice problems and chose not to watch ahead of time. Everything should be in place for MLB to enjoy significant TV ratings, locally and nationally, over the next couple of months as 6 divisional races unfold. But execs should be alarmed if they are not.

Regarding Joe Buck, I can understand his wanting to handle the major assignment of describing another All-Star Game, and Fox wanting to have him there (whether you like his work or not). However, as he struggles with gaining full use of his voice, it was not fair for millions to have to be a part of that struggle. Sorry, but I saw no reason why a Thom Brennaman or Kenny Albert (among others) could not have been brought in to call a few innings and relieve Buck.

I'm not sure why Mitch Williams was a 'last minute' substitution on Fox Sports' regional telecast of the White Sox vs. Twins this past Saturday (7/9), as he filled in for Mark Grace. Williams did a very good job in a game analyst role, He also commented several times about managers' moves late in the game, often disagreeing with decisions just made. Whether you agreed with him or not, it is rare to see an analyst that "in to" the game at key moments to make and also explain the reasoning behind such comments.

TBS comes back from the break keeping on its New York / Boston approach. This Sunday (7/17) they show the Phillies at Mets, while the 24th brings us Seattle at Boston. Brian Anderson will call both games.

NEW YORK: One less assignment for the busy Mike Francesa, as he has decided to give up the WNBC-TV Sunday Night Sports wrapup (known as "Mike'd Up") show after nearly 7 years. He is expected to continue his Sunday morning radio show which is picked up by several stations around the country on NFL Sundays, if and when.

WNBC is expected to name a replacement very soon, with Bruce Beck considered a strong candidate based on his filling in for Francesa over the years.


Will Sacramento's loss be the Bay Area's gain? SportsRadio95.7, still only months into operation, has taken "The Rise Guys" program away from Sacramento's KHTK 1140, and will begin its new morning show on Monday Aug. 1st. The co-hosts will be Mark Kreidler and Kevin "Whitey" Gleason, who make the move to the Bay Area, along with Dan Dibley who is already with SportsRadio 95.7. Dibley is likely to serve as producer, which was his role while at KNBR.

SportsRadio 95.7 continues an aggressive approach to compete against KNBR.

MILWAUKEE: It didn't take Bill Michaels long to find his way back on the air in Milwaukee after his recent dismissal from market leader WTMJ. Looks as though the "non-compete" clause did not include a syndicated show. Michaels begins a midday show (11 AM to 2 PM) on Monday August 1st, perhaps in time for Packers training camp, on WSSP Sports Radio 1250. Oh, ya, needed to be a syndicated show. WNFL Green Bay and WHBL Sheboygan will also carry his show. On delay during afternoon drive the same day.

BALTIMORE: Still another TV station reducing its nightly sports segment, although WBFF-TV is not eliminating it. The station is dropping the "Sports Unlimited" segment which ran for up to 15 minutes between 10:45 and 11 PM. Instead, there will be shorter regular sports segment within the newcast itself.

WASHINGTON D.C.: If and when the NFL season arrives, Redskins Radio will continue with its same voices. In addition to Larry Michael and Doc Walker on play-by-play, the network will again have Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff as analysts. Sonny & Sam have been a part of the analyst team since 1981.

CINCINNATI: Brad Johansen may not be done describing Bengals games after all, following his 11 seasons as radio voice until being replaced by Dan Hoard for the eventual season. Johansen would call any exhibition games played this season, which become available locally, for Channel 12, for which he continues as Sports Director.

HOUSTON: Craig Roberts has returned to KBME 790 for a show some weeknights from 7 to 9 PM. He will be joined by his son Cody (a teacher and soccer coach). His show will also air on Sunday mornings during the football season.

LINCOLN: KLMS SportsRadio 1480 adds more local programming starting on July 25. The "Necessary Roughness" show with Stan Washington and Nick Gregath moves from weekends into the 3 - 4 PM spot, while "On the Bench" with Dick Janda moves up to a new 2 PM time. The regional "Huskers Illustrated Radio Show" will air from 4 to 6 PM on KLMS along with KJSK 900 Columbus.

This move coincides with the new KNTK 93.7 The Ticket to make its debut no later than August 1st. KLMS continues with ESPN programming, while KNTK will carry Fox Radio Sports.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - July 7th Update

ESPN got to where it is today by televising and reporting on competition and doing a mostly excellent job in the process. I can't overlook the network's competitive nature in terms of ESPN/ABC acquiring the Wimbledon rights away from NBC after 43 years.

Face it, it wasn't really because ESPN wants to take up hours and hours of programming with tennis. While this acquisition provides the ESPN family of networks, along with ABC, with the ability to show hours and hours of the competition live, it was not the main factor. They'll certainly do a very good and thorough job, as well as providing supplemental coverage on SportsCenter and ESPNews. The promised 3-hour highlight blocks are something that ESPN can do well, will attract tennis fans to the networks, and will result in additional inventory to sell to sponsors.

Yet, the real reason ESPN/ABC did this was their competition. They felt the need, at whatever cost, to get Wimbledon away from NBC as fast as possible. This time around, NBC entered negotiations having far more than "just" the NBC-TV Network. Now, there is an NBC "family" of networks, even if not yet as strong as the ESPN family of networks. There is the reason this happened.

I'm certain that NBC had planned to retain the Wimbledon rights and expand its live coverage throughout the entire tourney. They would have used Versus, which is starved for "serious" sports programming, especially during the NHL off-season which is when the tournament is played. They probably would have also used their Comcast SportsNet regional networks, including SNY New York, along with Comcast SportsNet in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay area, and several others in large markets.

If the regional networks would not have picked up any live coverage, the NBC family would have benefitted by the CSN group providing expanded Wimbledon coverage on their local sports updates.

This is why ESPN/ABC stepped it up, bid high, and won it. A 12-year agreement. In doing so, they keep NBC from expanding its sports network "family" with a major event. There is a sports element to this move. ESPN scouted its competition, came up with a game plan (the bidding war), and did what it had to do to defeat the opposition.

Do the tennis fans also "win"? Yes and no. They "win" because it is likely the ESPN coverage will be as good or better than NBC's over the years. Either way, there will be plenty more of it than ever, and it will be live. There might even be more than one match shown live simultaneously, which has not been able to happen previously. And I'm sure there will be plenty of surrounding coverage.

Yet, fans, and even those who are not tennis or sports fans, will likely "lose" again in the wallet. As ESPN/ABC continues to expand its inventory and its presence with college regional networks, this gives them still another reason to raise the per subscriber cost to cable and satellite systems. They already charge the highest amount of any national cable network. The problem is that, naturally, such an increase gets "passed along" to us consumers. Whether we care about sports or not. By having the biggest events in as many sports as possible, they make it harder for fans and cable/satellite providers to refuse them. Chances are millions of consumers will be paying more for Wimbledon, whether they care about the expanded coverage or not.

Elsewhere, it may not be a done deal that Spero Dedes will be the play-by-play voice of the N.Y. Knicks for next season (whenever it may be). The New York Post reported that Dedes had not signed the contracts to take over on the Knicks Radio Network or for MSG Network to handle TV games when Mike Breen has ESPN/ABC assignments. This came out after Dedes was arrested for alleged DWI over the past holiday weekend in Southhampton. There was an across-the-board "No comment" at press time. Dedes has been replaced by the Lakers, and remains under contract with CBS Sports.

There seems to be way too much time and space taken up by the announcement that writer John Feinstein will no longer be an analyst on Navy Football radio broadcasts, even though he had done so for 14 seasons.

In the Chicago area, the Chicago Bandits, a women's professional softball team, has implemented an excellent broadcast idea. Many of their games are streamed online, yet most of the production crew (including cameras) are operated by high school students. This provides valuable experience for the students as well as a cost effective means for the team's games to gain an audience. Yet, a search of the team's web site fails to mention or provide a link to these telecasts. You would think they would want people to watch. (By the way, I have no personal affiliation with the team or the telecasts.)

Sometimes the producers and behind-the-scenes people make a big difference. Take WSCR 670 Chicago for example. This past Friday (7/1), the station was doing its post-game show after it broadcast the White Sox game vs. the Cubs. Keep in mind this was during afternoon drive on an all sports station which had just aired the White Sox broadcast at the same time WGN Radio had aired the Cubs broadcast.

Post-game show host Chris Rongey, who does an excellent job of reviewing the team throughout the season, introduced the post-game comments and press conference from White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen shortly before 5 PM, and moments before his post-game show was scheduled to end.

However, the comments from Guillen made little to no sense. About 45 seconds in, Rongey cut in and revealed that they were playing the previous day's post-game comments by mistake. OK, these things happen from time to time. Yet, what listeners heard next was the closing music for the show, and Rongey saying "We hope to get those comments to you later....." and promoting the talk show that was about to begin. After several minutes of commercials. Mistakes are one thing. Had they gone to the correct feed of the comments, it's 'no harm no foul'. Instead it was a total blowoff of the audience, which had the choice of listening on another radio station to the next two games of that series.

PHOENIX: Another former NFL player takes to the local airwaves, even if only once per week. The "EZ Sports Talk Show" now airs Saturdays at 6 PM on KXXT 1010. The host is Edward Smith III, the former Atlanta Falcons tight end. Obviously planned to coincide with football season coming up, it's hard to imagine that fans will want to discuss the lockout (which continued as of press time).

TULSA: KTBZ afternoon host Chris Plank will be able to add more insight to his discussion of Oklahoma University football starting with the upcoming season. Plank has been added as sideline reporter on the OU Football Network, along with hosting the pre and post-game shows.

POCATELLO: KSEI 930 becomes the latest all sports station to bail out of ESPN Radio and replace it with Fox Sports Radio. The Idaho station promises to deliver more play-by-play, even without the ESPN Radio lineup of games. In addition to Seattle Seahawks football, the station plans on adding another Sunday live broadcast, and probably will add either Colorado Rockies or Seattle Mariners baseball. Locally, the station is planning on airing Idaho State football and basketball games. Several stations around the country have made this change in affiliation within the past year reportedly due to increased financial demands from ESPN Radio.