Thursday, October 27, 2011

The "Race" For The Sports Story

For all of the time much of the sports media spends on rumors and stories that aren't really "news" stories, some media members were faced with a serious story that went incomplete. But with decisions to be made.

The recent death of race driver Dan Wheldon was one of the saddest sports stories of the year for obvious reasons. Since one of my marketing clients had previously worked with Wheldon at the Indy 500, I was especially aware of the impact this tragedy has on those within the auto racing circle, in addition to his legion of fans.

Unfortunately, accidents of this magnitude do happen from time to time. Yet, unfortunate in its own way is that the organization which organizes the Indy Racing events around the country took a "No comment" position. I know of this through a reliable producer with one of the "big 4" TV network morning shows, who was putting together a follow up story regarding the impact of Wheldon's death.

One would think that an organization which sometimes has to deal with the death of a participant would be ready to help the media inform and console the public. However, the organization was not ready (like it should have been and should be in the future). As a result, the story was defeated and did not make it to the air.

To this network's credit, no mention was made of this aspect of the story, or even the "No comment" approach taken by the organization associated with the race. On one hand, this poor approach by the race organization is worthy of being a story in itself. It is frustrating to have an actual news story of major proportion not receive an additional and factual report to carry it along.

On the other hand, it is good that the network did not go ahead and shed a negative light on Indy Racing, as they easily could have done. Yet, I do not know how many other members of the media also knew to contact this organization in follow up from this tragic story. I would like to think there were many more, especially since this was an actual story worthy of news coverage.

Yet, much of the sports media continues to "report" on stories before they become stories, and it continues to get more and more frustrating, especially in my role of being a sports fan and with private teaching of students looking to start in sportscasting and/or play-by-play.

There were two more examples within the past week alone that I know of. I wish I could show you the headline and story that appeared for a time during an afternoon last week on the Atlanta Journal Constitution's web site. The "rumor" had been that Greg Walker was being hired as the new Hitting Coach for the Atlanta Braves, which indeed turned out to be the case later that day.

So help me, I found the AJC story with the headline stating "Walker Hired....." while the copy had not been updated, and went on to say that "Walker is expected to be hired.....". Same page, same story. It wasn't just the AJC. Several media outlets were "reporting" this before it became fact, which left me waiting to check numerous sources before I believed he really had been hired.
Even worse was the reporting on the likely (and now complete) move of Theo Epstein from Red Sox GM to Cubs President of Baseball Operations, which was made official on Friday (10/21) and then followed by the Tuesday (10/25) press conference. I can understand the sports talk stations in Chicago and Boston (as well as some baseball talk shows around the country) discussing the possibility with callers and media members. It was speculation until it became fact.

However, I draw the line when actual sportscasts, which fall under the category of "reporting" of facts, continue the recent trend of mixing speculation with factual reporting. For example, on Wednesday (10/19), Comcast SportsNet Chicago actually took time on its nightly sports news recap show to "interview" the Red Sox beat reporter from CSN Boston about the negotiations and possibility. Again, if this was a sports talk show and clearly and opinion forum, I'm fine with this. But this took place within a "news" format at a time when there was no official confirmation of this possibility.

Once the story became official about Theo Epstein, and the Red Sox went on to announce his replacement at GM on Friday, the "news" coverage was tremendous in both Boston and Chicago, and points beyond. MLB Network carried both press conferences live.
ESPN aired most of the Epstein in Chicago press conference and later the Ben Cherington press conference in Boston live during its regular SportsCenter shows.
CSN Boston, knowing that Epstein leaving and Cherington coming to the Red Sox was and is a hot topic for Red Sox fans, actually showed both the Chicago and Boston press conferences live on Friday. This was an excellent move, with live coverage of a hot topic obviously better than the regular midday fare. Yet, NESN, which televises the majority of the Red Sox games, only showed the Cherington / Red Sox press conference live.

On the radio side, both WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub aired both press conferences live to Boston listeners, while in Chicago the Epstein / Cubs press conference aired live on 3 stations. WGN Radio, the Cubs' flagship (which is not all sports) carried it, as did sports stations WMVP ESPN 1000 and WSCR 670 The Score.

All in all, great coverage once it became an actual "news" story. Yet, not an excuse for all of the time spent covering it before it became fact.

Speaking of Boston radio, the competition between the sports outlets continues to thrive, and it benefits the listeners even more. WEEI had Patriots owner Robert Kraft as a live guest on Friday (10/21) morning's Dennis & Callahan Show, with Mr. Kraft specifically talking about the Patriots instead of giving a "hype" interview. Kraft also appeared on ESPN via the Mike & Mike Show, willingly discussing the NFL on more of a national level.

Elsewhere, it's interesting to hear the different interpretations of the "baseball vs. football" from those who worry about the TV ratings. The baseball fans can point out that the Sunday night World Series game had a higher audience rating in Dallas than the Cowboys telecast did (with both on Fox) earlier in the day. (Actually, that is big news.) On a national level, the World Series games on Sunday and Monday nights both had higher ratings than the NFL telecasts, including Fox winning the TV ratings derby overall for Sunday night. That was the first Sunday night NBC's Sunday Night Football had not won all season.

Then, the football people can point out how this, through five games, is among the lowest rated World Series in recent history, and how the Sunday night game was a blowout and that viewers had an alternative.

Either way, it shows how much live sports on TV is taking over, and that's a fun thing.

It's hard to figure out why CBS, faced with an open slot for a late afternoon game on Saturday November 5th, made a big effort to get the Army vs. Air Force telecast for that time. The network actually "traded" with NBC/Versus to get that telecast, giving up the Nov. 19th Colorado State vs. TCU telecast to Versus, and probably a player to be named later.

Of course, that the time slot came open is very understandable, as CBS had worked a "deal" with ESPN to move the LSU vs. Alabama major matchup to prime time on November 5th.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Those who jokingly associate Eric Bickel's morning "Sports Junkies" show on WJFK The Fan 106.7 with a car wreck were not laughing on Thursday (10/27) morning. It seems that a driver reportedly swerved to avoid hitting a pedestrian and literally crashed into the studio building around 7:45 AM. Despite damage to a building wall and window, the driver was not seriously hurt.

DETROIT: WDFN 1130 has undergone another change in its morning show "Sean, Terp, and Killer", when co-host Sean Baligian left the station after last Monday's (10/24) show. Baligian claims that it was his decision and not the station's, perhaps due to the struggle since the August death of Tom Kowalski. As of press time, no replacement has been named for the afternoon drive show. Baligian is expected to remain on the local scene, including SportsWorks some Sunday nights on Channel 2 and play-by-play of Wayne State football.

PHILADELPHIA: The plan to bring some separate content to WIP 610 instead of always simulcasting from 94.1 is taking shape. WIP (only) will carry 17 of the MLS Philadelphia Union's games for the 2012 season, while 94.1 will continue with its regular sports talk format. Granted, radio play-by-play of soccer is not likely to change the listening habits of millions, but the idea of providing play-by-play content on one of the 2 stations is a solid path to take. Perhaps there will be room for adding some high school and small college play-by-play as well, bringing sports radio listeners more and distinctive choices on a regular basis.

WARWICK RI: Speaking of niche programming on a sports station, WTBQ 1110 and 93.5 is starting a show focusing on amateur sports and geared toward parents, coaches, and players. Host Tony Abbatine is also director of Frozen Ropes, which provides baseball and softball instruction, as well as a consultant to several MLB teams. For now, the show will air only on Fridays at 1 PM for 30 minutes. The station hopes to expand the show, both in terms of time and reach, since the topics are not necessarily local in focus. Along the lines of what WIP in Philly is doing with putting the soccer games on its AM, a better approach would be to put this show on for longer on one of the frequencies, and see how it stacks up against "regular" sports talk on the other.

CHICAGO: The impact, or lack thereof, of not having the NBA season getting underway is now hitting the regional sports networks and various local cable outlets which would normally be televising the games. Comcast SportsNet Chicago is going to fill much of the time cleared for Bulls telecasts by replaying 15 "Chicago Bulls Classics" telecast. To the surprise of no one, these will include the most memorable and championship clinching games during Michael Jordan's career.

MEMPHIS: Several of you picked up on our comments from last week about WMC 790 joining the sports radio derby, now giving Memphis a total of five sports radio stations. Something will have to give, considering this is a market which has only one "major league" team among the big four pro sports. Ironically, due to the NBA lockout, that team isn't even playing at the moment.
Adding to the insanity is that U. of Memphis sports play-by-play airs on WREC 600, which is NOT one of the sports talk stations. Then again, KQPN 730 does nothing throughout the weekdays from 6 PM until Noon the next day except replay the 3 to 6 PM Chris Vernon Show. (Wonder what they would do with an HD channel?) The station carries Mississippi State play-by-play some weeknights and on weekends.

WMFS 680 and 92.9 carry the other significant play-by-play, with the NBA Grizzlies (eventually), Memphis Cardinals (AAA baseball), and University of Tennessee football and basketball games.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sports Hub Sees and Hears Red

The Sports Hub 98.5 in Boston not only helped itself this past Friday (10/14) but helped sports radio in general. While a lot was understandably reported about the comments made by Red Sox owner John Henry about the team and certain players, there is more to the interview than even that.

The result was one of the most compelling segments ever for a sports radio station, and how well everyone involved handled it and followed up.

Even with friends and acquaintances in the business and working for sports radio stations around the country, I continue to suggest how and why sports radio needs to improve and keep working to gain or hold its audiences. The Boston Sports Hub story from Friday was an outstanding way to do just that.

It seems that Red Sox owner John Henry was listening to the Sports Hub in the car on Friday morning, and supposedly became upset about the callers and to some extent the hosts and how they were discussing the Red Sox' situation. (The team suffered a huge September collapse and failed to make the playoffs, to then lose their manager and general manager.) Mr. Henry was compelled enough to respond to the point of actually going to the Sports Hub studio and going on the air live with hosts Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti for close to a full hour.

First of all, this emphasizes a point I have been making for more than 30 years. The immediacy of radio compared with other forms of media. TV stations and networks could not have put the Red Sox owner on the air immediately and run with it for more than one hour, including a commercial break. This is especially important these days since fans have options online, via sports TV networks, and social media, to go to for breaking sports news just as much as radio.

Granted, it will remain an isolated incident that a team official, especially a major team owner, would actually go to a studio and be subject to going on live. But the station's handling of this was most worthy.

Felger and Massarotti did not "sweet talk" the interview, soften their stances, or only put callers on the air who would have something positive to say. The hosts asked about the, as it turned out, disappointing performance from Carl Crawford in the first year of a large contract. That Henry answered by admitting he was disappointed with Crawford is, from a media standpoint, secondary to the hosts asking such a direct question. And there were more questions just as direct from disappointed hosts, such as getting into the treatment of now ex-manager Terry Francona, making for compelling listening, especially for Red Sox fans.

As of press time, the station's web site still had podcasts of the two 30-minute plus segments available. Getting this interview created a ton of much deserved positive publicity for the Sports Hub. The station handled it well every step of the way, from putting Mr. Henry on the air to the follow up publicity to keeping the segments available online for days.

One more thing not to be overlooked. The Sports Hub is NOT the Red Sox flagship station. WEEI, the Sports Hub's rival for the local all sports radio audience, does carry the Red Sox. Yet, the team's owner was obviously listening to and then willingly went on the air on the Sports Hub. WEEI will be hard-pressed to top this one.

Another good idea is being continued by WGN Radio Chicago, even though WGN is not an all-sports station. (The station does carry Blackhawks hockey, Cubs baseball, Northwestern University football and basketball, and some night and weekend sports talk shows.)

As the Blackhawks' season began earlier this month, the station will be presenting six one-hour shows specific to the Blackhawks to air live from a local restaurant with a live audience asking questions of team officials and players. It will air once each month during the season as "Chicago Blackhawks Live", with the first one to be on Monday October 24th. Blackhawks President John McDonough will be among the guests on that show. Again, this is what sports radio stations need to bring us more of, over and above "Joe from the north side" constantly giving us his opinion and then on to another fan call.

Meanwhile, Fox TV Sports gets an amazing coincidence on Sunday (Oct. 23) when it brings viewers in many markets the NFL game between St. Louis and Dallas from Cowboys Stadium in its 4:15 ET late game window, and follows that with the World Series game from Dallas with the Rangers hosting St. Louis in nearby Arlington.

This comes the Sunday after Fox had St. Louis at Green Bay among its early regional NFL games, while TBS had the prime time NLCS matchup of St. Louis at Milwaukee.

MEMPHIS: WMC 790 surprised its listeners last week when it went from country music to an all sports format, including taking over some programming which had been airing on WMFS 680 and 92.9. Thus, within a matter of days, both 680 and 790 AM have new lineups and are sports radio.

WMC is now "Sports 790 AM" and carries Fox Sports Radio, including Zakk & Jack in the morning, Jim Rome middays, and "Loose Cannons" in the afternoon, along with Petros & Money at night.

WFMS now airs ESPN programming except for the local Eric Hasseltine Show from 1 to 4 PM on weekdays.

RICHMOND: ESPN 950's "Hardly Workin' with Greg Burton" show now has its last 2 hours (4 to 6 PM) also carried on WHAP 1340 Hopewell VA as of this week. Burton's show is now in its 8th year on 950 AM.

DAYTON: Fans of Mark Schlemmer, who was hosting a sports talk show on WONE 980 until this past summer, were shocked to learn (via the Daily News) that he is now homeless and broke, and dealing with prostate cancer and diabetes. The former University of Dayton baseball coach has also experienced a series of family setbacks.

SYRACUSE: The trend of TV simulcasts of sports radio shows comes to Syracuse as of this week. The "Upon Further Review Show" with Steve Infanti and Chris McManus, which airs from 3 to 6 PM on ESPN 97.7 and 100.1 now has its first two hours on TV. WSYR-TV's digital channel 9.2 now airs the first two hours live. It doesn't hurt that Infanti is also Sports Director of WSYR-TV.

DURHAM: On an upbeat note, congratulations to Duke Sports Radio Network's Bob Harris, who called his 400th football game this past Saturday (10/15). Harris has called Duke football since 1976.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Play-By-Play of Sports Radio

As the baseball post-season continues to unfold, it has been interesting to note that 3 midwest markets each experienced baseball - football TV doubleheaders each involving local teams over a 2-day stretch (Oct. 9 & 10).

On Sunday (10/9), Milwaukee fans had the Brewers in the NLCS opener vs. St. Louis in the late afternoon spot on Fox followed by the Packers at Atlanta on NBC. The Brewers telecast, which was a home game, showed a 31 rating and about 53% of local TV sets tuned in, while the Packers game (on the road) had an overnight rating of 51.2 with about 66% of sets tuned in.

There are a number of theories about why the Packers telecast had the higher local ratings, including that the Packers game was scheduled long before the baseball game, which wasn't scheduled until late last Friday night, that the Brewers game was a home game and therefore at least 40,000 who attended did not need to watch on TV, or that "football seems more popular than baseball". Or perhaps some combination of those three.

Also, on Sunday St. Louis fans had the Rams vs. Redskins as an early regional game on Fox, and then TBS showed the Cardinals NLCS opener from Milwaukee in the late afternoon time slot. Then, on Monday (10/10), Detroit fans had the Tigers vs. Rangers game late afternoon on Fox (postponed from Sunday night) which went extra innings and ended early in the ESPN Monday Night Football telecast of the Lions vs. the Bears.

In Milwaukee, Sunday will wind up having been a banner day for WTMJ 620 Radio, which was able to carry both the Brewers and Packers broadcasts live. The mid-August to mid-September ratings for WTMJ show the station a solid #1 overall, up 3 ratings points since July, undoubtedly helped by the Brewers division title, the world champion Packers, and a strong start by the University of Wisconsin Badgers. The station carries play-by-play for all 3 teams.

In St. Louis, KMOX continued with strong overall ratings and got a slight boost from having the Cardinals back this season, with the Cards' post-season run sure to help for the next ratings period.

While the local teams' play-by-play spells success on the radio side (as well as TV) in Milwaukee and St. Louis, it still does not reflect from sports talk radio. In St. Louis, KMOX, with Cardinals play-by-play and sports talk as only a part of its night and 'off hour' schedule, dominates over KXOS and the other sports talk stations in the ratings.

This is the case to a bigger extent in Milwaukee. WTMJ has some sports talk within its otherwise news/talk format and is a solid #1 in the market. Yet, sports radio stations WAUK and WSSP had less than 10% of WTMJ's overall audience COMBINED during the same ratings period. While local fans are clearly watching and listening to the games, those same fans are not listening to chatter about the teams on the other stations. Again, this should be a reason for concern among sports radio stations in certain markets.

Yet, this is not an "across the board" trend as I thought earlier this year. The Ticket in Detroit bounced back to become #1 overall in the market, while, as mentioned last week, Dallas sports stations each showed increases. In Nashville, WGFX went from a 4.5 overall to an 8.2 in one month to take over as #1 overall in the market as the Titans' NFL season got underway.

This all seems to be a factor in the increase in radio rights deals for play-by-play of late.

On the TV side, the local viewership was not kind in 2 markets in particular for the just concluded regular season, with those being Baltimore/D.C. and Los Angeles.

Even with an improved record and some signs of a pulse this season, the Washington Nationals' local telecast ratings for the season were down nearly 5% from the 2009 disappointing season. However, it wasn't because fans switched over to the Orioles' local telecasts either, as the Orioles and the Oakland A's finished in a virtual tie for lowest average TV audience in the American League.

What makes this interesting is that the Nationals' average rating for the entire season was actually better than either the L.A. Dodgers or Angels. (Because of the much larger population, the L.A. teams actually had more viewers than the Nationals.) Yikes. Even with Vin Scully, who obviously won't be around too much longer doing the home and West Division road telecasts, and an Angels team which was in contention into late September.

The Phillies' runaway toward the N.L. East Division title helped to reduce TV audiences within the Division, as Atlanta, the N.Y. Mets, and Florida Marlins' telecasts all showed "double digit" local audience declines from the 2011 regular season.

Back to radio rights. In Houston, KILT AM & FM announced a 10-year extension of their contract to air the Texans play-by-play plus additional team related programming. This announcement came on top of sports radio KILT-AM more than doubling its overall audience within the past 3 months' ratings. One very interesting addition comes out of this new contract. KILT-AM will air a one-hour extended play-by-play recap of the just past weekend's Texans game each Tuesday night throughout the seasons, with all other Tuesday nights featuring a Texans specific talk show. Marc Vandermeer and Andre Ware will remain as the play-by-play voice and analyst, with Vandermeer likely to continue hosting mornings on KILT-AM. This move is significant not only in terms of the dollars commitment from KILT, but since its AM station ratings are on the rise in a market which has seen poor overall audience performance of late from its other 3 stations in the sports talk arena.

LOS ANGELES: Pleased to report that KCBS-TV 2 and/or the NFL actually have responded to viewer complaints after all. After my comments last week about how KCBS-TV could be put in the position of having to leave the Raiders vs. Texans telecast prior to conclusion on Sunday (10/9) merely to show the start of the San Diego vs. Denver game, it didn't happen. The station stayed with the final 4 minutes of the thrilling Raiders vs. Texans telecast, which went down to the very last second of play, alerting viewers on a screen scroll that the Chargers game would be "joined in progress". Thus, the station missed the first 11 1/2 minutes of the Chargers vs. Broncos game. The NFL considers Los Angeles to be a "secondary market" for Chargers' telecasts. Or at least they did on Sept. 18th when KCBS left the Raiders vs. Bills telecast with :27 left and the outcome in doubt to join the Chargers vs. Patriots telecast in time for kickoff. That's more like it!

St. LOUIS: Dan McLaughlin will not be seen on either University of Missouri or regional Missouri Valley Conference basketball telecasts for at least the upcoming season. Following McLaughlin's second arrest in 13 months on a drunk driving charge, McLaughlin is being replaced in both roles. Chris Gervino, also Sports Director at KOMU-TV Columbia, will handle all of the Missouri telecasts, after handling games when McLaughlin had a schedule conflict. The Missouri Valley telecasts will all be handled by Mitch Holthaus as primary voice, with Kevin Kugler also expected to see an increase in play-by-play assignments over last season. No word yet regarding McLaughlin's status as the Cardinals' primary TV voice.

JACKSONVILLE: WJXL 1010 has moved "Sports Final Radio" into the 6 to 10 AM weekday position, replacing the syndicated Lex & Terry Show, which had been its only non-sports show until this week.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Red Sox Reporters Left Red Handed

Sorry, but I found the Terry Francona and Red Sox manager story this past Friday (9/30) setting a new low for sports "reporting" across the board. That morning, reports and rumors were rampant from newspaper, radio, TV, and online sources that Francona was being let go, most likely at a late morning press conference.

Several sources I thought were credible and reliable reported that Francona had met with team officials, and there were multiple reports on Twitter about a time and supposed live coverage of a press conference to announce that Francona would be out as Red Sox manager.

Later that same morning, media reports came out that Francona had left the building, there would not be a press conference, and that "no decision had been announced". That was bad enough, but I left it at that and went on to other things.

Imagine my surprise a couple hours later when a friend told me that Francona had been let go. There I was practically arguing with him because I saw that there was no press conference. Shortly after that, I began hearing and seeing the reports that he really had been dismissed as Red Sox manager.

It's not about what I think of the dismissal or the significance of the story. But it is about how members of the media need to be held accountable. I don't care that some of the biggest names among the media who cover baseball or just the Red Sox were fooled. A lot of people screwed up this story by jumping to conclusions and confusing their putting possibilities together and reporting them as if they were fact. If this continues to happen, it could get to the point where I'll wind up only checking team and league web sites for "official" news. I, for one, no longer care who is first with a sports story. It's more important to wait and get it right - every time.

Looks as though it's too early to tell if the return of the NFL regular season will bring additional listeners back to sports talk radio. Personally, I'm going to be watching the ratings even more between now and the end of the year, and so far it's a mixed bag.

The top 3 markets were without impact from the overall audience on radio ratings from mid-August into mid-September and the start of NFL season play. In New York, both WFAN and WEPN held steady. In Chicago, WSCR and WMVP both showed little change, although both stations did go up in cumes, which means that those listening were tuned in for longer periods of time last month.

In Los Angeles, well, it's still a big mess. Granted, there is no "home" NFL team, but with the Dodgers making so much news due to the ownership controversy, sports is more prominent in the news. Yet, we still need a magnifying glass to find the sports radio stations. Neither KSPN, KLAC, or KLAA, could do any better than a .7. Combined they would barely make the top 25. Yet, the Dodgers radio broadcasts will move to KLAC 570 starting next season. Clearly the station hopes that having the Dodgers will finally bring them an audience. No telling what the Dodgers are thinking by burying their broadcasts. While there is nothing wrong with the 570 AM frequency for broadcasts, I have to wonder why they would not have gone for a station or stations that have enough listeners. The new radio deal is reportedly for 3 seasons, making this a big gamble for the team.

Yet, if you look at the 4,5, and 6 markets for sports radio ratings, the case could be made that the NFL season does have an impact on sports radio ratings. In San Francisco, KNBR 680 continues to be a major force for sports radio, this time coming in tied for 4th in overall audience. Yet, their audience is down from what it was for the July ratings, which was prior to even the NFL pre-season. The audience drop is probably because of the Giants not making it to the post-season to defend their World Series title while the A's continue to fall to oblivion.

In Dallas, the start of Cowboys season always brings a positive impact to sports radio. It's practically the law in Texas. KTCK The Ticket increased .3 overall, doing so impressively for the 2nd month in a row, and came in tied for #10 overall. KESN and KRLD-FM both showed increases. Even though much of this increase is due to Cowboys season, the Rangers being back in the baseball playoffs also plays a part in this.

And in Houston, KILT and KBME have both more than doubled their overall listening audiences since the July ratings period, and that's impressive. Even KFNC-FM was gone up .3 during that time. This is clearly due to the Texans, as this team could contend for the Super Bowl this season. It certainly wasn't due to the Astros disaster of a season.

I mention these markets because I had received several responses earlier this year when I began to question the future with competing sports radio stations in many markets. Some said the lower spring ratings were due the NFL and college football being the big seasons for these stations. We shall see.

The NFL season is already attracting record TV viewing audiences and strong support across the board, especially when less appealing NFL games are holding their own against baseball post-season telecasts.

However, some odd instances have been going on during NFL telecasts of late.

The Detroit vs. Dallas telecast last Sunday (10/2) was down to the final 11 seconds, when Fox's Joe Buck and Troy Aikman acted as if the coming play was 3rd down for Dallas at the same time viewers could see on the screen that it was really 4th down. Buck caught the error while the play unfolded, but didn't correct the mistake until the play was over and it meant the Lions would win the game. Thus, the worst possible time for an error like that, since that was the most important play of the final minutes of the game. I have to wonder where the production crew was that they didn't instantly tell Buck at the time.

Another mystery from Fox took place moments earlier when the Carolina vs. Chicago game ended. Even though the Lions play in the same NFC North as the Bears and the game against Dallas was then in its final 4 minutes, those watching that regional telecast were instead sent to the St. Louis vs. Washington game instead. What made that move even more perplexing is that neither the Rams or Redskins plays in the same division as either the Panthers or the Bears. Yet, that telecast was switched to Bears fans ahead of the division rival Lions, and ahead of the Cowboys at any point in time.

Los Angeles NFL viewers (watching via the local stations) could be innocent victims of CBS's policy about "secondary market" telecasts again this season. CBS continues to include L.A. as a "secondary market" for the San Diego Chargers, which means their telecast have priority. Even over the Oakland Raiders, who called Los Angeles home for a few seasons. This coming Sunday (10/9), the Raiders play in Houston in the early CBS telecast. However, the Chargers are the regional doubleheader game on CBS playing at Denver. As a "secondary market", this means that if the Raiders game is still going or in overtime, CBS is "forced" to leave that game prior to kickoff of the Chargers game. CBS already had this happen on Sept. 18th and it could happen again on November 20th when the Chargers are a late game in Chicago with the Raiders early at Minnesota.

Howard Eskin, now serving as an Eagles reporter for Philadelphia's NBC 10-TV has been having a rough go since leaving his afternoon drive show on WIP Radio earlier this month. Last week, Eskin "reported" that Michael Vick would be out 2 to 4 weeks due to a hand injury, which turned out to not be the case. Then, he went on KNBR San Francisco with Gary Radnich and Larry Krueger, and said on the air that he would ride a bicycle across the country if the Eagles lost to the 49ers last Sunday, which it so happened they did.

Actually, those two scenarios are only related because they are both from Eskin. The bike ride comment may come back to haunt him, but that was clearly in support of a prediction and not misreporting something, like he did with Michael Vick. Luckily, he wasn't on the air when the Terry Francona situation was unfolding last Friday. Although, he couldn't have done any worse than some far more reliable reporters did. It does underline that opinions and facts are two different things, and it's time for the reporting media to step up and realize that.

PITTSBURGH: The Post-Gazette reported that the Pirates will no longer be heard on WPGB 104.7 after 5 seasons. Either The Fan KDKA-FM or KDKA-AM is expected to carry the games starting next season. The Fan currently carries Pitt football. The entire radio and TV announcing crew is employed by the team, so the only thing that will change will be the flagship radio station.

SOUTH BEND: While Notre Dame football season is in full swing, the market has lost its ESPN Radio affiliation. Yet, WDND 1620 didn't switch to Fox Sports or program anything else sports to replace it. Instead, the station began simulcasting a sister FM station's music instead. It will be, ummmmm, interesting to see how many people go to 1620 AM to hear music, won't it?