Mike North of Fox Sports Radio picked the right week to mess up badly. Understandably, the sports media attention focuses on the Joe Paterno and Penn State situation, a busy NFL week, discussing this year's college football game of the century from last Saturday, and the worsening NBA lockout.
Yet, North's show on Fox Sports Radio late Sunday night (11/6) seems to be flying under the radar, as of press time (11/9 afternoon). For those who missed it, and that's the vast majority of sports fans, Mike North "reported" that boxing champ Joe Frazier had passed away, with his information based on "a text message from a friend". Keep in mind that at the time, Frazier was still alive and did not actually pass until Monday night.
Later in the show, North tried to cover his "possible" error, admitting there was no actual report of his death, and literally saying on the air, "I think when you’re in the hospice and you have liver cancer, it’s may be a little short trip to that point. But if you’re not dead, you’re not dead. So, as far as we know, even though I said earlier that he was dead, he may still be alive. We’re trying to nail it down.”.
As of press time, there was nothing from Fox Sports about any form of discipline, investigation of the situation, or even an apology.
How does Fox Sports allow this to happen? First of all, it's bad enough that Mike North went with the "story" without confirming it. But this was on Fox Sports national radio. Does this mean that there was no one working on the Fox Sports staff who could have investigated? Just because North's "story" aired while the attention of the sports fan was on Sunday Night Football does not give Fox an excuse for such a blunder.
Why aren't North and his producer(s) being held accountable? Where was someone at Fox Sports that night to follow up on the "story"?
This is the same Fox Sports that brings us the NFL, MLB, and Nascar on TV, a 24-hour sports radio network, and a web site with "headlines" and columnists. If they don't discipline an on-air host who misrepresents a major story, how do they expect to maintain our trust?
Even though the NFL season is in full swing and continues to attract huge ratings, the NHL season is into its second month, the college football season is coming down to a few key regular season games, and college hoops start for real within the week, there is the matter of the lack of NBA games.
As of press time, the NBA lockout continues, and there isn't much hope it will end soon. It seems that TV and radio are each taking different approaches in dealing with the lack of games to broadcast. I'm not happy with either.
Those local and regional sports TV networks which would normally be showing NBA games this month have not all been able to find suitable replacement programming. Several, such as Houston and Chicago, have begun showing classic games of the local team from years past. That translates to "We have nothing else to show". These networks and stations shouldn't think in terms of repeats.
Sure, I enjoy a "classic" game on occasion. Those should be saved to be shown prior to training camp starting, or on holidays, weekend mornings, and other times when there really is nothing else to show.
I'd like to think that the TV sports local and regional networks really are dedicated to local/regional sports coverage and not to filling time. The "We'll put an old NBA game on instead of a live one" approach doesn't cut it. Look at the NFL ratings again this season. The LSU vs. Alabama college football game last weekend (11/5) drew the 2nd highest ratings for a CBS telecast of college football since 1987. It shows that viewers continue to want live sports. Showing an NBA game from 1997 is not meeting that demand.
Not having live NBA games to televise should not mean "give up", put on a game recorded years ago, and call it a night. It should mean a search to find other live basketball and football games to show during those times. What about showing key high school and small college football games?
Now with college and high school basketball season upon us, we should be seeing games and players we would not have had the opportunity to see otherwise.
There are announcers and production people who are ready to work, NBA or not. There are fans who want to watch local live sports, NBA or not. It's about the image these regional networks need to maintain. Let me tune in to my local sports channel and see what LIVE game they are showing. If it's interesting, I'll watch to see the outcome and/or certain players, even if it's not the NBA. Even if I don't watch for long, it reinforces that I should check my local sports channel to see what actual live game is on from night to night.
On the radio side, the sports stations have moved on and simply talk about football, college basketball, hockey, and now baseball hot stove talk. Of course, I don't expect these stations to spend time with fans expressing their frustration with the players, owners, or both. However, there is still a void to fill, especially for sports stations in NBA markets. The hosts seem to overlook that if and when the lockout is settled, there will need to be a time period to sign free agents, talk trade, sign draft choices, hold tryouts, and allow the team officials to plan for the coming season.
As an NBA fan, I will admit that I have long forgotten which key players are free agents, which teams selected many of the top draft picks, and how the coming season might shape up. We could use a "If the (name of local team) season were to start today, they would need a forward......." discussion. Who might they look to sign? How would their recent draft picks fit in? What trades should they make?
For every week the sports stations go without talking about team personnel it's another week for fans to "forget" about their team. Thus, if and when the NBA season comes around, fans will then not be thinking in terms of their local sports talk station being a source to learn about their favorite team. One less reason to listen, even though the listeners were not "locked out" by the stations.
It's great to see NBC Sports Network (currently Versus) developing an interview show with Bob Costas to host. It will feature Costas interviewing players and team officials from the major sports. Word is that there will be less emphasis on baseball. It's not just because NBC doesn't have a national MLB agreement. Rather, it is so that Costas will continue to also host interview shows and do play-by-play for MLB Network as well. Costas will host a "town hall" format sports show during the week leading into the Super Bowl, and his regular interview show may not begin until 2nd quarter. The only negative about it is that, as of now, his show may only be monthly. Here's hoping it ramps up to weekly before too long.
Speaking of NBC, they are already working ahead on the flex scheduling for Sunday Night Football. The network announced more than two weeks before it needed to that the Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots has been scratched from its original Dec. 4th schedule for obvious reasons. The game they will televise instead probably won't be determined until just before Thanksgiving. Looks like they don't want NFL fans to even think about making other plans for that night.
Versus' weekly "NFL Turning Point" show moves from Thursday nights to Wednesday nights at 10 PM ET as of this week in order to not conflict with Thursday Night Football on NFL Network which starts this week.
And, a couple more notes about the most recent sports radio ratings. I commented about many of the big markets last week, showing how it's the events in local sports that are driving the sports radio audience rather than the hosts. Milwaukee's ratings certainly bear this out, with WTMJ and it's Brewers, Packers, and U. of Wisconsin play-by-play helping drive the station to one of its strongest ratings periods ever. Yet, the market's two all sports stations continue to show less than a full ratings point overall.
In Seattle, KJR and KIRO-AM tied in overall audience, although KIRO has the advantage during afternoon drive. In looking for an edge, KJR just began simulcasting on the former country music KNBQ, which broadcasts out of Centrailia. This will give KJR's programming addition coverage in that part of the market as well as into Tacoma.