Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sports Radio Not Making News

Getting caught up after a brief vacation..............

Of course, it was a big weekend of sports both on and off the field. Football, hockey, and basketball everywhere, including NBC-TV with its first ever telecast of an NHL game during Black Friday afternoon. Black Friday is not a holiday, but the networks and some local stations realize that many sports fans are available to watch games who would not normally be available for viewing on a Friday afternoon or early evening.

Yet, sports radio stations continue to overlook this fact. A quick listening survey of stations in Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, and a couple of others revealed that at least some of the major sports radio stations treated Friday Nov. 25th as a throwaway day. Substitute hosts, "best of" features, and part-timers abounded. That day is always a chance for many to tune in while in the car during shopping marathons, or while spending time at home instead of at work, while at work during a different time, and for many other reasons.

I don't buy the argument that "the other stations do the same thing". Sports radio stations are not merely competing against each other and radio stations with other formats. These stations often overlook how sports fans have so many other avenues to choose from. Sorry, but the sports stations should have gone with most of their "A" team on Friday and taken advantage of a greater opportunity to reach listeners they don't always get to, instead of treating it like we (the listeners) don't matter.

Meanwhile, with so much comment over the past few days about the early media coverage when the Penn State scandal first unfolded, I had not intended to get back into that for this week. However, I feel the need to defend some of the sports media on this one.

Many columnists, bloggers, and even media reporters have been questioning what they perceived as a lack of "hard hitting" coverage of the situation as it was breaking last week. Sources such as ESPN and Big Ten Network often came under fire as if they tried to sweep the unfortunate developments under the rug because they televise Penn State games and there are big bucks involved.

In this instance, my feeling is that the sports networks did not deserve the criticism pointed at them. At least they don't based on the Penn State scandal. This huge scandal happened to involve Penn State football coaches and some Athletic Department personnel. However, this is really NOT a sports story. Therein lies the difference.

Rather, this was hard news. ESPN and BTN, as well as Comcast SportsNet, Versus, and others, report on and cover sports, as in the games, players, team officials, and news which is related to the players and the games.

Think back to that June 1994 day when the O.J. Simpson and the Bronco situation took place. It was CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and other networks and news organizations which went with live wall-to-wall coverage to the point of pre-empting some prime time programming. NBA fans got a split screen during a crucial NBA playoff game because of the O.J. chase and surrounding coverage.

Why are the O.J. incident and this Penn State scandal breaking in the same category? Because they are both hard news stories, and not sports stories. O.J. Simpson happened to have been a Hall of Fame football player and later a commentator and still involved with NFL coverage. But the chase and the then recent murders had nothing to do with football or sports.

The unfortunate incidents surrounding Penn State officials and coaches also are not sports related. They happen to involve personnel involved with the school's football team.

Yet, media critics have been critical of the sports networks' "coverage" as the Penn State details were being unveiled last week. From what I saw, heard, and read about the sports networks' coverage, they seem to have stuck to their angle on the story. From a sports point of view, a major element to the story early on was whether or not Joe Paterno would remain as coach. PSU had a big game coming up on Saturday against Nebraska which would have a big impact on the Big Ten standings as well as being Conference history. (The first time these two schools meet as members of the same conference.)

The job of these networks was to follow Paterno and his situation relative to all that was going on around him. It seems the sports networks generally did a good job of reporting about the sports element. Certainly the crimes committed against the young boys were hideous. But had these horrible crimes been committed by an individual who was not affiliated with the PSU football program, the "news" would not have been so much as mentioned by ESPN, BTN, Comcast SportsNet, Versus, or any of the other sports stations or sports reporters.

People turn to the sports networks for sports related reporting. At the time, the Penn State vs. Nebraska game had elements making it interesting to fans well beyond both schools and of the Big Ten. The fact that a huge scandal was breaking which could (and did) impact who would be coaching one of the teams and how it could impact a major school's football program is and was a huge sports story. It was treated as such.

It was the likes of the Harrisburg newspaper, the Penn State student newspaper, local TV news crews, and news networks such as CNN, which provided the more thorough news coverage and live coverage of the incident. That what is supposed to happen under such circumstances. These news organizations don't care and don't need to report on how it impacts the weekend's football game.

Where are these same media critics when speculation is reported as if it is fact? Where are these same media critics when, as I commented on last week, Mike North "reports" Joe Frazier's death on Fox Sports when it was not true at the time?

On the other hand, there actually are times when a sports reporting organization really does step into the news arena. The Sunday (11/27) announced firing of Syracuse Asst. Basketball coach Bernie Fine came hours after ESPN aired a recorded phone conversation which it obtained and also reported is being used as evidence in the case against Fine. It's hard to say whether or not this information would have been pursued and obtained were it not for the Penn State situation. I'll keep open the possibility that my comments above could become outdated if and as sports reporting organizations are going to pursue "news" stories.

Let's give NBC & Versus a lot of credit for its decision last week (for Monday 11/21) to switch its NHL game telecast within 48 hours of the game. The network was preparing to show the Boston vs. Montreal game when it learned that Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby would return to the ice against the N.Y. Islanders at the same time. Since Versus originates its telecasts, network officials literally rerouted production staff and equipment on Sunday in order to carry the Penguins game live on Monday night, at its own additional cost. Keep in mind that this telecast went up against Monday Night Football on ESPN. That didn't stop Versus from making a decision to benefit NHL fans.

NBC has moved the Detroit vs. New Orleans game to Sunday Night Football next Sunday, Dec. 4th, as part of its flex scheduling ability. Granted, doing so moves the Indianapolis Colts (vs. New England) out of prime time. All Fox could do is move the Denver vs. Minnesota telecast to a 1 PM ET spot, which at least buries it buries that game more than a 4 PM time slot would have.

On the college football side, still no word from ESPN about possibly adding the University of Montana's quarterfinal playoff game for Saturday Dec. 3rd. ESPN still plans to show these first round games only on, even though the game at Montana is expected to be an instant sellout.

On the baseball side, the Phillies' radio broadcasts are being added to FM starting next season as WIP 94.1 will also air the games along with WPHT 1210. This adds to the occasional separate programming from WIP 610, and that's a good thing.

The San Diego Padres have announced that their games will air on XX Sports Radio 1090, although this is only a one year deal. Still nothing about the team's new TV deal, although the word is that it will not be officially approved and announced until after the proposed new Dodgers TV deal is dealt with.

KNBR San Francisco's newest unpaid intern has some unusual qualifications for the post. Major league experience. Michael Taylor of the A's was reportedly one week into an internship before the station personalities found out that he is indeed the outfield prospect looking toward a future in broadcasting. Among those who didn't know are night host Eric Byrnes, a former MLB outfielder himself. Taylor is on the air during the Fitz & Brooks Show with a 'fan on the street' interview segment known as "What's Bugging You?".

LUBBOCK: The Fan 1340 begins its local morning show this week (as of Monday 11/28). The Sports Shack with Scott Fitzgerald and Alan Berger now airs from 7 to 9 AM, with Steve Dale moving to middays. This gives the station roughly 8 hours of local programming each weekday.

ASTORIA OR: KKEE Sports 1230 has abandoned its sports format and now plays music, but will continue to air play-by-play. The station already carries U. of Oregon football and Portland Trailblazers basketball.

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