Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - January 25th Update......

The NHL All-Star and its new format may not be taken seriously by even the most avid hockey fans, but it's not stopping Versus from extensive coverage.

The network plans weekend coverage, including the selection of players for both teams this Friday (1/28), the skills competition in prime time on Saturday, and then the game itself at 4 PM ET on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if Versus' coverage can withstand the challenge of fans having no clue which players are on which team and any significance to the actual All-Star game itself. Instead of Conference or division rivalries, the NHL decided to make it a pick-up game of chosen sides among the players selected. Not only is there nothing to play for, but the game could pit regular season teammates against each other. No wonder NBC isn't showing it.

NBC does have an NHL spectacular in the works for Sunday Feb. 20th, however. The network will show a rare live NHL doubleheader from Noon to 6 PM ET. There will be 3 regional games, including Philadelphia vs. NY Rangers, during the early slot leading into the national game of Pittsburgh at Chicago. As an added positive, NBC plans to stream all 3 early games via its web site.

Meanwhile, it was no surprise to anyone that last Sunday's NFC and AFC Championship games scored huge ratings for Fox and CBS. Having both the New York and Chicago markets didn't hurt either. Nationally, the Chicago vs. Green Bay game was the highest rated NFC Championship telecast in the earlier time slot since the late 90's.

In Chicago, the WFLD-TV airing generated a rating just over 50 and an 81 share, with some of the game having a higher rating than the Bears vs. Colts Super Bowl matchup 4 years ago.

In Milwaukee, the WITI-TV airing generated a 57 rating and 85 share, a higher share than the Packers vs. Giants NFC Championship game 3 years ago. Yet, even with the Packers clinching a Super Bowl berth, the WDJT-TV airing of the Steelers vs. Jets game right after generated a 31.8 rating and 46 share. Strong ratings normally, but not when you consider the game was to determine the Packers' opponent for the Super Bowl.

The Packers' reaching the NFC Championship game caused a bit of a stir for radio listeners in much of Wisconsin, including Sheboygan, which is just over an hour away from Green Bay. WHBL Sheboygan was among 46 of the Packers Radio Network stations which were not able to carry the local Packers broadcast of this game due to NFL broadcast policy. Instead, these stations had the option of carrying the Westwood One national broadcast with Kevin Harlan, Randy Cross, and Mark Malone.

Thus, Packers fans choosing the radio version and/or wanting to listen to the Packers' broadcast and turn down the audio from Fox TV lucked out by this being the afternoon game. Flagship station WTMJ Milwaukee has a stronger signal throughout the region during the daylight hours. Had this been the night game instead, fewer Packers fans would have had this option. Same for Bears fans on the Illinois side since the WBBM Radio Bears broadcasts cover a wide area.

It still doesn't make up for the fans and local advertisers having to miss out on their hometown call for the biggest game of the entire season.

Oh, and as a note to my fellow sports media members, let's keep in mind that the commercials to air during the Super Bowl is NOT sports news.

The coming Super Bowl means that baseball spring training is coming up soon, and broadcast schedules are now in the works. Here are a few developments:

DALLAS: The American League champion Texas Rangers have made a curious move by naming John Rhadigan as the TV play-by-play voice. He received a multi-year deal to replace Josh Lewin in the booth, and will have Tom Grieve as his analyst.

Rhadigan is a familiar face to Rangers fans, having hosted the TV pre and post-game shows for the previous 10 seasons. He has also been covering the Rangers for more than 20 years in a broadcast capacity, but does not have a signficant amount of play-by-play experience. The Rangers will televise 11 of their spring training games.

St. LOUIS: While the excitement about Cardinals baseball centers on the radio broadcasts returning to KMOX along with the team of John Rooney and Mike Shannon, the TV booth will seem more like a pitching rotation.

Fox Sports Midwest will air at least 148 games (every game not exclusive to ESPN or Fox Sports), but its announcing team members will each work about 100 games. Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky, and Rick Horton all return to the booth. This represents a decrease of about 20 telecasts for McLaughlin, the only true play-by-play voice in the mix. McLaughlin will do play-by-play with one of the analysts for 100 telecasts, but viewers will be left with Hrabosky and Horton to fend for themselves on about 1/3 of the telecasts. That can only be good news for KMOX, provided their broadcast syncs up with Fox Sports Midwest.

KMOX is getting ready, moving evening personality John Carney over to KEZK-FM starting in February, most likely to make room for evening sports oriented programming to supplement its Cardinals coverage.

KANSAS CITY: The Royals will have at least 20 of their exhibition games on Sports Radio 610 this spring. Thus far 14 broadcasts have been scheduled, with others to be named surrounding possible U. of Kansas NCAA tournament broadcasts. Yet, the coverage doesn't stop there. All of the exhibition games will be broadcast via Royals.com, whether on 610 Radio or not.

Let's give Sports Radio 610 credit for airing the majority of exhibition games, which should be the case for an all sports station. And more credit to the Royals for airing every game somewhere.

Denny Matthews, Bob Davis, Steve Stewart, and Ryan Lefebvre will handle play-by-play. Matthews takes the lead on the Sports Radio 610 games while Stewart will call the webcast games.

SEATTLE: The Mariners are bringing back a voice from the past for this season to work along side of Rick Rizzs. Ken Wilson, who called Mariners games from 1977 to 1982, has been brought back to call between 40 and 50 games, most on radio and some on the TV side.

Ken Wilson is perhaps best remembered around the country for being the Cincinnati Reds TV voice on the call of Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb's all-time hit record in 1985.

The Mariners broadcast team is still reeling from the death of Dave Niehaus during the off season.

SAN FRANCISCO: KNBR 680 is now #1 in the market and the flagship station of the World Champion Giants. The station is taking advantage of the Giants' Fan Fest on February 5th by having their Murphy and McCaffrey (Murph and Mac) morning show team being among the personalities on the air that day. The station plans to broadcast live from the stadium from 11 to 3 that day. The free fan fest is expected to draw more than 40,000 fans this year, about double from past seasons. This is a tremendous way for the station to tie in with its audience. Especially when this is a free event. (For example, in Chicago both the White Sox and Cubs charged as much as $50 per person per day for their team "fests" at downtown Chicago hotels with limited and expensive parking.)

BOSTON: The Red Sox are putting on the "2011 Red Sox Town Hall" next Monday (1/31), and it will be shown at 9 PM on NESN. Team executives including Manager Terry Francona are expected to participate and answer fans' questions. In addition, Red Sox fans outside of the NESN area will be able to watch it on NESN.com after its airing.

CLEVELAND: OK, so Indians spring training games won't knock the Super Bowl coverage off the sports pages. But the Indians are combining WTAM 1100 and Indians.com to broadcast every exhibition game this year. WTAM will air 20 games, with nine of those being delayed until night time. Normally, I don't like delayed broadcasts, but this arrangement makes sense. The games will air live on Indians.com and then air that night on WTAM. Indians.com will air those games not airing at all on WTAM. Tom Hamilton and Mike Hegan return to the radio booth.

On the TV side, at least 155 games will be televised on SportsTime Ohio, with Rick Manning, Matt Underwood, and Al Pawlowski in the booth.

HOUSTON: KUBE-TV brings back "Todd Freed's High School SportZone" this coming Sunday (1/30).

MIDDLETOWN OH: WPFB Radio was to broadcast its final Middletown High School game on Tuesday (1/25) when it airs the basketball game against Princeton H.S.

The station has been purchased by the Northern Kentucky University public radio station, which is ending the WPFB airing of the high school games, Miami University, and Ohio State football and basketball games.

Nothing like a "public" radio station eliminating local coverage.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - January 19th Update

Sorry, but the news on Wednesday about ESPN funding approximately $300 million dollars toward a University of Texas TV Network is disturbing on several levels, both from a media and sports fan position.

Of course, I can understand the reason for the network and for the University of Texas to showcase sports events not shown elsewhere, along with a reported 3 hours per day of "non-athletic fare". That this will create at least 50 jobs and allow for additional University personnel is fine.

This is a far more significant deal than NBC's to televise Notre Dame home football games each year for millions of dollars. This U of Texas Network will be a 24 hour ongoing venture.

Why does ESPN get to be so strongly involved? How will other universities stand for this? Even with deep pockets, I'm not sure ESPN has millions to spend to do this for other colleges and universities.

The announcement states that Texas sports not already covered on other TV stations and networks will be shown, which includes Big 12 games under contract with ESPN/ABC at the moment.

My hunch is that within seconds of this being made public, the Athletic Dept. at the U. of Texas has added this to its recruiting materials. They can now show athletes the school wishes to attract for its major sports programs how they would have the majority or every game they play televised and be an indirect part of the school's TV network.

Yet, other schools on the same level (such as those also in the Big 12 Conference) or below do not have this same opportunity. Is that fair for balance in college sports? Worse yet, none other than ESPN is making this possible.

As a sports fan or consumer, this is not good news for the majority of people who are not U. of Texas fans or supporters. Not only because of the competitive edge it will bring.

Here we are as sports fans complaining about how our cable and satellite monthly costs continue to rise while the number of channels we can recieve doesn't. Not to mention how most of us don't get all of the channels or services we want for sports viewing. The costs continue to rise in part because of ESPN raising or maintaining the monthly per subscriber charges to the cable and satellite companies, which of course are "passed along" to us consumers.

It's even worse for those are not sports fans but have no choice but to pony up and help the rest of us get the ESPN channels.

Now, we find out with this announcement that "our" money as cable or satellite subscribers will be used, in part, to fund an effort for the University of Texas. Yikes.

Meanwhile, the U. of Texas announcement wasn't even my only issue with ESPN this week. Now "the leader in sports coverage" jumped into the "reporting what others are reporting" derby big time.

On Monday, I was in a restaurant which had ESPN on, when the "story" about Brett Favre sending in retirement papers was breaking. (I'll put my sports fan comments of "I'm tired of hearing about Favre until 1 week before the season starts." and "It's amazing he goes for headlines just as the Packers make the NFC Championship game" on hold for now.)

How did I learn about it? When the bottom scroll on ESPN said "FoxSports.com reports that Favre.....". The "OMG" reaction I had was NOT because of Favre's actions. Back up a moment.

ESPN reports that Fox Sports is reporting this? It seems to me that some editor at ESPN should be walking the streets unemployed for putting that on their scroll!

Here is ESPN spending millions and millions and millions of dollars (of our cable and satellite subscription money) for the rights to televise the NFL, and spending hours and hours of NFL related programming. ESPN has "beat reporters" for most NFL teams, and a selection of "insider" reporters on all things NFL.

Do you mean to tell me that after learning of a Fox Sports report that NO ONE associated with ESPN could possibly immediately confirm or deny that story?

I guess not. Instead, ESPN settled for letting its audience know that one of their most significant competitors just beat them to a story. What good are all of those commercials and plugs for SportsCenter if they can't so much as confirm a story from a league they have broadcast rights to?

Oh, excuse me. If Favre's announcement had something to do with the University of Texas, they might have had it first.

But if the "sports leader" has now slumped to "reporting" what another network is reporting, us sports fans are in trouble.

Meanwhile, it may be too late for some, but maybe Dan Patrick got the message. This past Monday (1/17) on King Day, Patrick was actually live and topical on his daily TV and radio show. I heard about it after the fact from a friend who actually thought to check on that for me. After adding several major market TV outlets to his show last fall, he then was insulting sports fans with reruns on Thanksgiving weekend, between Christmas and New Year's, and every time much of the workforce was off and had a rare chance to check his show out.

We're still watching football in big volume. Neilsen Company research shows that the 2010 NFL regular season was the most watched NFL season since 1989. It wasn't just NBC with its highly successful Sunday Night Football telecasts. Fox, CBS, ESPN, and NFL Network (game telecasts) all showed increases.

LOS ANGELES: University of Southern California football and basketball broadcasts will remain on KSPN 710 through the 2015-16 season based on a 5-year extension just announced. The announcing teams of Pete Arbogast and Paul McDonald continue for USC football, while Chris Fisher and Jim Hefner handle the basketball broadcasts.

CHICAGO: Once again WSCR 670 The Score is planning four of their so-called "interactive" broadcasts of White Sox spring training games during March, even though they are airing only nine of the team's exhibition games.

These broadcasts (scheduled for March 6, 13, 20, and 25) consist of only the first three innings of actual play-by-play. Then, broadcasters Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson stay on the air from the booth and merely take calls about the White Sox from listeners, doing only occasional updates on the game itself.

Even though they gave a few more details about the game more often last spring, it doesn't make sense. I don't care who "Steve from the south side" thinks should bat cleanup and whether or not Farmer and Jackson agree or disagree. I would rather know how a young pitcher trying to earn a bullpen spot fares against the other team's cleanup hitter instead.

WSCR is an all-sports station. They have 20+ hours every day to talk with fans about the White Sox instead of taking up 6 innings of the game itself. I could also understand if the station was not all sports and only did 9 exhibition games total. Yet, nearly half of the time they are airing the games (instead of fans merely talking sports), they insist on making it about phone calls instead of the game action.

Maybe they could compromise on this. Don't do the play-by-play of the first 3 innings and then stop. Take the calls during the first 3 or 4 innings and get them out of the way. THEN, start the actual play-by-play for the rest of the game, and there will be time to recap the earlier action.

The White Sox are also among those teams which will webcast ten of their exhibition games free via the team's web site. Trey Bender, the son of long time sportscaster Gary Bender, will handle play-by-play, and provides relief for those of us who can't stand Ken "Horrible-son" Harrelson's regular season announcing.

BOSTON: It's always interesting how national broadcaster analysts go on local sports stations and suddenly become more intense and critical with their comments. ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Ron Jaworski did just that on Tuesday (1/18) afternoon when he appeared on WEEI Sports Radio.

Jaworski identified specific plays he felt that Patriots QB Tom Brady missed, and how Brady wasn't doing things he had done during the regular season. Some solid analysis, and much more solid on a local station than on a national forum.

CINCINNATI: Jim Kelch will move from Reds radio to filling in on some telecasts for the coming season, handling those Fox Sports Ohio telecasts which Thom Brennaman is not available to handle. Kelch began in the Reds radio booth last season. Thom Brennaman handles regional MLB and NFL telecasts most weekends for Fox Sports. Kelch steps in to replace Paul Keels, who was let go from Reds TV due to fall conflicts for Keels, who is the radio voice of Ohio State football.

TORONTO: Rogers SportsNet is replacing Bill Watters as its hockey analyst after nearly 8 seasons in the role. Yet, it's not because of his work. It may seem like a minor thing for Fan 590 to now be called SportsNet Radio Fan 590 and use many of the TV SportsNet personalities, but it isn't to Watters.

The 67-year old Watters has been hosting 4 to 7 PM on Talk Radio 640, a competing station, and Rogers did not want to use talent also appearing on another local station. He is a former Assistant GM of the Maple Leafs and has done color on their telecast in prior seasons.

OMAHA: February 1 will be a significant day for sports radio listeners. KXSP Big Sports 590 officially becomes ESPN Radio on that day. At least in the early going, they are expected to carry the complete ESPN Radio lineup without even one local sports talk show.

Their local and regional sports play-by-play will continue and likely become even more prominent. The lineup includes Creighton University basketball, Kansas City Royals baseball, and University of Iowa football.

Across the dial, KOZN 1620, which lost ESPN Radio, begins its affiliation with Fox Sports Radio. To their credit, KOZN will keep their local sports shows on, including "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" from 2 to 6 PM and "Shick and Nick" from 8 to 11 AM. In addition, the station will continue to carry NFL and college basketball broadcasts from Westwood One, as well as selected Chicago Cubs games.

BATON ROUGE: KLSU, the LSU radio station, has hired former Tigers basketball player Micah Bedard as a sports reporter, where he will handle some sports updates and co-host the station's Sunday night sports show.

FARGO: The Hammer has "nailed" a TV spot. Dan Hammer is leaving his position of Sports Director and on air host on KFGO after 4 years to become Sports Director of KVLY-TV. Hammer is well known for his 20+ years with KVLY-TV until 2002.

WICHITA: Paul Savage has taken a leave from his Pressbox Show on 1410 AM in what is clearly his own decision. Savage is running for a District 2 Council seat in April. Even though his show is sports and not politics, Savage does not wish to take any chances.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - January 13th Update.....

It's enough to make me change from the term "sports reporter" to "sports reader". Maybe I should make it a rumor so that one station will report that another station is reporting a rumor about it.

Some people say "Awesome, baby!" over the news that Dick Vitale is staying with ESPN's college hoops telecasts and programming until at least 2015. Others aren't so thrilled.

In my case, I admire and appreciate his unbridled enthusiasm after 30+ years of TV commentary. But the problem is in how I found out about this earlier this week.

The first story about it that I saw was that USA Today "reports" that ESPN has signed Vitale to the contract extension. That, in itself, raises questions for an "old school" sports reporter and radio Sports Director such as myself.

What was the urgency of this story for USA Today? Why couldn't they wait until ESPN made the announcement official? It's not as if this "news" impacted the sports world within the hours before ESPN put the word out.

Ah, but there is more to this. I did not read this "report" from USA Today. I happened to see it as "Breaking Sports News" on ChicagoTribune.com. So let's get this straight. The Chicago Tribune was reporting as a "breaking" story that USA Today "reports" that ESPN has extended the contract of Dick Vitale.

The Chicago Tribune is part of the media group which includes WGN-TV and WGN Radio Chicago as well. The Tribune has its own sports department, as does WGN. They want local sports fans to go to either of these sources for sports news and developments. They might not think it's a big deal, but if it were under my guidance, heads would be rolling on this one.

First, this is NOT a "breaking" story. This is a story which should be reported by ESPN and its various TV, Radio, and online outlets, and by sports media columns and bloggers at most. It's actually not that major of a story, since Vitale was extended. Had he moved over to ESPN from another network, THEN it would have been more newsworthy.

Next, this was the Tribune crediting USA Today for "reporting" this story. So if USA Today is ahead of the Tribune on this "story", why would the Chicago Tribune dare to promote that fact? (In addition to USA Today's report enticing some sports fans to head over to the ESPN site in order to confirm the story.)

What ever happened to sports "reporters" actually lifting a finger and doing some work looking for actual "breaking news"? Instead of monitoring other web sites and competing news sources to relay what they "report", how about going to a local team practice and see if someone is hurt? How about calling a coach or team executive and looking for a story that no one else has "reported"?

Once upon a time, you would never mention a competitor in a story over the air (or in print). Either confirm or deny it on your own, and either report it with your own information or don't bother. Use judgement as to how newsworthy it is or is not. I and many colleagues way back when would even record our competitors' sportscasts (if they were head to head) or listen to them to make sure we had everything covered. But you had better believe we would never "report" what they were reporting and give them a mention. Have mercy.

As you might expect, NFL post-season ratings continue to soar, and with New York and Chicago teams in the mix, as well as the Patriots, don't expect that to change. NBC generated the highest Wild Card Saturday TV ratingssince the 1998-99 season with the Jets last second defeat of the Indy Colts on Jan. 8th.

What's curious about this is that New York City market ratings were not in the Top 15 highest rated markets for this telecasts. The number of N.Y. Giants fans who were not interested in the Jets made their lack of presence known. This actually serves to make NBC's prime-time ratings even more impressive, since it was not boosted by New York numbers.

This Monday (1/17) is King Day, and the NBA continues to take over the day with 4 national telecasts available. ESPN starts it with a matinee from Memphis as they host the Chicago Bulls at 1:00 PM ET. At 4 PM ET NBA-TV kicks in with Sacramento at Atlanta.

TNT takes over in prime time with a holiday special doubleheader that figures to be a nice draw. Orlando visits Boston at 8 PM ET followed by Oklahoma City at the Lakers at 10:30 ET. I do wonder, however, with this being a Monday holiday and the majority going back to work the following morning for the remainder of the week, why TNT isn't starting these games at least one hour earlier.

Baseball season is drawing closer, as we are now a month from the opening of spring training camps. ESPN has announced that the Thursday March 31st opening day of the regular season will now feature 3 opening day telecasts.

The Yankees host Detroit in the MLB opener on ESPN March 31 at 1 PM ET, followed by San Diego at St. Louis at 4 PM and then the World Champion San Francisco Giants at the L.A. Dodgers at 8 PM ET. The Giants vs. Dodgers telecast will be an ESPN exclusive telecast.

Then, on Friday April 1, ESPN airs a daytime doubleheader. Philadelphia hosts Houston at 1 PM ET, followed by the A.L. champion Texas Ragners hosting Boston at 4 PM. The Friday telecasts are day games since ESPN is already commited to an NBA doubleheader that same night. In fact, as of now the Celtics at Atlanta is the scheduled 8 PM game, followed by the Lakers at Utah.

Thus, ESPN will air both the Red Sox and Celtics road games on a national basis as consecutive live telecasts. That could be a first.

ESPN has also announced several Sunday Night Baseball telecasts for the first half of the season, whether for ESPN or ESPN2:

April 3: San Francisco at Los Angeles Dodgers (ESPN2)
April 10: N.Y. Yankees at Boston
April 17: Texas at N.Y. Yankees
April 24: Cincinnati at St. Louis
May 1: N.Y. Mets at Philadelphia
May 8: Atlanta at Philadelphia
May 15: Boston at N.Y. Yankees
May 22: Chicago Cubs at Boston
May 29: Cincinnati at Atlanta (ESPN2)
June 5-July 3: To be determined
July 10: N.Y. Mets at San Francisco
July 17: Boston at Tampa Bay

The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame will honor ABC & ESPN's Mike Torico as 2010 National Sportscaster of the Year at its May 14-16 weekend in Salisbury NC. Brent Musburger, also with ABC & ESPN, has been elected to the NSSA's Hall of Fame, where he will join Bob Uecker on the broadcast side.

One wonderful benefit of the Thursday/Friday start to the MLB season is that opening day will no longer conflict with the NCAA Final Four, thus giving each its own days of prominence as it should be. The NCAA has announced that Westwood One Radio will continue as the radio source for all NCAA Tournament games, including the national broadcasts of the Final Four games.

PHILADELPHIA: For all of the publicity and news regarding Phillies broadcasters over the past couple of years, it is Scott Franzke of the Phillies Radio Network who was selected as PA Sportscaster of the Year.

MILWAUKEE: WSSP 1250's "The Big Show", co-hosted by former Packers (and University of Wisconsin) Gary Ellerson along with Steve Fifer and Josh Vernier, took a one-hour detour from sports last week (1/4). A youth disturbance resulted in a police shutdown of Mayfair Mall in Milwaukee, prompting the sports talk hosts to discuss this story and the issues surrounding it for about an hour of their afternoon drive show. Ellerson was cleary passionate about this while allowing the audience and his other co-hosts to discuss this story and what it means to the community. Normally I prefer that sports stations stick to sports and not vary, but these hosts giving this matter this sort of immediate attention is the sort of thing that local radio (what little there is) can use a lot more of.

ALBANY: Sorry to learn of the passing of Richard Hill, long time Albany radio host who also once handled play-by-play of Army football and basketball. Albany listeners best remember Hill from his 26 years on WROW Radio. He won four New York State Broadcasters Association Awards during his great career.

TORONTO: Hopefully it was a slow news day in Toronto earlier this week when some media outlets actually ran the story that FAN 590, as well as co-owned FAN 960 in Calgary are being renamed. That might be a stretch, actually. But for those who keep track, both FAN stations will soon be known as SportsNet Radio Fan 590/960. I'm sure listeners and staffers can rest easier now that this executive decision is out in the open.

SCHENECTADY NY: WNYT-TV 13 has extended the contract of Sports Director Rodger Wyland, who has held that position since 2000. This year marks Wyland's 25th year with the station.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - January 6th Update.....

WIP 610 Philadelphia listeners had one of those special Howard Eskin moments on Monday (1/3) night during his weekly show with Eagles head coach Andy Reid. It started when Eskin asked Coach Reid about the rumor that Michael Vick might not start against Green Bay in this coming weekend's playoff game.

When Coach Reid had a reaction of shock to the question, Eskin then told the coach that the rumor was started by Sal Paolantonio of rival station ESPN 97.5 The Phanatic. Eskin then took it a step further on Tuesday when he had Michael Vick himself on his show and asked the QB about the rumor as well, again naming Paolantonio. Vick basically agreed with Eskin's questioning of the other reporter's information.

While I don't always take kindly to a personal attack against another media person in a similar role, in this instance I'll give Howard Eskin some credit. Instead of doing what so many "reporters" have begun doing over the past couple of years and merely "reporting" the rumor, Eskin took the rumor direct to the sources and gave his audience the true story (that Michael Vick IS the Eagles' QB).

For all of the times that one media source reports that a competing media source is "reporting" a story instead of checking it out for themselves, it's great to see a sportscaster attack this situation. Now let's hope that Howard Eskin isn't as unique among sportscasters when it comes to actually verifying that a "reported rumor" wasn't true.

Along those lines, a nice job of getting a news story from Miami's WQAM on Monday (1/3). The day after the disappointing season of the Dolphins came to an end with a 31 point loss to the Patriots, running back Ricky Williams went on the air and told listeners that he won't be back with the Dolphins now that his contract is up. Williams went on to criticize the Dolphins' performance in the season finale along with coach Tony Sparano. After 8 seasons in Miami, that probably clinched his not coming back with the team.

That interview was a positive for WQAM, as they brought listeners the story as it was happening, instead of a "rumor" or speculation that he won't return.

Nice work, again, by the MLB Network for televising the Baseball Hall of Fame announcements on Wednesday (1/5) afternoon, as well as for getting the honest reaction about the election of Roberto Alomar, as well as Bert Blyleven.

If you televise it, they will come. That motto for pro and college sports continues full throttle into 2011. NBC won big with its telecast of the NFC West division championship game which happened to end its regular season of Sunday Night Football. The ratings for the best ever for a final week prime time telecast since ABC's telecast of Minnesota vs. Baltimore in January 2002.

NBC also benefited by the "rain delay" of the NHL Winter Classic telecast on Saturday (1/1), winding up with the most viewed NHL regular season game since Feburary 1975. The Washington at Pittsburgh game was seen by 22% more viewers than the previous year's telecast even though it was moved to prime-time just hours earlier. I'm sure that after NBC stops wondering how many more viewers they would have had for the game if they had more than a few hours to promote it they'll go ahead and schedule next year's Winter Classic for prime time in advance.

Even with the overflow of meaningless college football bowl games again this season, ESPN drew well with its Sugar Bowl telecast on Tuesday (1/4), winding up with one of its 6 highest college football telecast ratings ever, according to early numbers as of press time. Whether it was Big Ten fans hopeful of finally seeing a Conference team win a bowl game or fans finally getting a solid bowl matchup remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, ESPN has terminated the services of play-by-play announcer Ron Franklin after having pulled him from its Fiesta Bowl telecast last week. The 68-year old Franklin was disciplined for reportedly making a sexual reference to sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards and then allegedly swearing at her in a production meeting setting. The move was made even though these incidents both were off the air. I'm not saying the action by ESPN isn't justifiable. But it brings back one of the most incredible media stories of 2010, when a female sportscaster was terminated after the Arkansas football coach was upset about the cap she wore during a press conference. Yet, there was no disciplinary action toward that coach.

NBC figures to do very well with its NFL Division Series doubleheader this Saturday (1/8). The Philadelphia vs. Green Bay telecast will have NBC's Notre Dame telecast crew of Tom Hammond and Mike Mayock on the call. Although Mayock is well known for his Notre Dame analysis, not everyone remembers that he was a defensive back for a couple of NFL teams during his playing career. This move keeps the broadcast team in tact, which could make a positive difference for viewers. Likewise, the "A" team of Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth will call the prime time telecast of the New Orleans vs. Seattle game.

ESPN Radio begins a new football focused show on Saturday (1/8) during the 8 AM to Noon ET time period. NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. and anchor Dari Nowkhah will co-host. Kiper has been a part of ESPN's coverage of the NFL draft for the past 25 years.

CHICAGO: Fans of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks got some good news over New Year's weekend with the announcement that the TV team of Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk have been signed to 3-year contract extensions. Foley has done Blackhawks play-by-play since the 1979-80 season for all but 2 seasons. Even with chances to go national over the years, Foley seems to want to remain the voice of the Blackhawks forever. Olczyk, one of the top analysts in the NHL, is expected to continue his duties on select Versus and NBC telecasts as well.

LOS ANGELES: Another bad break for Andrew Siciliano, this time replaced as afternoon host on KSPN 710 last week. He lost his mid-day co-hosting gig along with Mychal Thompson with Max Kellerman taking over this past Monday (1/3) at 10 AM. Siciliano and Krystal Fernandez had come to KSPN after losing their show on KLAC 570 a couple years back when that station added syndicated Fox Sports Radio programming. Kellerman will continue his affiliations with both CNN and HBO, while Siciliano will continue with DirecTV although in a lesser role now that the NFL regular season is over. (He was one of the Red Zone Channel hosts.)

St. LOUIS: KTRS, the station with the limited signal that lost the Cardinals broadcasts back to KMOX after 5 seasons has expanded "Sportsnight" to 9 PM to Midnight as of this week. The station plans to allow callers to discuss the night's games in progress, as they air on stations that area radio listeners can actually receive relatively easily.

Cardinals fans watching the games on Fox Sports Midwest enjoyed the honesty of analyst Jack Clark last season. Last season Clark ripped Mark McGwire, the Cardinals' hitting coach and other alleged steroid users. He also ripped into the team's intensity when they hit a September swoon, and just happened to miss some telecasts after that. Now, FSM quietly mentioned during the holiday period that Clark will not return for the upcoming season.

SAN DIEGO: ESPN 1700 is trying to make a dent in the San Diego sports talk race. Yet, the sports dent got smaller as the station is allowing its one hour finance and credit show to remain on the schedule during the midday period.

DENVER: The sports talk team of Irv Brown and Joe Williams is on the move. Starting the week of Jan. 17th, the duo will co-host afternoons on Mile High Sports 1510 and 93.7. Until last month, the pair were on KPEN 1600, which has transitioned to primarily national programming from ESPN.

WICHITA: This may well be a national exclusive, even for high school coverage. Sports Radio 1410 has announced it will have high school play-by-play at 7 PM on five weeknights during this month of January. What makes it unique is that the station will broadcast local high school wrestling on radio. It starts on Jan. 6th as Bishop Carroll takes on South.

GALESBURG IL: Local play-by-play voice Beau Spencer will host a sportstalk show on WAIK 1590 starting on Monday (1/10) called Sportslines. Guess you have to start somewhere. The show will air on weekdays from (Are you ready for this?) 12:30 until 1:00 PM. No telling where that could lead.