Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - May 26th update

This has been one of my complaints about MLB and NFL telecasts in general over the past few years, and now it seems to be spreading to radio. As a viewer or listener tuning in for the start of a game, especially a local team's game, I'd like to know the starting lineup before the first pitch or kickoff.

On the baseball side, we learn about the pitching matchup for the upcoming game, and that is understandable. However, in many cases I already know the matchup. In the case of some regional or national telecasts, the matchup could be a reason for tuning in. Now that more and more teams start their games at 7:10 (or 1:10, etc.), this allows more time than years before for the telecasts to set the scene. We will see the announcers talk up the pitching matchup, the weather, the current winning or losing streak of the participating teams, and seeming everything else - except for the starting lineups.

Most of the time, I am expected to wait until the bottom of the first inning is starting before I see the home team's batting order. Why is that? If the telecast started 30 seconds before the first pitch, maybe I could understand. Now I don't even know who is batting cleanup for the home team until after 3 outs have been made. When watching an American League game, I don't even know who the DH is, or where he is batting in the lineup until later on. This is more aggravating on TV, because there is the ability to show the batting orders on the screen, even as a bottom line scroll, minutes before the game itself begins.

For years, I have taught my students, both at the college level and privately, about putting the batting order and related information about players in the game at the top of a broadcast, BEFORE the action starts. It just might keep a viewer or listener captive once they know the team's best hitter is batting 3rd in the very first inning. Why is this not a priority anymore?

I go back to the days of some teams actually having the local public address announcer read the lineups on the pregame shows when the team was home.

Yet, now the radio side is going more in the opposite direction. As if all we need to know is who the starting pitchers are. At this rate, some local broadcasts will have a sponsor for every batter in the lineup when they announce it.

Granted, football is out of season at the moment, but it's the same gripe there, especially on the TV side. The network televising the game has just done a one hour (or longer) pre-game show. Now, the NFL games no longer start at 1:03 or 4:05. The telecasts have more time than ever before to open up.

Yet, each team's first offensive drive, often an important indicator of the game to come, is buried while the televising network THEN shows us the starting running backs and receivers. And then the defenders. It sometimes happens where a key play has already taken place before viewers are introduced to who is playing the key positions already involved in that play. Again, if the telecast had just signed on, or it is a late game joined in progress, it is or would be understandable to need to recap the players in the game instead of the play.

Obviously, this is not stopping people from watching or listening. The TV ratings for anything and everything live in the four major sports over the past couple of years prove that. Now radio ratings for baseball are going up and up around the country this season.

Now if us viewers and listeners could be better informed about the game's participants before it starts, we'll get even better coverage of the early plays. Sometimes I think if Abbott & Costello were writing a routine today, it would be: "Who's on first?" "Not sure, we'll have to wait until the next half inning." And the audience would go home without so much as a chuckle.

Meanwhile, there are times when rumors and 'possibilities' in sports media are justified as a call to action. The possibility of Winnipeg getting back into the NHL is one of those. While no one knows for sure that the Atlanta Thrashers would actually relocate in time for the coming season, CJOB Radio management has already been quoted locally as expressing an interest in broadcasting the team's games. CJOB currently airs Manitoba Moose hockey and Blue Bombers (CFL) football, yet is not an all sports station. Sports Radio 1290 is, yet only carries the baseball Winnipeg Goldeyes for local play-by-play. In this instance, these stations figure to be ready to, if I might, face off against each other should the team relocate there.

Sorry to learn of the passing of Paul Splittorff, who will forever be identified with the Kansas City Royals for whom he pitched and later broadcast for. He lost his battle with cancer earlier this week at the age of 64. Splittorff eventually added basketball to his broadcast duties, appearing on many Big 12 Conference game broadcasts over the years.

This past few days also brought us two separate instances of sportscasters putting themselves into a "news" story. WEPN 1050 sports anchor Jared Max suddenly decided to reveal that he is gay during his 5 to 6 AM shift one morning last week. Max had been on WCBS-AM New York for 16 years without this information having been public. At least some other sportscaster didn't report the "rumor" first.

Then, this past Wednesday WKYC-TV sports anchor Jim Donovan, who has been with the station since 1985, revealed on the air that he is going on medical leave due to needing a bone marrow transplant in his ongoing battle against leukemia. Dave Chudowsky will add to his weekend sports anchoring to fill in for Dononvan.

HOUSTON: KILT 610, which continues to lead the sports radio pack in Houston, is planning its 2nd annual Fan Fest for Saturday June 4th at the Reliant Center. Among those scheduled to appear to meet and greet the fans in attendance are Dan Pastorini, Warren Moon, Robert Horry, and Jose Cruz. It is great to see sports stations engage with the fans this way.

Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton managed to find a reason to enjoy the existence of interleague play last weekend (May 20-22). Milo made a rare road trip when the Astros went to Toronto to play in the former SkyDome for the first time. That made it a total of 59 major league ballparks from which Milo has called a MLB game over the years. Keep in mind there are 30 teams total, and two of them (Boston and Chgo. Cubs) have had the same ballpark during Milo's lifetime. It's safe to say that it wasn't the lure of the Astros vs. Blue Jays "rivalry" that gave him a reason to make the visit. But in this era of broadcast rights changing and some announcers not doing every game of their team, Milo may hold the distinction of the most MLB ballparks for many many years. It's as though Hank Aaron should say, "There's a new baseball broadcasting king of all time........and it's Milo Hamilton!".

MILWAUKEE: The trend around the country of stations carrying baseball in April gaining in audience most certainly continued in Milwaukee. The April ratings showed a rise from WTMJ 620 as it began still another season as the Brewers' flagship station. WTMJ is a news/talk station with some sports programming to go along with its extensive local play-by-play roster (Brewers, Bucks, Packers, U. of Wisconsin). However, the latest ratings were a disaster for the 2 full-time sports stations. WAUK ESPN 540 literally lost half of its overall audience since the previous ratings book just a month prior. In fact, WSCR The Score 670 from Chicago (75 miles away) actually matched WAUK's overall ratings for the month, while WSCR does not talk Milwaukee sports at all. (WSCR rarely gives the Brewers scores on its so-called "Scoreboard Updates".) Rival WSSP dropped 25% of its audience, although that is from a .4 to a .3 overall, and trails both WAUK and WSCR.

I know a couple of people who are on WAUK and can tell you it's not from any major changes or from lack of effort. This news supports my theory that sports fans want to watch and listen to the games and get opinions from "experts" online and during the games instead of the same "fan on the street".

PORTLAND: As of this week, "The Game" no longer simulcasts on 101.1 FM, now only airing on KXL-AM 750 while the FM changes to another format. It will be interesting to see how many listeners who had been on the FM side will regularly switch over to the AM dial for their sports talk lineup.

BALTIMORE: Even though the Orioles and Washington Nationals are settling in the lower half of the respective division standings, the fans are watching their games on TV this season. Orioles telecasts on MASN were reportedly up about 24% compared with the same period last season, through the first 26 telecasts. A more detailed report shows that the ratio of increase is much higher from the D.C. area for Orioles games. Yet, D.C. area viewers are not choosing the O's over the Nationals games (tempting as that may be).

The Nationals' TV ratings, while not matching those of the Orioles, are up more than 70% for their MASN telecasts thus far.

SCHEDULES: There will be plenty of nationally televised baseball over the Memorial Day weekend, as we have come to expect.

Friday night (5/27), MLB Network shows Cinci vs. Atlanta. On Saturday afternoon, MLB Network shows San Francisco at Milwaukee in the 4 PM ET slot usually reserved for Fox. Fox continues its prime time baseball coverage with 6 regional telecasts on Saturday night.

The TBS Sunday afternoon game has Boston at Detroit, while Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN has Cinci vs. Atlanta.

On Monday, Memorial Day, MLB Network shows Minnesota at Detroit at 1 PM ET, and then Milwaukee vs. Cincinnati at 7 PM ET. These are all, of course, in addition to the usual local telecasts.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, and we leave you with the Big Ten Network's just announced list of prime time football games it will show this fall:

Sept. 2, 7:30pm ET Youngstown State at Michigan State (10th night game 88-year history of Spartan Stadium)
Sept. 10, 7pm ET Virginia at Indiana
Sept. 17, 7pm ET Arizona State at Illinois
Sept. 24, 7pm ET North Dakota State at Minnesota
Oct. 8, 7pm ET Michigan at Northwestern (13th night game in Northwestern’s home stadium history)
Oct. 15, 7pm ET Northwestern at Iowa
Oct. 22, 7pm ET Penn State at Northwestern

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - May 17th Update

It was supposed to be just another advertising promotion in Cincinnati, but it wound up being a controversy involving WLW Radio, the Reds, and to some extent the St. Louis Cardinals. While Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa was missing a series against the Reds due to having the shingles, it seems that not everyone in Cincinnati treated that news seriously.

It seems that the Reds' management had to ask WLW to remove a "promotion" for which a local (Cincinnati) roofing company was giving away "the shingles" in a contest. Needless to say, Cardinals management wasn't pleased about this either. This giveaway was specific to supporting the Reds in the series against a prime division rival, and not a coincidence.

What we don't know is exactly where this idea came from. It could have been the client, an ad agency, the radio sales exec, or a promotions department employee. Most people agree this promotion was not in good taste since it targeted a specific person sidelined with an illness.

Yet, other local media in Cincinnati reported on this story, and it became a topic on some of the local talk shows. Several of the stories included giving the name of the roofing company. I know I wouldn't. If you take the "any publicity is good publicity" approach, the roofing company behind the promotion generated more than their share of publicity, even with this promotion being removed. This was media time and space which should have been used for something else, and without comment from the Reds or the station.

Now that the April ratings are coming out, my phone has been ringing and the e-mails increasing from people who are still not concerned about a decline in the sports talk over the past few months. With most of the top 10 markets ratings being available at press time, the trend seems to be toward sports stations with active local play-by-play showing the overall audience increases. While I hope I am eventually proven wrong, it appears it is the games (especially baseball)|, rather than the phone calls, making the difference.

In New York, WFAN (with the Mets games) is up .4 overall, while WEPN held steady. In Chicago, WSCR increased .5 overall (with the White Sox games) while rival WMVP 1000 stayed the same. I'll also point out that WGN Radio (with Cubs broadcasts) increased .9 overall during this same period.

This baseball trend was even more obvious in San Francisco with the start of the season for the World Champion Giants. Flagship station KNBR went from a 2.5 to a 4.4 overall. Yet, the 2 other AM sports stations both were slightly down during the same period, while it's too early to tell for the new FM sports station which now airs the A's games.

In Dallas, KESN, which airs the American League champion Rangers games as well as having the NBA Mavericks in the playoffs, rose .7 overall, while rival The Ticket showed only a slight increase.

While in Los Angeles, where the sports stations don't even combine to make a serious dent in the overall radio audience, KSPN (with the Angels broadcasts) rose .1 while KLAC held steady.

Meanwhile, Miami's 790 The Ticket will continue to host the Dan LeBatard Show each afternoon even as LeBatard adds a daily TV position on ESPN2 starting this September. In fact, word is that he will record his ESPN show earlier each afternoon and literally be on both TV and radio in the Miami area doing different shows at the same time. LeBatard had been impressive on the PTI show filling in during recent months, prompting ESPN to find a spot for him.

NFL fans could have a "competing" father and son choice for the next season. It seems that Marv Albert could become a regional NFL play-by-play voice for CBS, while son Kenny Albert continues calling NFL games for Fox. There are sure to be times when both has an early game assignment. Marv called NFL games on TV years ago when NBC had the AFC package.

Although many listeners across the country choose satellite radio sports ahead of the local and national sports shows, it seems that ESPN Radio and Sirius XM are about to be working together on some level. The satellite radio provider has begun airing WEPN New York's Mike Lupica Show along with the Michael Kay Show each afternoon, along with Waddle & Silvy from WMVP Chicago in the midday spot. With the number of cars and trucks with satellite, this figures to be an effective counter to CBS Radio streaming its sports stations around the country, including WFAN New York and WSCR Chicago.

DETROIT: Congratulations to Fox Sports Detroit on winning 10, count 'em, 10, local Emmy Awards this past Saturday. This keeps a very impressive stretch alive, as the regional sports network now has 37 Emmys over the past 3 years.

STARKVILLE MS: Mississippi State has announced its new basketball broadcast team to follow the retirement of long time voice Jack Cristil earlier this year. Bart Gregory, who has called women's hoops, select baseball games, and handled MSU's football pre and post-game shows, will call the games. Jim Ellis continues as analyst.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - May 12th Update

The past weekend saw still another example of why the "reporting" media should wait until a news story becomes official. This latest incident was above and beyond the "xyz is reporting that....." which has become far too commonplace for this sports fan.

Washington D.C. listeners of WTEM ESPN 980 last weekend heard the story that the University of Maryland was set to name a new basketball coach on Monday, who would replace the retiring Gary Williams. Monday (5/9) came and went, and there was no such announcement. The U. of Maryland may not have even made their selection yet.

And the damage was done. I'm sure that many of WTEM's listeners will now verify for themsevles local stories reported on the station for some time to come. Whether it is by tuning to another station or going to another sports or news related web site to confirm the details, either way this will open opportunities for competing news sources to capture those listeners' attention for the future.

Chuck Sapienza, the Program Director of WTEM, did issue a public apology, citing a "prevoiusly reliable source" for the story. The station also put the apology on its Facebook page, which is good in some ways but not in others. Their seeing the need to correct the story and apologize is admirable, while using social media to communicate it may not be.

Granted, I do not know who this "reliable source" is, and if he or she has any direct connection with the U. of Maryland. My gut feeling is that it was not an "official" source, and that is the issue.

As much as anyone in the media, I appreciate reporters and media outlet wanting to be the first with a story. However, these days it is becoming more of recirculating news stories. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a number of weeks (if not years) know how much I complain about the "xyz sports reports that...." stories which promote competing media.

What does that style of "reporting" (and I mean it with that in quotes) have to do with the error on WTEM? Quite a bit, actually.

In each of these instances, it is a reporter or information source being too lazy to dig for the facts. I can only hope that WTEM will learn an important lesson, which many other radio and TV stations along with online sports news resources also should heed.

Why wasn't this supposed "announcement" verified? Think about it. Every fan of college sports knows how much coverage ESPN provides of ACC sports year after year for the millions of dollars it spends on it. The U. of Maryland, of course, is in the ACC. WTEM is the local ESPN station. If this was not an 'official' source of information that provided this 'story' that didn't happen, why didn't someone at the station verify it before reporting it as fact?

The local ESPN station should have resources available to them to be able to break this story ahead of other media, if it were true. Not making an extra phone call or two on this story severely harms the future credibility of WTEM when it comes to breaking news.

Yet, the same goes for the stories on other stations that begin with (for example) "ESPN is reporting that....". In that instance, the station or web site presenting the story should take it upon themselves to verify or get a denial of the story on their own, or lay off.

By reporting which other source "reports" another story, you either give publicity to another source as breaking a story before you if it is correct, and technically you still "reported" it if it turns out to not be correct. Or, if a radio host or online writer wants to comment on an active rumor, do not put it on a "sports news" update mixed in with other facts. In a separate on-air segment, or in a separate column, start out with "There is a rumor that.......".

No wonder so many people are watching the live games while some sports radio stations and losing listeners. Some fans are thinking they need to see the games in order to have the facts.

CHICAGO: What a sad story and an erie coincidence for WMAQ-TV. For the second time in less than 10 years, a sports reporter in his 30's has passed away suddenly. On Thursday (5/12), sportscaster Daryl Hawks was found dead in an Atlanta hotel room where the 38 year old was to cover the Bulls playoff game that night. Hawks leaves a wife and two children. Back in 2002, then 37 year old sports reporter Darrian Chapman died from a heart condition.

WMVP ESPN 1000 has been selected to host an initial run of "Sports Medicine Weekly", a one hour talk show specific to injuries to athletes ranging from pro to sandlot. Guests are to include surgeons and trainers, with regular segments devoted to pro sports injury reports and athletes who have recovered from various injuries, among others. The show will air in Chicago starting this Saturday (5/14) from 7 to 8 AM and is scheduled to run through July 30th. Look for this show to expand on ESPN Radio with any reasonable positive reaction from its pilot Chicago run.

The May 20th telecast of the interleague game between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox on WGN-TV will be without Cubs analyst Bob Brenley, who is taking the day off to watch his son play in A ball. But that isn't the story. It seems that Bill Buckner will be in Fenway Park for that game. Where exactly? He will be on Cubs' TV filling in for Brenly. Buckner was with the Cubs in the early 80's before going to the Red Sox and eventually being in the situation that makes him being in Fenway for a game such big news.

SAN FRANCISCO: The new SportsRadio 95.7 has hired Jason Barrett as its first Program Director, who joins the station from WXOS St. Louis.

CINCINNATI: Following the NFL Bengals announcing that Dan Hoard becomes the team's radio voice (while analyst Dave Lapham continues into his 26th season in that role) comes word that the same radio stations will continue to broadcast the games when the next season begins.

A fresh 3-year deal keeps the team on ESPN 1530 and WEBN 102.7 for all games. And, as has been case for the past several years, any Bengals games which do not conflict with Reds baseball broadcasts (regular or post-season) will also air on WLW 700.

TAMPA: As of press time, still no contract renewal announcement for the Big Dog, Steve Duemig, for his popular 3 to 7 PM show on WDAE 620. His current contract expires on Sunday (5/15). Duemig has been with WDAE since 1990. Now that WDAE has the killer local play-by-play lineup with the Rays, Bucs, and Lightning, keeping their afternoons in tact would be significant in the battle to dominate rivals WQYK 1010 and WHBO 1040.

OKLAHOMA CITY: We could say that The Sports Animal, WWLS 98.1 and 640, has 'bolted' up in the ratings thanks to the Thunder. With the NBA team strong into the NBA playoffs, the Sports Animal is up 24% in overall audience ratings compared with one year ago, including top 3 rankings during both mornings and afternoons. Not just 25 to 54 males, but overall audience. Sure, the local fans are excited, but it is up to the station to convey that over the air. Impressive.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - May 5th Update

It is amazing that so many of the major sports media stories have little to do with what is happening on the fields and the courts at the moment. And it probably shouldn't be that way.

The college conference pot-o-gold continues this week as the Pac-12 has become the latest major conference to score a jackpot with a 12-year agreement involving ESPN and Fox Sports. Basically, everything from intra-mural tiddly winks on up will be shown somewhere every season, bringing millions and millions of dollars to the Conference and its member schools.

This contract kicks in for the 2012 football season, during which the Pac-12 Network will air 36 football games, while ABC/ESPN and Fox/FX will combine for 44 of the games. The Pac-12 Championship game will alternate (Fox or ESPN) and be a Friday prime time game. At least 68 baskeball games will be shown on ESPN or Fox.

Sorry, but as much as I like having even more live games televised, I'm still having a problem with these mega-packages the conferences are getting. While millions more dollars pour into these schools, our cable or satellite bills continue to increase because of these packages, and it's not as though tuitions are dropping each year during these 12 years of the contract.

Meanwhile, the ESPN/ABC crossover took on a few moments of added significance this past Sunday (5/1) night. As the Bin Laden story was breaking during ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, the announcing crew verified the story before mentioning it over the air. Thus, Dan Shulman became the voice who alerted thousands of people to this major news.

Obviously, it is very rare that a news story leaks into an unrelated sports telecast. Maybe this will be more common due to social media. Those who continued to watch the Phillies vs. Mets game later heard and saw the crowd at the game cheering for the U.S. and using their personal devices to learn more, even with a 1-0 late inning baseball game (at the time) going on in front of them. Upon reporting the news bulletin, Shulman told viewers to "switch to ABC News" for coverage of that story. Even with the impact of portable and social media, and the significance of this news story, it would have been interesting to see how ESPN might have handled this were it not for the crossover with ABC News.

The Sports Emmy Awards last Sunday (5/1) had a noticeable Cincinnati flavor. Al Michaels, who was the voice of the Reds on radio in the early 70's (prior to Marty Brennaman) was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award". Chris Collinsworth, Michaels' partner on Sunday Night Football, won his 12th Sports Emmy for "Outstanding Event Analyst". Collinsworth played on the NFL Cincinnati Bengals prior to starting his broadcast career in Cinci, including a hosting stint on WLW Radio. Other individual winners included Ernie Johnson of TNT and Bob Papa of HBO (and NFL Network), as well as Harold Reynolds of MLB Network.

Bob Papa, however, will have a reduced role on NFL Network next season. The Network has announced that Brad Nessler will take over the play-by-play for Thursday Night Football, which starts Nov. 10 (if there is a season and/or the regular schedule is in tact) with Oakland vs. San Diego. Mike Mayock will step in as analyst, an odd choice since he has been doing Notre Dame Football for NBC rather than much pro football commentary, replacing Joe Theismann in that role.

Compass Media, which plans to continue with NFL radio broadcasts, is adding Thursday Night Football to its inventory. Except in this case, it will be college football starting this fall. (At least we know there will be a season!)

Scheduled games include Sept. 15 LSU vs. Mississippi State and Oct. 27 Virginia vs. Miami. Compass will also air the Sept. 4th (Sunday night leading into Labor Day) SMU vs. Texas A&M game.

Racing fans across the country awaiting the Indy 500 are now able to enjoy Donald Davidson's nightly "Talk of Gasoline Alley" radio show via podcast. Indianapolis' 1070 The Fan is making its one hour nightly show (until the night before the big race) available via The show airs from 8 to 9 PM ET, a later time than previous years. Davidson is now in his 41st year of doing this show, a fixture on Indianapolis radio every May, now heard on 1070 The Fan.

Jim Rome returned and spoke at his alma mater, University of California Santa Barbara, last weekend, and received the "2011 Distinguished Alumni Award". He began his career at school station KCSB and graduated in 1986.

New York's WFAN is scheduled (at press time) to have a guest co-host on Friday (5/6) morning who is not a sportscaster. None other than New Jersey Governor Christie will join Craig Carton from 6 to 10 AM, where he is expected to talk about his favorite team, the Mets, among other topics. It will be interesting to hear if or how many serious issues are discussed or whether it becomes a fun and laid back appearance. The last I heard is that the show will be streamed.

BOSTON: Here's hoping that Red Sox TV analyst Jerry Remy has a successful recovery from his reported bout with pneumonia. Remy has already missed a week's worth of games. Dennis Eckersley has filled in on NESN for most of the telecasts, with Peter Gammons handling the analysis once thus far.

PITTSBURGH: Root Sports has decided not to mess around with its relationship with the NHL Penguins, especially after another season with significant ratings, and has further extended its contract to televise the games. While they already have the contract for the next 3 seasons, the extension gives Root the TV rights through the 2028-29 season. Although Root also televises the Pirates games, I wouldn't expect a mad dash from them to extend that contract.

SAN FRANCISCO: While former A's flagship station KTRB remains in ownership limbo, that station's loss of Stanford University football and basketball is "The Ticket's" gain. KTCT 1050 takes over airing both sports for the coming seasons, along with airing the monthly "Inside Stanford Sports" coaches shows starting this August.

The announcing crew remains the same, with Dave Flemming and Todd Husak calling football and John Platz and Drew Shiller handling the hoops broadcasts.

TOLEDO: Sorry to learn that WMTR 96.1 will have a new voice for its high school football, basketball, and baseball broadcasts starting this summer. After 40 years of calling those sports, along with some volleyball, softball, and wrestling matches, Larry Christy is unable to continue after having been diagnosed with a severe kidney disorder. Christy had already given up his role of morning sports reporter on the station last fall.