Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Not So Super Sports Week

Competition among networks is one thing, but completely different handling of a similar situation is another. In an unfortunate coincidence, both CBS and Fox Sports have been faced with a reporter putting out a premature death story within 24 hours of the actual occurence. Yet, the aftermath was the opposite for each network.

On Saturday Jan. 21, a report from CBS Sports that Joe Paterno had passed away was denied by the Paterno family. However, Paterno passed away the following morning. The reporter, Adam Jacobi, was dismissed from his position by CBS within the following week because of this. To his credit, Jacobi went on Twitter and (over the course of multiple posts) told his followers "CBS had to let me go for the Paterno story going out the way it did, and I understand completely. I had an awesome 17 months with CBSSports.com. I'm sorry to everyone, most importantly the Paterno family, for how it ended."

In this instance, not even the dismissed employee questioned the move and why CBS had do make it.

We flash back to November 7, 2011, less than 3 months ago. The sports world and especially the boxing world lost Joe Frazier who passed away that day. Yet, the night before (Nov. 6), Fox Sports Radio host Mike North went on the air on his national radio show and reported that Frazier had already passed away. North, realizing his error before the show was over, apologized for going with the then erroneous report. Since that time, North has been promoted to more on-air work on Fox Sports Network, while no word of any disciplinary action was announced, if any was even taken.

Although I have my opinion on how both networks should have handled this situation, what is noteworthy is that these two major networks each took a separate road out of this. North not only remained on the air without any publicly known consequences, while Jacobi lost his job, for the very same infraction.

My hope is that reporters and news and sports directors will learn from these incidents. The idea is not always to be "first" to report a story. Rather, it is to use your sources and check your facts. It's not as though these were local radio station guys reporters fresh out of school. As a sports fan, I would like to think that the likes of CBS and Fox would have and use their vast resources to check the facts before they report anything. Instead, we all continue to get far too many of the "ESPN is reporting that......" going out on other major networks, most of which should be using their internal resources instead of taking the lazy approach of stealing a possible story from another source.

Meanwhile, ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio are among those providing fans around the country with wall-to-wall coverage leading into Sunday's Super Bowl, whether they want it or not. Other than in the participating teams' markets, I can't believe that the casual football fan needs to hear a full-length story about an offensive lineman's personal life, hotel prices in the host city, and other such "stories" that fill up the airwaves in place of the NBA, NHL, and college basketball games and results. The vast majority of sports fans I talk with, both within and outside of the media, don't care what commercials will be shown during the telecast either. That sports specific radio stations and TV networks spend any time on this fluff amazes me (but not in a good way). Most of this material is fine for Entertainment Tonight or shows which are not targeted specifically toward sports fans.

Within the Giants and Patriots markets, the Super Bowl hype all week is a different story. Many fans can't get enough. (Except for things such as actual news reports that Chris Mad Dog Russo "said hello" to WFAN's Mike Francesa on radio row on Monday.)

On the New York side, WFAN has Craig Carton and Boomer Esiason (morning team), Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts (middays), and Mike Francesa (afternoons) all broadcasting for at least some of this week from Indianapolis. Since WFAN is also the Giants' flagship station, the broadcast team of Bob Papa, Carl Banks, and Howard Cross will also appear throughout the week, as well as beat reporters Paul Dottino and Peter Schwartz. Benigno and Roberts will host a local WFAN pre-game show from 2 to 5 PM on Sunday.

In addition, WFAN and sister station WBZ-FM The Sports Hub Boston are doing some sharing and on air "mingling" with the hosts on each station.

WEPN 1050, New York's ESPN station is also on the scene at Indy along with its national coverage from ESPN Radio. This leads up to what WEPN plans as the "world's longest post-game show" with Bill Daughtry hosting for the entire overnight.

In Boston, both WEEI and WBZ-FM will broadcast the game to top off their week of non-stop coverage.

SAN ANTONIO: KZDC 1250 plans to continue with Jason Minnix as the lone host of its afternoon drive show after dismissing Chris Duel, who had been co-host until last week. The station cited ratings as the reason over and above cost-cutting, pointing out that ESPN's Mike & Mike morning show has been drawing higher ratings than the local afternoon show. We shall see if taking off one co-host instead of both makes a difference in the ratings over the next few months.

MINNEAPOLIS: Michelle Tafoya is heading for sidelines. Not just for the Super Bowl coverage on NBC. From her afternoon drive show on WCCO Radio after nearly three years. Tafoya will do occasional fill-ins for the station but is expected to increase her duties with NBC.

HOUSTON: Another big change on the Houston sports landscape. Just before the Astros relocate to the American League at the end of this year, Bob Allen will no longer be handling sports on KTRK Channel 13, or any other station. Allen has been Sports Director since 1975 (having joined Channel 13 in 1974), but announced last week (on Jan. 24th) that he plans to retire toward the end of this year. Allen began in Houston in 1971 at KPRC-AM. He joined KTRK-TV as a weekend anchor, replacing Dan Lovett when he (Lovett) left for WABC New York.

CHICAGO: While the Bulls are off to the best start in the shortened NBA season, the TV ratings are off to just as good of a start this season. Comcast SportsNet has been setting ratings records for the Bulls telecasts this season. Although it did not exist during the Michael Jordan era, last Wednesday's (Jan. 25) against Indiana had the highest regular season ratings for any Comcast SportsNet Chicago telecast (including Blackhawks, White Sox, and Cubs) in its history. Overall, through last week, CSN's Bulls telecasts are up more than 50% over last season's.

LOS ANGELES: Local NBA telecast ratings are also soaring for one of the city's local teams. That isn't the story. That the "team" is the Clippers certainly is. After all these years, it appears people are actually watching the Clippers to see the Clippers. Now Fox Sports West has actually expanded its Clippers pre-game show to a full hour. It's news to a lot of local basketball fans that they actually had a Clippers pre-game show before this season.

NEW YORK: The near future of Kim Jones is still up in the air (but not on the air - yet) after she reportedly has left the YES Network. Although she has appeared with Mike Francesa on occasion, the word is she will go with a national source, possibly NFL Network.Still another loss for the sports media, as Channel 5's Oren Stevens, most recently a contributor on Sunday's "Sports Extra" has passed away from cancer at the age of 73. People around the country might remember Stevens from his acting role in the movie "Downhill Racer" with Robert Redford and Gene Hackman from the late 60's.

NEW ORLEANS: Just as Bob Allen is leaving Houston TV, a similar change in New Orleans where WWL-TV's Sports Director Jim Henderson is retiring this week after 34 years. The good news for Saints fans is that Henderson is not retiring. He plans to continue indefinitely as the radio voice of the Saints, which he has done since 1982. WWL-TV is presenting reflections of Henderson's career with the station on all of its nightly newscasts this week in a fitting tribute.

BOSTON: Former first baseman Matt Stairs has been added as a part-time studio analyst for its Red Sox telecasts. NESN will also add Jenny Dell as its field reporter for Red Sox games. Dell comes from ESPN where she has appeared on the X Games and events on ESPN.com, and replaces Heidi Watney who has moved to Los Angeles.

HARTFORD: WPKX-FM has officially relocated from Enfield CT to Windsor Locks, which is closer to Hartford, and now carries ESPN Radio. The station is reportedly developing a local afternoon drive show. WPOP 1410 already carries ESPN on the AM side out of Hartford.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Super Week For Live Sports - Again

Fans continue to watch live sports on TV in record numbers. The NFL had another banner day on Sunday (1/22) with its AFC and NFC Championship game telecasts, especially given how both games went down to the wire. The Giants vs. 49ers game finished among the 2 highest rated "non Super Bowl" NFL telecasts of the past 15 years.

In fact, Fox scored its combined highest NFL combined ratings (not including its Super Bowl seasons) for all of its years televising the NFL. Both the NYC and San Francisco markets set ratings records for post-season (other than Super Bowl) telecasts.

Those following the competitive battle among Boston's sports talk radio stations will enjoy these two weeks of Super Bowl hype in support of the Patriots' appearance in the game. Due to the new national radio with Dial Global (formerly Westwood One Radio), WEEI 680 will be able to carry the national broadcast of the Super Bowl. Granted, the unbiased national broadcast probably won't make a dent compared with Gil Santos' local Patriots call on WBZ-FM, but it does give both stations the ability to go with the non-stop hype of the game and the "And you can hear that game right here.....", which has not been the case in previous years. WEEI has been airing the Pats' playoff games to this point via the national feeds.

The NBA is also enjoying increased ratings to the point where NBA-TV is seeing a ratings increase from its telecasts from local feeds. Maybe it has something to do with the increased promotion of these telecasts via its TNT and ESPN partnerships. Whatever the reason, NBA-TV is up more than 68% in both viewers and households for its telecasts (through Jan. 17) thus far. And on that night, the San Antonio vs. Miami telecast it picked up had the most viewers of any of it's "Fan Night" games during the first month of the regular season. NBA fans vote online for which telecast they would like to see for the following Tuesday night on NBA-TV.

The NHL has also seen a ratings increase, and continues to provide increased coverage with the NBC Sports combination. After showing games on five consecutive days/nights last week, this week the group shows games on four straight days/nights, including Sunday (1/22) from Pittsburgh on NBC, and from Detroit Monday on NBC Sports Network. The "Network" will show national games from Colorado on Tuesday (1/24) and from Montreal on Wednesday night.

NBC Sports Network is also a factor in NBC making and finishing its serious effort to get the Breeders Cup telecasts back. After having the rights from 1984 into 2005, NBC has signed a multi-year agreement to get these races back, including a prime time telecast of the Breeders Cup Classic on NBC which will be on November 3 this year. Other races in the series will air on NBC Sports Network. Then again, considering the dollars spent on college football conferences and telecasts, ESPN probably wasn't as aggressive about filling an early November Saturday with any other sport.

On another topic, the sports media lost two more of its own on Sunday (1/22). It's a sad coincidence that both were long-time multiple sports play-by-play men.

Jim Irwin, who described everything Wisconsin for many years, passed away due to cancer. Irwin is best remembered for having been a part of the Packers radio team for 30 seasons, including 23 seasons of play-by-play from 1976 through 1998. His football seasons also included Saturdays calling University of Wisconsin football. In addition Irwin filled in on Brewers broadcasts for many years, especially during the seasons when Bob Uecker had national TV commitments, as well as on Milwaukee Bucks broadcasts. These assignments were in addition to thousands of sportscasts for Milwaukee's WTMJ Radio and TV.

Andy Musser, who called Philadelphia Phillies games on radio for 26 seasons, also passed away, at the age of 74. Musser shared the booth with Haray Kalas and Richie Ashburn, among others, including the world championship season of 1980. Musser also called 76ers games among his NBA experience, as well as Villanova and other Big Five basketball games. He was also the TV voice of the Chicago Bulls in the early 1970's. His football resume included USC and the San Diego Chargers radio during the 70's. Somehow, he also managed to host sports shows during the week on CBS Radio including interviews and commentary.

Having been fortunate enough to work with him (as statistician) during some of his baseball and basketball broadcasts, I will always remember his tireless pursuit of all things sports, and wondering if he ever slept. One weekend in the mid-70's I worked stats for him during a Chicago Bulls telecast from Milwaukee against the Bucks. (Come to think of it, that was probably Musser and Irwin both calling that game for their respective teams.)

Before that game, I had to have even more information than usual ready for him because he arrived later than he would have liked. It so happened that USC played at Notre Dame in South Bend (about 200 miles away), and he called that game back to Los Angeles before the 3 1/2 hour drive to Milwaukee for this Saturday night game. Yet, I still remember him showing me his folder with information for his next broadcast. It was a San Diego Chargers home game - the very next afternoon. He laughed when I commented that at least he didn't have to do his next CBS Radio show until all the way into Monday.

Both Musser and Irwin will be missed and remembered for a long time. The ability to do 3 sports well for years at that level is becoming even more of a rarity. Hopefully their respective careers will inspire other sportscasters.

PHILADELPHIA: Tom Byrne continues his "leave of absence" from The Fanatic 97.5 while awaiting a preliminary hearing next week (Feb. 3) for allegedly assaulting a taxi driver in Philadelphia on January 15th. The station has issued an apology, and has (as of press time) no further comment regarding a return date.

ERIE PA: Now back to radio sportscaster stories of modern times. Chico Bormann, host of the afternoon show "Chico & Company" on ESPN 1260 The Score, has left the station just a few weeks short of five years there. Why? The station would not comment but a local newspaper quoted Bormann as saying that after his latest pay cut, "I was making $40 a day". The station plans on naming a permanent replacement and continuing with local sports talk during the afternoon. I can't help but think management is still deciding how much they can cut back on that pay rate before hiring a replacement.

PORTLAND Maine: An interesting twist for baseball fans courtesy of WBAE 1490, as well as simulcast partner WVAE 1400 Biddeford. The talk stations have decided to add baseball play-by-play to the mix starting with the coming season. However, they need to compete with Red Sox broadcasts on other stations in the area, being located in big time Red Sox country. The WBAE and WVAE plan? They will air the Yankees broadcasts, claiming in their announcement of this decision that they have several "very interested" advertisers lined up.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ending TV Blackouts of Sports Events.....

At last there is an important chance for sports fans to speak up. The FCC is finally seeking comments regarding the possibility of changing the local telecast blackout rules which have been in effect for 30+ years regarding NFL telecasts.

Before going any further, here is the link to file your comments direct to the FCC:


Things have certainly changed since the NFL blackout rule was put into place. When it began in the 70's, the NFL games were only televised via over-the-air stations. There were no cable telecasts, and no satellite TV or packages to be able to receive every game. You watched what your local stations gave you. However, at that time it was all "free" TV as well, making it tough to object.

These days, of course, it's a different game, especially when it comes to TV coverage. And it's time to give us what we as sports fans (and those who are not sports fans) are paying for. The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL all seem to forget that millions of Americans, fans or not, are helping to finance their operations, which was not the case when these restrictions were put in place.

Unless the cable and satellite providers deduct money from our monthly bills for the days on which they purposely remove programming we are paying for (as in when local team telecasts are blacked out), this practice needs to stop. Thirty years ago, teams lost revenue if there were empty seats. Now, millions of people are paying more and more to their cable or satellite provider, and a percentage of that goes to the leagues and teams hosting these games.

There was a time years ago when TV rights for the NFL paid nearly 100% of the player salaries and team expenses. (I don't know if that is still the case, but based on the billions in rights fees, it is still possible.) Thus, fans who purchase the tickets are no longer the only people providing income for the teams and leagues.

In my opinion, no telecasts should be blacked out anywhere, including instances of more than one originated telecast of the same game. It happens often with MLB, NBA, and NHL games where a national network such as ESPN airs a local game. However, because of a local team telecast, the ESPN (or whatever network) telecast is blacked out. Fans should have the option of watching the national telecast if they so choose, and not be at the mercy of local advertisers. Make the local telecast good enough so that we won't care to watch the national telecast, but give us that choice.

To take it a step further, the extra pay packages such as Direct Ticket for NFL, the NBA, MLB, and NHL versions, should also not have blackouts. If a Boston Celtics fan wishes to watch a Celtics game from Orlando with the Magic's announcing team, he or she should be able to do that, given that this package costs additional money which also goes to the NBA and its teams. These are no longer advertiser supported telecasts since consumers are paying to receive these channels.

There is only a short window of opportunity to submit comments to the Federal Communications Commission about changing or lifting the current blackout policy. Please take advantage. Do this before you write your next check for a small fortune for the next month of your cable or satellite TV.

Meanwhile, the NFL continues to kill with ratings as we get further into the playoffs. This coming weekend's NFC and AFC Championship Game telecasts will tell us if the ratings boom is because of all first-place teams (all wild card teams eliminated in opening round), the Packers run toward repeating (now over), the boost from a New York team participating, Tebow-mania, or a combination of all of these.

ESPN and Fox are gearing up for the upcoming baseball season with national telecast schedules being unveiled. The Texas Rangers will appear on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball 3 of the first 6 weeks, including the Sunday Night opener on April 8th vs. the Chicago White Sox, and May 13th against Albert Pujols and the division rival Angels. Fox has already announced Rangers vs. Angels matchups on May 12 and July 21. ESPN will, understandably, show the season opening game on Weds. April 4th from Miami. The Marlins vs. Cardinals telecast features the World Champs in their first game without Pujols, the brand new Marlins stadium, and is likely to be Mark Buehrle's first ever national league start for new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. They can't go wrong with that game.

Thursday April 5th has ESPN showing Boston at Detroit and Miami at Cincinnati (an afternoon doubleheader), with Friday April 6th having the Giants at Arizona followed by the Angels hosting Kansas City. Look for MLB Network to begin its slate of regular season telecasts on the night of Thursday April 5th.

Orioles TV voice Gary Thorne is adding bowling play-by-play to his baseball and hockey duties. Thorne will call three upcoming major PBA tournaments, including the U.S. Open next month and the Tournament of Champions in April. Randy Pedersen, a PBA Hall of Fame member, continues as the analyst for ESPN PBA Tour telecasts this season.

NBC and NBC Sports Network have concluded 5 consecutive days with NHL telecasts. NBC showed the Chicago vs. Detroit game on Saturday (1/14), while NBC Sports Network showed the Sunday night game from Montreal, the Monday night game from St. Louis, Tuesday night from New York (Rangers), and on Wednesday from Chicago. This is a true delight for NHL fans who not that many years ago needed a microscope to find even one national telecast.

The late night "Nick & Artie Show" with Artie Lange and Nick DiPaolo, which has been streaming and on satellite radio since its fall debut is now adding some sports talk stations. Out west, the show will be airing on KTCK 1050 San Francisco and KHTK 1140 Sacramento. Houston's KILT 610 will also carry the show.

NEW YORK: Newsday reports that there will be a change in the Mets' radio booth for the coming season to replace Wayne Hagin. The report names Josh Lewin, who has called TV for the Cubs and Rangers among others and some regional games for Fox, as the "leading candidate". Lewin currently hosts a sports show in Dallas, and is also the radio voice of the San Diego Chargers. The N.Y. Post earlier named Jim Duquette as a candidate for the position.

WASHINGTON D.C.: CBS Radio is doing some additional blending among sister stations with the debut of WNEW 99.1 as an all-news station. (Not a New York rock station, but the re-assigned call letters.) The :25 and :55 sportscasts are being provided by The Fan 106.7, with reporters often finishing their update on WNEW just prior to updating on The Fan at the top and bottom of the hour. Fran Hanrahan now starts his morning with the 5:25 AM update on WNEW and 5:30 on The Fan, and remains on both until Noon. The brand new news station also is airing reports from The Fan's beat reporters such as Sky Kerstein on the Capitals and Liz Drabick on the Wizards and Nationals.

CHICAGO: While WSCR The Score 670 celebrates 20 years on the air in Chicago this month (although spread over 3 AM frequencies during that time), the market could have its first Spanish sports station as of February 1st. Word is that north suburban WKRS 1220, licensed to Waukegan, will take aim at the area's significant Hispanic population and take on ESPN Deportes.

DETROIT: Even with strong ratings, WXYT-FM 97.1 is adjusting its schedule for weekday evenings when there are Pistons, Red Wings, or Tigers broadcasts. Bob Wojnowski and Jamie Samuelsen are now (as of this week) heard from 6 to 8 PM. Samuelsen comes over from having been Sports Director at WCSX-FM and previously hosted sports talk on WDFN. As a result, Caputo & Fithian, with Pat Caputo and Dennis Fithian, will begin their nighttime show at 8 PM or following whichever post-game show.

PHILADELPHIA: Eskin on sports expands, but in name only. With Howard Eskin continuing only with filling in on WIP, son Spike Eskin now does some sports anchoring on news station KYW. In addition, Spike has editor duties for the sports portion of CBS Philadelphia's web site.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Hosts With The Least

For as much as sports coverage on TV has increased and generally improved over the past few years, there are a few things that could use improvement for the benefit of sports fans. Now it seems another possible trend is emerging by way of ESPN, and it's time to point it out.

A sports reporter or analyst, especially at the network level, is knowledgeable and brings most sports fans a lot of information and insight. However, this does not automatically make him or her an established broadcast professional. ESPN seems to be forgetting this.

Perhaps it is a coincidence. I hope so. But I'm wondering whatever happened to the idea of a true "host" for a program or studio segment. On Friday night I was watching portions of the NBA doubleheader on ESPN, when the studio segments, including pre-game and half time, went on without a true host. What ever happened to Stuart Scott? For those not tuned in, the studio portion was "hosted" by Michael Wilbon. Wilbon is very good with sharing his knowledge of all things NBA. Yet, for some strange reason, it was just Wilbon with Jon Barry and Magic Johnson and one other analyst and no true host. No one to moderate the discussion. If Stuart Scott wasn't available, what was so difficult about having another ESPN 'broadcast' personality handle the hosting?

This was national TV. It's bad enough that ESPN, along with most of the other networks, provide so many studio analysts that the better ones don't get enough air time. Now they seem to think it is acceptable for one to act as a professional broadcaster and "host" the proceedings.

Then, on Sunday morning, on The Sports Reporters on ESPN, Mike Lupicka was acting as program host AND giving his usual commentaries and thoughts on the topics discussed. Same thoughts. As much as I appreciate Lupicka's thoughts, whether I agree with them or not, I also appreciate having a moderator to run the show as if it is a professional presentation at the network level.

About the only redeeming factor for both of these shows is that they are not like College GameDay during which analysts are often drowned out by the annoying and screeching crowds cheering as if it is just fine to distract the viewers.

Here's hoping that the networks and stations show more respect to "true" broadcast professionals. Not just anybody can host a studio show. And not just anybody has to watch them if they are not done to our satisfaction.

As we easily guessed last week, CBS scored major ratings with the Denver Broncos in the playoffs and running into prime time on Sunday (1/8). The overtime win over Pittsburgh finished as the highest rated Wild Card playoff game since 1988 (on any network). Although the final numbers were not available as of press time, prelimary reports show a 56 rating (that's rating - the share was about 77) for the Pittsburgh market, with a 49 (and a share near 78%) for the Denver market.

Tim Tebow is having that much impact on the TV audiences, as those who love him and those who don't all seem to be watching. The ratings were not as kind to NBC on Saturday, especially for the opening Cincinnati vs. Houston telecast. Early word from Cincinnati is that the ratings, for this post-season game, locally were lower than a couple of the regular season telecasts were in that market. Keep in mind that the Bengals failed to sell out all of their home games this season and had some local telecasts blacked out.

The lower interest in Cincinnati didn't stop a couple of the TV stations from going for the Bengals fans. On Friday (1/6) night, WKRC-TV aired a one hour special (7 to 8 PM) previewing the playoff game, while WLWT-TV aired a half hour special between 7:30 and 8, making Bengals fans choose between the two shows.

For the regular season, the NFL (nationally) reached its second highest viewership in more than 20 seasons, including a record 37 game telecasts which reached at least 20,000,000 viewers.

Meanwhile, on the day (1/9) that Barry Larkin was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a shortstop, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association announced its Assocation Hall of Fame awards and inductees. (Larkin has been broadcasting for MLB Network and prior for ESPN since his playing days.)

Bob Costas, now of NBC Sports and MLB Network was named to the NSSA Hall of Fame, along with sports writer John Feinstein, while ESPN's Dan Shulman was named "National Sportscaster of the Year". The NSSA Hall of Fame celebrates its 50th year in 2012, capped off with the induction for Costas and Feinstein on June 11th. The California Sportscaster of the Year is Vin Scully, named to this honor for the 31st time. So far.

On the radio side, an interesting report published by writer Chris Huff regarding the audience ratings of News/Talk stations which carry play-by-play and the sports talk stations around the country.

His analysis shows that from November (2011) to December, WLW Cincinnati took over the national "lead" among News/Talk stations which air play-by-play from WTMJ Milwaukee. This despite the reduced interest in the Bengals during their drive to reach post-season play while the Packers were on their way to the NFL's best record. Cleveland's WTAM-AM 1100 and Atlanta's WSB-AM 750 also finished in the top 5 despite a decrease into December.

Among full-time sports stations, WGFX Nashville again finished with the biggest overall audience share of any major market sports station in the country, with WXYT-FM The Ticket Detroit and WBNS-FM Columbus now tied for 2nd (although The Ticket dropped and WBNS went up in December). In Boston, WBZ-FM The Sports Hub was #9 nationally.

This ranking signals another victory of sorts for The Sports Hub and for sports radio in the Boston market overall. Both WBZ-FM and WEEI 850 and 93.7 showed audience gains over the past three months, including increases for both stations in the morning, midday, and afternoon time slots. Dennis and Callahan showed a bigger increase in the morning than the gains posted by Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich, but both stations should be pleased.

While Fox Sports Radio has been developing into a contender over the past few months based on adding more affiliates and adding stronger programming, it seems that Fox Sports is also looking to upgrade its regional cable networks as well. Fox is starting a new programming division to produce more sports related programming in order to make more productive use of what is currently dead time. It is possible that some of the programming from this new wing could also appear on over-the-air Fox affiliates prior to weekend sports events such as NFL and NASCAR telecasts.

NEW YORK: YES Network is adding at least four telecasts of Fordham University basketball games starting on January 28th, with Ryan Ruocco (who is a Fordham grad) and Jim Spanarkel calling the majority of these telecasts.

PHILADELPHIA: Although it's not exactly a ratings producer for WIP 610, the station now airs "Hawk Talk", dedicated to St. Joseph's University basketball, from 10 to 11 PM on Mondays for the remainder of the current basketball season. Hosts Phil Martelli and Joe Lundardi record the show with audience questions earlier each Monday evening at a restaurant in Havertown.

St. LOUIS: KFNS 590 now has Kevin Slaten working as the sole host of the 3 to 6 PM weekday show, and it will be interesting to see if this gives the ratings a boost. Slaten's co-host for the past year was 25 year-old Ashlee Feldman, who was a part of MTV's "Real World" show in 2010 prior to coming to KFNS last January, departs the station. Perhaps the audience will return and stick around now that the "real world" of Slaten's show will be sports.

BATON ROUGE: Even the football national championship contention by LSU couldn't sway The Score 1210 from dropping its sports talk format on New Year's Day. To the point of the station changing to a gospel music format. However, it appears that none of the on-air hosts will be dismissed, as some of the sports programming moves over to sister station WJBO 1150, including Richard Condon who now hosts a Sunday morning sports talk show.

MITCHELL S.D.: KUQL 98.3 becomes an affiliate for the University of South Dakota football and basketball beginning in August.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

NBC Sports Takes Off In New Year

Even though all of the NFL playoff games this coming weekend count the same, I'm expecting higher ratings for the Sunday telecasts than for the Saturday games, and it is not a reflection on the networks handling the coverage.

The Sunday (1/8) matchups are bigger draws. The N.Y. Giants host Atlanta in the early game on Fox (with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman) which will draw from the New York markets, while the CBS (Jim Nantz and Phil Simms) game with Pittsburgh at Denver will run into prime time in the east and feature Tim Tebow in post-season action. That should translate to big numbers, whether or not it means a "miracle" finish from Tebow.

On Saturday, NBC-TV handles both games, with the earlier matchup of Cincinnati at Houston. The network has Tom Hammond and Mike Mayock, its Notre Dame football announcing team, handling the call. Although Mayock does a solid job as an analyst, this is a post-season game and should mean NBC stepping up their presentation to have a more "hands on" NFL presence in the booth. It's the same issue I have with ESPN using Doris Burke as analyst on NBA telecasts. While Mayock and Burke are each deserving of high profile roles, it's not as if there isn't anyone else available. We as fans get studio pre-game and half-time shows with seemingly hundreds of former players and coaches practically in a battle for air time to give their insight.

For an NFL post-season game, NBC should have, say, Tony Dungy in the booth, or maybe bring in a current NFL coach whose team did not make the post-season but faced one or both of these teams into the booth. There will be some fans viewing this game who have seen much more of the Texans or Bengals than Mayock did. The prime-time telecast (8 PM ET) of the Detroit at New Orleans rematch (these 2 teams met on Sunday Night Football just a few weeks back) will feature the main team of Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth.

On the following Saturday, Jan. 14, Fox will have the afternoon NFC game from San Francisco with Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston, with CBS following with a prime time telecast from New England with Nantz and Simms. Sunday the 15th has CBS with the early game from Baltimore called by Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf and Fox with the late afternoon game from Green Bay with Buck and Aikman.

NBC comes off major ratings from its regular season finally on Sunday Jan. 1 with record ratings from its Cowboys-Giants telecast, with finished as the highest rated prime time NFL telecast since 1998.

The new year 2012 was barely a few hours in progress when we were saddened another loss from the sports media. We learned of the passing of Jim Huber of Turner Sports for the past 27 years. Huber was a sports anchor on Atlanta TV and seemingly lucked into a role on CNN to save them moving costs to increase their sports team. Huber handled weekend and fill-in work when CNN aired "Sports Tonight" with the likes of the late Nick Charles, Fred Hickman, Vince Cellini, Hannah Storm, and others. He also was able to do what he did best, which was sports feature reporting.

With the former Versus Network into its first week as NBC Sports Network, the network has begun regular national coverage of NCAA hockey. Its first telecast was last Saturday (12/31) when the network has NHL analyst Ed Olczyk work the Boston U. vs. Notre Dame match along with Steve Schlanger. Most of the remaining telecasts will be on Friday nights when there is not an NHL game scheduled and will include the "final four" of the Hockey East tournament. Note the irony that NBC Sports brought in an NHL analyst for its debut telecast of a college game, but is using a college football analyst for a post-season NFL game on NBC.

As ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio begin to become more competitive, each network is making adjustments in their weeknight sports talk lineups. ESPN Radio starts the Hill & Schlereth Show in the 7 to 10 PM ET time slot next week, starting on Tuesday Jan. 10th due to football on Monday. Mike Hill, known from SportsCenter is teamed with former NFL standout Mark Schlereth. This is likely a temporary assignment for Schlereth until just after the Super Bowl. Fox Sports Radio has named Rob Tepper as regular host on their 10 PM to 1 AM ET "Fox Sports Tonight" along with co-host baseball analyst Rob Dibble. Tepper, a former morning show on a music station in Seattle, has been guest-hosting with Dibble in recent weeks. In addition, Fox Sports plans to use Chicago based host Mike North for fill-in work during the week, in addition to North's Sunday night show.

On the TV side, Fox Sports Southwest and FS Oklahoma regional sports networks are reported in the final stages (at press time) of a deal to carry University of Oklahoma sports, including at least one live football and several basketball games not picked up by ESPN, Fox (national), or other regional or national networks. Ironically, these games could also be shown on cable systems in and around Austin TX, home of the University of Texas, while some of the same cable systems in north Texas may not be carrying the U. of Texas sports network. Oops.

HOUSTON: Rome has burned out. After more than 13 years, KILT 610 has dropped Jim Rome's radio show, but it is to add more local sports talk programming. Mike Miltser and Brad Davies will host "Mad Radio" from 10 AM to 2 PM, in between Marc Vandermeer and John Lopez' morning show and leading into Rich Lord and Josh Innes who will air from 2 until 6 PM. The first three to six months of this year figure to be critical for Houston's sports stations. The success of the Texans this season has brought sports radio a little bit of hope over the past couple of months' ratings. However, with the Rockets not expected to be serious contenders and the Astros fading into oblivion with a "lame duck National League" season coming up, it will be interesting to see if the Houston sports stations actually can make a dent in the overall audience ratings. KILT has shown an increase, no doubt helped by it being the Texans flagship station.

PHILADELPHIA: Sports fans who pay attention to the digital TV channels from the local stations will notice some ACC basketball games starting this Saturday (1/7). Philadelphia Nonstop Channel 10.2, a digital channel operated by the local NBC Channel 10, will air Wake Forest at VA Tech and show a couple of conference games each week. The channel also aired some ACC football games in the fall. The city's two largest cable systems do carry this channel.

BUFFALO: Bills radio broadcasts were "shuffled off" WGRF or WEDG this week. Starting next season, the Bills will air on WROC Sports 950, which will also air a coaches show and separate (Bills) General Manager show as well as scheduled on-air player appearances. Sister station WCMF 96.5 will also air the game broadcasts, which will continue to feature John Murphy and Mark Kelso.

BIRMINGHAM: WJOX 690 is now known as "The Fan" although it will continue to carry ESPN Radio and other syndicated programming. However, WJOX-FM 94.5 continues as local sports talk, providing listeners with a nice balance of local and national coverage.

PAWTUCKET: The Pawtucket Red Sox have named Aaron Goldsmith as their new play-by-play voice on WHJJ 920 to work with Steve Hyder. Goldsmith replaces Dan Hoard, who is now in Cincinnati as the voice of the Bengals.