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.

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