Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sports Talk Stations On The Comeback Trail

Sports talk radio stations are finally on the rise in some of the larger markets based on the just released January ratings. Some of this, such as New York and Boston, were due to the Giants and Patriots reaching the Super Bowl during the ratings period.

Perhaps the biggest news is that Houston sports stations are trending up again, now registering more than the blip on the radar they have been for the past couple of years. Although KILT has only risen to #19 overall, KBME-AM and KFNC-FM also went up. This is significant for a number of reasons. The total sports audience rise means that one station's rise was not due to another station losing some of its audience, since they each gained.

In addition, this is not exactly a sports bonanza time for Houston's pro teams. The Texans' season ended in early in January even though it included a playoff appearance. The Rockets are not among the NBA's contenders this season, while the Astros' upcoming season does not look promising. This market bears watching over the next few months. Maybe I did write it off too soon.

San Francisco also showed growth, but it remains to be seen how much of that was due to the 49ers playoff run. KNBR went up to #7 overall, while The Game WGMZ-FM also went up, even if only to #26 overall in the market.

Chicago also saw its rival sports stations both on the rise for the January ratings period, with The Score WSCR finishing at #16 overall while WMVP ESPN showed an even larger audience increase despite finishing only 21st overall.

Dallas and Philadelphia, two of the traditionally strong sports radio markets over the years, each showed alarming decreases again, however. In Dallas, the 3 sports stations are now grouped together. KTCK-AM The Ticket is only #22 overall, with KRLD-FM now just .1 behind at #23. KESN-FM ESPN has now lost half of the overall audience it had as recently as the November ratings, and has sunk to #26 overall. Since I was unable to find out for sure prior to press time, I'll only speculate that it is the first time in many ratings periods that Dallas didn't have at least one of its sports stations in the Top 20.

In Philly, WPEN-FM held steady but came in at #18 overall, while the WIP 610 continues its downward spiral, now at a .7 for a #28 market rank. The FM partial simulcast has yet to make a dent either. The argument that the Phillies' broadcasts will be simulcast on WIP-FM may or may not make a difference. What happens in other cities does not always carry over, but Chicago's WBBM Newsradio had actually dropped a full ratings point since November, even with having added a full FM simulcast in the fall.

Los Angeles continues to be a sports talk disaster. KSPN 710 had dropped again and now ranks #28 overall in the market. KLAC has dipped to #34 overall. Combined, these stations don't make the top 20. We shall see whether or not baseball fans discover these stations over the next couple of ratings periods. The Dodgers enter the season with ownership uncertainty while fans have little to no idea about the station now airing their games (in English). The Angels begin their season with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson being added, and with a lot of promise to contend.

Boston and New York will likely ride the Super Bowl train for at least another ratings book, as baseball season should keep their stations buzzing as well. For the January ratings, WFAN went up to #9 overall while WEPN (even at #23) also went up. In Boston, both The Sports Hub WBZ-FM and WEEI went through the roof, with both stations up and finishing in the top 8 overall.

Meanwhile, back to Houston and the likely disaster of a season ahead for the Astros. One reason to listen to the broadcasts will be because it will be the final season for Milo Hamilton to call the games on radio. That makes it worthwhile right there. Let's hope that Milo is also saluted as he makes his final trips to the road ballparks this season.

We won't know for sure whether or not ESPN removing Ron Jaworski from Monday Night Football was really for the intent of getting him off those telecasts or if it is to reduce to a 2-man booth. My feeling is that it is a combination of both. On the surface, ESPN seems to really want Jaworski since they gave him a 5-year contract and will include him in much more of their NFL related programming.

While I grant you that not everyone likes Jon Gruden, I find it more significant that Monday Night Football will have 2 men in the booth for the first time ever. It's about time. ESPN has been making the gradual transition to turning MNF into a true football telecast instead of the booth circus that ABC used all those years. With NFL telecast ratings on the rise over the past couple of years, ESPN recognizes that fans are tuning in for the games and not to see what the announcers will do next. It is finally play-by-play and real analysis, compared with Frank Gifford's endless conversations about everything but for all those years on ABC, some of which lacked defined roles over who called the plays and who analyzed them. My hope is that this will become a trend.

For all sports, we are becoming saddled with so many analysts in the studio and at the game that there is not enough time for the "good" ones to expand on their thoughts. Getting back to the basics and focusing on the game itself is a great start.

Although it's not polite to highlight an embarassing story, the way the situation was handled by James Bates of CBS Sports Network deserves mention. Bates and Steve Wolf were on camera for the Network doing the opening of the Dayton at Xavier telecast on Saturday (2/18). During the opening, with both announcers seated on the court, the stool that Bates was sitting on broke and collapsed and Bates tumbled to the floor, all live on camera. Bates was shown getting up from the floor while Wolf stood up, but Bates kept talking, kept his cool, and began to joke about the fall. That was extremely professional and he made it seem like fun. If you haven't seen it yet, I'll bet you can still find the video of it.

Do NFL fans truly want to see prospects working out? The NFL Network thinks so. This week (Thursday through Saturday) the Network plans about 50 hours of coverage from the NFL Scouting Combine from Indianapolis. Complete with Rich Eisen anchoring the coverage and primary analysts including Mike Mayock, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, and Kurt Warner. This is not for any game action. This for guys working out and demonstrating skills individually for consideration among NFL teams. Unless I missed something, such as Vegas having a line on which guys will work out the best or some sort of rookie projection fantasy league, I'm not sure this "event' warrants such extensive coverage. Granted, there's not much else to talk about for NFL Network until much closer to draft time, and I'm all for live "original" programming, but this seems extreme.

The TV networks covering baseball are putting out their initial telecast schedules for the coming season. While we have already mentioned several of the early season ESPN telecasts, and MLB Network waits until other schedules are finalized before announcing which games they will carry, Fox and TBS have unveiled some or most of their planned telecasts.

Fox Sports is finally back to doing telecasts every Saturday (instead of waiting a couple of weeks into the season), and is expanding to eight Saturday night telecasts for this season. However, there will be a couple of Saturdays when Fox will move ahead of their "traditional" 4 PM ET spot and televise at 1 PM ET instead. This will be when Fox has a NASCAR telecast scheduled for prime time, and to make certain that their baseball telecasts are concluded. While that is admirable, this, combined with the added prime telecasts, means that more than 1/3 of their Saturday telecasts will not be airing at their "traditional" time.

Of course, Fox already has the Yankees and Red Sox scheduled for the maximum of 9 appearances, with the Mets, Braves, and Angels scheduled for 8 times. (The Mets???)

TBS has announced its Sunday afternoon telecast schedule for all of April and May. Guess what. Of their first 8 telecasts, 6 of those include either New York or Boston. However, TBS continues to have varied times for the start of its games, although no west coast or mountain time telecasts are scheduled yet. With varied starting times between 1 and 2 PM ET, at least fans know they can tune in at 2 PM ET and see a game start or in the early innings.

Here are those TV schedules:

FOX Saturday Baseball:
April 7 (3:30 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks, Kansas City Royals at Anaheim Angels

April 14 (12:30 PM ET) Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals, Anaheim Angels at New York Yankees, Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins

April 21 (3:30 PM ET) New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox at Seattle Mariners

April 28 (12:30 PM ET) Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals, Anaheim Angels at Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins

May 5 (3:30 PM ET) Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets Milwaukee Brewers at San Francisco Giants

May 12 (12:30 PM ET) Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Anaheim Angels at Texas Rangers New York Mets at Miami Marlins

May 19 (7:00 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at Philadelphia Phillies Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Arizona Diamondbacks at Kansas City Royals

May 26 (7:00 PM ET) Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates Colorado Rockies at Cincinnati Reds Anaheim Angels at Seattle Mariners

June 2 (7:00 PM ET) New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Chicago Cubs at San Francisco Giants Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres Cincinnati Reds at Houston Astros

June 9 (7:00 PM ET) New York Mets at New York Yankees Cleveland Indians at St. Louis Cardinals Los Angeles Dodgers at Seattle Mariners Tampa Bay Rays at Miami Marlins Kansas City Royals at Pittsburgh Pirates

June 16 (7:00 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at Chicago Cubs Cincinnati Reds at New York Mets Miami Marlins at Tampa Bay Rays Baltimore Orioles at Atlanta Braves Houston Astros at Texas Rangers

June 23 (7:00 PM ET) New York Yankees at New York Mets Atlanta Braves at Boston Red Sox Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles Los Angeles Dodgers at Anaheim Angels San Francisco Giants at Oakland Athletics Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago White Sox

June 30 (7:00 PM ET) New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers Arizona Diamondbacks at Milwaukee Brewers Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers San Diego Padres at Colorado Rockies Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins

July 7 (7:00 PM ET) New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Minnesota Twins at Texas Rangers

July 14 (3:30 PM ET) New York Mets at Atlanta Braves Arizona Diamondbacks at Chicago Cubs Philadelphia Phillies at Colorado Rockies

July 21 (3:30 PM ET) San Francisco Giants at Philadelphia Phillies Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Texas Rangers at Anaheim Angels

July 28 (3:30 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves

August 18 (3:30 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres

August 25 (3:30 PM ET) St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants Minnesota Twins at Texas Rangers

September 1 (3:30 PM ET) Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs Anaheim Angels at Seattle Mariners

September 8 (3:30 PM ET) Atlanta Braves at New York Mets Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox

September 15 (3:30 PM ET) Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians Colorado Rockies at San Diego Padres

September 22 + Sept. 29 - To be determined


April 8 1:30 p.m. New York Yankees at Tampa Bay
April 15 1:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Rays at Boston
April 22 1 p.m. Texas Rangers at Detroit
April 29 1 p.m. Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees
May 6- 2 p.m. New York Yankees at Kansas City
May 13 2 p.m. Atlanta Braves at St. Louis
May 20 1:30 p.m. Boston Red Sox at Philadelphia
May 27 1:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Rays at Boston

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are The Odds Against Sid?

As of press time, not so much as a "no comment" or a denial from WQAM Miami's Sid Rosenberg regarding a Miami Herald report that the sports talk host is being chased for an alleged gambling debt:

This story was also picked up by several radio trade sites, but also without a reaction. There are some stories where a lack of reaction or denial can be interpreted as being accurate. From being a sports fan, sports reporter, and media consultant over the past 40 years, the lack of a denial or even a comment is disturbing. (I should mention that I do not recall meeting or knowing Mr. Rosenberg and have no further information beyond this report.)

It's easy to think, "So what?" when learning about the possibility that a sportscaster has been gambling thousands of dollars. Of course, Sid is not the only person to do this (if indeed the story is true). However, I'd like to think that those whose job it is to report information to us as sports fans do not have anything else riding on this information.

Sports betting is very often dictated by where the money is going. How do we know that a sportscaster who is a heavy gambler is not "reporting" information about key players or teams which could sway a potential bet? Suppose a sportscaster has bet thousands of dollars on Cleveland against Detroit later tonight. Suppose that same sportscaster only "reports" on an injury which could impact the status of a key Cleveland player for that game. This could make the casual betting fan lean toward putting his money on Detroit. If enough fans put more money on Detroit, it increases the payoff if Cleveland wins.

In the Rosenberg situation, the lack of a denial or comment also brings to light that Sid had just returned from a suspension by WQAM. The reason? Gambling.

This Miami Herald story includes a report of the gambling establishment supposedly contacting the radio station. How and why did that story get out? Since the reputation of a major radio station and well established sportscaster are at stake, wouldn't a complete denial of such a contact be shot down before it became public?

Although we don't need background checks on every sportscaster out there, this situation indicates a need for dealing with the situation more thoroughly than seems to be happening thus far. Given how the pro sports leagues will not put a team in Las Vegas or Atlantic City and have discipline in place for any players involved in any way with gamblers, how "news" is reported to sports fans could be playing a part in how thousands and thousands of dollars change hands, legally or not.

Meanwhile, the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Golf Tournament last weekend drew more media attention, just as it drew more viewers than usual. CBS-TV saw its highest ratings for this tournament since 1997 on Sunday (2/12) when Tiger Woods issued a challenge to Phil Mickelson early in the final round. The Sunday ratings were up more than 95% over last year's.

Many credit the stronger (than recent months) performance of Tiger Woods for drawing the added interest. Here, I'll credit something totally different. The NFL. After another very strong ratings season, this past Sunday was the first one since August without NFL football on. Sports fans are used to having "must see" TV every Sunday, and settled on golf. Frankly, ABC/ESPN blew it by only having one NBA telecast during the afternoon on ABC which didn't start until 3:30 PM ET, and then putting a doubleheader on ESPN that night.

ABC does not seem to be pushing the NBA as much this season. There was no "early" telecast on Super Bowl Sunday, as networks have done in the past (other than a so-so game on NBA-TV instead that day). Then, they should have had a marquee matchup doubleheader this past Sunday in an effort to establish the NBA as "must see". Even with the shortened season after the lockout, TNT is among the networks showing noticeable ratings increases so far.

Not to pick on televised golf, but if the Pebble Beach National had gone up against the NFL, these paragraphs would have been about something completely different.

NBC is beefing up its NHL coverage, showing what is essentially an NHL tripleheader next Sunday (2/19). Starting at Noon ET with 3 regional games, NBC will then show the Boston at Minnesota game at 3 PM ET nationally. Then NBC Sports Network will carry the New Jersey vs. Montreal game with coverage starting at 6 PM ET.

NBC Sports Group also announced a 5-year contract to televise Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) football and basketball games. The new contract includes NBC Sports Network and its Comcast SportsNet regional networks. This announcement seems much overblown. Those that made a big deal about this announcement seem to have overlooked that the CAA includes the likes of Towson University, George Mason, Northeastern, Drexel, Hofstra, and others. These are all excellent institutions. That is not in question. It's just that the 'typical' college basketball fan isn't waiting for the schedule to come out to alter their days for the Delaware vs. North-Carolina-Wilmington telecasts. What this "announcement" really means is that NBC Sports Group is seeking live programming for its networks in place of informercials for fitness products and some of the other oddities taking up time on their sports networks during odd hours.

Along those same lines, PlayOn Sports Network announced plans to debut a high school sports related TV channel later this year including high school sports events from what is already 21 states. While I understand and appreciate increased coverage of high school football and basketball, it should be on a local or regional (at most) level and not on a national platform. The network's release points out the millions of high school sports participants and how many millions attend or watch high school sports across the country. While those statistics are true, they are due to the local schools and clearly not because there is a demand for high school sports across the board, especially for a 24-hour network.

Somebody will be expected to help defray the costs of producing live telecasts from around the country. And you can easily guess that the PlayOn Sports people expect it to be paid from cable and satellite subscribers each month whether they care or not. I'm already paying my local cable provider each month for their local access channels which showcase an occasional local high school game. I don't wish to pay to see high school games from hundreds of miles away with schools and players I have never heard of and have no interest in.

My other problem with this is how it takes away from local radio stations. If and as even more high school football and basketball games are televised, it tells even more local radio stations they don't need to broadcast the local high school games anymore. And instead of going with live programming from their studios, the radio stations will continue to pick up syndicated and network shows.

MLB Network is adding to its on-air studio staff in time for the start of spring training. Alanna Rizzo joins MLB Network from ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain where she appeared on Rockies telecasts, and previously covered the Brewers as weekend sports anchor at WISC-TV Madison. Scott Braun also joins MLB Network, coming over from ESPN where he handled college basketball play-by-play for ESPN and covered the Miami Heat for the ESPN web site. Also joining is Lauren Shehadi, who comes over from the CBS Sports web site. Shehadi has also been a sports anchor at KXMC-TV in Minot ND and worked at Comcast SportsNet Washington.

Sorry to learn that "The Fabulous Sports Babe", Nanci Donnellan, has left Tampa's ESPN 1040 due to serious health issues. She was one of those "love her or hate her" broadcasters when she became the first female to host a national sports show in the mid-90's. Whitney Johnson, formerly with WDAE 620, has taken over the Noon to 3 PM show from Donnellan on ESPN 1040.

NEW YORK: It is now official that Josh Lewin joins Howie Rose in the Mets' radio booth starting with the coming season on WFAN, replacing Wayne Hagin. Lewin plans to continue handling San Diego Chargers radio, which will make for some long weekends both in the air and on the air.

JACKSON: Still another loss in the sports media world. Frank Underwood of WBFG 96.5, who covered sports for nearly 10 years, passed away on Sunday (2/12) after a brief but undisclosed illness.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

When Sportscaster Comments Get Too Personal....

Sportscasters are hired and fired on (seemingly) a daily basis around the country. It's part of life, and especially a part of the radio & TV industry. However, it seems that terminations are happening (or not happening) for some strange reasons over the past few months.

Last year, we had the female sportscaster fired from an Arkansas station after she wore an out of state school's cap to a local press conference and the head coach got upset. Last month, a CBS Sports employee was fired for "reporting" Joe Paterno's death prematurely, while a Fox Sports employee was not publicly disciplined for "reporting" Joe Frazier's death prematurely.

Just last week, San Diego's XX Radio's Scott Kaplan was terminated from his morning show he co-hosted with ex-Charger Billy Ray Smith. This termination came within days of his comments about Andrea Lloyd, the women's basketball Hall of Fame member who serves as an analyst for Mountain West Sports. Kaplan referred to Lloyd on the air as a "beast", "animal" and a "sasquatch of a woman".

Don't get me wrong. I'm not supporting Kaplan for his comments, since (based on what I heard and read) they appear to have been more of a personal nature than a sports or broadcasting related comment. Yet, a large number of sports talk broadcasts include comments from hosts about specific players. "He can't catch anything thrown his way." "He couldn't hit the water if he fell out of the boat." And on it goes. Granted, these are not "personal" comments such as the ones referenced to Kaplan.

Perhaps Kaplan's comments were overstated or not phrased in the way he really meant them. He is entitled to dislike Andrea Lloyd no matter which sex she is. If Lloyd were a man, chances are these comments might have gotten a giggle or two from some listeners and no one would have thought anything of them. Hosts and callers criticize players, coaches, managers, and team executives for what they can and can't do all of the time.

It's just that calling someone a few inappropriate names is not as serious as reporting a death that hadn't happened yet or any other story which is proven to not be factual at the time.

Of course, XEPRS-AM Radio officials had not commented (as of press time) about the reason for the change of their morning show. Yet, Billy Ray Smith remains with the station, and "Dave and Jeff" have taken over the morning show.

LOS ANGELES: Normally a spring training broadcast schedule wouldn't be a big story, but when it's the Dodgers it is. A big part of the story is that Vin Scully will only describe one exhibition game this year, and that will be from Dodger Stadium on April 3 vs. the Angels. Again this season, Scully will call Dodger regular season home games and only those road games at division opponents except for Colorado. Yet, the Dodgers are among the leaders in baseball by televising 18 of their exhibition games on either Prime Ticket or KCAL-TV. Eric Collins, who handles the regular season road telecasts which Scully does not call, will handle the Arizona spring training telecasts with Steve Lyons.

HOUSTON: Even with 4 sports stations battling over a comparably smaller sports audience (compared with all other top 10 markets besides L.A.), the University of Houston has taken to streaming to provide thorough coverage of its Cougars teams. Each Friday from 9 to 11 AM the "Mo-Jo Sports Radio Show" is heard online at and features all U of H sports coverage. It isn't really radio, but this idea bears watching (or should I say listening?) because it fills a niche for fans of the school and its teams. The hosts plan to continue the show into spring semester even after the end of basketball season.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP AM and FM continue to split up for different sports programming, which expands on this excellent idea. Now comes the announcement that WIP-FM will also carry the FM simulcast of all Phillies baseball broadcasts from WPHT-AM starting with the spring training broadcasts by Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen. It seems a waste of a signal to always have the same programming on 2 stations. As WIP-FM adds more play-by-play separate from the AM signal, it gives listeners more options many evenings and weekends.

BANGOR: When WAEI-FM lost out on carrying WEEI from Boston and switched over to Fox Radio Sports back in 2010, the moved turned out to be the beginning of the end. The station has just changed to WBAK-FM and has dropped Fox Sports to switch to a music format.

RAPID CITY: As smaller market stations continue to saturate with network and syndicated programming, the amount of local programming continues to drop. This proved especially frustrating for local basketball fans on Wednesday (2/8) when the basketball game between South Dakota and South Dakota State was not aired on any of the local stations. KRKI-FM, which changed from ESPN Radio to Fox Sports Radio in late 2011, now only airs South Dakota State football, having decided to drop the school's basketball broadcasts prior to this season. Coincidentally, KIMM-AM and FM only carries University of South Dakota football. KIMM airs Stevens High School basketball games, as in both boys and girls games, and thus cites the added number of conflicts with USD basketball game. However, they do have both the AM and FM station. I would like to believe that fans would understand if one station carried the high school games and the other carried the college games when there are conflicts.

OKLAHOMA CITY: Still another loss among the sports media this week. This past Sunday (2/5) saw the passing of Ken Post, who held a variety of sports broadcast related roles in the area. Post, who was only 43, served as Operations Manager at Sports KEBC-AM and a produce at WKY and KTOK.