Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Hits Keep On Coming - TV and Social Media

It's rare that I give kudos to a TV or radio outlet for its use of social media, but Comcast SportsNet Chicago certainly earned them last week. Although I'm all for social media and the technology it has brought us, I still take the old school approach that a TV or radio station or network is supposed to emphasize what it does and not place such a high priority on secondary outlets.

Yet, last week during its Game 3 telecast of the Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes game, CSN Chicago gave fans a treat by its use of social media. During the game, a controversial on-ice hit by Raffi Torres of Phoenix injured Chicago's Marian Hossa, forcing officials to take Hossa off the ice on a stretcher and delaying the game. (Torres was since suspended for 25 games over the incident.)

Blackhawks announcers Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk (yes, the Olcyzk who calls many games for NBC Sports) were immediately outraged over the hit. Yet, the Phoneix announcers, at first, gave their viewers a "It was a clean hit!" reaction. Fans outside of the Phoenix telecast had no way of knowing that. Legally, CSN Chicago could not "show" the Phoenix telecast on its airwaves.
In this instance, it did the next best thing. Facebook users were treated to the Phoenix announcers call of the same incident via video link within an hour of the incident occuring. Thus, Blackhawks fans were able to, by watching the game and then by checking the video link on Facebook, hear both sides call of the controversial play.

That was a great move to provide fans with the different perspectives on the same play, and something that would not have happened (at least that quickly) without social media to support it.

Doing this was a lot different from the usual telling fans who are watching TV or listening to a radio broadcast to go to a web site. Giving viewers/listeners even the slightest reason to tune away from or be distracted from a broadcast is never a good idea, no matter how many media sources continue to do so.

However, if and when doing so truly does add something (as in this case), it helps the fans' image of the station or network that pulled it off.

Meanwhile, the sports radio situation in New York City becomes more interesting with the Thursday (4/26) announcement that ESPN Radio is adding 98.7 FM to its 1050 AM channel starting next week. ESPN is technically "renting" the frequency via a local marketing agreement, but that doesn't matter to sports fans.

The timing is ideal for ESPN, which certainly notices the recent decline in rival WFAN's afternoon show with Mike Francesa along with other time slots. WFAN 660 just dropped to 16th overall, having dropped .7 since January of this year. WEPN 1050 came in 23rd, but station officials blame the weaker AM signal and not the WFAN lineup.

Perhaps more importantly, the Yankees radio contract on WCBS 880 (The Fan's sister station) and the Mets contract on WFAN are both up after this year, and many feel that WEPN's now improved signal penetration, along with their financial resources, could put WEPN in position to acquire one of those rights for next season. WEPN already has the Rangers, Knicks, and Jets broadcasts.

How will this play out? We won't know for a few months.

Elsewhere, the March sports radio ratings were looking better in a few of the larger cities. In Chicago, WSCR The Score 670 and WMVP ESPN 1000 were both up and finished with their strongest overall showings in quite some time. In Detroit, WXYT-FM The Ticket remained in the top 5 overall and has been within one-half of a ratings point all year.

In Boston, with the Celtics and Bruins then in playoff drives and Red Sox spring training underway, both stations tied for 11th overall (meaning that they hold a sizeable chunk of the radio audience), even though both were down slightly. WBZ-FM The Sports Hub has, however, suffered a more than one-third overall audience drop thus far in 2012. In Philly, WIP-FM dropped again slightly while WIP-AM held steady (with its already low ratings), while WPEN AM & FM both rose by only .1.

Los Angeles saw KSPN 710 show an increase for the 3rd straight ratings period, although KLAC (which now has the Dodgers) held at a mere .7 overall. KLAC's ratings path during the next few months figure to be perhaps the most interesting, given that the station now airs the Dodgers broadcasts and there is renewed interest under new ownership. Not to mention the team off to a great start.

It remains to be seen (or, as I should say, heard) whether or not enough fans will realize where the Dodgers games are heard, given that the station brings such a small audience into the season and that Vin Scully continues to do home games on the TV side.

Sports radio also faces another problem, as do many radio stations, in some large cities, as Arbitron is not reporting the audience size for certain stations and it significantly reduces the meaning of those ratings. For example, San Francisco (where sports 680 KNBR has been top 5 overall earlier this year) and Dallas are among those markets where we do not get the audience figures for sports stations. Same for Houston, which ironically has had a couple of its sports stations start to move up beyond a blip this year.

CHICAGO: Speaking of Comcast SportsNet Chicago, the network will begin providing its sportscasters to handle the sports anchor duties for "sister" station WMAQ-TV, the local NBC owned & operated station. This includes former ESPN anchor Pat Boyle, who has been a lead anchor for CSN Chicago since 2004. WMAQ-TV has not had much of a sports presence over the past few years, although the sudden passing of anchor Daryl Hawks last year certainly hurt. This move will bring
WMAQ-TV its first significant sportscaster presence in years.

CINCINNATI: Sorry to learn of the passing of sportscaster Dom Valentino last week at the age of 83. Valentino got his pro sports "start" in Cinci when he called the Cincinnnati Royals of the NBA during the 1960's and into the 70's when the team moved to Kansas City. Later, he returned to his native New York City, calling Yankees games for one season with Phil Rizzuto and Bill White, as well as Dr. J. and the N.Y. Nets of the ABA, and the Islanders.

WKRC-TV 12 has extended its agreement to televise the Cincinnati Bengals' exhibition games (not picked up by a network) for an unannounced period. The station's press release points out that the Bengals games have been the #1 rated program each week they apear on Channel 12 going back more than 100 weeks over the years. Sports Director Brad Johansen will continue with play-by-play and former Bengal Anthony Munoz as analyst. The station also plans to continue taping an extended pre-game show on Wednesday nights (before games it televises) at a local restaurant with fans in attendance able to participate.

CLEVELAND: If only it were that simple for WKYC-TV 3, which televises the Browns' exhibition games not picked up by a network. It seems that the Browns open their preseason on Saturday Aug. 11 vs. Detroit. However, the station must show the Olympics that night instead due to its NBC Network obligations. As a result, the WKYC-TV production of the game will air on WOIO-TV 19 that night, where chances are it will trounce the Olympics ratings on its own station. At least the fans have the choice of the game and the Olympics live, so it could have been worse.

ATLANTA: The Zone 790 is making changes to its lineup starting next week, including adding another hour to its morning show which will air from 6 to 11 AM. Barnhart and Dunham are expected to continue in the revised 11 AM to 2 PM slot, although noting definite has been announced (as of press time). It's worthwhile to note that Mike Bell and David Archer move up to 2 to 6 PM, meaning that "2 Live Stews" currently do not have a regular shift. These moves are designed to counter The Fan 680 and its stronger afternoon show (compared with The Zone) with Chuck Oliver and Matt Chernoff.

TAMPA: WHPT-FM 102.5 has become a talk station and has picked up The Nick & Artie Show live on weeknights from 10 PM to 1 AM, on which comedians Nick DiPaolo and Artie Lange discuss sports.

FARGO: The Fan 740 has picked up some ESPN Radio programming after KQWB 1660 dropped ESPN Radio to become a music station last week. KQWB will, hoever, continue to air some high school sports.

HELENA MT: KFBB-TV has added Jerry Riles as a sports anchor. Riles comes from Chicago where we worked for WVON Radio and CLTV (cable TV news).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Not The Local Kings

An important and local sports "news" story is taking place, but the local sports radio station doesn't capture the audience you would expect. Granted, these are not based on scientific results, but I think it makes the point.

This past Thursday (4/12), the owners of the Sacramento Kings of the NBA were meeting with league officials regarding the status of the current ownership. Once again, rumors have heated up that the Kings might be relocating away from the Sacramento area. Such a relocation impacts local revenue, part-time jobs, and civic pride. Especially in this instance, considering the Kings are the only major professional team in town.

Coincidentally, the Sacramento Bee began a poll that day asking respondents "Which sports radio station do you listen to on the drive home?". The poll received a total of 780 responses. Again, not scientific, but compared to the number of diaries or PPM's used to determine the market's ratings, this is a reasonably representative sampling. Especially when you learn that only 13% of those responding said "none". That 87% of those responding actually do listen to a sports radio station during their afternoon commute adds significance.

During afternoon drive in Sacramento, only KHTK 1140 The Fan regularly airs a local sports show, hosted by Grant Napear. The Fan is also the flagship station of the Kings' broadcasts, as well as airing the Oakland Raiders games and some syndicated play-by-play such as Monday Night Football. ESPN 1320 airs ESPN programming during afternoon drive. The story about the meetings involving Kings ownership received comparably less national attention.

This is where the results of this informal poll hit hard. While ESPN 1320 and its national programming received only 16% of the vote, Napear and KHTK received 28% of the vote. Those desperate for a positive spin on this, of course, point out that the "local" show beat out the ESPN show by about 12%.

However, a sports station received 43% of the votes (including votes by those who do not listen to sports radio). KNBR 680 from nearby San Francisco was the "winner". As many of you know, KNBR has been showing excellent ratings in the Bay Area and its consistent 10 ten finishes make it one of the strongest sports radio stations in the country, especially on the west coast.

KNBR is in Warriors country, and right now, its focus is, understandably, on the Giants and their start to the 2012 baseball season. Their focus is and was not on the Sacramento Kings, especially when this is not an "on the court" matter in the news.

Although I have heard Napear several times and enjoy his work, I was not listening last week and was not aware of this Bee poll until after the fact. Granted, this poll is not at all a reflection of only April 12th listening. However, the story of the Kings possibly relocating has been ongoing for months. I can't say this is a reflection of his show, but it could be a reflection of the station.

MIAMI: One of the most significant weeks for Miami's sports radio stations in quite some time. A change in afternoon drive for WQAM results in Dan Sileo taking over as host of the 3 - 7 PM spot last week. This appointment comes just a few weeks after Sileo, who is a former University of Miami defensive lineman, was fired from his morning sports show in Tampa after referring to three black football players as "monkeys". Sileo replaces Sid Rosenberg, who was dismissed last week from the station. Not because of ratings, but because of his arrest for DUI while reportedly driving with a suspended license. Just a few weeks earlier, Rosenberg was reportedly under suspicion of having large gambling debts.

While this was going on, Jorge Sedano has left 790 The Ticket to move on to Sedano initially is hosting a fantasy sports show for the web site, although many insiders expect the show to soon begin airing on CBS Sports Network. But for reasons having nothing to do with ratings, area sports fans have lost out on two popular hosts.

SAN FRANCISCO: It's the radio version of "I Said - They Said" played out all over again. KNBR 680 fired Ralph Barbieri after 15 years as "the Razor" on the "Razor & Mr. T Show" and did not (as of press time) explain the move. Later, Barbieri issued a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, claiming he "had no idea" that day and was actually escorted out of the building after gathering his belongings and turning in the key, ending his 28 years at the station.

HOUSTON: Within a month after being let go by KILT, former NFL linemen N.D. Kalu and Greg Koch have been teamed up for the beginnings of a new show on KBME 790. As of this week (Monday 4/16), the pair host "In the Trenches with Koch & Kalu" from 10 to 11 AM. The pair had only done one shift together as co-hosts prior to this, while working on separate shows on KILT. The next few weeks figure to be on-the-air training for the pair. Look for KBME to expand their role by July and the start of Texans training camp and the coming NFL season.

CHICAGO: Let the jokes about sports events becoming "made for TV" continue on this one. The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame will honor its 2012 "Sportsman of the Year" on Saturday (4/21), and it will be a television executive. Jim Corno, the President of Comcast SportsNet Chicago, will be honored for his years of service to Chicago based regional sports networks. Joey Votto of the Reds (who are in Chicago this weekend) will be honored as "Athlete of the Year", while former catcher Mike Piazza will be one of the emcees. Once the jokes are over, it is time to acknowledge the job that Corno has done over the years in keeping those regional networks successful.

BOSTON: While Patriots fans celebrate long time play-by-play voice Gil Santos' 72nd birthday on Monday (4/16), the possibility remains that Santos' health status could keep him from returning to the booth this summer. Santos is reportedly still at a rehabiliation center recovering from "a severe case" of pneumonia. 98.5 The Sports Hub is expected to give Santos plenty of time to recover before making determinations for the coming season's broadcasts. He has been teamed with Gino Cappelletti for the past 21 seasons, and here's hoping it's at least 22 before all is said and done.

LOS ANGELES: Score another peg on the maximum exposure meter for USC. The school has become only the second school (other than Notre Dame) to now have a national radio package, as the University of Southern California football games will air nationally on ESPN Radio starting with the upcoming season. It is a multi-year contract, which begins on Sept. 1st with a home game against Hawaii. Locally, 710 KSPN has been airing USC games since the 2006 season.

SOUTH BEND: WSBT, the flagship station for Notre Dame football and basketball is adding its FM signal and now offers a complete simulcast, including the play-by-play and the ESPN Radio programming it carries. In a wonderful coincidence, the signal from 960 AM now airs on (you guessed it) 96.1 FM. Sure makes it easier for the promotion staff!

And finally, being a "beat reporter" for a "major league" team is a big way to get noticed at the national level. NFL Media, which oversees NFL Network and has added four new reporters to its staff. They are Kim Jones, who has worked on WFAN New York and on YES Network as a Yankees reporter; Aditi Kinkhabwala, who covered the N.Y. Giants for Wall Street Journal and will become the Steelers correspondent based out of Pittsburgh; Ian Rappaport, who covered the Patriots for the Boston Herald and will now be based out of Dallas; and Gregg Rosenthal, who comes over from and Pro Football Talk to become a Senior Editor.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Heat Rises Over The Fish

Miami sports night in the national spotlight this past Wednesday (4/4) night surprised those who pay attention to the TV ratings. ESPN had the Marlins' season opener and debut regular season game in their new stadium starting an hour before ESPN2 had the highly anticipated matchup between the Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, also shown from Miami.

Even with the shortened season coming off of the lockout, the Heat vs. Thunder telecast came in with a 67% increase in the ratings over last year and had a higher audience than the baseball telecast. In fact, the late "doubleheader" NBA telecast between the L.A. Lakers and Clippers, which aired on ESPN after the baseball telecast, also outdrew the baseball telecast.

In the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale market, the Heat telecast also outdrew the Marlins' opener by more than 2 to 1 in terms of total audience, including both the ESPN2 and Sun Network (local) telecasts. The folks at TNT and ESPN/ABC are certain to be keeping this in mind with the start of the NBA playoffs now less than 3 weeks away.

Fox Sports is looking at establishing a new prime time habit for sports fans, having scheduled the majority of Saturday nights with live prime-time sports telecasts, including baseball, NASCAR, and college football. This is in addition to the baseball telecasts almost every Saturday (all but 2 total) which will air during the afternoon prior to the prime-time sports event on those Saturdays when there is not a prime-time baseball telecast during the MLB season.

NASCAR events will air on the next two Saturday nights, with Fox airing its baseball telecast during the 1:00 PM time slot this Saturday to assure its regional telecasts are finished well in advance of the NASCAR telecast. Fox had to gain additional cooperation from Major League Baseball to gear up for eight prime-time telecasts this season, up from two last year. The prime-time baseball telecasts will also include the new and expanded pre-game show produced in conjunction with MLB Network.

College football season will have Fox Sports showing Pac-10 Conference games during the 12 week regular season, including the ability to select which game airs nationally. Fox Sports' regional networks will carry other Conference games, although these telecasts will often go head-to-head with ABC's nationally televised games in Saturday prime-time.

In addition, there will be a couple of Saturday night Ultimate Fighting Challenge telecasts. The concept of having one night out of the week to show live sports in prime-time on most Saturdays is not new, but a network (Fox) promoting it as aggressively as it appears they will is new. ABC-TV had sports in prime-time for at least half of the year back in the 1970's when they aired Monday Night Baseball during the summer weeks and then went into Monday Night Football from September into December.

NEW YORK: Baseball telecasts did prove popular in NYC, as SNY reports the Mets' season opening telecast vs. the Atlanta Braves set a ratings record which was established in 2002.

Michael Kay's afternoon show on local ESPN Radio has an interesting addition for once each week, as Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine has been signed on to appear only for the New York audience. We can certainly understand the move from Kay's and the station's point of view to want the rival manager on its airwaves as a draw to the audience of Yankees fans. However, it is tough to understand Valentine being so open and willing to address fans of "his" team's biggest rival on a regular basis.

It is not as though Valentine has no other media outlet, as he will also appear on a weekly basis on WEEI Boston's "The Big Show", which is perfectly understandable. If Valentine wanted to continue to have this much media exposure, he should have stayed with ESPN and done additional commentary on their various local stations. I'd say Red Sox fans have a right to be upset about the fact that their new manager is taking time away from his team to talk to the play-by-play voice of and fans of "his" team's biggest rival on a regular basis to supplement his income.

LOS ANGELES: KLAA 830's Roger Lodge is now getting plenty of air time when it comes to the Angels' new season. Although Lodge continues to co-host the station's morning show, he is also hosting the additional pre-game talk show which begins about 90 minutes before each Angels home game and usually airs from Gate 5 of The Big A. Lodge actually hosted the morning show live from outside the stadium on Opening Day (this past Friday 4/6) and later returned to the same location for his pre-game talk show. Word is that he had about 100 or so fans on hand with him by the time his morning segment ended.

CHICAGO: WSCR The Score 670's Dan McNeil returned to the station's midday show on Monday (4/9) after a 6-week absence due to what he termed "depression and substance abuse". Other station hosts and reporters filled in for McNeil during his time away, during which no specific reasons were given until his return.

St. LOUIS: With the Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Cardinals' season in full swing, both KMOX Radio and Fox Sports Midwest will have some conflicts regarding which game to air live. In both instances, the Cardinals' management reportedly has agreed to be flexible, unlike several situations around the country where one team clearly has priority in the event of a conflict.

On the radio side, if and when Cardinals and Blues conflicts occur, one will air as usual on KMOX 1120 while the other broadcast moves to KEZK 102.5. On the TV side, Fox Sports Midwest has indicated that conflicting telecasts, not handled by Channel 5 (the local NBC affiliate) will air on FSM Plus. FSM reports that Blues' telecast ratings were up about 14% over last season.

PHILADELPHIA: Sorry to learn of the passing of Steve Fredericks on Saturday at the age of 72. The long-time Philadelphia area sportscaster is probably best remembered for his stint on WIP-AM when he co-hosted afternoons with Mike Missanelli. Fredericks also held numerous local play-by-play assignments over his 44 years in the business, and had retired in 2004.

RAPID CITY: K-TALK 1340 has now officially become the local ESPN Radio affiliate after a 3 month abscence from the market when KRKI switched to Fox Sports Radio. In addition, K-TALK will continue to carry University of Nebraska football and select local high school broadcasts.St. GEORGE UT: Another market has gone to making sports radio into an AM-FM combo, now with 102.3 and 107.3 FM carrying the ESPN programming and extensive play-by-play. The stations will continue to carry Utah Jazz games, BYU, Dixie State College, and selected local high school games.

BLOOMINGTON/NORMAL IL: WZIM 99.5 has become "The Ticket" and is a Fox Sports Radio affiliate, dropping its music format last week in time for the opening of the baseball season. The station continues to carry Chicago Cubs baseball.

SCHEDULES: Finally, for those looking ahead to NFL Football, the networks have announced the bulk of their pre-season national TV schedules:

Sunday August 5 Hall of Fame Game: Arizona Cardinals - New Orleans Saints (NFL Network 8PM ET)

Week 1

Thursday August 9 Green Bay Packers - San Diego Chargers (ESPN 8PM)
Monday, August 13 Dallas Cowboys - Oakland Raiders (ESPN 8PM)

Week 2
Thursday August 16 Cincinnati Bengals - Atlanta Falcons (FOX 8PM)
Friday August 17 Detroit Lions - Baltimore Ravens (FOX 8PM)
Sunday August 19 Indianapolis Colts - Pittsburgh Steelers (NBC 8PM)
Monday August 20 Philadelphia Eagles - New England Patriots (ESPN 8PM)

Week 3
Thursday August 23 Arizona Cardinals - Tennessee Titans (ESPN 8PM)
Friday August 24 Chicago Bears - New York Giants (CBS 8PM)
Saturday August 25 Houston Texans - New Orleans Saints (CBS 8PM)
Sunday August 26 San Francisco 49ers - Denver Broncos (FOX 4PM)
Carolina Panthers - New York Jets (NBC 8PM)


Monday, April 2, 2012

A Sleepy Knight For The Coach

Perhaps the biggest "highlight" from the Final Four coverage was on ESPN when Bobby Knight was shown on camera either having dozed off or simply not paying attention. Viewers could see analyst Digger Phelps poking Knight in the arm, and how Knight was trying to make it look as though he was ready all along.

As seems typical when Knight is involved in an embarrassing moment, there was no further comment from him or ESPN, even though Knight clearly insulted ESPN and the viewers by appearing so disinterested. Although this is not as amazing as when Knight used the "s-word" on the air last year and did not personally apologize, you have to wonder how many more times he will embarass ESPN before they send him packing.

It's too bad a producer or somebody didn't toss a chair in his direction to wake him up on camera, just as Knight thought was fit to do at a referee during a game (among his many disgusting actions) while coaching at Indiana University before they finally sent him packing. These days, there is no reason (or shouldn't be any) that the media continues to act as if he never does anything wrong and sets such a poor example.

Unlike Knight, the fans clearly stayed awake, at least for the game coverage, and brought CBS higher ratings for the Final Four than any of the recent seasons going back to 2005. Both of the Saturday telecasts showed increases of about 1% over last year.

Despite the widespread radio coverage of Monday night's championship game, the broadcast nearly did not air in Chicago. WMVP 1000 had been airing "whip around" coverage of the early round games and carrying as much as possible through the Saturday Final Four games, but was not able to air the championship game due to airing the Chicago Bulls game vs. Houston at the same time. Yet, WSCR 670 The Score, which is a CBS station, chose not to carry the broadcast even though it had no play-by-play conflict at the time and it would have supported the CBS-TV telecast. WGN Radio, which did not have a Blackhawks hockey or Cubs exhibition game to air, stepped in and aired the syndicated broadcast.

ESPN and MLB Network begin their schedule of telecasts over the next few days as we welcome back baseball. In addition to its opening Wednesday Night Baseball telecast from Miami, ESPN will also air games on Thursday and Friday and then continue with its usual Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday Night Baseball telecasts.

The NBC Sports Group continues its in-depth coverage of the NHL, with telecasts every day this week as the regular season winds down, and as a promotion for the Group airing every playoff game starting next week.

NBC Sports Network aired a doubleheader on Tuesday April 3, with Det. at St. Louis on Wednesday night, N.Y. Rangers at Pittsburgh on Thursday, and Phoenix at St. Louis on Friday night. NBC airs Chicago at Detroit on Saturday afternoon, while NBC Sports Network delivers a live doubleheader after that (Philly at Pitts at 4 PM ET and Washington at Rangers at 6:30 PM ET).

On the NBA side, the Lakers broadcasts on KSPN 710 with John Ireland and Mychal Thompson have taken on an interesting feature during most of the home games. They have been featuring a celebrity commentator during the 2nd quarter to join them in the booth, and not always to focus on the ins and outs of the game in progress. The on-air "guests" have included musicians such as Richie Sambora (of Bon Jovi) and Flea, and the likes of David Hasselhoff, Lisa Leslie, Dyan Cannon, and Richard Lewis. While an interesting twist, talking about non-basketball matters takes away too much from the play-by-play, since this is on radio and the listeners usually (unless listening while watching the telecast) can't see what is going on in the game.

Congratulations to 87 year-old Jack Whitaker on receiving a Sports Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award later this month (April 30) in New York. Whitaker was actually the first to receive a sportscasting Emmy back in 1979. He was a primary voice for CBS Sports in the 60's and most of the 70's, doing NFL play-by-play and anchoring the network's golf coverage, and his authoritative and "serious" style of sportscasting will be long remembered.

MIAMI: The Ticket 790 begins its weekly "Manager's Show" with new Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen on Tuesday (April 3) at 3:30 in a segment to air within the Dan LeBatard Show. It might be the one show on the station where the 7-second delay is needed for the guest instead of the callers, but it will undoubtedly make for compelling radio. The station has welcomed Tod Castleberry as its new Program Director, coming from WTEM 980 and other Washington D.C. stations.

MILWAUKEE: One of the fastest and quietest radio rights negotiations in recent years ended with nothing changed. WTMJ continues as the flagship station for the Brewers' broadcasts. The number of years was not announced, nor were the names of any other stations which supposedly were willing to bid. This is as mutually beneficial of an arrangement as you will find. The Brewers benefit by staying on what is generally the top rated station in town. Although WTMJ is not all sports, it carries all of the local play-by-play that matters (Brewers, Packers, Bucks, U. of Wisconsin), while the 2 sports talk stations in the market are usually nowhere to be found in the monthly ratings. The station benefits by maintaining the local "sports monopoly".

Bob Uecker is back for his 42nd season as radio voice of the Brewers, with Joe Block as his new partner.

CHICAGO: Wayne Randazzo, who has handled play-by-play for Big Ten Network and sports headlines and occasional fill-in on WSCR The Score 670, has been hired as play-by-play voice of the Kane County Cougars Class A minor league baseball team which plays in a western suburb. Suburban station WBIG 1260 will air the games again this season.

HOUSTON: KILT 610 will have at least two different NFL analysts on board by the time the station begins its surrounding Texans coverage for next season. Both Greg Koch and N.D. Kalu left the station last week. No word yet on replacements, which may not be named until closer to NFL training camp.

The new baseball season doesn't figure to be very memorable for the Astros, and their fans will not have any of their games, other than up to three Saturday games on the local Fox-TV affiliate, shown on over-the-air TV. Fox Sports Houston will carry at least 150 games this season, with Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies. This Friday night (4/6) the Astros game has priority on Fox Sports Houston, meaning that its Rockets vs. Lakers telecast will likely begin on Fox Sports Net Plus. In fact, six other Rockets regular season telecasts this month have been moved to KTXH-TV 20 due to Astros conflicts on FSH, and it was KTXH-TV which used to show at least 20 Astros games per season until this year.

OKLAHOMA CITY: WWLS-FM 98.1 and WWLS-AM 640 each remain all sports although they no longer simulcast as of last Thursday (3/29). 98.1 remains the Sports Animal with local and regional programming which also airs on KYAL Tulsa and KBIX Muskogee. 640 AM now carries ESPN Radio throughout the day and night, except for airing the NBA Thunder games and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State pre-game and post-game shows.

The market is paradise for baseball fans, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, for most cable/satellite subscribers. In addition to the national packages from ESPN, MLB Network, and TBS throughout the season, there will be plenty to choose from. About 150 St. Louis Cardinals telecasts will be available via Fox Sports Plus. Fox Sports Oklahoma and FS Plus will also combine to air 116 Texas Rangers telecasts. In addition, Fox Sports OK will air 67 Houston Astros telecasts, and about 30 Kansas City Royals telecasts. In addition, most systems also receive WGN-TV America, which airs 67 Chicago Cubs and 32 Chicago White Sox telecasts this year. The Cardinals and Rangers are the closest team in each league geographically, while the Astros are the parent club of the OK City RedHawks minor league team.

AMARILLO: KPUR 1440 abruptly dropped ESPN Radio and went to oldies music last Wednesday (3/28), leaving the market without an affiliate, at least for the time being.

YAKIMA WA: Same story in this market, as KJOX 1390 also dropped ESPN, changing to KTCR and turning to classic country music. Station officials were quoted as saying it was an ESPN decision. Unlike the Amarillo situation, it could be that ESPN is looking at shifting to one of a larger group of local stations in the near future. The new KTCR is maintaining its local sports presence, with plans to continue to air Mainers baseball and Washington State University football and basketball games.

MOBILE: WNSP 105.5 now (as of Monday 4/2) serves as the flagship station for "Conference Call SEC", which airs from Noon to 2 PM Monday through Friday, and is hosted by Max Howell and Randy Burgan. The pair had been hosting "Sidelines" during that time slot only on WNSP. The new show focuses on all SEC sports in season, and plans to broadcast on location during the Fridays leading in to key Conference football games. The show now airs on six radio stations, with a TV version airing in Jackson MS and currently streamed on

PORT JERVIS NY: WDLC 1490 and 107.7 has expanded its local high school sports coverage to include play-by-play of some local baseball and softball games starting next week (4/10). Kevin Halpenny and Lou Masci will call the games.