Monday, August 27, 2012

Manning The NFL Telecast Schedules

Now that CBS-TV has provided its announcer assignments for the first four weeks of the upcoming NFL regular season, it confirms that all of the networks (which televise the NFL) are banking on Peyton Manning being a ratings draw as the Broncos' season gets underway.

Of course, Manning's Broncos regular season debut kicks off Sunday Night Football (9/9)  when Denver hosts Pittsburgh on NBC. Then, the Broncos get 11 days off (plus a bye week later) before their Monday Night Football game on Sept. 17th on ESPN.

CBS is obviously hoping that the Broncos show well in the first two games and/or that Manning will be a big ratings draw. For Week 3, the #1 announcer team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will call the Houston at Denver telecast of the primary doubleheader game at 4:25 ET. In Week 4, CBS does not have the doubleheader telecast (with Fox having New Orleans at Green Bay at 4:25 ET), but does have Oakland at Denver as a 4:05 PM ET regional telecast.

Since the Giants play on NBC Sunday Night Football that night, and the Jets host San Francisco in a 1:00 ET game that will be on Fox, it means that the New York and San Francisco markets are among those which figure to carry the Broncos game as a regional telecast. Thus, Nantz and Simms have been booked to call that game as well.

Marv Albert and Rich Gannon have been assigned to the two regional N.Y. Jets games (within the first four weeks) that CBS will carry. Those are the opener on Sept. 9th vs. Buffalo and then Week 3 against Miami, both of which are 1:00 ET telecasts. Otherwise, CBS continues its trend of assigning announcers based on game importance, whereas Fox often keeps its regional announcers within certain divisions.

CBS-TV also gets to show a live college football telecast this coming Saturday (Sept. 1st), something it usually is not able to do because of its U.S. Open commitment. However, the Notre Dame vs. Navy game is being played in Dublin, Ireland, and therefore will be shown live at 9 AM ET, which is 6 AM PT. Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson will call the game. In addition, cable's CBS Sports Network kicks in with a live two-hour pre-game show, even though it will air starting at 7 AM ET 4 AM PT. Doing this gives CBS-TV the opening Saturday college telecast. Not bad considering they usually don't get to show any games on that day.

Rodney Harrison, known for his role on NBC-TV "Football Night In America" will begin a two-hour radio show next week on the new NBC Sports Radio Network. The "Safety Blitz with Rodney Harrison" begins on Saturday Sept. 8th, although the number of stations which will actually carry the show is not yet known. September 8th is the first "full" Saturday of college football along with a full slate of MLB games, leaving many sports stations with one or more play-by-play commitments on that day.

Chris Rose has a sportscaster "first" among his list of career accomplishments. In addition to his weekday work on MLB Network, Rose will also be a part of NFL Network's roster starting next week. Rose is expected to work the NFL GameDay Highlights and later be a part of NFL GameDay Final on Sundays. Although it makes for a 6-day work week for Rose, that part does not conflict with his "Intentional Talk" show weekdays on MLB Network. However, Rose is also expected to host the post-game show for NFL Network's Thursday Night Football package, which will make for a long day each Thursday.

Over at Fox Sports, it seems comparably quiet regarding its upcoming NFL coverage. That became even more obvious when the only announcement is that Fox NFL Sunday will again have a "comedic prognosticator". I'm not sure that is necessary, considering how some of the "experts" pick the games, but Fox seems to. For those keeping track, Frank Caliendo is being replaced by Rob Riggle (formerly of The Daily Show) to handle the prediction segments with Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long, and Michael Strahan. Frankly, the fact that there was a Press Release about this is more funny than these segments have been in the past.

Perhaps there is more to the Comcast SportsNet group dropping Fox Sports programming than dumping The Dan Patrick Show telecasts after all. As we commented on last week, the CSN group also lost out on some college football telecasts it used to carry from Fox Sports. The announcement that Comcast SportsNet Chicago has added 17 live college football telecasts starting next week could signal that the other CSN regional networks might not be far behind. CSN Chicago has scheduled five telecasts of regional interest, with each game involving either Northern Illinois University or Illinois State University games.

In addition, CSN Chicago will carry nine live Conference USA telecasts (including Texas State at Houston this coming Saturday 9/1), and plans to carry three SEC games later in the season.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Same Football Voices......

Football teams may change but this year announcing teams don't. At least very little. On the college side, Brent Musburger has been extended via a multi-year contract extension, as the lead voice on ABC/ESPN college football coverage for Saturday prime time telecasts as well as the two "remaining" BCS title games (under the current format). In addition, Musburger will continue college hoops play-by-play for ESPN in coming seasons. Hard as it may be to believe, the 73-year old Musburger, who first joined ABC Sports in 1990, has actually been with ABC longer than he was with CBS Sports back in the day.

On the NFL side, although Fox announced a couple of additions to its broadcast roster (as shown here last week), CBS is keeping it where it is. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms remain its #1 announcing team, with Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf close behind. Ian Eagle, Marv Albert, Kevin Harlan, Bill Macatee, and Spero Dedes will each call regional games. However, two of the long-time TV voices of NFL football will not be back. Don Criqui, who was a regional voice for CBS back when it had the NFL all to itself (going back before his call of the Tom Dempsey 63-yard field goal for New Orleans), and analyst Randy Cross, have been eliminated for this season. Word is that it is certainly not a reflection on them, but is due to fewer Sunday games now available for CBS due to the Thursday night package being extended to the entire season.

CBS Sports Network is expanding its NFL programming for the coming season. Already definite is a Monday evening "NFL Monday QB" show to review the weekend action. Scheduled for a 6:30 PM ET start (except for an earlier start for the Sept. 10 opener due to the early MNF starting time), the one hour show will include the CBS Sports roster of QB analysts, including Phil Simms, Rich Gannon, Steve Beuerlein, Dan Fouts, and Dan Marino. Adam Schein will host. The Network is also planning extended programming for the week leading into the Super Bowl in February, an obvious fit since CBS-TV airs it for this season.

On the radio side, Boomer Esiason will be heard on the new CBS Sports Radio network, to include about 90 stations, on weekday mornings starting just after Labor Day.

Meanwhile, the impact of the scandal at Penn State is already showing an impact beyond the school and the current players on the football team. Granted, WLPA 1490 in Lancaster PA is one of the smaller affiliates on the Penn State Football Radio Network, but the fact that the station will no longer air PSU football or basketball games is significant. Station officials revealed that the decision was made due to a significant lack of local advertisers. Instead, the station plans to air its Fox Sports Radio programming instead. Lancaster is located within reasonable range of PSU broadcasts from Harrisburg, among other communities, so it will be interesting to see if other nearby stations gain in audience - or not. As of press time, WLPA is the only station that I am aware of to drop these broadcasts since the scandal.

As much as I understand that TBS wants all of the favorable publicity it can muster for its MLB coverage, they went overboard on Sunday (Aug. 19). I'll give that there is some appeal to their having a two-time Olympic Softball gold medalist in the booth during the Dodgers vs. Braves telecast, which was the case as Michele Smith joined Ernie Johnson and John Smoltz. However, Smith is a softball player and (obviously, since she is female) not a former MLB player. But what I don't understand is that TBS made a big deal about this, as if she was "the first female analyst on a national telecast".

It's not that someone who never played minor or big league baseball could not be a good analyst. What gets me is that while Smith was in the booth for the entire game, former pitchers such as Dennis Eckersley remain in the studio. As baseball (or whatever sport is being shown) fans, we are entitled to the most expert opinions available. Since most networks now have former players (or coaches, managers) as studio analysts, a special guest such as Michele Smith should either be brought on as a "guest" or kept in the studio for opinions. That is whether male or female. After all, I can't name a male softball player (with zero MLB or minor league experience) brought on as a national telecast "analyst" before. This was not "history" as TBS was trying to make it appear.

101 WXOS ESPN St. Louis is starting a series that brings ideal audience participation to the station. The station's "Speaker Series" begins next Thursday (Aug. 30) at a local sports bar, which is the day of the Rams' final pre-season game against the Ravens. The "Game Day Luncheon" is scheduled to have Head Coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Sneed among its live guests. Several station personalities, along with analysts D'Marco Farr and Rick Venturi, will be on hand for the luncheon and broadcast. This is an excellent idea, and the station plans to have a "Speaker Series" broadcast once per quarter.

The station's web site has info about tickets, which include lunch. Definitely better programming than simply having fans comment on how they think the Rams will do. Here's hoping this one is a winner for the station and its listeners!

HOUSTON: KILT is moving into an increased Texans mode to start the season. Marc Vandermeer, who now is the Texan's Director of Broadcasting, returns to host 2-hour Texans shows on Tuesdays, Wednesday, and Fridays throughout the season. In addition, KILT will have a separate show featuring (running back) Arian Foster. Tuesday nights will include a condensed re-broadcast of the past weekend's Texans game. Although the condensed game re-broadcast may be a stretch (showing the plays on TV is one thing), the other team related shows should have some substance to please the serious fan.

KTRK-TV 13 has its new Sports Director in place, as Greg Bailey takes over on or about September 1st. He will gradually replace Bob Allen, who remains with the station for the remainder of 2012.

KGOW 1560 is going for laughs with its upcoming new afternoon show. Local comic John Wessling has been named as co-host for the 3 to 7 PM show, working with Adam Clanton, who comes over from KPRC-TV 2. Texans linemen Antonio Smith and Duane Brown will each have once weekly appearances on the show. They might as well have some fun until or unless the ratings start to appear for the station, mired at or near last place overall in recent months.

ATLANTA: The Fan 680 is beefing up its football analysis, adding Brian Finneran to its air staff starting after Labor Day. Finneran is a former Falcons receiver, who has worked on the Rude Awakening (morning show) back in 2009. The station also has former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone as its baseball analyst, and announced that Mazzone will return for the 2013 season.

CHICAGO: Although Mike North continues to be heard nationally on Fox Sports Radio, WIND 560 has stopped airing his Sunday night show from Fox. WIND is a general talk station otherwise (airing occasional play-by-play overflow from WGN Radio) and had only aired North on Sunday night as its only regular sports programming. The irony is that Chicago is where North's home market and now is national but not carried there. At present, WIND will occasionally have North on for sports analysis during its morning show.

MOBILE: WABB-AM 1480 has plans to simulcast The Ticket sports programming from WTKE-FM 100.3 starting next week (Aug. 27). This will create "The Ticket Sports Network", since WTKE is licensed to Niceville FL, and will also include WTKP-FM 93.5 from Port Saint Joe FL.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Divsion Among Baseball Scores

Baseball fans are being blessed with a season that as of mid-August still has the majority of its Major League teams still within playoff contention, along with every one of the six divisions (as of press time) having a leader no more than six games in front while still having to face the immediate rival at least once more. Often by this time at least one or two of the divisions are virtually locked up.

Yet, many of the radio and TV stations, as well as some of the online scoreboards, seem to overlook this unusual occurence. It seems that many more updates are just "baseball scores" with no rhyme or reason, often mixing in scores from both leagues, not to mention failing to highlight division races.

It always made sense to follow, for example, a Yankees score with the score of the Baltimore, Tampa, Toronto, or Boston score based on which team(s) were closest to the Yankees. The other night I heard an all sports station follow the Yankees score with the Pittsburgh Pirates score. Granted, the Pirates are, surprisingly, in second place and a big story. But they also play in the National League. I'm hearing less of "and in the National League......." and more of "Here are the scores" with both leagues and their various divisions all mashed together.

This season also marks the debut of a second Wild Card team for each league, and a one game "play-in". Here we are in mid-August with every division race still up in the air, and some media members are bringing as much, or more, attention to the two Wild Card races than they are to the division battles. They seem to forget that the Division winners get into a best of seven Division Series game, while one of the Wild Card winners will only play one more game. Which is really more important?

At least when loking at the scores online, most of the scoreboards are based on the starting time for each game, regardless of which league, and maintain a steady order for the various scores throughout the day/night based on that. This does allow fans interested in their team and the division it is in to easily track the games they are most interested in.

However, the growing failure of radio and TV stations and networks, including some actual game broadcasts, makes this a reason to use these stations or networks as a "go to" for the important scores.

As it is, social media is making steady gains in terms of providing the most and best information for fans. Radio and TV score coverage has almost always presented the scoreboards with separation by league and often by game importance. Now many are reducing the quality of their coverage, and without good reason other than laziness or lack of caring.

It can't be due to the increased number of fantasy league players. Many of the scoreboard updates are just that, and do not include information about how specific players are performing.

If the "reporters" or the TV graphics people responsible for presenting the scores to us fans continue to slack off in this regard, it will leave us with fewer reasons to "go to" the station or network for important score coverage. If they are too lazy to present the scores as they should be, how fast will they be to report on transactions?

Meanwhile, a good move by Comcast SportsNet's regional networks to no longer carry The Dan Patrick Show in markets such as Philadelphia, Chicago, New England, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. as of this month. It has enabled the regional CSN Networks to return to expanded "sports update" shows complete with late night results and highlights, game replays from the previous night, and in many cases more timely programming. Although the CSN Networks carried Patrick live, the failure to have a replacement and be a live show anytime Patrick himself was off was getting to be downright embarassing. The holiday mornings would especially hurt these networks, as well as many radio stations, when they would have a re-run of an obviously outdated segment instead of live discussion about the big games and events of any holiday. The Friday after Thanksgiving was perhaps the most glaring example.

However, the CSN Networks are also now without an agreement with Fox Sports to air Big 12 and Conference USA football telecasts which begin next month. Although it is understandable that Fox Sports wants to keep NBC Sports to time-filler telecasts other than the NHL, it would be a shame for football fans to lose out on some quality telecasts on weekends because of it. From a strategic standpoint, Fox Sports should allow the CSN Networks to carry those football telecasts, and blanket them with Fox Sports promos throughout, such as its NFL and MLB post-season telecasts.

NBC Sports is clearly looking to add something of quality other than the NHL. In an obvious effort to prepare MLB for a near future baseball bid, NBC Sports Group has begun "Caught Looking", a series of fresh weekly one hour episodes going in-depth to one important MLB weekend series. These episodes will then be produced on the Monday and Tuesday and air on Thursdays in prime time through the regular season (with the final one on Oct. 4th). The series will then show a World Series wrap up episode on November 8th. At the same time, MLB Network, which always televises a game on Thursday nights (during the time that "Caught Looking" airs on NBC Sports Network), will be exclusively showing one Division Series game for each league in October as it enters into the baseball package.

Fox Sports prepares for its regular season NFL coverage by adding two new game telecast analysts. Former assistant coach Mike Martz joins the staff and will be paired with Ron Pitts on regional coverage, while former fullback Heath Evans will work other regional telecasts with Sam Rosen. In addition to Joe Buck and Kenny Albert as Fox's two play-by-play leaders, Thom Brennaman, Dick Stockton, and Chris Myers will also be calling games for Fox again this season.

NEW YORK: ESPN 98.7 hopes to cut into the popularlity of Mike Francesa on WFAN with its roster of NFL and Giants/Jets analysis during its afternoon Michael Kay Show. Bill Parcells has been signed for a Thursday afternoon (to start) segment. Jets coach Rex Ryan will guest each Monday (moved to Tuesdays when the Jets will play on Monday nights), while other analysts with weekly afternoon segments will include Steve Young and Joe Namath. In fact, on most Mondays, Rex Ryan, Steve Young, AND Joe Namath will each appear to review the weekend games.

If the Giants and Jets get off to decent starts, and with the Yankees likely headed for the MLB post-season (Kay is their TV play-by-play voice), this could prove to be a big chance for ESPN Radio to make some inroads in the market.

BOSTON: As expected, Scott Zolak was officially named as lead analyst on Patriots radio, working with Gil Santos on 98.5 WBZ-FM Sports Hub. Zolak had been the "third man" in the booth prior to the retirement of Gino Cappelletti as lead analyst a few weeks back.

CINCINNATI: Fans have taken notice of the Reds hot streak and continue to watch the Fox Sports telecasts. The month of July, which included a 10 game win streak, is reportedly the highest viewed month ever of Reds baseball for Fox. Overall season ratings are up about 10% compared with last season, and remained solid against the Olympics as well.

DENVER: KKFN-FM 104.3 The Fan has a new multi-year agreement to air the Air Force football broadcasts including pre and post-game shows, along with the weekly (coach) Troy Calhoun show.

TOLEDO: WLQR is ending the AM/FM all sports to only air "The Ticket" on 106.5 FM. WLQR-AM 1470 will now turn to syndicated news/talk programming.

MOBILE: SportsRadio 105.5 has brought in Chip Ramsey as Program Director. Ramsey has programmed sports stations in Nashville and Milwaukee previously.

LAFAYETTE: 103.7 The Game has hired Amy Jones to host a weekly sports talk show, although it will only be for one hour to start. Although Jones has some sportscasting experience, she most recently has served as an executive for public relations firms which have worked with NFL teams (as well as political campaigns), and therefore brings a behind-the-scenes point of view. In a curious move, The Game has placed her show on Tuesday mornings from 8 to 9 AM. This is an interesting move, but it may depend on fans remembering to tune in at 8 AM on Tuesdays to make it a success.

TUSCOLA MI: 92.1 FM brings back "Let's Talk Sports" this coming Saturday (8/18), which focuses only on local high school sports. This will be the fourth year of this show, hosted by Derek Bosley and Christian Selich, who also call Friday night game broadcasts for the station. The show will air at 10 AM on Saturdays through the high school football season.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Three Teams Make Moves On The Radio Dial

Two NBA teams and one NFL team are moving their radio broadcasts, in a series of coincidental announcements within the past week. Most noteworthy is that the NFL team is the San Francisco 49ers, expected to be serious contenders, moving to back to KGO 810. KGO was the 49ers flagship during their glory years from 1987 to 2004 which included three Super Bowls. Ted Robinson returns for play-by-play with Eric Davis returning as analyst. Last season, the Niners aired on highly rated KNBR 680 as well as KTCT 1050 and The Bone KSAN 107.7.

NBA fans throughout the south will be delighted to learn that the New Orleans Hornets broadcasts will be on WWL 870 starting in October, after just one season on WMTI-FM 106.1. The station's strong night signal will enable fans in several states to hear the majority of the broadcasts. This addition makes WWL the dominant play-by-play station in the region, adding the Hornets along with Saints football along with LSU sports. To start, the Hornets games which conflict will be moved to WWL-FM 105.3. Sean Kelley returns for his 8th season of Hornets play-by-play, with local columnist John DeShazier as analyst. DeShazier is also being tapped to host the Thursday night coaches show.

In Portland, the Trailblazers are moving back to 1190 AM and KEX 102.3, where they had been for all but four seasons between 1979 and 2001. Brian Wheeler and Antonio Harvey continue as the broadcast crew. The team added to its announcement that radio affiliates in other markets remain in place under their existing contracts.

What makes this unusual (three teams moving within a few days) is how these announcements come within just a few weeks of the respective teams' seasons opening. These stations miss out on what is usually months of advance promotion of gaining the broadcasts.

NEW YORK: YES Network is gearing up for increased coverage of the NBA Brooklyn Nets, and has added Sarah Kustok to the Nets' beat including pre and post-game programming. Kustok joins YES from CSN Chicago where she did extensive game coverage as well as anchoring. It should be noted that Kustok was a standout basketball player in Chicago at DePaul University, and later an Assistant Coach with the team.

ATLANTA: What is now Dave FM 92.9 will later be sports talk, as station management confirmed the recent rumors with the announced hiring of Terry Foxx as Program Director. Foxx comes from The Fan in Pittsburgh. Mitch Evans, currently sportscaster on Dave FM, has been retained for the sports station, with more announcements about local talent to come. The change to sports is most likely to be in place on or around October 1st.

TAMPA: WHFS The Fan 98.7 is now on the air as a sports station, with Kirk McEwen co-hosting mornings with former Tampa Bay Lightning player Chris Dingman. Afternoons are hosted by Todd Wright, formerly with ESPN Radio and Yahoo Sports Radio, along with former Buccaneers lineman Anthony McFarland. Perhaps the most interesting addition to the station is, for now, overnights. The station not only stays local, but its host is Nanci Donnellan, once known nationally on ESPN Radio as The Fabulous Sports Babe in the mid-90's. Donnellan has had some major health issues in recent years. The thinking is that if and as she remains in good health and does a good show that she'll be moved to a daypart "in need" down the road. Granted, Donnellan was in the "love her or hate her" category in the 90's, but she did use the ESPN resources well and brought listeners a lot more name guests than many other hosts, local or national.

The biggest challenge this station faces is that WDAE 620 still has the broadcasts of the three area pro teams. It will be interesting to see whether or not Tampa turns into another Milwaukee or not. In Milwaukee, WTMJ is not all-sports, but thrives in the ratings by having the Packers, Brewers, and U. of Wisconsin broadcasts all year round, while the two all-sports stations have ratings of less than one point. To this point, The Fan only carries the University of South Florida football and basketball.

Meanwhile, the July radio ratings are being released this week, and for the larger markets, there is little positive for sports stations. New York and San Francisco have steady ratings, although they do both remain strong, for their sports leaders. The Fan 660 held steady to finish 11th overall in the market, while WPEN-FM (the stronger FM signal) actually dropped from June to a 1.3.

San Fran's KNBR 680 finished 5th overall for still another Top 5 finish. However, even with the Oakland A's now making an unexpected playoff run, KGMZ-FM The Game is still at a lowly .7 (the same as April when the season started) with the A's broadcasts and sports talk.

In Chicago, WSCR 670 The Score held at a 2.8 rating, but ESPN Radio WMVP 1000 dropped again, now at only a 1.2, which is more than a 33% decline since April. In Dallas, KTCK-AM dropped 1/2 point overall, while KESN trails by almost a full point and KRLD-FM is now down to a .9 overall.

Philadelphia's WIP-FM is holding at 15th place overall, but is down since May, while WPEN-FM is down to less than half of the audience of WIP-FM. This is while the Phillies are in to an extremely disappointing season, normally major fodder for the sports stations.

It's the usual for Los Angeles and Houston. Even with the Dodgers making a surprise run for the National League West, and with the clock ticking on Vin Scully, KLAC 570 dropped during July to only 1.0 overall. KSPN 710, now down to a 1.4, is in 27th place overall in the market.

Houston's KILT held steady to finish in 21st place overall, while KBME dropped to only a .7. KGOW has dropped to a paltry .1. This is a ratings battle worth watching, as we will see in the next three months just how much (or how little) the local fans are into talking and hearing about the Texans as NFL season is coming up.

Meanwhile, announcers have been announced.

NBC Sports Radio Network, which is still targeting a Sept. 4th launch, has brought in Jon Stashower (formerly WFAN and The Golf Channel) to handle its morning updates. Erik Kuselias, already on staff as a host on NBC Sports Network (TV), will host the 7 to 10 PM ET shift. Whether any major stations will pick this up remains to be seen or heard.

ESPN has announced its college football announce teams, including Brent Musburger and Kirk Herstreit for ABC Saturday Night, and Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge for ESPN Primetime games on Saturdays.

Other play-by-play voices will include Sean McDonough, Mike Patrick, and Danny Kanell on Saturday games; Rece Davis on the Thursday night games; Carter Blackburn on Friday nights, and Dave Pasch, Beth Mowins, and Tom Hart handling Saturday regional telecasts. Marc Jones will call most of the weeknight telecasts.