Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Radio Losing Out To Sports Fans

Sports radio stations continue to "fight" against each other instead of focusing on maintaining their listening audience. They can't afford to miss out on any more opportunities.

With the baseball season starting in less than a week, and with baseball having been the most "radio friendly" sport over the years, we are seeing some very current examples. It's not the fault of radio that the vast majority of games are televised. Years ago every team had a percentage of games which were "radio only". Not only has radio lost the exclusivity of at least some of the games, it now is "losing" to more than television.

Those who grew up from the 50's into the 80's still remember the days of bringing your portable radio with to the game so that you could enjoy the legendary broadcasters while watching the action for yourself. Listeners to Vin Scully on Dodgers home games might recall his sometimes having to ask fans at the game to "turn down your sound" so that there would not be any more feedback over the air, as well as the times he (Scully) would announce something and you could hear the crowd react directly to what he said.

Now, even though every MLB game is still aired on radio, most broadcasts have let not only television, but modern technology, pass them by.

MLB just announced some results from a survey of its fan base around the country via the "Fans At Bat Panel". While the results show a lot of positives for baseball (and in a way, for all sports) in terms of fan involvement, radio is nowhere to be found. More than 60% of respondents said they use "any" digital multimedia device while watching an MLB game on TV. These "devices" do not include radio. Instead, it refers to internet access for tracking statistics and/or interacting with other fans, whether via cell phone, tablet, or desktop computer. Interacting with other fans includes Facebook and Twitter.

Many of the TV stations and regional networks which televise the games now have and promote
interactive capabilities during the games, providing updated statistics and avenues for fan reaction. Viewers watching the game can use the station or network web site to track statistics and interact throughout. You can also track other games easily, especially later in the season if your team is in the race.

Yet, the majority of MLB radio broadcasts seem to have regressed during the same period. With so much clutter (commercials, team promos, etc.) during the broadcasts, the amount of time spent on out-of-town scores and general team coverage seems to have dropped significantly over the past few years. Even though the internet makes it easier than ever for broadcasters (and producers and assistants in the booth) to track other important games as closely as pitch-by-pitch. It seems like the "out of town scoreboard" is limited to every couple of innings as a throw-in so that it can be sponsored.

Think back 25 or 30 years. There was no internet and no having out-of-town games on all over the place. All the broadcasters had was the ticker. Yet, between pitches, you would hear "and Atlanta just scored three runs in the top of the sixth to lead Philadelphia five to two" and a couple of batters later that "Kansas City failed in the seventh in Baltimore". The announcers would keep fans up to the minute on other games and baseball news. You would also hear about pitching changes in the other games.

In this survey, about 33% said they keep track of their fantasy team while at home. While radio broadcasts only mention out-of-town homeruns and sometimes the pitchers.

Now, for the most part, the broadcasters and the stations seem to assume that fans are checking the scores on the phone or are online. And that's the problem. Even if fans are, radio's not providing this information makes it (radio) a much less valuable resource.

To that point, the Fans At Bat Panel survey also showed that 43% use a personal device when attending a MLB game. And a "personal device" no longer includes radio.

Let's take this point one step further. At press time, the Chicago White Sox had announced that their new General Manager, Rick Hahn, will be available to fans of the team for a "chat" at Noon Chicago time on Tuesday (3/26). You would think it would be over WSCR 670 The Score, which is a sports radio station that airs the White Sox games. But you would be wrong.

The White Sox are "hosting" this chat themselves, providing fans who have purchased tickets and/or are on the team's e-mail list with a phone number and a pin code to access the chat. Then again, WSCR Radio is not airing ANY of the team's scheduled final five exhibition games. In other words, the team didn't think to use radio for this purpose. Already in spring training, they have had players "chat" via Twitter.

Here we are watching the sports radio ratings in several markets. In Boston, WEEI made a major change in its afternoon drive lineup a few weeks back after WBZ-FM The Sports Hub made significant ratings gains. For the February ratings period, BOTH stations went down. Yet, these radio stations continue to concede that fans of the local teams are clearly turning to media and technology other than radio for what they need.

Look at the ratings records that TV stations and networks have been setting in every major sport. Even the hockey fans frustrated by the NHL lockout are coming back in record numbers in certain cities and even on some national telecasts this season. Here's hoping that radio will get its act together and make an effort to save its place among sports fans.

CHICAGO: Nothing like an alleged fist fight between two analysts, off the air, to make local media news. Former NBA standout Kendall Gill has been suspended "for the rest of the season" from his role as studio analyst for Comcast SportsNet Chicago on Bulls telecasts. Speculation is that Gill could lose his job after that. This is a result of supposedly throwing or landing a punch on analyst Tim Doyle after Doyle's on-air criticism of Gill's analysis of a referee call during the previous night's Bulls telecast. The confrontation took place off the air. Gill also is an analyst for the Big Ten Network and has been seen on NBA-TV. No word about his status or any action from either of those networks. This puts CSN in a tough spot. I'm sure they would hate to lose a popular analyst, but this becomes a Human Resources matter moving forward.

WMVP ESPN 1000, which is now a more distant second to WSCR in the Chicago sports radio race, will switch its midday and afternoon drive crews starting on Monday (April 1st). Carmen DeFalco, who has been with the station since 1998 and was just signed to a multi-year extension, and John Jurkovic will move to the 10 AM to 2 PM spot, with Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman to air from 2 to 6 PM. Jurkovic's contract, currently scheduled to run out this summer, has not yet been renewed.

WLS 890, a news/talk station for nearly 25 years, continues to add sports programming to its daily lineup. Steve Stone, the former Cy Young Award winner who continues to be the TV analyst for the White Sox, has been hired as the station's baseball analyst and will appear Monday through Friday either during the station's morning or afternoon drive shows. Stone had been the analyst for WSCR over the past few seasons. What makes this curious, especially when you consider the first few paragraphs of this column, is that Stone will appear five days a week on the news/talk station. Yet, he only appeared a couple of times each week when on the all-sports station before.

TAMPA: WDAE has pulled long time host Steve Duemig from afternoon drive and had removed him from the station web site with all signs pointing to a contract negotiation tactic as the reason. Duemig's contract reportedly expires in May, but contains a 60-day negotiation period, which would now be underway. Tom Krasniqi is hosting afternoons but, as of press time, is considered as interim host.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Where Do We Go For Actual Sports News?

Although this is being written just hours before the February radio ratings start becoming public, it appears that recent research bears out my point about problems with so much sports "talk" and not enough sports "reporting".

The M/A/R/C agency survey for the Newspaper National Network reveals that the majority of sports fans rely on "reporting" sources compared with sports talk radio. This is something that sports radio program directors need to take note of. This national survey included "in-depth" interviews with hundreds of sports fans regarding their "go-to" sources for sports news.

Among the key results among male sports fans aged 18-54 is that 76% cited their local newspaper web site sports section as their "top source", with 69% of respondents going with the print edition. The next selected sources were ESPN.com at 66%, and league web sites (such as NFL.com, MLB.com, etc.) at 46%.

A huge part of the reason that, as much of a sports fan as I am personally, I haven't "voluntarily" listened to very much sports talk radio (although I do because of this column) is the lack of news and factual material. Too much of the conversation is "What if....?", and hearing "Joe from the north side" commenting on who should hit cleanup for the local baseball team does not inform me. Factor in the sports reporting media being slowly reduced to CBS saying that "ESPN is reporting....." something instead of using their internal resources to confirm or deny a story themselves are being noticed by sports fans.

While it is certainly the case that newspapers and sports web sites have more than their fair share of opinion, the difference is that "reporting" and "opinion" are distinguished on every resource that sports fans are choosing the most. In other words, there is a reason that the target audience of males 18-54 are choosing updated newspaper web sites more than DOUBLE the amount they "choose" sports radio. And that includes the printed sports section which is published hours later than radio could have the same facts.

This same research showed only 33% saying "sports talk radio", and that includes ESPN Radio stations. I'll repeat that. ESPN's web site gets more than twice as many males 18-54 using it for sports "news" as its radio stations are getting - and that site trails the local newspaper's reporting. The in-depth interview portion of this research concluded that 72% said "Sports content from newspapers was superior to any other source".

Keep this in mind when we assess markets such as Los Angeles, Houston, and Milwaukee. L.A. and Houston are both sports "hot beds" during certain times of the year. Interest is always high with the Lakers, and the upcoming baseball season with the spending of the Dodgers and Angels will be a big story. In Houston, the Texans' season means significant ratings for their games. Yet, it is rare month when any of the multiple sports radio stations in either market show up in the top 20 overall.

Milwaukee might be the best example. WTMJ Radio has been #1 overall in the market for most of the past twenty years, and airs play-by-play of the Brewers, Packers, Bucks, and U. of Wisconsin football games. Yet, although they provide sports updates during drive times and have some adjacent sports related programming, it is not a sports radio station. The two full-time sports radio stations, which includes the local ESPN station, have both averaged less than a "1" overall rating in the market for at least the past year.

The fans want play-by-play and sports "news" instead of hours of pointless speculation such as "This guy could get traded, what do you think" that sports radio stations are dedicating way too much time on.

Elsewhere, we're actually seeing a "sports media" impact on the movies. Sony Pictures as acquired "Jesse Holley" (the film title) which will be about the wide receiver of that name who played for Dallas and New England. The media impact is because Holley got into pro football after he won the "4th And Long" reality TV show and was invited to the Cowboys' training camp and made the team. (In his first game with Dallas he caught a 77-yard pass in overtime.) Michael Irvin is expected to be the Executive Producer. If not for the reality show, chances are that Holley would not have received the invite to camp and had the chance to compete in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the movie "Draft Day", which is to star Kevin Costner as the GM of the Cleveland Browns, will include actual filming for the movie at the NFL Draft in New York next month. The remainder of the film will be shot in Ohio. It's interesting that the NFL appears to be allowing a movie crew to be working at the actual draft.

Elsewhere, the NBC Sports Radio Network has announced more of its weekday lineup, and this time it's more than moving weekend guys into weekday slots. Former NFL QB Donovan McNabb will be teamed with another former QB, and Radio-TV sportscaster Mark Malone for the 3 - 7 PM ET spot, with the debut set for April 1st. Not only is this pairing two guys who played the same position (as opposed to an offensive player and a defensive player), but after the NFL Draft in late April they will go almost three months before NFL training camp time. Thus, while the sports world focuses on the start of baseball season, The Masters, the NCAA Final Four, and the start of the NBA and NHL playoffs in April, all NBC offers up is a pair of football experts. The Noon to 3 PM ET spot will be hosted by Newy Scruggs out of Dallas. Scruggs is Sports Director of KXAS-TV 5, and has also hosted on KRLD-FM, which is now a CBS Radio station. Scruggs will be joined by analysts including Stan Van Gundy and Bobby Valentine throughout the week.

Listeners to New York's WABC 770 from its days long ago as MusicRadio may remember Howard Hoffman, who spent about 17 years as one of its top 40 format DJ's. Where is he now? Hoffman will be the play-by-play voice for the Walla Walla Sweets of the West Coast (baseball) League starting next month.

Meanwhile, it is possible that this could be last "consecutive" year for CBS-TV to televise the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. The word is that TNT might be airing those games in 2014, even though the original contract allowed the alternating to begin as "late" as 2016. My hunch is that CBS prefers to air the Final Four in 2016 instead. That's the next year that they (CBS) are scheduled to air the Super Bowl. Just like this year, that would give CBS the two biggest "early in the year" sports events if they have both the Super Bowl and Final Four in 2016, as well as major opportunities for their advertisers.

CHICAGO: ESPN Deportes 97.5 has signed to broadcast soccer from Mexico in an interesting move. This is not a network deal, but the local station securing the broadcast rights to air the games of Chivas Rayadas de Guadalajara of the Mexican Football League North Zone. As of now, it is the only team in that league to have a roster consisting entirely of Mexican players. Thus, this is a local station contract for an out-of-market (and out of the country) team, whose game are not otherwise regularly available in any language.

OKLAHOMA CITY: KINB 105.3 has gone to CBS Sports Radio Network and dropped the music format. However, the station starts by having to battle Sports Animal WWLS 98.1 and ESPN Radio 640 for listeners without any local play-by-play.

VERONA NY: Sorry to learn of the passing of Vincent Spadafora, who handled play-by-play of many local high school and college games over the years on a variety of local stations in the Oneida area. Spadafora also taught broadcasting at Onondaga Community College for more than 30 years.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cutting Away From A Championship Game?

Here we have CBS, having spent gazillions of dollars for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, not allowing some viewers to see the last four minutes of a college basketball telecast which has a direct bearing on the pairings for that tournament. Then they make it worse by seemingly passing the buck to its local stations. For some viewers, this puts the "Mad" into March Madness, and you can't blame them. Especially when this wasn't the first time.

On Sunday (3/10), the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game between Creighton and Wichita State was televised by CBS. Yet, with just over four minutes left in a tight game (won by Creighton by just three points), some CBS stations left that telecast for the start of the Indiana vs. Michigan Big Ten game. Supposedly, this was done (on some or all of those stations) with no warning to viewers.

Adding even more fuel to this is that the MVC Champion gains a higher seed in the coming NCAA Tournament which CBS owns the rights to (sharing with Turner Sports, but that is not significant to this story). The Indiana vs. Michigan game was a regular season game, not to mention that it hadn't started yet when the CBS stations joined that telecast instead.

One could, maybe (and I do mean "maybe") understand this happening in TV markets in parts of Indiana and Michigan, considering that Indiana State (of the MVC) was not a participant in the MVC championship game. However, WMBD-TV Peoria IL (in which Bradley University of the MVC is located) was among those stations that were switched out for the Big Ten game.

When this sort of thing has happened with NFL games, fans do get the explanation about NFL and TV policy. This past NFL season, Fox and, yes, CBS were helped when the league allowed primary doubleheader games to begin at 4:25 ET, ten minutes later than in the past, solely for the purpose of reducing or eliminating having to take viewers away from the end of a game.

This time, it happened on some stations with no rhyme or reason, and without warning. What about CBS-TV Sports Network? Why didn't it show either the start of Indiana vs. Michigan or, if they must switch, join the finale of the MVC game?

For all of the money these networks are spending for rights fees, and all of the time devoted to sports coverage, there is NO excuse for this happening. Fans, and even millions of people who are not college basketball fans, pay a lot more than they should for cable or satellite TV. These sports packages are a huge part of the reason for these fees rising over the past few years. Fans are entitled to see the conclusion of a Conference championship game for their money.

That wasn't the only oddball move from CBS over the past week. But this next one was merely strange P.R. and wouldn't upset the listeners. The new CBS Sports Radio Network, with all of its resources, had an interview segment last Wednesday (3/6)during John Feinstein's midday show with Bob Costas. That's concern enough, given that Costas works on NBC, which now competes against CBS via both TV and radio sports networks. Yet, CBS actually included the guesting of Costas within its publicity for that day's radio shows. Nothing like promoting one of your competitor's best assets. Oh, and Costas also works for MLB Network, which now has its own morning show. One which you could say competes (among baseball fans) with CBS Sports Network's morning shows.

Well, I guess they couldn't preview the MVC Tournament instead, given that they didn't show its conclusion to some of their audience.

The NCAA Tournament telecast announcing teams have been, well, announced. Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg, and Steve Kerr will handle the Final Four. The other announcing teams will be Marv Albert with Steve Kerr, Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery, Kevin Harlan with Reggie Miller and Len Elmore, Ian Eagle with Jim Spanarkel, Tim Brando with Mike Gminski, Spero Dedes with Doug Gottlieb, and Brian Anderson with Dan Bonner.

The NBC Sports Radio Network is on schedule to rollout its weekday lineup as of April 1st. It has had weekend programming since the start of the year. So what is their big unveiling? It's that Erik Kuselias, who has been hosting weekend nights, will then host weekday mornings from 6 to 9 ET. But it doesn't stop there. Jon Stashower, who has been hosting Sunday mornings, will take over on weekdays from 7 to 10 PM ET. Nothing yet about any "big name" announcers, former or current players or coaches, joining the schedule. Sure, just take you weekend guys and give them the weekday shifts. Oh my.

How interesting were comments made last week by DirecTV CFO Pat Doyle? While speaking at a Telecom Conference in Florida, Doyle commented that DirecTV is concerned about the price tag for possible renewal of "NFL Sunday Ticket" after the 2014-15 season. After all, the Network will shell out $4 billion during its current contract from 2009 through 2014 for the exclusive rights. While we can certainly understand the concern, based on that amount of money, it could be a difficult situation for DirecTV. Either giving up "Sunday Ticket" or not having the exclusive (to save money) would likely result in a significant reduction of their customer base. Makes me wonder if Fox Sports is chomping at the bit for this, given the announcement last week of forming (still another) regional network, and already having a contract with the NFL.

TBS has announced its MLB telecast schedule for Sunday afternoons for April and May:

April 7 1 p.m. New York Yankees @ Detroit Tigers

April 14 1:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Rays @ Boston Red Sox

April 21 1:30 p.m. Los Angeles Dodgers @ Baltimore Orioles

April 28 1 p.m. Toronto Blue Jays @ New York Yankees

May 5 1:30 p.m. New York Mets @ Atlanta Braves

May 12 1:30 p.m. Toronto Blue Jays @ Boston Red Sox

May 19 1:30 p.m. Los Angeles Dodgers @ Atlanta Braves

May 26 1:30 p.m. New York Yankees @ Tampa Bay Rays

If you haven't already noticed, every one of these telecasts involves either New York, Los Angeles, or Boston. On a positive note, each telecast begins at either 1:00 or 1:30 ET, allowing some degree of consistency for viewers. In past years, part of the reason for less than stellar ratings has been the variation in starting times from week to week.

LOS ANGELES: Like father like son. This past Thursday (3/7), when the Dodgers played the Texas Rangers and it aired on KLAC 570, Jorge Jarrin handled the play-by-play filling in for Charlie Steiner and working with Rick Monday. He is the son of Jaime Jarrin, who was believed to be the first ever to broadcast baseball in Spanish over 50 years ago, when he began doing so for the Dodgers. Jorge remains in camp where he will call a couple of live webcasts (in English) from spring training. He also called several games in Spanish last year, along with Manny Mota, for Fox Deportes. The younger Jarrin is also hosting "Dodger Talk" on KLAC from the Glendale AZ camp.

CHICAGO: The record start by the Blackhawks also translated to record ratings for the telecasts on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The team's record 24 "unbeaten" games to begin the season produced the top ten regular season telecasts in CSN Chicago's history. That's almost as impressive as the team's streak.

St. LOUIS: While some other markets have seen an increase in the number of sports talk radio stations, St. Louis is headed in the other direction. Only WXOS 101.1 survives, and its ratings haven't been the greatest either. We'll get an indication when we see whether or not its audience increases over the next few months. KFNS 590 and KXFM 1380 are both giving up on all-sports in favor of "man talk" and "woman talk". Whatever they may do, it signals the end of an era, resulting in NO full-time sports stations on the AM dial. KFNS is the station that took the Cardinals broadcasts off of KMOX for a few years, and its night-time signal problems and the complaints it brought resulted in the Cards returning to KMOX last year.

PORTLAND OR: KPOJ 620 has changed to Fox Sports Radio. However, its previous talk format barely showed up in the ratings, so in this instance anything would be an improvement.

HOUSTON: I suppose that announcing program lineup changes provides KGOW 1560 with publicity they aren't otherwise getting. After barely showing up at the bottom of the ratings, the station moved Steve Czaban to mornings and then paired market veteran John Granato with Sean Pendergast for 3 to 7 PM as of this week.

MILWAUKEE: A nice move by WTMJ last Wednesday (3/6) when Bucks announcer Ted Davis had a special guest during the broadcast against the Clippers from Los Angeles, Eddie Doucette, the Hall of Fame broadcaster who called the Bucks for 16 seasons (including their championship in 1971) was a visitor during the game. Too many teams overlook their history, and giving the fans the chance to hear from a former "voice" was top notch.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Are TV Dollars Influencing Rosters Now?

The L.A. Dodgers are among the teams (and college conferences) receiving huge long-term money for TV and media rights. Earlier this year, the Dodgers announced that their big bucks TV contract, which starts in 2014, will include the telecasts being available in THREE languages, to include Korean. The team brought pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu to camp under a contract stating that he (Ryu) cannot be sent down to the minor leagues without his approval. Ryu could be the first Korean pitcher to go directly to the minor leagues. On Saturday (3/2), a Los Angeles Times report indicated that the Dodgers are "looking at" adding Korean language radio broadcasts of "selected games" in time for this season.

Is this a coincidence?

We may never know for sure, but the question needs to be raised. A lot has changed since Fernando Valenzuela became a sensation for the Dodgers and significantly increased the demand for the Spanish language broadcasts, as well as attendance and support from the Latin community. At that time, the TV and media rights fees were not long term and not amounting to billions. In fact, when Fernando was a rookie, the Dodgers were televising fewer games than the majority of the teams. However, the supposed contract clause for Ryu that he cannot go to the minor leagues without his approval, seems to be an unusual one, especially for an untested rookie.

Obviously, the Dodgers are hoping that Ryu will pitch effectively, and that it will become a modern day version of "Fernandomainia", this time complete with Korean radio broadcasts when he pitches. At this point, this looks from here to be a media based decision because of the big dollar potential of adding the Korean market for ticket sales and for advertisers seeking to directly reach them.

As it stands now, the TV and media money being thrown at college conferences is having an impact on when, where, and in which conference many schools are playing. Even long standing rivalries are being cast aside in favor of taking in more money. Now we could be seeing the start of pro teams making personnel decisions based more on media rights than on ability to play the position. It will be interesting to see if one or more pitchers proves more effective in spring training than Ryu, but do not make the pitching staff although Ryu does. While it's bad enough that consumers are being, in some cases, forced to foot the bill for the exorbitant TV rights fees, the serious sports fans have to hope that player personnel decisions are based on what is best for the team and not for the media rights.

Meanwhile, "Fox Sports 1" has been announced as official, with a scheduled national launch date of Saturday August 17. Fox is using its ability to force its way onto the major cable and satellite systems and expects to debut in more than 90 million homes. To its credit, FS1 will already have a respectable amount of choice inventory to choose from, including major college football and NASCAR right away. The network will be able to air MLB games beginning with the 2014 season (since it begins too late into the '13 regular season), and will also offer up a slate of college basketball games starting in November. Additional live programming such as soccer and UFC will add to the mix, providing fresh content instead of hours of recorded material and/or informericals.

As you might expect, FS1 is also looking to include a nightly 11 PM highlights show to go head-to-head with SportsCenter, along with a daily live shows such as "Fox Football Daily" which will utilize the network's NFL studio personnel and analysts on a regular basis. This announcement has been long rumored, but I'll give Fox Sports a lot of credit for waiting until it has a respectable roster of games and events to start with. This compares favorably, for example, to NBC Sports Network, which went 24 hours but other than the NHL, lacks quality games.

With that, it was NHL Network that beefed up its attack last weekend and not NBC Sports Network, even as several teams are enjoying increased local ratings. NHL Network showed four games live on Saturday (3/2), with games from Philadelphia at Noon ET, Winnipeg at 3 PM, Montreal at 7 PM, and then Vancouver at 10:30 PM. Then on Sunday (3/3) when NBC only offered a single game at 12:30 PM ET, NHL Network came right back with the St. Louis at Dallas telecast at 3 PM, making it a doubleheader for those fans who knew to switch over.

Just to show how the "league" networks are continuing to make an impact, we actually have an instance of hiring away. Fran Charles, who was recently a studio host for NFL Network's GameDay Final and Total Access, has been hired away by MLB Network to be used on some of its studio programming. Prior to NFL Network, Charles worked at HBO as well as WNBC-TV New York and WHDH-TV Boston.

MIAMI: No more controversy for Dan Sileo on WQAM. Sileo had joined WQAM 560 last April and had been suspended for a couple of days in January due after he got personal with insults directed toward Erin Andrews. That followed his rant in September following a University of Miami loss during which he actually urged players to "pull a knife" on an opposing quarterback. WQAM solved the problem by "parting ways" with Sileo and not giving him the chance to say goodbye, or anything else for that matter, on the air. His last 10 AM to 1 PM show was on Friday (3/1). Kevin Rogers and Brandon Guzio are co-hosting the show until a replacement is named. Wonder if Erin Andrews is being considered as a replacement.

St. LOUIS: While the market continues to see a drop in its sports radio listenership, Kevin Slaten is back on the air as of this week. However, Slaten is now on KQQZ 1190, which is a talk (and not a sports) station from 3 to 6 PM. Slaten had been a local sports talker for nearly 20 years before being let go last year by KFNS.

LANSING MI: As Michigan State University and local fans gear up for March Madness, sports talk becomes more regional in scope as of this week. WVFN 730 The Game just started to carry "The Drive With Jack Ebling" from 3 to 6 PM, going up against "The Huge Show" with Bill Simonson on WBBL 107.3. Just how "local" these shows are remains the question. The fact is that both of these shows originate from Grand Rapids stations. Grand Rapids has more of a balance of fans of University of Michigan as well as MSU. This has me curious to hear how this will play out starting in August when football fans will be talking up U of M on two "local" stations in Lansing.

FLORENCE SC: Hard to say that it is due to overwhelming demand, but this market now has joined the ranks of those with two competing sports stations. WOLH 98.9 dropped a music format to become ESPN Radio. The station will air some local programming, including "The Press Box" with Allen Smothers and Emerson Phillips during the unusual time slot of 8 to 10 AM on weekdays and Phil Kornblut from 6 to 8 PM. The station continues to broadcast South Carolina basketball, and is also airing the University's baseball broadcasts for the first time. CBS Sports Radio airs on 100.1 FM, which had dropped ESPN at the start of the year to go with CBS.