Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Technical Difficulties? Just Sign Off.....

Although you can't fault a station or network for experiencing technical difficulties during a live broadcast, you can and should question why they would cause a major market radio station to give up and end a live broadcast prematurely.

WSCR 670 The Score in Chicago was, as scheduled, airing the Chicago White Sox vs. Colorado Rockies spring training game on Sunday (3/23). During the second inning, the station obviously lost the feed. It seems there were no local hosts available. The station aired several minutes of commercials with no explanation. Next, it suddenly joinded CBS Radio sports right in the middle of a segment. A few minutes later, they returned to the White Sox game.

However, the feed was cutting in and out. The feed returned after the bottom of the 5th inning and going into the top of the 6th. Play-by-play voice Ed Farmer came on and said, to the effect of, "Since we continue to have technical difficulties, we are going to sign off for today". Farmer then recapped the game, gave the date and time of the next scheduled broadcast, thanked the fans for tuning in, and signed off. After a couple more commercials, the station, gain without explanation, re-joined CBS Sports Radio as if nothing was wrong.

Yes, I know this was a spring training game, but I also know this is a Chicago CBS radio station. One that should be making a reasonable effort to air the program they promised. This is a sports talk station when not airing play-by-play, using today's technology. This is not 30 years ago when there might not have been a phone available other than the broadcast line.

Over the years, I have advised my sportscasting students about having a backup in the event of a lost conection or feed. It is unfathomable that this broadcast was stopped, even if it meant Farmer describing the game via a cell phone in the booth, his own or someone else's, until the official feed is regained. I have experienced someone doing play-by-play into a phone and being patched through on the air, even with lesser sound quality, because the show must go on.

But there is more to this mess. This was one of only nine White Sox games this all sports station is airing this spring training. However, they don't even air the entire broadcast for all nine games as it is.

For whatever reason, WSCR stops the play-by-play after five innings of three of those games to merely take phone calls from fans who converse with Farmer and analyst Darrin Jackson. Every once in a while, they throw in an update about what is going on in the game. The station seems to think that listeners would rather hear some fan talking about who the third baseman should be instead of how the third baseman is actually doing in the game. This, when the station has 20 hours that same day available to talk about the team all they want.

Now, they obviously thought nothing of dumping out of a promised live broadcast because they had an excuse. This broadcast also ended at the same time on the MLB At Bat application, which carries the actual flagship station's feed. Thus, as one of the millions who pay for At Bat, I was deprived of something I have paid for and was promised, in addition to the WSCR listeners who were left stranded. Oh, and the Rockies came back with five runs later in the game and changed the outcome.

This also happened days after rumors have begun to surface that CBS Radio sister station WBBM might be bidding on the Chicago Cubs radio broadcasts later this year. If this group can't even stick to airing an entire game due to "technical difficulties" and feels the need to take listener calls instead of providing play-by-play, shoudn't this be kept in mind?

WSCR has done a poor job with their coverage as it is. There have been, and probably will be, numerous times throughout the season when they forget to turn off the 7-second delay and the broadcast lags behind real time. Farmer and Jackson often admit to reading out of town scores off the stadium scoreboard, as if CBS can't afford to have online updates available at all times. During regular programming, many of the "scoreboard update" segments during nights and weekends fail to give out of town pro sports scores. 

All of this while some radio executives continue to wonder where their audience is going. As a long-time radio guy, I hate this. If radio had kept doing its job, we wouldn't need our phones to listen to the other team's feed and to check the scores we want as often as we want. If only you could get "a score" while listening to "The Score".

Meanwhile, an ooops for CBS-TV during the weekend's NCAA Tournament coverage. Play-by-play voice Andrew Catalon made a specific ethnic reference to Przemek Karnowski, who is of Polish descent and lays for Gonzaga. Catalon did apologize on the air soon after, during the Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State game, and reportedly went to personally apologize to Karnowski and his coaches following the game. As of press time, no "public" disciplanary action was taken by CBS-TV, and Catalon has already worked his next scheduled assignment.

Regular season college hoops continued to be successful for ESPN. Sports Business Daily reports that the 2013-14 regular season was the highest rated season ever for ESPN's telecasts. Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN, which each aired a share of lesser games to at least provide live programming, both averaged less than 10% of ESPN's regular season ratings.

JACKSONVILLE: The Jaguars aren't making enough changes on the roster to satisfy the fans, but they are changing radio stations for the coming season. WJXL 1010 and 92.5 will take over as flagship stations, with nearby WGNE 99.9 Middleburg also airing the games. This ends the association with WOKV AM/FM, which had aired every game since the team began in 1995.

In addition, WJXT-TV 4 takes over the TV rights to the Jags' exhibition games, and is adding WKMG-TV Orlando to the fold as well. Those games were previously shown on WTEV-TV.

ALBANY: WROW 590 will air Army football starting with the coming season, as well as WBPM 92.9 in Hudson Valley, as part of a 5-year agreement. WBNR 1260 Newburgh will air the Army basketball games.

RENO: KSGG 1230 has dropped a music format and gone with syndicated sports programming. Hardly a distinction in Reno, since this makes FIVE sports stations, or six if you include ESPN Deportes 1450.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tough Month For Sports Radio

While sports fans (and their co-workers who like to pick teams) await four days of non-stop college hoops, it turns out that the February ratings period was not good at all for sports radio, based on the top markets.

It keeps with showing that it is the sports happenings that make the difference, above and beyond the "personalities" on the majority of the sports stations. And it's not just a couple of markets.

In New York, WFAN was down .7 overall, with WEPN down .4. Chicago's WSCR The Score dipped by .6, while WMVP ESPN 1000 dipped by .3. San Francisco's KNBR dropped by 1.6 ratings points, while KGMZ lost 25% of its overall audience for the month.

In Dallas, all three sports stations lost, with leader KTCK The Ticket dropping .4, KESN .3, and KRLD-FM losing more than one-third of its audience with a .8 drop. In Philadelphia, WIP-FM dipped by .8.

Houston's KILT, which has been showing a pulse over the past four months, dropped by .6 overall (more than 25%), yet it still dominates its local competitors. In Los Angeles, even though one of the three sports stations actually held steady, none of them showed a rating higher than 1.0 anyway.

This is not to say that there is a trend here. The March ratings period will include the NCAA Tourney coverage, NBA and NHL playoff race time, and MLB spring training, all of which should generate an improvement for most of these markets.

Meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with ESPN using its "Bottom Line" scroll for promotion, as it often does, along with updated scores and sports headlines. However, the network has, at times, chosen to include Mel Kiper's mock NFL Draft picks on occasion. It is far too early to be considered as a promo for ESPN's draft coverage, since the draft is more than a month away. But this "information" is not newsworthy either. This wouldn't be so bad if the network didn't do things such as reducing the number of times it scrolls the NHL scores in prime time, perhaps because the NHL is the only one of the four major pro leagues it does not televise.

Speaking of ESPN, their new era for prime-time college football starts later this year when a "new" lead play-by-play voice will take over for Brent Musburger. Brent has been "moved" to calling SEC football on the SEC Network starting on August 28th (Texas A & M at South Carolina), where he will be working with Jesse Palmer as his analyst. He is expected to continue calling college hoops on ESPN, most likely on Big 12 Conference games.

Over at Fox Sports 1, the desparation for filler programming has brought the addition of a simulcast of Mike Francesa's WFAN New York radio show into the weekday afternoon lineup. Not sure if this will take any NYC area viewers away from the simulcast of Michael Kay's radio show on YES Network, and it's not as if WFAN will allow "national" sports talk. Another reason this is a curious move is that WFAN is a CBS station, and their morning show (Boomer & Carton) airs on the struggling CBS Sports Network as well. Just wait until Francesa needs to use the resources of CBS Radio on his show, and it goes out over Fox Sports 1.

MLB Network has announced an aggressive schedule of game telecasts for the month of April, including a few weekday afternoon games. These include the Monday April 21 Patriots Day game between the Red Sox and Orioles (11 AM ET), and back to back Yankees vs. Orioles day games on April 7 & 8. The Network is also originating the season openers this coming Saturday (3/22) between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, with the first pitch shortly after 4 AM ET. It is good to see that these games are being shown nationally, even without the hype that should accompany the season openers.

BOSTON: WEEI-FM has another obstacle this week in its battle to overtake WBZ-FM Sports Hub with the loss of Mike Salk. Salk announced on the air that he is heading for Seattle, where he will return to Seattle's ESPN 710 as both a program host and as its Program Director. He leaves "Salk & Holley", which began on WEEI-FM after Glenn Ordway was released more than a year ago.

SAN FRANCISCO: KGMZ 95.7 The Game is at least making an effort. They have hired Damon Bruce away from KTCT 1050 to host its 3 to 7 PM shift. The Game moves Bucher & Towny (Ric Bucher and Chris Townsend) up to its morning show to replace the "Rise Guys" show.

RHINELANDER WI: WHOH 96.5 debuts this week as Sports Radio 96.5. As of now, however, no local shows have been scheduled, with the station airing CBS Sports Radio Network.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where The Fans Have No Say

From one extreme to the other, thousands of sports fans don't have their say. This busy month of March brings an interesting coincidence for a pair of opposites in terms of TV viewing.

The first "extreme" takes place in Montana, which geographically is the 4th largest state. I had not realized until seeing two (unrelated) articles about that state's high school basketball state tournament. It seems that, despite all of the interest over that wide area and no pro teams within miles, there is NO telecast of the tournament. Not free, and not even as a pay-per-view. It's not as though a large number of fans can logistically travel 100 miles or more to follow their team or that a blackout policy is restricting.  Those fans don't even have  a choice.

The other "extreme" has started in the Los Angeles region. The new regional TV network exclusive to the L.A. Dodgers has started, and is showing every spring training game. However, only Time Warner Cable subscribers can see the games. And, whether the subscribers want the games or not, they are being forced to pay extra for the network. Other cable and satellite systems are, understandably, balking at the fee to Time Warner to be able to distribute the games. While even fans who would be willing to pay what Stan Kelly used to call a "small but exhorbitant fee" to these other systems are not able to do so.

What we have here is one of the largest states not able to watch their local high school team playing for the state championship on any TV channel, while the battle is on for huge money so fans can pay to watch the games of a pro team in one of the largest population areas of the U.S. Neither situation should exist.

Regarding the Dodgers' TV situation, at least MLB is trying to stir the pot. Reports indicate that MLB is now asking the Dodgers for the entire 1.9 billion (yes, billion) dollar share of this long term TWC contract, instead of prorating the fee over the scheduled 25 years. This would seem to be MLB putting the pressure on TWC to get the telecasts to a wider distribution sooner, rather than later, in order to help raise the funds to pay this balance up front.

Then again, the Angels, which have "Los Angeles" in their name again this season, have been making it known that their telecasts are reaily available on Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket, which is already a part of some basic cable packages and is widely available in the L.A. and Southern California area.

The Angels are televising 26 spring training games (all but a couple) and the majority of their regular season games. While the local media will most likely continue to have the Dodgers be the priority team, it is possible that some of the "casual" fan base will move over to Angels territory if this situation doesn't get straightened out soon.

DETROIT: WDFN 1130 is adding a 2nd local sports talk show later this month, announcing the return of the "Parker and The Man" show on March 24th. Rob Parker and Mark Wilson will, however, air from 7 to 10 PM, meaning that on most nights they will be up against a Red Wings, Pistons, and/or Tigers broadcast on WXYT 97.1. Hopefully, after a few weeks to get the show's wheels in motion, WDFN will move this show into afternoon drive in hopes of capturing the larger audience this pair used to have.

NEW YORK: WOR has added Seth Everett to its Mets coverage, naming him to host the pre-game and post-game shows for the new flagship station. Everett has most recently been with WINS 1010, as well as heard nationally on MLB Radio Network.

St. LOUIS: KXFN 1380 has yet to announce any local sports programming since last week's quiet switch back to sports radio. Thus far, the station is only airing Yahoo Sports.

DULUTH/SUPERIOR: WGEE 970 has returned to sports programming after five years without it. However, it will try to compete against WEBC ESPN 560 and KQDS The Fan 1490. We'll see on this one. Three sports stations in a market which has no pro sports in the area.

FARGO: WDAY 970 has added a local sports show on Saturday mornings. "Kolpack & Izzo" now airs from 9 to 11 AM each Saturday, hosted by Sports Director Dom Izzo and local writer Jeff Kolpack.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Whole Game, and Nothing But The Game?

Extra cheers today to NBA-TV both for an instant programming decision and for practical use of social media. As most NBA fans know, on Monday night (3/3) LeBron James scored 61 points in the Miami Heat win in what could well have been his best regular season game to date.

On Tuesday morning, NBA-TV announced that it was going to replay the telecast that afternoon, and was able to spread the word via social media. This was excellent for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it showed great flexibility by a national network to go with programming that many fans might want to see while the "news" element was still fresh. Of course, it didn't hurt that the Heat's next game, that following night, was already scheduled to air nationally on NBA-TV.

The fact that the word was spread via social media (I found out via Twitter) is also a big positive. It is because this use of social media was specifically for the purpose of providing a specific reason for viewership at a specific time. All too often, social media alerts from or about TV and radio stations or networks provide reasons NOT to watch or listen, which is why these stations and networks exist in the first place. In this instance, with the Heat replay, the social media alert was designed to encourage viewership within a 2 hour period.

If the tweet (and other social media alerts) had said the game could be seen online, it would have defeated the purpose of attracting viewers to the Network. This is how radio and TV should use social media. They should not be like the music radio stations that want to sell you downloads of their music as a revenue source. After all, once you download all of your favorite songs, you don't need to listen to that station play songs you can't stand and 5-minute or longer clusters of commercials.

NBC certainly benefitted from timing with good ratings this past Saturday (3/1) from the first regular season NHL game shown in prime time on an over-the-air network in 40 years. NHL fans know that Pittsburgh vs. Chicago is a strong matchup this season, but the coincidence of still another winter storm gripping much of the strong viewing area helped drive the numbers home for this outdoor game telecast. Even though the cameras are further way and the player numbers harder to read, you can bet that NBC will be airing more outdoor games next season, and one or more will most certainly involve the Chicago Blackhawks.

The NFL ratings are to the point where NBC is already promoting its opening pre-season telecast. Here it is the beginning of March, and we already know that NBC will have the Hall of Fame Game (exhibition opener) in prime time on Sunday August 3, with the N.Y. Giants taking on Buffalo.

After the recent incident with KNBR San Francisco dumping out of its live U.S. team in the Olympics hockey coverage for a golf show, we had still another incident of a live game broadcast being curtailed on Sunday (3/2). This is not about debating the importance (or lack thereof) of spring training baseball, but stations should either air the entire game or not bother at all. And these were all sports radio stations!

The spring game between the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox was not televised to either market, but was (scheduled to be) broadcast on the flagship stations in both markets, which also happen to be sports stations. You would think it mean until the finish of the game.

Fans listening on KESN Dallas were told a few minutes before 5:00 CT that KESN would be leaving the broadcast at the top of the hour "in the event it is not finished". The game went into the top of the 9th inning around 4:55 PM with the Rangers (home team) holding a 2 run lead. They announced at 5:00 that KESN was leaving the game but told fans "You can listen on Rangers.com or on AtBat".

However, what they didn't know is that the AtBat phone/online application was carrying the feed from KESN and the game broadcast went off there as well. In fact, it took about five minutes for MLB to catch that their AtBat application was airing the first few minutes of the Dallas Mavericks' pre-game show, which was why KESN ended the Rangers broadcast at that time.

You guessed it, the White Sox erupted for five runs in the 9th inning and went on to win the game, even though Rangers broadcast listeners had no idea. Granted, this is not like "the Heidi game" in terms of magnitude, but it was an all sports radio station not airing an outcome changing inning it was contracted to do. And for a ONE HOUR pre-game show for a regular season Mavericks game?

I could understand if the Mavs game was about to start, but it wasn't. Even with the Rangers game itself going until about 5:35, there still would have been over a half hour to preview the Mavs game.

Either air the entire game or don't air it at all.

But there is more. AtBat listeners could switch over to the White Sox radio broadcast. However, flagship station WSCR The Score Chicago was having one of those miserable "interactive" broadcasts, as they call them. For some oddball reason, The Score insists on taking some of their spring training broadcasts (and they do not do all of the games) and stopping actual play-by-play after five innings. Instead, broadcasters Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson take phone calls from listeners discussing the team, and toss in an occasional update of what is happening on the field, as if that is secondary.

They seem to think that fans would rather hear what "Joe from the south side" thinks about the pitching staff instead of how the pitcher standing on the mound that moment is actually throwing. (It is no surprise the White Sox are the only team that lets this happen, but that's another story.) Again, if the game itself is not important enough to carry in its entirety, why air it at all?

Thus, listeners on AtBat or on WSCR were also deprived of the actual five run ninth inning, and it was "their" team that came back and won the game.

Here we have TV stations and networks generating HUGE ratings with live sports, carried to conclusion. And we have all sports radio stations struggling to retain their audience cutting away from live sports events for "other" programming. Ouch.

Elsewhere, another odd decision by Fox Sports. Their expanded MLB coverage is going to include Fox Sports 1's "MLB Whiparound" on weeknights, a new one-hour baseball score, updates, and highlights show with the ability to go to live "look-ins" just like ESPN's Baseball Tonight and MLB Network's "MLB Tonight". While this is a great and welcome idea, it is created with the idea of attracting viewers to the struggling new network. So why is this show planned for 10 PM ET on weeknights (unless a live telecast conflicts)?

It means that on most nights, it will be head-to-head with ESPN's "Baseball Tonight", which has established itself for more than 20 years and has withstood the competition from MLB Network quite well. As we know from incidents such as ESPN SportsCenter attracting more than ten times the audience of FS1 after the Super Bowl (shown and promoted on Fox), it likely means that FS1's show will be practically for naught. Here's hoping they will come to their senses and move the show to 11 PM ET.

By doing this, it could draw people over when "Baseball Tonight" ends who don't wish to endure SportsCenter rotating with every other sport going on and dropping in the occasional baseball highlights.

Instead, Fox is busy promoting that Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci will replace Tim McCarver on Fox telecasts, when Fox Network itself is showing fewer than half as many Saturday telecasts as it has over past years. Reynolds, by the way, is an excellent choice.

Dish Network will be carrying the upcoming SEC Network, as well as the Longhorn Network (University of Texas channel) in their respective marketing areas. Nothing yet about how these will be packaged and whether or not this will cost people who are not fans of either more each month.

DENVER: KKFN The Fan 104.3 has moved Sandy Clough out of late mornings and into the Noon to 3 PM spot along with Drew Goodman and Scott Hastings. However, Clough's shift is not being replaced by local programming, at least for now. The station is airing The Dan Patrick Show in the 9 AM to Noon MT spot.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Now that it is airing the Nationals games, WJFK-FM 106.7 The Fan needs to have its actual sports presence on nights when there are no game broadcasts, and is dumping Don Geronimo after less than six months since his return to D.C.

BOSTON: With the growth of both WBZ-FM Sports Hub and WEEI-FM, and with Glenn Ordway still off the air as it happened, Ordway is going with an online show during the afternoon drive period. Ordway clearly realizes that other stations in the region have carried WEEI-FM, and hopes his online show will land him back on one or more of those stations. His show starts on March 17th on SportsTalkBoston.com.