Tuesday, August 29, 2017

When Sportscasters Take Over

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the residents and business owners in the Houston area, as well as the other areas of Texas and Louisiana which have been devastated by Harvey over the past few days. The true impact of this is not always being felt as it should by people around the country because Houston is not a tourist town.

Local media coverage is extremely important to a lot of people, and it's good to know that Sports Radio KBME 790 took a leadership role in the local coverage. Matt Thomas quickly went from sports talk host to a lead anchor of the stations coverage, which was shared among each of the other Houston stations owned by iHeart.

Thomas reportedly averaged more than eight hours per day from this past Friday through Monday as overnight host, keeping listeners updated and handling phone calls like the true pro he is.

The Houston CBS stations also joined forces, with KILT 610 Sports Radio hosts Mike Meltser, Paul Gallant, and Sean Pendergast each contributing full hosting shifts as part of a five-station simulcast (along with TV Channel 2 providing audio at times) among the groups. Due to the emergency conditions, KILT is allowed to broadcast 24 hours a day instead of being a daytime only signal.

For as much as we question the need for multiple sports stations in Houston based on how the three of them struggle for overall ratings, it was wonderful to see them come through when needed the most.

On the other hand, there were a couple of sports reporters and bloggers who disgraced themselves indirectly because of this disaster. The Astros and MLB were forced to quickly decide on an alternate location for the current series between the Astros and Rangers which was scheduled for this week in Houston.

The Rangers had valid reasons to not switch home series on less than 24 hours notice, such as not wanting to lose ticket revenue by hosting games weeks earlier than scheduled while inconveniencing many of their fans in the process. The Astros did not want to have "home" games be in a place where the rival crowd would be cheering against them. (As you probably know, the games were moved to Tampa Bay.)

Yet, some writers took the opportunity to bash the Rangers organization, even as the Rangers announced plans to raise and donate thousands of dollars to help out with victims of Harvey in the Houston area. Those that publicly criticized during this time - instead of trying to help those in need - are a disgrace to sports media everywhere. There is a time and a place to criticize, especially in sports. In the midst of a disaster with a short window of time is certainly not one of them.

The NFL continues to embrace social media, only this time it is about streaming its telecasts into China in a big way, starting with the upcoming season. Tencent Sports has a new three year contract to stream all Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night telecasts during the regular season, plus all post-season including the Super Bowl to its various platforms which total more than 960 million active users. The partnership also includes coverage of upcoming NFL Drafts and the NFL Combine. Patriots.com reports that the streamed games in China will be free. Financial terms were not disclosed, with the NFL and its teams expected to benefit from the additional push of merchandise.

Even though it's only for Fox Sports Radio, it's hard to overlook their hiring of Las Vegas sports betting expert R. J. Bell to host two shows for the network which will focus on betting odds and sports stories which relate to the Vegas sports book scene. Named "Straight Outta Vegas", the show debuts this Friday, and will air (live) on Fox Sports Radio Fridays from 8 until 9:00 PM ET and on Saturdays from 7 until 9:00 PM ET. While it's doubtful this show will garner much of an audience, especially with the number of affiliates which air play-by-play at that time on Saturdays, Bell will be a part of the network. In addition to this show, he is also expected to appear on other shows on the network.

It will be most interesting to see whether or not Bell talks about the NHL during his show or on any others he guests on, since the Las Vegas Golden Knights will become the NHL's newest team starting with late September exhibition games.

Former QB Phil Simms is adding to his CBS analyst duties, joining SiriusXM for a one hour NFL preview show. His segment will air initially on the Mad Dog Sports Channel on Thursday from 4 until 5:00 PM ET.

College football fans will be happy to know that TuneIn has announced an expansion of its college football broadcasts being made available for this season. Plans are underway for the App to carry both home and away calls for at least 140 schools. Best of all, this will be on the free service, and not restricted to its monthly fee premium package used for many pro sports.

PITTSBURGH: WXDX 105.9 The X will continue to be the flagship station for the current Stanley Cup Champion Penguins as the result of a contract extension through the 2020-21 season. The alternative music station has served as flagship since 2003, and will continue with a one hour pre-game show and extended post-game show as usual.

BALTIMORE: WBAL / WIVY are adding a second analyst for their regular season Ravens broadcasts to work along with Gerry Sandusky and Stan White. In a unique twist, the stations (and the Ravens radio network) have hired four analysts to each work four broadcasts this season. They are former Ravens Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta, Jarret Johnson, and Justin Forsett. No word as to whether or not this is something they would continue for coming seasons, or if they would choose the best one to join the broadcast team ongoing for the future.

TAMPA: Sports WDAE 620 is about to bail on the upcoming new "Golic & Wingo" ESPN Radio morning show before it officially starts. It appears they aren't taking any chances. The station is going to switch its current and local midday team of Ronnie Night Train Lane and Tom Krasniqi ("T Kras") into its 6 to 9 AM slot. To replace the ESPN morning show, WDAE will air The Dan Patrick Show from 9 AM to Noon.

In a reportedly unrelated move, Darek Sharp has left WDAE to join the University of South Florida and head up the school's new broadcasting venture. "USF Bills Unlimited" will be available as an App and 24 hour digital radio station. Sharp will also host the game day coverage (football and basketball) which will air on WWBA 820 starting this Saturday (9/2) with the USF vs. San Jose State broadcast.

LOS ANGELES: With attendance already a concern for the Chargers games, CBS is looking to spur more interest in the local NFL scene. News station KNX 1070 is adding a daily "Pro Football Insiders Report" each weekday with a different analyst each day. They will be former NFL standouts Dan Fouts, Jackie Slater, and Vince Ferragamo (each of whom played on a southern California NFL team), as well as broadcasters Chris Myers and Andrew Siciliano. No word yet as to whether or not other CBS stations in the California/Nevada region will carry the feature.

NASHVILLE: A change in the broadcast team for the Predators on WPRT 102.5 The Game starting with the coming season, with Brent Peterson moving from the analyst role to pre and post-game host. Former Preds defenseman Hal Gill will be the new game analyst, working with returning play-by-play voice Pete Weber.

FRESNO: KALZ 1400 and 96.7 has decided to become a Los Angeles Chargers affiliate and will air the game broadcasts this season.

CENTERVILLE IA: KCOG 1400 is looking (at press time) for a new play-by-play voice for its weekly high school football broadcasts starting next week. But it's not for the usual reason. It's not one of those radio stories where someone left suddenly or was dismissed. Mike O'Connor, who once owned the station more than 40 years ago, is running for Mayor.

As a result, if he continued to call the games, the station would be required to provide equal time to other candidates. And, darn it, the station could not force other candidates to each call a different football game for them. Have to wonder if whoever gets the play-by-play job will campaign for O'Connor to win and serve a long term as Mayor so he can retain the role for as long as he wants.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

College Football For Cord Cutters

One of the sports media happenings this week is certain to draw the attention of those sports fans who have cut the cord and dropped cable/satellite service due to the high cost.

It seems that a sports "network" known as Stadium has negotiated a partnership with Facebook for at least 15 live college football "telecasts" which will only be available via streaming social media. Although radio has given way to the internet, especially over the past few years, this partnership is perhaps the first one that makes direct inroads into the dominance of television for showing live games.

Even though this season's 15 already scheduled games are for Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference, it seems likely that other conferences will keep a close watch on this.

This is not something which is months or years in the future. This service starts on "Watch", which is a Facebook video platform available everywhere (as in globally, and not a limited area) on the "Live College Football Show" page starting with two games on September 2nd. That means this all starts a week from Saturday with Miami OH at Marshall at 6:30 PM ET, and the UC Davis at San Diego State game streaming at 8:30 PM ET. And on the following Thursday Sept. 7th, while the NFL season is opening up, this service will stream the Idaho State at Utah State game at 8:00 PM ET.

Here is their schedule of live streamed games, as of press time:

•Saturday, Sept. 2: Miami (OH) at Marshall, 6:30 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Sept. 2: UC Davis at San Diego State, 8:30 p.m. ET
•Thursday, Sept. 7: Idaho State at Utah State, 8:00 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Sept. 9: New Mexico State at New Mexico, 8:00 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Sept. 23: FIU at Rice, 7:30 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Sept. 23: Utah State at San Jose State, 7:30 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Sept. 30: Texas State at Wyoming, 4:00 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Oct. 7: Southern Miss at UTSA, 7:00 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Oct. 14: Wyoming at Utah State, 4:30 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Oct. 21: Rice at UTSA, 7:00 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Oct. 28: FIU at Marshall, 2:30 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Nov. 4: North Texas at Louisiana Tech, 3:30 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Nov. 11: Southern Miss at Rice, 3:30 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Nov. 18: Marshall at UTSA, 7:00 p.m. ET
•Saturday, Nov. 25: FAU at Charlotte, 2:00 p.m. ET

Keep in mind that "Stadium" already has 25 separate games scheduled to air on Twitter and on a free internet service, Pluto TV.

The sports media world lost another legend this week with the passing on Monday (8/21) of Rafael Ramirez, the Spanish radio voice of the Miami Marlins, at the age of 94. "Felo", as he was known, called Marlins games throughout their entire history, which included the team's first five no-hitters and both World Series titles. In addition, Ramirez, who broadcast baseball in seven decades, also called 32 World Series and is estimated to have done play-by-play at 40 Caribbean World Series as well.

As expected, NBC Sports is moving forward with changing the remaining regional sports networks currently billed as Comcast SportsNet to the NBC Sports name over the next few weeks. This includes Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston (New England), and Washington. The Bay Area network became NBC Sports Bay Area (and NBC Sports California) earlier this year, tipping off the change across the board. Only SNY New York will continue under its current brand. The goal is for this change to take place prior to the start of the NHL regular season in early October.

Still another tough spot for ESPN due to the actions of an employee. Ryen Russillo, an ESPN Radio host, was arrested (8/23) in Wyoming while on vacation when he entered a stranger's condo in the middle of the night reportedly intoxicated. No word, as of press time, on what ESPN will do following this incident.

NEW YORK: WEPN 98.7 has switched Alan Hahn and Dave Rothenberg within its current weekday lineup as of this week. Rothenberg leaves the 7:00 to 10:00 PM show and will join Chris Canty and Rick DiPietro on the 10 AM to 1 PM show, now known as "Humpty & Canty". Rothenberg will continue to host his Saturday 9 AM to Noon show. At the same time, Hahn moved out of the midday show and takes over the night spot.

It was also interesting how the N Y Daily News ran the story about how WFAN told Chris Christie that he would not be taking over its afternoon spot following the retirement of Mike Francesa late this year. Not exactly a shocker. And now that WEPN is moving around personalities before and after the Michael Kay Show, let's not forget our prediction that Kay will be the replacement for Francesa and jump to The Fan to further enhance its Yankees coverage.

SAN DIEGO: While the former flagship station of the Chargers, 105.3, has switched to air Raiders games starting this season, it turns out that the L.A. Chargers broadcasts will air on a San Diego station after all. Sister station KGB-FM 101.5 is taking those games. It might not be smooth sailing, since L.A. station KFI 640, which is now the flagship station for the team, has a strong signal which is easily heard in much of the San Diego market. This means that mentions of "KFI 640" will air on KGB as part of the Chargers broadcast.

However, the value of carrying these games is likely to outweigh that. Since it is sister stations (same ownership) hosting both the Chargers and Raiders broadcasts, it gives management the ability to sell either or both broadcasts from a sales and revenue standpoint. This also creates listener confusion, which could have fans switching back and forth between the stations, and that benefits the owners either way. It's also important because it keeps either team from going to Mighty 1090 Sports. 1090 is thought to be struggling to survive, after having lost the Padres broadcasts, as well as San Diego State games, within the past year.

CORPUS CHRISI: KLHB 105.5 has dumped its ESPN Radio affiliation in favor of a music format. A curious move considering that the market already has four other stations with similar music formats.

VANCOUVER: It will be interesting to see how newcome CISL 650 Sportsnet does following its official debut on September 4th. CISL has a strong tool to start with, beginning as the new radio home of the Canucks, the big game in town. Brendan Batchelor will handle play-by-play with (former Canucks goalie) Corey Hirsch as analyst. The station has also secured the radio rights for Toronto Blue Jays games starting next year.

On the other hand, CKST 1040, with 16 years as a sports station, has pledged to continue to be strong with Canucks coverage despite having lost the game broadcasts. Jeff Paterson stays on as the Canucks "beat reporter" for the station, while former Canucks Assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman has also been added to the on-air staff to analyze the team on a regular basis.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Long Knight For Vegas Radio

Sometimes what goes on behind the scenes at radio stations are more interesting than the content being discussed on some of the sports stations. This week brings us examples from both Portland and Las Vegas.

Portland's KXTG The Game 750/102.9 had recently disciplined host Dino Costa for on air comments which actually had nothing to do with sports. Somehow, Costa said on the air, that drivers should "run over" political protesters (he named the group on the air) that were blocking traffic.

The backlash continued to the point of the MLS Portland Timbers more recently having management "clarify its stance" regarding those comments and continuing its relationship with the station, since KXTG airs the Timbers games. Station management then issued a statement that it "holds the relationships with the Portland Timbers and the University of Oregon in high regard".

UPDATE: KXTG fired Costa within hours of this story originally posting, due to the continued backlash from his inappropriate on air comments.

Hopefully the remaining hosts will stick to sports topics moving forward.

In Las Vegas, management of the local CBS Radio group of stations issued an apology and a change of plan after an internal memo was leaked. The group was known to be upset when KRLV Fox Sports 1340/98.9 got the play-by-play rights to the expansion NHL Golden Knights, which will be Vegas' first pro sports team.

Shortly after, the CBS stations sent a memo advising their stations not to so much as mention the Golden Knights on any of its stations. One of their station is Sports 1140, which actually does very little in the way of local programming, but airs Chicago Cubs baseball among its play-by-play offerings. Because of this, the other CBS stations often give Cubs information along with local scores such as UNLV and the minor league baseball team.

However, the memo about ignoring the Golden Knights was leaked, so management issued a public apology about the "error in judgment", stating that their stations will indeed include the Golden Knights.

Sure is amazing that this "error in judgment" did not surface until after the original memo was leaked.

The Golden Knights have hired their radio play-by-play voice, hiring Dan D'Uva away from the minor league Syracuse Crunch. The 32 year old D'Uva recently called the Crunch's run to the 2017 Calder Cup (as well as their 2013 Cup season). Team (Vegas) president Kerry Bubolz revealed that Mike Emrick was among those recommending D'Uva for the job, with D'Uva chosen among the roughly 200 applicants.

By the way, Columbus Blue Jackets voice Bob McElligott is also a former voice of the Syracuse Crunch.

Meanwhile, CBS Radio on the national level is preparing for its potential merger with Entercom Broadcasting and the impact it would have on cornering the sports market. It appears that if the merger is going to be approved by the FCC, it would come during the 4th quarter of this year. If it goes through, it would give the new network the play-by-play rights to a total of 45 pro teams.

Amazingly, it would "own" two of baseball's biggest rivalries, as this merger would give them the Yankees and Red Sox play-by-play rights, as well as the Cubs and Cardinals, among many others. They would also own both of Boston's powerhouse all sports stations with the rights to all four major pro teams.

Although we don't normally post outside links here, we do have the chance to look in on their proposal toward this potential merger, which spells out the sports implications:


Meanwhile, it's looking like the toughest hole for the PGA is not on any of the courses it uses. Looks like it's for viewership, based on this year's Grand Slam.

The ratings for The Masters were the lowest since 2004, while the U.S. Open finished with its second lowest ratings EVER. While the ratings for the British Open were not disastrous, it was beaten by the Brickyard 400 race on the day of its final round. And, the PGA Tournament ratings were the lowest in 2008.

Time to examine whether it is the lack of superstars (compared with earlier years) or the slow pace of play catching up to viewers. Frankly, it seems to be a combination of both. This year is certain to increase the concern.

CBS Sports has finalized its announcing lineup for its NFL coverage for the upcoming regular season. As expected, Beth Mowins will become the first female to call a regular season game for the network on September 24th. She will call the regional telecast between Cleveland and Indianapolis, with Jay Feely as the analyst.

Perhaps the most curious assignments for CBS announcers are the early ones for the new "team" of lead play-by-play voice Jim Nantz and analyst Tony Romo. Since there is no doubleheader game on opening day, the network assigned Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon to call the N.Y. Jets vs. Buffalo game. Nantz and Romo have been assigned the Oakland at Tennessee game.

Then, on week two, when CBS does its first doubleheader game, they have Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts slated to call the N.Y. Jets at Oakland doubleheader game. Nantz and Romo will call the early game with New England at New Orleans.

The unveiling of the NBA schedule earlier this week also saw TNT, ESPN/ABC, and NBA-TV reveal their schedule of national telecasts already selected. In a way, this provides an indication of who the favorites will be for the coming season. Warriors fans outside of the Bay Area will have plenty of chances to see the team play, even without the NBA games package.

It seems that with the maximum number of appearances on TNT and ESPN/ABC, along with NBA-TV, that 43 of their games are already scheduled to be shown live. That's out of 82 for the season!

Next comes Houston with 40 telecasts scheduled, Cleveland with 39, and OK City with 37. As it goes with the Los Angeles teams, things are changing back to the familiar. The Lakers are now scheduled for 35 appearances, while the Clippers are slated for 31.

On the other side of the spectrum, two of the most familiar teams for TV viewers, the Knicks and Bulls, are drastically reduced for national TV. With neither team expected to contend, the Knicks are scheduled for 13 times, and the Bulls for only five telecasts.

CBS Radio Sports has hired Emmy Award winning Amy Dash to serve as a "legal analyst contributor" for the network, including separate segments in New York for WFAN. Nice idea, given the complexities of collective bargaining agreements and player negotiations these days.

In response to a reader's question, we can tell you that Fox Sports' Curt Menefee is indeed calling play-by-play of the Seattle Seahawks exhibition games televised locally on Fox 13. Menefee continues his regular studio duties on Fox's studio coverage throughout the regular and post-season.

Former NFL QB Ryan Leaf has joined SiriusXM, but not as an NFL analyst. (At least not yet.) Leaf is part of the College Sports Nation Channel, working with co-host Jason Horowitz.

DALLAS: The Mavericks have extended their contract to continue on KESN ESPN 103.3 through the 2023 season. The team has been heard on the station since 2001.

ALBANY: Tred Hulse was officially let go as afternoon drive host by WOFX, reportedly based on low ratings. As it goes in radio, Hulse was on vacation last week, and returned to be notified and escorted out of the building. WOFX is running the syndicated Doug Gottlieb show in afternoon drive until a replacement is brought in. Interesting how the station knew it was going to dismiss him upon his return from vacation, yet listeners are being given out of market syndicated programming until a replacement is found.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sports Radio Ratings Up & Down

The Nielsen radio ratings for the month of July are an interesting gauge for sports radio because it is the only month of the year which is the off-season for three of the big four pro sports (NFL, NBA, NHL). Even though we see the impact of baseball in the ratings in the 'avid fan' markets, July is also the mid point of the MLB regular season and too soon for playoff races.

In Boston, the nation's strongest sports radio market, July showed a decline for both stations. WEEI-FM lost .7 of a ratings point overall, dropping to #8 in the market. Rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub dropped .2 and came in at #10. You can spin this however you like. Even with the drop, while the Red Sox battle for first place and the Patriots season is near, the point is that Boston remains the only market in the country with two all sports stations in the top 10, while many other large markets do not even have one sports station ranked that high.

This rating book was not kind to San Francisco either, although with the poor season by the Giants, limited expectations for the 49ers, and the Warriors now early in their off season, it is not surprising. KNBR 680 has dropped out of the top ten stations for the first time in years. It's not as though KNBR lost listeners to another sports station. KGMZ-FM The Game lost nearly half of its total audience from the June 2017 ratings. Down in San Jose, which is a separate market for the Nielsen ratings, KNBR only lost .1 of a ratings point while KGMZ-FM dipped to 0.4 overall. KNBR starts a new night program next week, with details below.

New York's WFAN AM/FM came in with its best overall ratings of the past three months, perhaps spurred by those curious about the fill-in hosts for Mike Francesa's afternoon show which will change hands by the end of the year, along with the Yankees broadcasts. On the other hand, WOR Radio is only #19 overall with the Mets games. While it's true that the Mets broadcasts are mainly at night (and weekends), the station came in at #18 in the 7 PM to Midnight time slot for the month.

The start of the Cowboys season this week should make the sports station ratings race in Dallas even more interesting. For July, KTCK The Ticket again led the way, .9 of a ratings point ahead of Cowboys flagship KRLD-FM, with both stations holding steady. KESN-FM ESPN also held steady for July, remaining third in the sports race, showing half of the total audience that The Ticket had.

Philadelphia's WIP-FM dipped slightly (not surprising given the Phillies dismal season) but still finished #8 overall in the market, with well over twice the audience of WPEN-FM ESPN, which did crack the top 20 stations.  In Detroit, WXYT-FM The Ticket dipped to #5 overall, but this is because of the Tigers diving in the standings. Struggling WDFN again had a 0.0 rating. Again.

One other strong sports radio market continues to be Minneapolis-St. Paul, where KFXN-FM The Fan came in at #9 overall, even with the Twins falling back after an early run.

Once again, a couple of the bigger markets continue to struggle for sports radio listeners. In Los Angeles, even with the Dodgers burning up the National League West and most fans unable to see the telecasts, KLAC 570 only managed a 1.0 rating, the same as KSPN 710. Neither station could even crack the top 25 most listened to.

None of Houston's three sports stations made the top 20, with KBME-AM holding a slight overall lead over KILT-AM, with each having more than three times the listeners of KFNC-FM. It's even worse in Miami, where not one of the market's three sports stations could muster a 1.0 rating for the month.

SAN FRANCISCO: KNBR 680 starts a new evening program this coming Monday (8/14), at least for the evenings when it does not have play-by-play taking over. Drew Hoffer and former Giants (and other MLB teams) player Kevin Fransden have been named to co-host "KNBR Tonight" from 7 to 10 PM. Hoffar has been a key part of the station's morning show.

CHICAGO: Long time sportscaster Chris Boden has been let go from Comcast SportsNet Chicago after roughly ten years as an anchor and host of studio coverage of the Blackhawks and Bears. Boden is a victim of circumstances, since the regional network still is not bringing back its SportsNet Central nightly sportscasts. Instead, fans continue to be stuck with their "In The Loop" experiment.

LOS ANGELES: In one of the oddest programming combinations, the (for now) Oakland Raiders have a new L.A. radio home for this season. KDAY 93.5 will air the games, as called by Greg Papa and Tom Flores. What makes this odd is that KDAY is and continues to be a hip hop station.

SAN DIEGO: Since the Chargers moved to L.A., Rock 105.3 dropped the broadcasts after having been the flagship station. In a surprise, if not funny, move, Rock 105.3 will air the Oakland Raiders broadcasts. This, like L.A., is most likely one of those radio moves, because the Raiders Radio Network will now be heard in San Francisco/Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas. That is a good opportunity for regional and national advertisers.

CINCINNATI: Gary Miller, the former ESPN and CNN anchor and host, has been hired as Sports Director at WKRC Channel 12. He is expected to start his new role next week.

DALLAS: DeMarcus Ware will make his debut as analyst on the Cowboys' first exhibition game telecast this week on KTVT Channel 11 against the L.A. Rams. Ware will work with analyst Babe Laufenberg with Bill Jones on play-by-play. Even the exhibition games are a big deal in Dallas, as there is also a separate Spanish telecast along with both English and Spanish radio broadcasts.

MYRTLE BEACH: WRNN 99.5 will be the flagship for Coastal Carolina University football, basketball, and eventually baseball broadcasts from now through the 2019-20 season. The talk station will also air some of the games on WRNN-AM ESPN.