New WGN Radio President/GM On Future Of Chicago Cubs On Their Air: "I Don't Know"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictured: The late Ron Santo in the WGN-AM radio booth. The station's new president and general manager acknowledged uncertainty for the team's future on their airwaves.

Pictured: The late Ron Santo in the WGN-AM radio booth. The station’s new president and general manager acknowledged uncertainty for the team’s future on their airwaves.

Since 1925, the Chicago Cubs’ radio outlet has been WGN-AM 720. Both entities were even under the same ownership for a quarter-century (1981-2007) by the Tribune Company.

WGN-AM is best known as the place where former Cubbies third baseman Ron Santo worked as a color commentator for the team’s radio broadcasts until his death in December 2010.

And it was also the station that headphones-clad Cubs fan Steve Bartman was listening to on the night of October 14, 2003, when he interfered with a fly ball – and with that, the Cubs’ best chance of advancing to the World Series in six decades.

With the Cubs once again looking up at everyone else in the NL Central division, it looks like they’re going on seven decades and counting with regards to missing out on the Fall Classic.

So with Jimmy de Castro, whose The Content Factory was responsible for Dan Patrick’s current hit sports radio program, taking the reins at the station, it was an opportune time to quiz him on the team’s future on their air. “I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “I absolutely believe you can create a personality-driven news station and a personality-driven sports station.” Just not a hybrid of the two, was the point taken away from his comments.

While a source claims the Cubbies games will remain on WGN-AM for the remainder of the decade, de Castro might find a way to let them loose, if he has his druthers.

“Most researchers agree play-by-play is not very PPM friendly,” observed Radio Ink. “When you add the dismal performance of a team like the Cubs, that play so many day games, on an aging frequency on a station trying to successfully execute both news/talk and sports in a major market, you have to wonder if de Castro will look to make major programming changes to drive revenue and grow the audience younger.”

Which brings us from the Second City, Chicago, to the first, New York City, and the current baseball broadcasting conundrum that is the New York Mets. Like the Cubs, they have been underachieving on the field for years. Their current radio contract with WFAN expires after this season. Just to put things in perspective: the last time the Mets won it all, their radio partner was country music station WHN, which would eventually be the precursor to WFAN. Since then, the New York Giants, for whom WFAN serves as their flagship, has won four Super Bowls (two of them on WFAN’s air), and the New York Yankees have won five World Series.

And oh, by the way, the Yankees’ current radio contract with WCBS-AM, sister station of WFAN, also expires after this year; it was curiously re-upped for just one more year in 2012.

For America’s first 24/7 sports radio station, it would make sense for them to part ways with the longtime losing franchise that is the Mets and bring the Yankees into the fold (okay, so they have not necessarily been winners for the last few years, but they certainly have a better outlook than the Mets, in the pocket as well as the win column).

Meanwhile, it’s also expected that the Cubs’ local television broadcasts on WGN-TV could go by the wayside after 65 years. Then again, with so many “free TV” baseball broadcasts across the country usurped by regional sports networks, it’s a bit of a surprise that Cubs games are still on broadcast television in Chicago at all.

However, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Chicago Cubs’ radio broadcasts are heard on a station other than WGN by the time they reach the World Series again.

And that means a different frequency piping into the headphones of Steve Bartman – provided he’s still alive by then.

NESN's News Department Is In A Real Pickle After Reporting Bogus Brian Urlacher Item

 

 

 

 

 

 

NESN's news ticker strikes out as they report former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher signs a one-day contract with the Green Bay Packers. The source of this "news" was Sportspickle, a sports satire news website.

NESN’s news ticker strikes out as they report former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher signs a one-day contract with the Green Bay Packers. The source of this “news” was Sportspickle, a sports satire news website.

Perhaps you’re accustomed to seeing that scrolling line of information that is the news ticker. Revolutionized by the cable news networks, and as far as sports is concerned, by ESPN, virtually all cable news and sports networks, regional and national, are maintaining their own version of the ticker in some form. And they’re usually chock full of news briefs from stories reported by such renowned sources as The New York Times, The Associated Press, Fox Sports, The Wall Street Journal, and Sportspickle.

Wait, what?

Yes, an item from the sports news satire website (think The Onion with a sports flair) actually passed off as serious news to NESN viewers.

Whoever was put in charge of loading the news items on NESN’s bottom-of-the-screen news ticker on Friday must be naive. During live coverage of the ACC Baseball Tournament, the first item that the ticker, which NESN dubs “The Edge,” focused on under “top stories” was Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who retired this week after spending thirteen seasons in the Windy City. That much is true.

But the item that NESN decided to report was the satirical news story originally posted Thursday on Sportspickle titled, “Brian Urlacher Retires As A Green Bay Packer.”

Fact is, Urlacher has not been aligned with any NFL team since he parted ways with the Bears in mid-March, and recently turned down a $2 million deal that the team proposed to him before finally calling it quits when no other NFL franchise could come to the table with a desirable offer.

And while there was a little buzz about one of the Bears’ divisional rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, possibly courting the eight-time Pro Bowler, it did not seem that the team that has controlled the NFC North for most of Urlacher’s career, the Green Bay Packers, would pursue him.

So one day after he made his decision official, Sportspickle seized the opportunity to pen a fantasy piece reporting that he had “[signed] a one-day contract with the team,” one that Urlacher was quoted as satirically saying is “unquestionably the best franchise in the NFC North throughout my career and, really, all of NFC North history.”

The piece continues: “Urlacher then fought back tears (fake tears) as he spoke about how much it means to him to no longer be a part of the Bears: ‘You dream of this your whole career but never really believe it could happen,’ he said, tears rolling down his cheeks.”

The pretend Urlacher also attested that “if my old Bears teammates are truthful, they’d all rather be on the Packers… even Jay Cutler. I’m sure the Packers would be happy to sign him to a one-day contract so he could retire as their third-string quarterback.”

Oh, and that “quote” from Urlacher about wanting to “go out a winner”? Yeah, that was included in NESN’s “Edge” blurb, too.

It’s the second time in as many years that a television network – or at least their employees who are supposed to be vetting the news before it makes it on the air – fell for a spoof sports story. Pittsburgh’s NBC affiliate had reported on their morning news broadcast that longtime Steelers wideout Hines Ward had signed with the rival Baltimore Ravens, after the website Bro Council presented a phony piece (which even tipped off to readers in big letters at the end that it was a “spoof”) on the player, who would eventually join NBC a couple of months later.

The station made up for the confusion by giving Ward his own seasonal series on Saturday nights.

With that said, how is Brian Urlacher, or for that matter, “Da Bears,” even remotely related to New England sports? He’s a native of Washington state, he attended school in New Mexico, and that wrestling match he participated in was in Tennessee. It seems like the only time he would spend on the entire East Coast would be exclusively on business.

As for NESN’s business, which includes delivering sports news, you could say it took a bit of a hit on Friday for, well, ‘Lach-ing journalistic credibility.

Steel Dreams: Pittsburgh's "93.7 The Fan" Opens Airshift Up To The Listeners

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pittsburgh's "93.7 The Fan" will be holding public auditions for future air talent at various Steel City locations. The winner will be selected on the air on June 27. The process is similar to New York sister sports station WFAN's "Fantasy Phenom" contest, which current WFAN host John Jastremski (shown with Mike Francesa) won in 2011.

Pittsburgh’s “93.7 The Fan” will be holding public auditions for future air talent at various Steel City locations. The winner will be selected on the air on June 27. The process is similar to New York sister sports station WFAN’s “Fantasy Phenom” contest, which current WFAN host John Jastremski (shown with Mike Francesa) won in 2011.

Pittsburgh’s three-year-old FM sports talker, KDKA-FM/”93.7 The Fan,” is seeking an actual fan to host a weekly show.

The station has organized a contest, “The Next Fan Host,” which invites residents of the area, aged 18 or older, to show up at any of five designated locations, starting with Beer And Pop 4 Less this Saturday afternoon, or any of four other taverns, eateries or wireless phone stores over four nights between May 29 and June 18.

All they’re required to do is give opinions on the hot sports topics of the day (you know, kinda like what we do here at SportsRants).

The ten best entrants from these open auditions will be selected to compete in a semifinal round, with the top four advancing to a live final during Andrew Fillipponi’s nighttime show on Thursday, June 27.

If this process sounds familiar, it’s because KDKA-FM’s parent company, CBS Radio, has been implementing this concept at the original “Fan” of sports radio, New York’s 660 AM/101.9 FM WFAN. Dubbed “Fantasy Phenom,” the grand prize is the same as that of Pittsburgh’s “Next Fan Host” contest: a position on the iconic sports radio station for a year.

And it appears that all three “Phenom” winners are still with WFAN in some capacity. The first winner, Gregg Sussman, is still listed on WFAN’s website, as he occasionally can be heard doing weekend and swing duties; he’s still overseeing sports talk programming on a college radio station in Maryland, according to his LinkedIn page.

The second “Phenom” champion, John Jastremski, is the most visible of the contest’s three winners by far. He’s heard regularly on overnights, usually on weekends, and has also been heard nationwide on the CBS Sports Radio Network. And here’s a scary thought: just last week, he celebrated his 25th birthday – which makes the radio station he works for slightly one year older than him. But when you listen to “JJ After Dark,” with the energy in and on the air, you forget that you’re listening to a 26-year-old radio station – one that’s been an AM station for most of its existence (and CBS Radio is looking to fix that, in due time).

The announcement of last year’s “Phenom” champ, Joe Giglio, was about as low-key as his current association with WFAN, where his presence is mostly through a weekly column on the station’s website. But for the lead baseball writer of Bleacher Report, that’s fine with him.

There’s no plans currently available for a “Fantasy Phenom 4” contest, which would be the first one held during WFAN’s history on FM, but you can expect them to be unveiled sometime next month.

As for who will decide “The Next Fan Host” in Pittsburgh, I can’t help but wonder if “93.7 The Fan” morning co-host Gregg Giannotti – an alumnus of WFAN who has been with KDKA-FM since its inception in February 2010 – will somehow have a say in it.

Details on the contest, as well as the official rules, can be found here.

The Worldwide Bleeder: ESPN Cuts Hundreds Of Staffers One Week Removed From Its Glitzy Upfront

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hundreds of ESPN employees were laid off today. The cuts were necessary so that the company could meet its profit margin, according to a source. Also, programs such as "Unite" will become extinct as a result of the layoffs.

Hundreds of ESPN employees were laid off today. The cuts were necessary so that the company could meet its profit margin, according to a source. Also, programs such as “Unite” will become extinct as a result of the layoffs.

It’s never a good thing when a person loses his or her job.

It’s especially sobering considering the source of hundreds of job cuts is ESPN.

Yes, the network that just got finished flaunting its new multi-million-dollar studio and its new “SportsCenter” bus at its annual upfront had laid off approximately 300 to 400 people exactly one week later.

The gas for the bus isn’t going to guzzle itself, I guess.

But seriously, this is what happens when ESPN pays more than it can print to secure broadcasting rights for sports programming, including college sports, which will be the basis of the new SEC Network, due to launch next summer. They also operate other regional channels like Longhorn Network in Texas.

Incidentally, on the very same day of these cuts, ESPN announced that they are bringing in Paul Finebaum for duties at its mediums, including a video simulcast of his radio show that will air on the aforementioned SEC Network. He will be based in Charlotte, where the ESPN Radio affiliate is on a spotty AM signal. (Charlotte is one of the few major markets left without an FM sports station, but that’s another blog for another day.)

Could these cuts pave the way for possibly adding big-name talent down the road, like, say, Keith Olbermann? Yes, I’m aware they’re investing in live sports programming, but when in doubt, take the cash from your viewers in the form of a hike. Hey, I wouldn’t be surprised if the network’s already highest per-subscriber rate at $5.25 will probably balloon to $7 in a year from now.

Anyway, the cuts appear to be coming from Disney corporate, according to a staffer who had suddenly found himself out of a job. A great deal of ESPN’s cuts will impact its sales department – because, really, it’s cheaper not to have a fully-stocked sales staff, because ESPN just sells itself, doesn’t it? The network’s technology sector is also going to take a hit.

As far as on-air content is concerned, one casualty of this round of layoffs is the ESPNU late-night show, “UNITE.” ESPN analyst Danny Kanell, who co-hosted the program, will likely remain with the network in other capacities, but comedian Reese Waters and others involved with the program will presumably exit stage left.

And other programs could join the list, as the network will be reviewing its studio programming over the next month or so. Sadly, “First Take” will likely remain unscathed.

You can say ESPN has done its share of cold things, but unexpectedly dropping the ax on 10% of your staff has to rank right up there with, well, anything Rick Reilly has ever done.

As for the hundreds of now-former ESPN employees, I have but one tip for you: I’m sure Fox Sports is still hiring. It would make for a revenge game that ESPN has no choice but to cover.

Dave Briggs Totally Crossed Out On NBC Sports Network's "The Crossover"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle Beadle will be the primary host of NBC Sports Network's "The Crossover" when new episodes resume on Monday, May 20. Dave Briggs will reportedly remain with NBC.

Michelle Beadle will be the primary host of NBC Sports Network’s “The Crossover” when new episodes resume on Monday, May 20. Dave Briggs will reportedly remain with NBC.

When it debuted the week prior to Super Bowl XLVII, “The Crossover” showed promise as a staple on NBC Sports Network. Moreso due to the presence of NBC’s big acquisition, Michelle Beadle, on the program.

Her pairing with Dave Briggs, a Boston sports television veteran who had most recently been on Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends,” had to spark some chemistry in order for it to work.

In fact, upon the show’s launch, its executive producer, Sam Flood, had this to say about the show’s description: “It’s about personality. It’s about people you want to spend time with. It’s the people you want to be at the bar and hang out with, and these are the two people you want to do that with.”

After less than four months, it has become clear that NBC Sports Network does not want to spend time with Dave Briggs anymore.

When the show returns from a scheduled hiatus this week, it will possess three things: “New set, new cast, better vibe.”

Translation: “The Crossover” will now be hosted solely by Beadle, with a rotation of co-hosts. Briggs, meanwhile, will still remain with NBC and is already set to embark on a new venture with the company. (Given his past on Fox News, could it be MSNBC?)

And I’m guessing it’ll cost a fraction of what ESPN laid down for their new “SportsCenter” studio, for NBCSN to invest in the “new set” and “better vibe” for “The Crossover.”

The 6 PM ET time slot in which the show airs is crowded real estate among sports-oriented cable networks. You’ve already got the early evening edition of “SportsCenter” on ESPN, Jim Rome’s broadcast on CBS Sports Network, and starting this August, the brand new Fox Sports 1’s “Football Live,” which will have a rotation of co-hosts – kinda like “Crossover” will, with Beadle being the constant.

It goes without saying that Erin Andrews will likely be appearing on “Football Live” several times a week.

I guess NBC is sharpening up its claws in the battle of the former ESPN personalities catfight with FS1.

So will Dave Briggs be missed? If this sampling of Twitter reaction during the premiere week of “The Crossover” is any indication, probably not.

ESPN Upfront 2013 Message: Destroy Fox Sports 1 Or Bus(t)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among other things at their 2013 upfront presentation, ESPN introduced a new bus, as well as a new million-dollar "SportsCenter" studio. Fox Sports 1, launching this summer, likely had a hand in these being created.

Among other things at their 2013 upfront presentation, ESPN introduced a new bus, as well as a new million-dollar “SportsCenter” studio. Fox Sports 1, launching this summer, likely had a hand in these being created.

Before I paint the picture of ESPN’s annual upfront presentation for 2013, let me first give you a quick recap of last year’s edition: the place was packed with advertisers and sports media observers (of course, the show is mostly for the advertisers). The headliners were “stars (including would-be ESPN analyst Ray Lewis), a marching band (the one belonging to The Ohio State University) [and] mascots (Mr. Met and Al E. Gator, among others).” Many of the announcements last year included the unveiling of a new ESPN Radio app, and the expansion of Bill Simmons’ Grantland franchise.

You could say that this year’s ESPN upfront presentation was just a little bit different: oh, sure, the ad buyers and sports media flacks packed the house again, and sports stars were once again present; in fact, New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera “closed” the event (watch the righty, currently in his final year in the major leagues, shadow Lewis and become an analyst next year; in fact, bank on it). And yes, there was some more mascot mischief.

But when you’ve got a competitor in Fox Sports 1 launching in a few months – perhaps the first network in the Worldwide Leader’s existence that can call themselves a legitimate competitor – not only do you have to top your previous upfront, oh, no: you also have to top Fox Sports 1’s upfront in March.

Yes, there was your average slew of announcements – new slate of “30 For 30” documentary films; new football (“NFL Insiders”, replacing the incumbent “NFL32”) and soccer (“ESPNFC”) programs; new “ESPN The Magazine” “body issue” featuring San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in all his tattooed glory, much to the chagrin of David Whitley.

But there were two gigantic things that ESPN unveiled at this year’s upfront.

First, starting next year, ESPN’s “SportsCenter” shows will emanate from a brand new, state-of-the-art – make that continent-of-the-art, it’s so huge – 193,000 square foot studio, being billed “Digital Center 2.” Estimated cost to erect the set: $125 million.

Yes, cable subscribers, that is where your hard-earned inflated cable bill dollars is going.

Oh, and you’ll also be footing the bill for fuel that ESPN will be needing to get around in their brand new bus!

The vehicle, dubbed “SportsCenter On The Scene,” will be mobile for many sporting events year-round. Among its features, according to the network, are “satellite technology, bureau kit camera, lighting and equipment to do a live shot.” Yes, but will it prevent the trajectory of rogue water bottles being thrown in its direction?

By the way, ESPN’s “SportsCenter On The Scene” bus is said to be the first vehicle for the Worldwide Leader since Stephen A. Smith’s old late-night talk show on ESPN2, “Quite Frankly.”

And ESPN president John Skipper was quite frank in talking about the soon-to-be-launched Fox Sports 1 and other competitors that are already in battle (CBS and NBC Sports Network, just to name a couple) in the sports cable trenches. “We like competition,” he admitted. “It makes us better.”

Well, if it took Fox being committed to a new national sports cable network for ESPN to make a dramatic upgrade in their “SportsCenter” set and add a pair of wheels, what took them so long?

Yes, who needs the duo from the Canadian version of “SportsCenter” (that would be Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, who will be leaving TSN to anchor Fox Sports 1’s nightly “Fox Sports Live” program) when you can watch who we have in a breathtaking new structure!

There’s ESPN bidding aggressively on sports broadcasting contracts – and it is these contracts, as well as long-term carriage deals with cable companies, that Skipper says is the backbone of ESPN’s success – and then there’s flat-out largesse.

A bus? Really? Were plans for a “SportsCenter In The Sky” helicopter a little out of hand?

In a related item, earlier in the day, Fox Sports fired a salvo and announced that when the current Speed channel morphs into Fox Sports 1 on August 17, its action sports-themed network Fuel will indeed be transformed into Fox Sports 2 on the very same day. A third Fox Sports network (Fox College Sports?) can’t be far behind at this point.

But for now, with its splashy “look at how much money and talent we have” upfront, ESPN wins the day in the end.

The question is, will they win the fight with the elephant in the room that will be Fox Sports 1?