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TV-RADIO / LARRY STEWART

Commitment to Excellence Doesn't Reach Radio Booth

April 23, 1993|LARRY STEWART

Imagine an outside group coming in and offering Chick Hearn an entry-level salary. Do you think Jerry Buss would stand by and let Hearn quietly walk away?

Or would Peter O'Malley say nothing if something like that happened to Vin Scully?

But Al Davis has done nothing since it was learned that Bill King was low-balled into saying goodby to the Raiders after 27 years.

King doesn't quite have the stature of Hearn and Scully, at least not in Los Angeles, but he has been almost as important to the Raider franchise as Hearn and Scully have been to the Lakers and Dodgers.

When an Eastern company, the Nederlander organization, bought the radio rights to the Raiders, some pencil pushers who wouldn't know Bill King from Rodney King decided that $50,000 was an appropriate salary for an NFL play-by-play announcer.

The Nederlander family, which owns theaters and music venues around the country, including the Greek Theater, knows a lot about Broadway. But apparently it knows very little about sports broadcasting.

A $50,000 salary is fine for someone fresh out of a sportscasters' camp. But it's an insult to Bill King, generally regarded as one of the best radio announcers in the business.

King's Raider salary last season was $107,620. The Nederlanders' offer of $50,000 was 46% of that. Bob Starr, by comparison, will make about $100,000 doing the Rams this season.

"I literally laughed when I heard their offer," King said. "It took any decision out of my hands."

King's agent, Hugh Lawrence, last Friday faxed to Davis a copy of a letter he had sent to Roger Blaemire, the president of the relatively new Nederlander Sports Marketing company, a division of the Nederlander organization. The letter said the offer was unacceptable, and terminated any further negotiations.

You might think Davis would have been on the phone in a heartbeat, saying, "Wait a minute." But Davis has remained silent.

Where is Davis' sense of loyalty? Where is his commitment to excellence? Is Davis willing to settle for an entry-level broadcaster?

"The Raiders aren't trying to be cavalier about this," Al LoCasale, Davis' lieutenant, said. "This has all happened within the past two weeks, and besides that fax that was supposedly sent, we haven't heard anything except what we've read in the papers."

LoCasale also pointed out that Davis has been concentrating on the draft. Still, it seems he could have had someone in the Raider organization intervene and put the King negotiations on hold until after the draft. The Raiders don't play their first exhibition game until July 31.

Maybe something will still happen, but for now King is gone, and the indications are it is too late to rectify that.

It's particularly bad that King was not given an appropriate send-off. It's hardly the way to treat a loyal employee of 27 years.

King, the consummate gentleman, isn't criticizing Davis.

"I'd hate to be a football owner right now, what with having to deal with the draft and free agency," he said. "I think your radio announcer would be way down on your list of priorities. I've always felt, like Ernie Harwell says, too much importance is placed on the broadcaster. The game is what's important.

"My thinking now is, just turn this page as quickly as possible and go on. I had a great run with the Raiders, and enjoyed every minute of it. I consider Al Davis a friend and hope that he considers me a friend.

"I know if I had a personal crisis, he'd be the first one to call and offer help."

King does have one last request. He would like to see his Raider partner, Rich Marotta, get his old job.

Marotta, the commentator for the last 11 years, probably would accept a $50,000 salary, because it would be an increase.

Someone like Joel Meyers, on the other hand, probably would not accept $50,000, because he has done network pro football.

One thing about giving Marotta the job, it would show that there still is some loyalty in the Raider organization.

Anniversary: Next Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of KMPC's switch to its all-sports format.

"When we went into this, the plan was to give it a year and a half to two years and we're sticking to that plan," said Bill Ward, KMPC's general manager. "We'll take a look at the fall (ratings) book when it comes out next January and see how we're doing."

Ward is confident that the ratings will improve, particularly if the Angels continue to do well.

"It took (New York's) WFAN a year-and-a-half, and I think we're going through the same thing. And judging from all the comments I get and all the publicity, I think more people are listening than show up in the ratings."

There have been some recent positive signs. In March, KMPC had a .7 share in the men 18-plus category, and that rose to 1.2 in March. And in the same category, the average number of hours one person listened went from 3.4 per week to 5.7.

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