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Airwaves Drop Sports Talk for News

Media: Radio and television sports channels abandon their regular programming to focus on tragedy.

September 12, 2001|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sports world was shut down. All of a sudden winning streaks and losing streaks didn't matter. Nor did Barry Bonds' home runs, Michael Jordan's comeback or the NFL's labor dispute with its officials.

Sports talk radio became news talk. ESPN and ESPN2 dumped regular programming to carry ABC News. Fox Sports Net carried Fox News and CNN/SI carried CNN News.

Tuesday's terrorist attacks on America superseded everyday life and sports media outlets responded accordingly.

On the Sporting News radio network, morning talk show hosts Jay Mariotti, Jim Litke and Mike Mulligan weren't talking sports. Nor was anyone at ESPN radio or the Fox radio network. Jim Rome was preempted on KXTA (1150).

The topic everywhere was this nation's most horrific tragedy, the unprecedented attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

Callers weighed in with condolences, comments and theories. A caller to Sporting News radio suggested the date was selected because it was 9-11.

On KMPC (1540), the Sporting News network's Los Angeles affiliate, the network coverage out of Chicago was supplemented by local reports by Pete Arbogast and Brooks Melchior, Melchior reporting that, according to ESPN.com, two King scouts were on one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center.

KMPC canceled its "USC Insider" and "USC Sports Report" programs scheduled for Tuesday night. The station also carried commercial-free programming until after 3 p.m. It was a far cry from what the old, Gene Autry-owned KMPC (710) did on the night the L.A. riots began on April 29, 1992. That was that station's first night of all-sports programming, and it stayed with its sports format, drawing considerable criticism.

On Tuesday, no sports station stuck with its format. XTRA (690) carried news reports throughout the day. So did ESPN radio's KSPN (1110). Joe McDonnell and Doug Krikorian did their afternoon show, beginning an hour earlier than usual, but talked only about the tragedy.

On television, the only place to find sports news was ESPNews, which stayed with its regular format. ESPN chose to go back to sports programming at 3 p.m. with a half-hour edition of "SportsCenter," which focused totally on ramifications in the sports world. The timing was somewhat unfortunate, however, since the first reports of an attack on Kabul, Afghanistan, came in shortly afterward.

The half-hour "SportsCenter" was repeated at 3:30 and then ESPN went to programs such as "Two-Minute Drill" and "The Life."

ESPN2 went away from news reports at 11:30 a.m., when it showed a European Champions League soccer game between AS Roma and Real Madrid that had been scheduled for ESPN. ESPN2 then picked up ESPNews programming until 3 p.m. Regular "2Night" programming after that was canceled and replaced by NFL Films.

ESPN Classic, meanwhile, did not detour from its regular programming. It showed a Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi tennis match from the 1995 Australian Open and the 1981 Houston Astro-Dodger game in which Nolan Ryan pitched his fifth no-hitter.

Tuesday's events left sports television programmers scrambling. A women's soccer game between the U.S. and Japan to be televised by ESPN was canceled. So was the first round of a golf tournament scheduled for ESPN on Thursday. The plan Tuesday was to play 36 holes on Friday.

Two college football games scheduled for ESPN and ESPN2 Thursday night--Penn State at Virginia and Texas Tech at Texas El Paso--were canceled. So was an NHRA event this weekend and a women's soccer game between the U.S. and China, which ESPN was to be televised on ESPN.

Fox Sports Net was scheduled to televise the next four Angel games, and either Channel 5 or Fox Sports Net 2 were to televise Dodger games through Friday night.

All the Fox Sports Net affiliates carried news reports from Fox News throughout the day and night, although there were periodic sports reports. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's news conference was carried live and there was a half-hour edition of the "National Sports Report" at 7:30 p.m.

FX and Speedvision carried Fox News, while TNT and TBS carried CNN. But USA carried its regular programming. So did the Golf Channel.

Some nonsports channels, such as the Food Network, QVC and Home and Garden Television, canceled programming totally. But most cable specialty channels, such as Travel, SciFi, E!, the Game Show network, the History Channel, Comedy Central and Lifetime, stuck with regular programming.

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