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Sports Weekend | TV-RADIO LARRY STEWART

It Was a Rocky Road to ESPN

March 21, 2003|LARRY STEWART

Maybe this isn't a good time to quibble about the small stuff, but there were some problems with the first day of NCAA tournament coverage. Which isn't unusual.

In recent years, CBS' regionalization during the first two rounds didn't please everybody. Some fans would complain about not getting to see their favorite team. Others would complain about switches from one game to another.

This year, with the first day of the tournament falling on the first full day of the U.S. war with Iraq and with CBS obligated to provide news coverage most of the day, games were moved to ESPN until 4 p.m. PST.

The good thing was, a workable plan was in place. A deal with ESPN had been reached after lengthy negotiations.

One problem: Because satellite providers used only one ESPN feed, satellite viewers in many parts of the country didn't get the game that was scheduled to be shown on CBS. Cable subscribers got regionalized coverage on ESPN, but there wasn't time to set up regional coverage on satellite, a trickier issue.

In Los Angeles, the first game that cable subscribers got was California's overtime victory over North Carolina State, which was the game scheduled to be shown here by CBS. But satellite dish users got Holy Cross and Marquette. It turned out to be an exciting game, as Holy Cross almost pulled off a big upset. But surely more people here would have rather seen the Cal game, which was another thriller.

Not getting the game we're supposed to see is not such a big deal in the Los Angeles area, since there are no local teams in the tournament. But imagine the outcry in Raleigh, N.C., where satellite dish users were deprived of seeing the Wolfpack.

An alternative for DirecTV subscribers in the Raleigh area was to buy the "Mega March Madness" pay package, but if it was only North Carolina State that they wanted to watch, $50 is a lot for one game.

Plenty of Room

If ESPN had been allowed to carry several CBS feeds on its various outlets, such as ESPN2, ESPN Classic and ESPNews, then everybody would have been happier.

But it was decided that CBS would move games to only one ESPN channel, which is understandable. CBS wouldn't want viewers to see how effective the first round could be covered by cable if several channels were involved.

Certainly, there was room for more tournament coverage on other ESPN channels. On ESPN Classic on Thursday morning was a 1984 USFL game between the Los Angeles Express, featuring quarterback Steve Young, and the Arizona Wranglers. It's doubtful there would have been many complaints had it been preempted for a live NCAA tournament game.

Schedule Change

The start times for Sunday tournament games in Tampa, Fla., and Nashville will be two hours later than originally scheduled so that CBS can televise four games rather than three that day.

Adjusting

JT the Brick, whose nightly Fox Sports Radio network sports talk show is heard on XTRA (690 and 1150), turned it into a commercial-free news program Wednesday night. He got reports from Sean Hannity of the Fox News Channel and L.A. news anchors Chuck Henry of Channel 4 and Harold Greene of Channel 2. And he invited his audience to call in and voice their opinions on the war.

Numbers Game

Greg Ashlock, station manager at XTRA, took exception to a quote from Roger Nadel, general manager of KFWB (980), in this space last week. Nadel said his station had double the number of listeners of L.A.'s three all-sports stations combined.

Ashlock pointed out that the latest ratings book showed that XTRA, which has merged with former Dodger flagship station KXTA, averages 16,800 listeners on the two signals during every 15 minutes among males 18 and over, compared to 17,000 for KFWB. And he passed along numbers that showed in the "targeted" men 25-54 demographic group, XTRA/KXTA wins, 15,600 to 11,000.

Nadel said he based his comment on numbers from last baseball season. The fall 2002 Arbitron book showed KFWB averaging 823,600 different listeners per week in the all-inclusive adults 12-plus category. KSPN (710) averaged 191,400, KXTA 174,100, and KMPC (1540) did not show up in the book.

Ashlock also was not pleased that Dodger senior vice president Derrick Hall said that radio coverage would be a "vast improvement" this season. "I guess the team could actually win," Ashlock said.

Another Packer

While Billy Packer is busy working with Jim Nantz on NCAA Midwest Regional games at Nashville this weekend, his son Brandt, 29, will be in Newport Beach, producing the Toshiba Senior Classic golf telecasts for CNBC.

This is the first year the younger Packer has been the lead producer for what is now the Champions Tour.

Brandt Packer went to the University of Houston on a golf scholarship, then transferred to Tennessee to concentrate on learning the television business. He said working in sports production was always his goal after his father began taking him along on assignments when he was a fourth-grader and he would spend hours in the production trucks.

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