Saturday, April 16, 2011

'A's triple play: 3 radio stations in one year,' Ben Fong-Torres

4/15/11, Ben Fong-Torres: "The Oakland A's, who've done(slightly) better on the diamond than with their radio affiliations, have landed on KBWF("The Wolf," at 95.7).
How'd they wind up on an FM country station? It was as if they'd run from home plate to second base, then first, then home. First, they were on KTRB (860 AM), a station that had struggled from the get-go, and suffers from spotty reception, but which negotiated a deal with the A's before going belly-up last year. With the station in receivership, sportscasters Ron Barr and Ken Dito kept its sports format on the air while the A's made moves to purchase the station. But after airing most of their spring training games on KTRB, the A's suddenly disappeared, then resurfaced on, of all places, KFRC, now on 1550AM with a syndicated oldies package.

The ironic thing was that the A's had been on KFRC when it occupied 106.9 FM a couple of years ago, and the Oaktown games didn't help the station with its imaging as a San Francisco classic hits music station. Owner CBS Radio then dropped the oldies and simulcast all-news KCBS (680) on 106.9, while the A's moved on to KTRB.

But after the Bay Bridge Series of exhibition games with the Giants, the A's announced a new affiliation, with "The Wolf." It's a four-year deal, and it kicked off just in time for the season opener.

Ken Pries, the A's VP of broadcasting, said that the team had signed a letter of intent to purchase KTRB, but that the club pulled out after receiving a demand from KTRB's receiver, Comerica Bank, to sign a new broadcasting rights deal (the A's said they already had one in place for this season). Pries then connected with KBWF.

"The A's deserve a terrific radio signal to be on," said Dwight Walker, VP and market manager for Entercom/SF. Weak reception "has diminished their exposure in the past." He said "The Wolf" and baseball broadcasts are a good fit. "Baseball is the national pastime, and there's no better place to put that than with America's original music form, country."

Before the A's finalized their deal with KBWF, they needed a local station to air the Giants series and called on KFRC. "They needed the favor and we were happy to do it," said Doug Harvill, Senior VP/market manager at CBS Radio.

KTRB is carrying on with a barebones staff and, now, without the A's and Dito's "Press Box," which ended Friday. "We're still programming the station," said Barr, whose syndicated Sports Byline stable of talk shows fills many hours each day. "The station's still in play. The A's could still buy it. Maybe Entercom (which also owns KUFX, "KFOX," which carries San Jose Sharks games) buys KTRB and puts the Sharks and the A's on it."

Anything is possible, given the A's radio history, which includes 14 changes of flagship stations since their arrival from Kansas City in 1968. And those 14 don't include their first 16 games in April 1978 on the UC Berkeley station, KALX (90.7). The A's owner, Charlie Finley, wanted to move his club to Denver, and broke ties with KNBR. Until he changed his mind, his games were on a college station. The deal was made by the Cal student who also served as play-by-play announcer and sports director of KALX: a poli sci major, Larry Baer. I believe he's still involved in baseball somewhere.

  • ---------------------------------------

Good sports: The Broadcast Legends' most recent luncheon featured "Sports Legends," and I was drafted to moderate a panel with Jon Miller, Barry Tompkins and Ron Barr. It was a blast....

Miller said that, before sports, "I wanted to be Walter Cronkite, the anchorman for CBS News." Instead, studying radio at the College of San Mateo under radio instructor Dan Odum, he announced classical music before turning to sports. Now, he's in the broadcast wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame....

Miller spoke about his departure from ESPN's Sunday night broadcasts after 21 years. For several years, he said, he'd been resisting the intrusions into baseball telecasts of excessive graphics and prepackaged material. "The people in charge," he said, "would prepare all this stuff, and the telecast was all about getting this stuff in." Miller argued that in a tied game in the eighth inning, with an exciting matchup at the plate, there was no need to go to a story a staffer had produced. "I probably should have retired from it before they showed me the door," he said.

Tompkins nodded in sympathy. "We have producers in our ear constantly, yelling, 'Graphic! Graphic!' and it's usually something that has nothing to do with what's going on. It's graphic and sponsor driven. But radio is the medium where someone like Jon makes the pictures. That's what makes great announcers great announcers."

Said Miller: "The thing I learned from Lon Simmons, early on, was, when the game is great, give them the game. Try not to get in the way."

After the panel, Miller told me one reason he turned down ESPN's offer to have him do its Sunday night radio broadcasts. He would have to go to the same games as, and do the prep work alongside the people who had replaced him in the TV booth. It would've been ... awk-ward! Besides, as he told the Broadcast Legends audience,

  • "I'm haven't seen my wife in 21 years.""

4/15/11, "A's triple play: 3 radio stations in one year," Ben Fong-Torres, San Francisco Chronicle, Radio Waves. via RadioDailyNews

"Ron Barr (left), Barry Tompkins and Jon Miller take part in a "Sports Legends" luncheon last month in Berkeley." photo R. Mohr, from SF Chronicle. A's station switches to all sports via BTF

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