Halby's Morsels

Halby’s Morsels: NCAA issues RFP for network radio rights starting with March’s tourney; Other nuggets

The NCAA Tournament

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Halberstam

Here’s the latest on the battle for the network radio rights to the NCAA Tournament. The governing  body has issued an RFP (request for a proposal) for future broadcast rights which I’ve learned through a good source includes the one scheduled for this coming March. 

The pursuit could get messy and thorny and as such, lawyers are being kept busy. Westwood One’s long term rights which included future years were cancelled by the NCAA after the network failed to make a contractual payment for the 2020 Tournament which of course wasn’t played. Suits and countersuits were filed.

Westwood One or its predecessor CBS Radio Sports has carried the tourney since the 1970s. Westwood has had financial challenges and not long ago emerged from bankruptcy.

One of three things could happen here. Westwood and the NCAA can settle their dispute and the network resumes it coverage under a renewed lower rights fee. If the rights are assigned elsewhere, Westwood would likely sue the new rightsholder for infringement. A good source also confirmed that ESPN Radio is pursuing the rights. Out of prudency the Bristolites might insist upon indemnification from the NCAA. I also believe that ESPN wouldn’t offer the kind of dough that Westwood’s original contract stipulates. Westwood had a backloaded schedule of payments and now it faces a weakened sales environment.

The third possibility is remote. An outside party could come through, like a Learfield Sports which owns lots of individual school rights.

The ramp up time for any entity other than Westwood would require a Herculean and speedy effort on both the sales and affiliate fronts. Westwood, because it’s done the tournament for so many years, has  a turnkey operation to facilitate the broadcasts.

Notes

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The Rose Bowl is moving to Arlington, Texas this January because of local Covid restrictions covering Pasadena. The last time the Rose Bowl was moved was in 1942 when America feared a bombing attempt somewhere out West by the Japanese. The game was scheduled to be played less than a month after Pearl Harbor. So back then the Rose Bowl was played in Durham, North Carolina. These weren’t television days yet. NBC Radio carried it nationally from Durham and had a reporter in Pasadena who described the eeriness of an empty Rose Bowl.

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Al McCoy, 87, says he’s happy to reduce his schedule to what essentially will be only home games of the Phoenix Suns. The away schedule will be called off a monitor by Jon Bloom who’s filled in for McCoy in the past. This will be the 49th Suns season for the remarkable McCoy. 

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Cawood Ledford the late and iconic Voice of the Kentucky Wildcats had an opportunity to do some ABA games of the old Kentucky Colonels. In a chapter that Cawood penned in Sportscasters Dozen, Ledofrd says that he was offered the job of becoming the Voice of the Chicago Bulls. He turned it down.

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So Len Kasper is off Cubs TV and will do White Sox radio. No replacement has been announced yet for the Cubs TV gig. Chris Myers of Fox has been rumored to get it but no word yet. The Kasper move came as a surprise to many observers.

In Toronto, Mike Wilner, 50, who worked Blue Jays radio broadcasts for 20 years won’t return in 2021.

ESPN will open its 2021 MLB season of Sunday Night Baseball on April 4, at a special start time of 8:30 p.m. when the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout host the Chicago White Sox and American League MVP. José Abreu. Hard to believe but time races. Next spring, ESPN begins its 32nd season broadcasting Sunday Night Baseball.

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Did you know that Chick Hearn arrived in Los Angeles before Vin Scully? He did. Chick came in the mid 1950s and did USC football and basketball. Chick did several Rose Bowls on radio and television, one with Mel Allen. Vin of course came to Southern California with the Dodgers in 1958.

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No announcement yet from the Tampa Bay Lightning about a replacement for Rick Peckham who retired after last season. Peckham was the team’s TV man for 25 seasons.

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ESPN’s Chris Fowler continues to find his rhythm and improve steadily as a play-by-play announcer. I still think of him as a studio man.

There’s been a trend in recent years for young and budding broadcasters to aspire to do sports studio work, not necessarily play-by-play. You can expect that trend to accelerate if teams and networks continue to have their announcers call games remotely. It dulls the luster of the gig. Think this way. Studio voices do get lots of face time and can more easily grow A TV brand.

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CBS says that the Kansas City-New Orleans game this past Sunday was the highest watched television program in the month of December. It averaged 22.9 viewers.

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So how did Mel Allen get the Yankees job? He was working for CBS in New York when the Bombers first went on radio in 1939. Arch McDonald was brought up from Washington to do that first season. His sidekick was a fellow named, Garnett Marks. He had worked in St. Louis for a while but lasted only six weeks in the Bronx. See, Proctor and Gamble was the sponsor, and it advertised its Ivory Soap brand. On more than one occasion, Marks said the broadcasts were sponsored by Ovary Soap instead of Ivory. He did so a couple times and was fired.

Allen came to the rescue in mid-season. After the ’39 campaign, McDonald went back to D.C. and Allen got the lead gig. He would work through the glory years and was fired unceremoniously after the 1964 season.

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We’ve heard the expression “This guy does everything but drive the team bus.” Bob Ridley is 76. Up until a few years ago, from 1972 through 2017, Ridley was the bus driver and radio announcer for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League. That’s 45 years of driving a bus through the vast West. Many of those bus trips were overnight. How in the world he did it and how the players felt safe, I can’t tell you. The WHL  extends thousands of miles.

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Michael Green
29 days ago

Great stuff! We do tend to forget that Chick was in LA ahead of Vin–and that he could have been Harry Caray’s #2 in St. Louis instead of Jack Buck! I remember Mel Allen saying that he wanted to be #2 to Arch McDonald and instead he was to go to DC to replace McDonald, and instead Clark Griffith insisted on Walter Johnson. It pleased Allen to think the greatest right-handed pitcher ever had beaten him out of a job, and of course it worked out well. I think too many people fail to realize that the Yankees and Giants… Read more »