CBS and Fox have wasted no time sniping at each other over interpreting NFL ratings, and the real season doesn't even start for three weeks.
In case you've forgotten, Fox has lifted broadcasts of the NFC from CBS, where they had rested for 38 years, for a crisp $1.25 billion over the next four years.
CBS numbers cruncher David Poltrack lau- nched an attack late Monday, claiming Friday's Fox broadcast of the San Francisco-Denver game, which garnered a 6.5 rating and a 13 share in national Nielsen ratings, was 20 percent below a San Francisco-San Diego game last Aug. 28.
(Let's pause for the first official "On the Air" numbers explanation: Each national rating point equals 942,000 homes, while shares measure the percentage among homes where a television is in use.)
"CBS is slinging so much mud at Fox you'd think Poltrack spent the weekend at Woodstock," Andy Fessel, Fox's numbers cruncher told the Hollywood Reporter.
We here at "On the Air" hate to take sides, except the side of the reader, but in this case, we stand with Fox.
First, the CBS game was the final preseason game, where interest for the coming regular season is naturally higher than the third week.
Second, even with its recent raid of CBS affiliates, Fox appears on many fewer VHF, or clear-channel stations, than the Big Three, meaning that in many areas, the local Fox station is more difficult to tune in.
Finally, while Fox's ratings were fourth in every half-hour, as CBS duly noted, the interlopers managed to win the night among the 18-49 male demographic, the crucial audience for advertisers.
Getting set for the fall
NBC has settled on its NFL announcer pairings for the season.
Dick Enberg, perhaps television's best all-around play-by-play announcer, and Bob Trumpy will return as the network's No. 1 team and Marv Albert and Paul Maguire will form the second pair.
From there, Charlie Jones will team with Randy Cross, who joins NBC from CBS. Jim Lampley, who turns over "NFL Live" duties to Greg Gumbel, will be paired with everyone's favorite iconoclast, Todd Christensen.
Tom Hammonds and Cris Collinsworth, Don Criqui and Beasley Reece and Dan Hicks and first-year analyst Bob Golic form the rest of NBC's NFL crew.
OK, so maybe Al Michaels, Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford didn't get chummy with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue during their third-quarter interview Monday night, but all that was left at the end of their chat was for the four to link arms, sway back and forth and sing "We Are the World."
Among the possible talking points the Treacly Trio missed were effects of the new salary cap, the Cowboys' reportedly tampering with Tony Casillas and the Rams' possible move from Los Angeles.
And what was Dierdorf doing suggesting that Mexicans, who all sang their nation's anthem, could teach sports fans in the United States something about patriotism.
Here's a tip, Big Dan: stick to analyzing the counter-trey and leave flag waving to the politicians.
Missing the boat
A gentle chide to Channel 11's Gerry Sandusky for running 1983 Orioles' highlights as his 11 p.m. lead story Monday and not having any sound from newly announced Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow's press conference.
North of the Border
To fill some of the void left by the absence of baseball (there's a strike going on, you know), ESPN has added two CFL games to its schedule. The first, Ottawa at Winnipeg, is tonight at 7, and the second is Labor Day, when Edmonton visits Calgary at 4 p.m.