For WBAL's radio reign, there's an air of change

ON THE AIR

August 23, 1994|By MILTON KENT

Uneasy lies the crown that leads the area in sports radio ratings.

That crown is worn by WBAL station manager Jeff Beauchamp, whose station reigns in sports programming, thanks to its acquisition of the Orioles and University of Maryland football and men's basketball rights, along with 50,000 watts of radio power.

But in the immediate and short term, wholesale changes could be in the wind, which could have a long-term bearing on how far the station stays in front of its competition.

The station will be losing longtime talk-show host Jeff Rimer, who will leave WBAL (1090 AM), likely at the end of September, for a gig with Florida's Sunshine Network, an HTS-like all-sports cable channel.

WBAL also could lose Jon Miller, considered one of the best baseball play-by-play voices working today, if negotiations with the Orioles don't yield a new contract when the current deal expires at the end of this season.

Beauchamp said station officials, who placed a recent ad in The Sporting News stating that "creativity, showmanship and a sense of humor are as important as a knowledge of sports," are reviewing more than 64 applications for Rimer's slot and should decide on a replacement within two weeks.

The early favorite to replace Rimer appears to be Josh Lewin, who broadcasts Rochester Red Wings' games and visited the area a few weeks ago after Rimer's departure was announced. He has appeared on WBAL with Red Wings updates and is filling in tonight and tomorrow.

As for Miller, who has been in Baltimore for 12 years and is contracted through the Orioles, not WBAL, both he and Beauchamp have expressed a desire for him to return, but his negotiations will be conducted with the team's front office, not WBAL's.

Chicago's WGN has been rumored to be after Miller as a possible partner and/or replacement for Harry Caray. An additional twist to the Chicago scenario is a rumor floating through the Tribune Co., WGN's corporate parent, that former Orioles pitcher Steve Stone, Caray's current television sidekick, is under consideration for the Cubs' general manager's slot if Larry Himes is fired at season's end, thereby opening a spot in the Cubs' booth.

It's enough to make a monarch think about abdicating.

Room for one more?

ESPN and Fox already are set to do one-hour NFL pre-game shows, and NBC said yesterday that it will follow suit.

But the Peacock's 60-minute show is a one-time-only deal for Sept. 4, opening day.

The stated reason, according to Ed Markey, an NBC Sports publicist, is that with as many as six broadcasters, including new host Greg Gumbel, Ahmad Rashad, who returns to "NFL Live" as a co-host, and reporter Jim Gray, whom NBC hired away yesterday from CBS, the network wanted all to feel their way through the first show without tripping over each other in the introductions.

More likely is NBC's fear that the raw meat football crowd would tune in to Fox at noon for a taste of the new meal in town and not go back to an old favorite. If it works, don't be surprised if NBC tries to make it a permanent fixture.

Eye on the booth

CBS lost Gray, but re-signed James Brown, host of Fox's football pre-game show, for college basketball play-by-play duties. The network also announced that Pat O'Brien will be host for its U.S. Open tennis studio show next week and that Olympic speed skating gold medalist Dan Jansen will be a roving reporter at Flushing Meadow.

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