After Ravens deal, more questions than answers

Media Watch

July 09, 1996|By Milton Kent

Normally, the signing of a new broadcasting deal on the order of the one the Ravens announced last week would answer a lot of questions.

On the contrary, the new contracts, particularly the five-year radio pact with Infinity, have touched off a flurry of speculation in town about what happens next.

In the immediate sense, the next major decision is who will be the voices of the Ravens, on their three-game television exhibition package and on their 20-game preseason and regular-season radio schedule.

The only name that is known is that of Paul Maguire, who will do analysis on the television games on channels 54 and 45 in the last year of a deal he signed with the team when it was located in Cleveland.

Another person who should be sitting pretty is Bruce Cunningham. He is the former radio voice of the Stallions, whose games aired on an Infinity station, and is the current weeknight sportscaster on Channel 45, which has the official coach's and players' shows, and he appears to have a leg up on a Ravens announcing job of some sort.

(Just a thought, but the team could hardly go wrong by selecting Chuck Thompson to do play-by-play on the television games this year. Thompson, one of the voices of the Colts, would be a nice bridge between Baltimore's football past and present, provided WBAL Radio would allow him to miss an Orioles game or two.)

David Modell, the team's executive vice president, said the Ravens had sent a number of audition tapes it had received to NFL Films for impartial critiques. A decision on all posts is expected to be reached in the next week or so.

The other Birds

The Ravens' deal now focuses attention on the Orioles, whose television and radio contracts expire at the end of this season.

Their current rights holders, WBAL and Westinghouse, are the favorites to retain the Orioles, and both are in discussions with the team, but both likely will pay a lot more than they do now.

In the case of WBAL, that price could be as much as double the $2.5 million it ponies up each year, thanks to the Ravens, newcomers who extracted an average of $3.2 million a year from Infinity. The Orioles are certain to want at least that much if a bidding war breaks out.

And while that might have seemed unlikely a few months ago, Infinity's recent acquisition by Westinghouse, which also owns CBS, could change the local landscape significantly.

Pending FCC approval of the merger, the new, combined Westinghouse-Infinity juggernaut controls Channel 13, Home Team Sports, WLIF (101.9 FM) and WJFK (1300 AM) (the two Ravens carriers), as well as WCAO (600 AM) and WXYV (102.7 FM) in Baltimore and is flush with cash.

In the cutthroat world of radio, Westinghouse-Infinity could try to capture all the Orioles' broadcasting for its outlets or drive up the price for one of its chief competitors, namely WBAL.

The merger also makes a little more possible the prospect of an all-sports station here. Infinity, which runs such outlets in New York and Philadelphia, now has two AM stations in town and a major sports property to drive the talk.

And when the merger is completed, Infinity will have control of the valuable CBS Radio baseball, college basketball and NFL football packages that can fill time around talk when a local team isn't playing. Currently, WBAL (1090 AM) and WWLG (1360 AM) have pieces of those packages, but it's hard to imagine that Infinity will let them stay when the contracts run out.

The television part of the Orioles' equation will not be as dramatic as the radio portion, because the 1995 swap of network affiliates has severely limited the ability of local stations to free up the kind of time needed to carry a representative Orioles schedule that would make money for the station.

One other factor to be pondered is Orioles owner Peter Angelos' rumored interest in bringing the team's broadcasting rights in-house, which could include the starting of an HTS-like cable channel to air Orioles games and related programming and/or the purchase of a local radio station, where the team's games would air.

Of course, all of the above could be considered the ruminations of a madman with way too much time on his hands, but stay tuned.

All-Starry night

When you watch, or listen to, tonight's baseball All-Star Game from Philadelphia, keep in mind that you're seeing and hearing the end of an era.

With the proposed arrival of interleague play next season, the traditional test of strength between the American and National leagues is bound to take on a very different look.

The notion that the two leagues meet each other only in the All-Star Game and in the World Series always has placed the midsummer classic in higher esteem than the all-star games of DTC other sports. Henceforth, the baseball game will just be another exhibition.

"In every other sport . . . [the games] may be great showcases, but there's not a real sense of Eastern Conference/Western Conference pride," said NBC's Bob Costas.

"But there's always been that sense about the American League and the National League as being distinct. There are good reasons for interleague play, and it will probably bring about some interest. But one of the downsides of it is that it will detract somewhat from the mystique of the World Series and the All-Star Game."

Sigh. At any rate, Costas, Joe Morgan, Bob Uecker, Jim Gray and Hannah Storm will be on hand to call the action for NBC (Channel 11) on television, and John Rooney, Jerry Coleman, Jeff Torborg and Jim Hunter will head CBS Radio's efforts, heard locally on WBAL. Both programs go on the air at 8 p.m.

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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