Baltimore's `favorite news station' tosses home-grown Ely to the curb

Media Watch

July 09, 1999|By Milton Kent

Chris Ely would be the first to tell you that he has had a remarkably fortunate run in television. After all, it's not everyone that manages to make his way through an on-air audition process in which 3,400 people sent in cards for the weekend sports anchor slot that opened at Channel 13 in 1988.

From there, Ely beat out 106 other auditioners and 13 people who got tryouts on the air to get the job. So he is certainly used to beating the odds.

But nothing prepared him for the moment last week when he was summoned into general manager Jay Newman's office and told that his position was being eliminated.

"I'm still trying to get over it. I don't even know if shock is the right word for how I feel right now," Ely said this week. "But I've heard that when life deals you lemons, you make lemonade. I intend to set up my lemonade stand, and I intend to make it happen here. We'll see what happens."

Ely, who played lacrosse at Poly and at Washington College and has been a lacrosse referee for more than 20 years, has been a part-timer at WJZ since winning the tryout to replace Ken Singleton in December 1988.

However, station spokeswoman Liz Chuday said Channel 13 is "restructuring certain aspects of our operations," which means the station will give weekend sports anchoring duties to a reporter already on staff and eliminate Ely's position entirely.

Already, Stan Saunders has done a weekend shift and Ron Matz is expected to get a try before the station makes a final decision on one of them or someone else in the next few weeks.

"Chris is a talented individual, and we still hope to use him on an occasional basis in the future," Chuday said.

Indeed, Ely, who retired from his post as a program consultant with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services three years ago, said he has been asked to fill in for vacationing sportscasters, but hasn't decided whether he'll take the station up on its offer yet.

Ely, 50, has been a tireless spokesman on behalf of breast cancer awareness, having lost his first wife to the disease. He estimates that he's spoken to 30,000 children about breast cancer over the years, in addition to filling in as public address announcer at Orioles games.

From this perspective, Channel 13's move is a bizarre one, running directly counter to the station's claim to be Baltimore's "favorite news station." Why would it cut loose a hard-working and popular sportscaster with deep local ties and a strong sense of community involvement over a few thousand dollars?

This move is likely oozing down from a corporate bean counter at Black Rock, the headquarters of CBS, which owns and operates the station but has no feel or allegiance to what a local audience wants.

Let's hope this decision gets reversed or that some other outlet in the market, including Home Team Sports, which also is owned by CBS, can find room for Ely, a good sportscaster who deserves a better fate than this.

Personnel calls

Who said summer was the slow season? There are all kinds of comings and goings to report in the sports television industry.

For instance, HTS director of production Tim Walbert is on his way to a high-ranking position with the World Wrestling Federation. For those inclined to snicker, remember that Monday night WWF telecasts are routinely the most-watched programs on cable each week.

Meanwhile, ESPN is welcoming Suzy Kolber back into the fold, effective next month. Kolber, who left ESPN nearly three years ago for Fox, will be host of the weekly "NFL Matchup" show and report from NFL games for part of the year, then join the rotation for the 6: 30 p.m. "SportsCenter" and be co-host of the X Games, summer and winter.

Finally, ESPN announced that Stuart Scott will replace Mike Tirico as co-host of "Sunday NFL Countdown" this September.

Around the dial

The Women's World Cup comes to a conclusion tomorrow, and ABC and ESPN will split telecasting duties. ESPN will air the third-place game between Norway and Brazil at 1 p.m., with China and the United States meeting in the championship game at 3: 30 on ABC (Channel 2). Robin Roberts will be host of the ABC telecast from the Rose Bowl, and the network hopes to get an interview with President Clinton, who will be in attendance.

The baseball All-Star festivities begin Monday from Fenway Park with live coverage of the Home Run Derby at 8 p.m., with Chris Berman, Joe Morgan and Mets catcher Mike Piazza on the call for television. Charley Steiner and Dave Campbell will have the action on ESPN Radio, heard locally on WBAL (1090 AM) at 8 p.m.

On Sunday, ESPN2 will carry the inaugural All-Star Futures Game, pitting top American prospects against similar players from around the world at 5 p.m., and ESPN Classic starts 56 hours of All-Star coverage Sunday at noon, with a look at an all-time All-Star team. HBO will re-air its Emmy Award documentary on the life of Babe Ruth at 7 p.m. Monday.

Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller returns to Lifetime's WNBA telecast team tonight as his sister, Cheryl's Phoenix Mercury plays host to the Houston Comets at 8 p.m. The Washington Mystics travel to Detroit tomorrow to meet the Shock at 1 p.m. on NBC (Channel 11).

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore during the past week (R-Rating; S-Share):

Event Day Ch. R/S

O's-Blue Jays Tue. 13 10.0/17

Orioles-Yankees Fri. 13 7.9/15

Orioles-Yankees Sat. 13 7.5/19

Orioles-Yankees Sun. 13 7.1/19

Wimbledon Sun. 11 5.2/12

Pepsi 400 Sat. 13 4.5/9

Wimbledon Sat. 11 3.7/12

Wimbledon Thu. 11 2.9/10

Wimbledon Fri. 11 2.3/8

Golf Sat. 2 2.3/6

Pub Date: 7/09/99

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