TV teams sticking with their rosters

On-air longevity mark of local sportscasters


The odds are pretty good that, at some point in the past five years, you've changed jobs, cars, radio stations, house paint and, maybe, even your spouse.

Yes, change is a constant seemingly everywhere but on Baltimore sports television, where all of the weeknight sportscasters and two of the four weekend sportscasters are the same men who manned their posts five years ago.

One would think that the nation's 24th-largest market would be a springboard for up-and-coming sportscasters coming in from even smaller markets.

But the only television sportscaster to leave Baltimore since 1995, the last time this critic examined local sports types, is Mark Viviano, who left the weekend shift at Channel 11 for CNN/SI last December.

Things are, for the most part, the way they've been here for most of the 1990s, and that is, mostly, good. Most of the sportscasters in this market are hard-working and conscientious, and unlike some of the newscasters they work alongside, stay clear of hype and compete in a friendly manner.

That said, it remains an appalling joke that there are no women in front of the camera doing sports in this market, a situation that has been true for close to 20 years. The talented women who appear on ESPN, CNN/SI and Fox had to get experience somewhere, and it could have been here.

One more promising development, however recent, is the presence of African-American anchors and reporters. Channel 11's Damon Andrews and Stan Saunders of Channel 13 both anchor weekend sports, and Channel 2 uses John Curry and Rick White both behind and in front of the cameras.

Andrews is the newcomer to the area, having arrived in 1998. He has shown promise, and once he learns the market, he could be a star. More likely, Andrews, who needs to cut down on the jargon, will probably head to a bigger market before he gets ingrained in Baltimore.

Saunders, who doubles as a news reporter at Channel 13, has frankly struggled in the nine months he's been doing weekends since the station eliminated Chris Ely's part-time slot.

Saunders was a news/sports reporter in Memphis before he came to Baltimore nine years ago. He has a wealth of enthusiasm, but appears overmatched at times, bungling names and looking ill at ease. Perhaps if station officials were to make him a sports reporter full-time and let him work on his craft, Saunders would get better.

Steve Davis, who handles weekend sports on Channels 45 and 54, has made remarkable forward strides in the last five years. Where once he was sophomoric, bordering on childish on the air, Davis has become polished and solid, shining particularly on field reports, where he has become the best in town, weeknight or weekday.

In addition, the 10 minutes that Davis has for Friday and Saturday nights, and the 30-minute show he shares with Bruce Cunningham on Sunday nights, only make his work stronger.

Still, the best of the weekend guys in town is Channel 2's Keith Mills, who, by way of disclosure, appears monthly with this reporter on "The Marc Steiner Show" on WJHU (88.1 FM).

Mills, a Brooklyn Park native, surely has a relationship with just about every high school coach and it pays off handsomely on the air. Viewers are just as likely to see highlights from an eighth-grade girls basketball tournament as the big football game of the weekend.

A slight complaint: Sometimes, it feels as though Mills tries a little too hard to fit the local square peg into a round hole, but then, where else would you get wrestling tournament highlights.

Five years ago, we thought Mills' colleague, Scott Garceau, was the class of the weeknight field. And Garceau is still a terrific watch most nights. Like Mills, he knows the local market and his contacts are as solid as they come.

But it seems that Garceau, the radio play-by-play voice of the Ravens, has lost some of his edge, particularly in criticizing the local professional teams. He doesn't need to curry favor with them.

Meanwhile, Cunningham and Channel 11's Gerry Sandusky have made weeknights a three-horse race. Cunningham, who came here with the introduction of Channel 45's news operation eight years ago, is smart and funny and a good interviewer. He makes fine use of the whopping 10 minutes he gets.

Sandusky is the wittiest of the local sportscasters and would probably own this competition if his station would only let him have more time. His sportscasts are routinely the shortest of all on weeknights.

That brings us to Channel 13's John Buren, described by one of his competitors as the most talented sportscaster in the market. His eight Emmys and recent designation as Maryland Sportscaster of the Year by a vote of his peers indicate that he has the goods.

So, then, why does it look so often as if Buren would rather be doing anything other than sports anchoring and reporting? He is like a phenom who has .400 batting average potential, but is content hitting .310. Sure, .310 could get you to the Hall of Fame, but a little more effort might make you an immortal.

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