Maryland severs ties with WBAL, brings its games to WJFK, WHFS

ON MEDIA

April 22, 2005|By RAY FRAGER

AFTER 27 consecutive years on WBAL Radio, the University of Maryland is spinning the dial. In a deal announced yesterday, Maryland chose new flagships for Terrapins football and men's basketball games - two of Infinity Broadcasting's Baltimore stations, WJFK (1300 AM) and WHFS (105.7 FM).

"Every element of the deal makes this a terrific deal," said Michael Lipitz, Maryland senior associate athletic director.

The deal does contain new elements. All men's lacrosse games will be broadcast on WJFK and an increased number of women's basketball games will be carried on the same station.

According to WBAL station manager and vice president Jeff Beauchamp, it was those elements that became the deal-breaker for his station, which wanted to continue broadcasting football and men's basketball.

"The university wanted us to clear a substantial number of women's basketball games and lacrosse games," Beauchamp said. "It was a ratings problem. Nobody cares."

WBAL carried five women's games last season, Beauchamp said, and they averaged about a 10th of the ratings the station would have gotten for its regular programming.

Though WBAL had not carried any lacrosse, Beauchamp said: "It's not interesting enough. It's not compelling."

As for Infinity, Beauchamp said: "Maybe ratings weren't important to them."

Dave Labrozzi, vice president/programming of Infinity Radio/Baltimore, did not return a phone call yesterday.

In a news release, Robert Philips, senior vice president and market manager for Infinity Radio/Baltimore, said: "We are delighted that we have reached this agreement with the University of Maryland. Baltimore-area listeners and sports fans can anticipate exciting seasons of sports broadcasts, including more airtime, better quality audio than ever before, on-site promotions and remote broadcasts."

In addition to adding women's basketball and men's lacrosse, WJFK will air a new show, Terps Talk, a two-hour program on Maryland athletics hosted by Johnny Holliday, broadcast Mondays at 8 p.m. from September through April. The weekly Ralph Friedgen and Gary Williams shows will be carried by WJFK and WHFS.

What Maryland loses is WBAL's powerful signal, heard far up the East Coast. Though WJFK and WHFS should cover most of the Baltimore area, some listeners may find they will need to rely on the Terrapins Sports Network's stations in Washington, Frederick or elsewhere.

NBC's new Sunday night NFL package, which begins in 2006, includes flexible scheduling for the last seven weeks of the season. Details haven't been worked out yet, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday. However, he said, the decision to move games - just as the Fox and CBS games already sometimes shift between 1 p.m. and 4:15 starts - ultimately would rest with the league.

It is possible the flexibility for NBC's games could be limited in that Fox or CBS - whoever has the national doubleheader on a particular Sunday afternoon - could "protect" one game from being moved.

NBC will schedule an earlier Sunday night kickoff - at 8:15, about 15 minutes earlier than ESPN's current start. NBC also plans a pre-game show at 7 p.m., direct competition for ESPN's NFL Prime Time highlight program. With no game to follow Prime Time, how much will ESPN's audience migrate to NBC? ...

Questions about the Monday and Sunday night announcers hang in the air like a Dave Zastudil punt. Will Al Michaels and John Madden move to ESPN? Will ESPN's Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire move to Monday? Or will we see some kind of combination? One without Theismann, we can all hope. ...

Bob Costas' name immediately surfaced as an NBC possibility. Other speculation raised the idea of Madden going to Sunday night.

TV sports' most overblown coverage takes over ESPN and ESPN2 tomorrow and Sunday with the NFL draft. Saturday's draft show on ESPN goes from noon to 5:30, then switches to ESPN2 until 10 p.m. Sunday's programming on ESPN runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This year's wrinkle is the addition of St. Louis Rams receiver Torry Holt, the first active NFL player to work ESPN's draft telecast.

But we all know who is the star is. That's Baltimore's own gift to the draft, the encyclopedic king of instant scouting reports, the one-man combine, the prince of player pontification, ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Mel Kiper Jr. And, lest we forget, his hair!

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