In this week’s issue… Baseball returns, minus some voices – Rush affiliates begin dropping – WCBS salutes Lamb – Remembering Philly’s Brown – NY AM signs off
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Here at NERW Central, it’s our favorite sign that spring is finally on its way: the first Spring Training broadcasts on a lazy weekend afternoon from Florida and Arizona. This year, especially, as we wait for so much of the rest of our lives to return to normal and try to forget about the weirdness of last year’s abbreviated sort-of-season, the start of baseball at its normal time feels more important than ever.
So instead of putting it at the end of the column as we do in normal years, we start this week’s column with Baseball on the Radio, our 2021 edition – and as we do, we acknowledge that there’s still a lot about this season that’s far from normal.
Take, for instance, the Toronto Blue Jays, who haven’t played a game on Canadian soil since the end of the 2019 season. Displaced to Buffalo by border restrictions last year, the Jays will start their 2021 campaign in their Spring Training park in Dunedin, Florida, eventually moving north to Buffalo once it gets too hot in Florida. (And then, perhaps, back to Toronto if and when borders begin reopening?)
The Rogers-owned Jays will be on Rogers-owned CJCL (Sportsnet 590 the FAN) again this year, of course – but with a big change. One of their radio voices, Mike Wilner, was already let go last year, and now Ben Wagner has also lost his spot in the radio booth because there won’t be a Jays radio booth this year.
Instead, the team will follow the lead of several NHL teams by simulcasting its Sportsnet TV broadcasts on radio. Buck Martinez, Dan Shulman and Pat Tabler will now have to try to juggle the very different needs of TV viewers and radio listeners, while Wagner will join the rest of the TV team handling pre- and post-game shows and other commentary. (Which also means very few of the Jays’ spring training games will be on radio at all, since the team will have only minimal TV presence from Dunedin until the season starts.)
*Stateside, the rest of the MLB broadcast lineup for 2021 remains largely unchanged, which is itself news to some degree.
In Philadelphia, it means a multi-year extension for the Phillies and their longtime flagship, Entercom’s WIP (94.1). The terms of the new deal haven’t been disclosed, but it keeps Scott Franzke, Larry Andersen and Kevin Frandsen in the booth and adds some new sponsorship from DraftKings, which will be the title sponsor of the pre-game show. There’s been some downsizing since last year: Jim Jackson, who did studio announcing and some middle-inning play-by-play, lost his Phillies work last year, though he’s busy announcing Flyers hockey on sports rival WPEN.
The Phils remain on TV via NBC Sports Philadelphia, with some games over the air on NBC’s WCAU (along with WHP-TV in Harrisburg and WQMY in Scranton.)
The Pittsburgh Pirates mark an important milestone this year: it’s been 100 years since the team was first heard on the radio in the first year of KDKA, and so this season the newly-signed extension of the team’s deal with Entercom’s KDKA-FM (93.7 the Fan) will include some simulcasts with KDKA (1020/100.1). The news-talker will carry the Bucs on weekday afternoons, including Opening Day from Chicago April 1.
On TV, it’s AT&T SportsNet (formerly Root Sports) carrying the games, as usual.
And it’s all Entercom – and all status quo – for radio across the rest of NERW-land’s MLB roster. In New York, the Yankees remain the star attraction for WFAN (660/101.9), with Suzyn Waldman and the ageless John Sterling back in the booth; the Mets are heard just upstairs on WCBS (880) with Wayne Randazzo and Howie Rose – and Rose just made some news over the weekend with a scathing attack on the Blue Jays’ simulcast plans.
“My goodness, that is nothing short of an absolute, total disgrace,” he tweeted on Saturday. “They should be embarrassed. Either you’re major league or you’re not. Utterly reprehensible. Baseball on the radio is art and is the last sport that should ever simulcast. Serves no one.”
The Mets also have an abbreviated Spring Training broadcast schedule, with just four games on WCBS and only a fraction of the schedule on their usual TV outlets, SNY and WPIX (Channel 11); the Yankees have a more extensive schedule on their normal TV outlets, YES and WPIX.
The Yankees have their usual extensive radio network across upstate New York, southern New England and as far afield as Hawaii and Florida; the Mets are back down to a single radio affiliate, WPSL (1590) in their spring base of Port St. Lucie, Florida.
And the Red Sox? Even we can’t justify putting them at the top of any column in another rebuilding year, which they’ll play out in their usual spot on Entercom’s WEEI-FM (93.7) and its extensive network across all six New England states and eastern New York. It’s status quo in the radio booth, with Joe Castiglione, Will Flemming, Sean McDonough and Lou Merloni. TV, as usual, is on the team-affiliated NESN network.
It’s the next installment of Baseball on the Radio that will bring more changes: the complete reworking of the minor league system is bound to mean new alignments on the air, too – and we’ll tackle those when play gets started in those leagues, which will be April at the top AAA level and into May and June at lower levels.
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