Back in the day, when “social media” meant journalists who would partake of cocktails, local stations referred to their 6 and 11 p.m. programming as “News, Weather and Sports.”
The anchors who held down those positions were like aunts and uncles welcomed into your living room. If a household became accustomed to a particular set of newscasters, the dial never moved off that station.
Fortunately, we still have local newscasts, and they’re spread out well beyond the 6 and 11 o’clock hours. What we don’t seem to have anymore, at least on the sports side, is a connection to those delivering the news.
Of course, there are exceptions.
1 The NBA Finals, despite going only five games, averaged 20.41 million viewers on ABC, a 19-year high. U.S. Open golf had its second-smallest audience on record, which dates back to 1971. The reason for the disparity is simple: Star power. LeBron James and Steph Curry are as much a part of June television as “America’s Got Talent.” Golf sorely misses Tiger Woods (injured) and Phil Mickelson (who missed the Open for his daughter’s high school graduation).
2 With Chris Berman back-back-back into semi-retirement, ESPN announced that Karl Ravech will be the new voice of its “Home Run Derby” telecast July 10. In announcing a contract extension, the network said Ravech will continue to work “Baseball Tonight,” the Little League World Series and College World Series. He also recently added Monday night baseball play-by-play duties and will increase his college basketball play-by-play and studio responsibilities.
3 Times Union racing writer Tim Wilkin reports that the OTB network suspended its morning shows until the July 21 start of the Saratoga meet. John Signor, president and CEO of Capital OTB, said he is going to take this time to figure out what brings more value to the station and horse players. The station had aired handicapping shows in the morning, but Signor said he is experimenting now with handicappers on air during the afternoons while live racing is going on.
Sports anchor Rodger Wyland has been WNYT (NBC-13), the market’s top-rated station, for nearly 31 years. Marisa Jacques is in her 15th year at what now is called Spectrum Sports.
Beyond that, there seems to be little motivation to keep sports directors, anchors and reporters in place.
In less than three months, WRGB (CBS-6) lost two anchors who had a combined 28 years at the station. Sports director Doug Sherman went full-time with ESPN in November, and Kelly O’Donnell left in January for a job with Siena College.
Only one of the two was replaced, and the WRGB sports department — which produces a half-hour weeknight show for sister station WCWN (CW-45) in addition to sportscasts — now consists of three anchors in their 20s.
That isn’t to criticize any of the three, all of whom work hard to get their product on the air. (Otherwise, there would be a lot of dead air.) It’s just that there is no institutional knowledge or direction that experienced broadcasters like Sherman and O’Donnell bring.
Over at WTEN (ABC-10), which merged newsrooms with WXXA (Fox-23) five years ago, the situation is similar. Liana Bonavita, a hard-working 28-year-old, is the main sports anchor. The station opted not to renew weekend anchor Josh Rultenberg, whose contract expires at the end of the month.
The station quickly posted the opening for “a sports reporter/anchor MMJ.” My urban dictionary defines “MMJ” as “medical marijuana,” but I since have learned that it’s “multimedia journalist.” In other words, if you expect to sit behind a desk and read highlights, don’t apply. Expect to anchor, report, produce and shoot.
“We are looking for a dynamic story teller who can deliver local sports and news stories in a unique and special way and on multiple platforms,” the job posting states. “The ideal candidate will look beyond the highlights and final score to tell compelling stories about athletes, coaches and fans.”
“Young and cheap” weren’t included, but they could have been. The starting salary is likely to attract only recent college graduates who will be eager to make an impression but have no one to show them how.
For instance, any well-schooled journalist — and, after all, these are MMJs we’re talking about — wouldn’t Tweet congratulatory notes to a team or athlete he or she is covering. But it’s a regular occurrence among TV sports anchors in this market.
News judgment can be questioned on many nights. True, we’re in a slow cycle for local sports, but high school football previews in June?
Again, the issue isn’t with the many millennials who fill these roles. They all work hard. They’re realizing longtime dreams, even if the pay scale isn’t what they might have wanted.
The blame goes to the parent companies who have become so bottom-line conscious that the viewers’ needs are secondary, if even irrelevant. The average Capital Region television viewer would be taxed to name an area sports anchor beyond Wyland and perhaps Jacques.
It is worth noting that WNYT, the clear leader in the market, has as its lead news team Jim Kambrich (23 years at the station), Benita Zahn (38), Bob Kovachick (29) and Wyland.
Maybe there is some value to familiarity. Too bad the WTEN and WRGB parent corporations, which each own hundreds of stations across the country, don’t appreciate that.
Pete Dougherty is the Times Union’s sports TV/radio columnist • firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5416 • @Pete_Dougherty