Sports vs. Sports
Who’s on first? Starting Sept. 1, Atlantic Coast Radio’s sports station in Portland will have a new rival – owned by Atlantic Coast Radio. ACR’s “Big Jab” programming, including its local morning show and Boston Red Sox games, will go up against WEEI’s Boston-based shows, rebroadcast on an ACR-licensed wavelength.
“Big Jab” will show up on the dial at 96.3 FM, a powerhouse signal heard all over southern and western Maine, as well as its current home at 1440 AM in Portland. The WEEI shows will be broadcast on 95.5 FM out of Topsham (WTEI) and 95.9 FM from Saco (WPEI), giving that programming a somewhat smaller coverage area.
But why would one company want two sports stations, splitting the potential audience and advertising revenue?
According to ACR general manager Jon Van Hoogenstyn, the move makes business sense. By picking up the Boston station’s shows, he said, the Portland station keeps them off competitors’ airwaves.
“We would much rather have WEEI with us than against us, no question,” Van Hoogenstyn said.
In addition, the move keeps the Sox games on ACR stations. WEEI’s sister station WRKO owns the Red Sox radio rights. If WEEI had signed on with another Portland broadcast outlet, it’s likely the baseball deal would have shifted to that station when “Big Jab’s” contract ended in 2011. By agreeing to carry the Boston programming, ACR is assured of having the rights to those games until 2013.
The deal may give ACR stability and sports fans more options, but it cuts back on the choices for other radio listeners. Western Mainers accustomed to hearing WLOB’s talk shows on 96.3 will no longer be able to receive them over the air. That station will only air on 1310 AM in Portland, a relatively weak signal. However, it’s morning show will still be simulcast on Fox 23 TV, and Van Hoogenstyn said the station’s Web site will soon have an audio stream available. The news isn’t so positive for fans of WRED, the hip hop station currently on 95.9. It will disappear from the airwaves on Sept. 1.
“We recognized there were people we were serving that we could no longer serve,” said Van Hoogenstyn. “Part of the overall decision where we decided what we were going to do was that music was not what we were going to be offering.”
Southern Maine isn’t the only place that’s going to be broadcasting WEEI’s programming. WWBX (97.1 FM) and WABI (910 AM) in Bangor will also be offering the Boston shows beginning Sept. 1. They’ll be going head to head with established Bangor sports outlet WZON (620 AM). (There’s a story on this in the Aug. 22 Bangor Daily News, but the paper’s Web site doesn’t seem to be working at the moment, so I don’t have a URL.)
Who’s hurting? On Aug. 18, WCSH-TV in Portland and WLBZ-TV in Bangor, both owned by Virginia-based Gannett Co., announced their second round of layoffs in just over three months. Five staffers were let go in Portland and two in Bangor, with the cuts hitting everyone from recent hires to one 30-year veteran.
In May, the stations eliminated six and a half jobs.
While no on-air employees got the ax this time around, viewers will notice the change. WCSH and WLBZ will no longer air weekend noon newscasts. Those laid off included behind-the-scenes personnel in news, production, sales and online areas.
The newsroom was said to be “in shock,” according to the Web site TVSpy.com, which first reported the cuts.
Steve Thaxton, general manager of the stations, blamed the layoffs on poor advertising sales. “We expected this year to be healthy, with heavy political buys to pay the bills,” Thaxton said. “But the politicians are spending their money differently.” He said even though August revenues were up over the same month last year, due to the NBC stations’ coverage of the Olympics, September sales look “awful.”
Thaxton denied rumors that Gannett’s 23 TV stations were suffering cuts because of big losses at the company’s newspapers. “This is completely related to our local stations,” he said. “It’s very individualized, very regional. Some places, some stations are doing pretty well.”
Who’s responsible? Don’t go blaming the Portsmouth Herald if your elected officials turn out to be bums. You’re the one at fault.
In an Aug. 20 editorial, the paper told readers to do their own research before accepting the claims made in provocative political advertising by special interest groups.
“Each organization, at least to this point, has provided a Web site for further information,” the newspaper said. “Jot it down. Read up on them. Find out for yourself who these folks are who are trying to sway you … The only ones who can separate the political wheat from the chafe (sic) are you, the voters.”
This editorial reminds me of that TV ad where a doctor starts giving instructions over the phone to a patient on how to perform his own operation. “Shouldn’t you be doing this?” the bewildered patient asks.
Not a bad question for the Herald.
And while you’re at it, pick up a dictionary.
How do you find contributors to your Web site who’ll work for nothing? Try craigslist.org.
The ad says, “this is a stellar opportunity to get your name and views in front of one of the largest web audiences in the state.”
But a “stellar opportunity” is all it is. Regardless of the allegedly huge audience, the ad notes at the bottom that there’s “no pay” involved.
Who’s watching? The national media are paying attention to the problems and potential sale of the Blethen papers in Maine. The Boston Globe ran an article last week, speculating on whether the Portland Press Herald might go out of business.
I’m quoted in the piece, but my comments expressing skepticism about the paper shutting down were omitted.
The Washington Post touched on the topic in a story on how some newspapers, including several much larger than the Press Herald, are cutting back on coverage of our nation’s capital.
On Aug. 26, NBC News is tentatively scheduled to have a crew in Portland to do a story on how the city might react to being without a daily newspaper and how that would affect the distribution of news in the state. I wonder if Blethen executives, who refused to speak to the Globe, will dare show their faces.
Who’s charging? Several people have contacted me wondering what’s going on with the Web sites of some of the former Courier Publications papers that were recently purchased by VillageNet Media. If you attempt to access the sites for the Bar Harbor Times or the Capital Weekly, you may end up on a page that informs you that only subscribers to the papers can read the online versions.
(Disclosure: My political column runs in those papers, as well as other Village publications.)
Those fearing the new owners are launching some evil scheme to charge for what was previously free can relax. The pages in question are old ones left over from the Courier era, according to Ron Belyea, Village’s chief operating officer and publisher.
“We have no plans to ever charge for our [online] content,” Belyea said. “It defeats the purpose of our philosophy of what we do.”
The confusion should dissipate in the near future as new Web sites for the former Courier publications go live. The Bar Harbor paper’s site (mdi.villagesoup.com) is expected to be operating within two weeks, with the Augusta paper’s site (capital.villagesoup.com) to follow shortly afterwards.
Belyea also said the company will soon end its practice of charging people to post on its sites. But it will also require posters to register and provide their real names before their comments can appear online.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.