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It Will Be a Tough Pull for Pelley at CBS

Scott Pelley in Antarctica

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Scott Pelley starts as the anchor of the CBS Evening News in a month, which means his debut on June 6 will be as low key as Katie Couric’s was overhyped almost five years earlier.

In this game of musical chairs, Pelley (see right) is James Taylor compared to Couric’s Aretha Franklin.

CBS clearly has learned its lesson. Pelley isn’t going to undergo months of interviews and be highlighted in constant promos before he sits in the seat previously used by Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer (briefly) and Couric.

I’m not the only one who views Pelley as the anti-Couric in so many ways.

He’s not high-priced, he’s not a celebrity, he’s male and he doesn’t raise unrealistic expectations.

He’s really a much younger version of Schieffer, who actually did well during the brief time he was the interim anchor after Rather and before Couric.

Still, the truth is it is going to be hard for the 53-year old Pelley to get CBS out of third place in the nightly news competition.

NBC’s Brian Williams has grown in the anchor seat and his decision to abandon the Royal Wedding to cover the tornados in the South only upped his reputation and prestige and enabled him to be the only network news anchor in control during Sunday’s coverage of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

And with Couric soon gone, ABC’s Diane Sawyer might benefit as the only female nightly news anchor.

CBS clearly was going nowhere with Couric, who was rejected by the American public after her overhyped start.

This wasn’t as much an indictment of her performance as the expectations she brought when she moved over from her starring role in NBC’s “Today.”

I found myself watching Couric as often as Williams – Sawyer’s empathetic style turns me off – on most nights. She was much better as an anchor than ever given credit for being.

The American public should be forever indebted to Couric for her interview during the 2008 election campaign that exposed Sarah Palin as in over her head as a vice presidential candidate by just asking what would have been routine questions for most people in that spotlight.

Hype wasn’t the only thing that hurt Couric. CBS affiliate ratings didn’t help, either. Buffalo is the rare market in which a local affiliate – WIVB-TV – gave her newscast a strong lead-in.

Channel 4 helped Couric’s newscast often finish No. 2 here behind Williams and ahead of Sawyer, who has been hurt by Channel 7’s weak lead-in. As much as critics talk about style and content, the lead-ins are equally important.

It won’t take too long to see if Pelley can move people meters and got more people to sample the CBS Evening News again.

His work at “60 Minutes” has been strong, most recently with last Sunday’s interview with CBS correspondent Lara Logan about the sexual abuse she experienced while covering the Egyptian uprising.

Pelley struck just the right tone in asking some difficult questions in an interview that moved Logan – and undoubtedly some viewers – to tears.

The one question that Pelley didn’t ask Logan was whether she would go back and cover the same things she’s always covered in war zones and the Middle East.

Old school is the best way to describe Pelley. I bet he would have joined Williams on a plane back to the States if he heard about the Alabama tornados and floods.

Pelley is such a non-celebrity that it is a good bet many viewers couldn’t tell him apart from “60 Minutes” teammate Steve Kroft (who has become President Obama’s personal interviewer and gets another newsmaking interview with him about the killing of bin Laden that airs this Sunday).

Couric, meanwhile, is expected to go back to being a celebrity. It is widely believed she’ll try and fill the void left by Oprah Winfrey’s departure on the daytime talk show circuit.

Once again, Couric will get millions thrown at her. However, there is no guarantee that she will succeed.

Just ask Jane Pauley, another former “Today” co-host, who had a syndicated daytime talk show that bombed.

Couric seems much more suited than Pauley to become a daytime star because she is more willing to talk about personal issues (remember her on-air colonoscopy?) and is a bigger celebrity than Pauley ever was.

But if Couric’s five-year reign as the anchor of the CBS Evening News proved anything about television, it is that celebrity has risks and can only take you so far.


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Imagining Some What-If Scenarios

Steve Carell

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This is what I’m thinking:

* Imagine the havoc that would have ensued at the networks if President Obama had authorized the attack that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden on Thursday and it was announced Friday morning.

After all, the nets were all wedded Friday to the coverage of the marriage of William and Kate.

If the attack had happened Friday morning, the networks would have had to kiss Will and Kate coverage goodbye.

It is hard to remember a bigger shift of network focus from Friday’s coverage of the barely consequential wedding to Sunday and Monday’s coverage of bin Laden’s death.

* Fox News often does things differently so I suppose it is no surprise that it spelled bin Laden’s first name as Usama rather than Osama. Either way, he is dead. Of course, there are multiple ways to spell Gaddafi, too.

* Speaking of the fairy tale wedding, there was a ratings local mornings bump for coverage Friday. But considering all the hype, it wasn’t as large as might have been expected. From 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., when the majority of the ceremony took place, “Today” on Channel 2 had an 11.0 rating, “Good Morning America” on Channel 7 had a 6.1 rating and the CBS morning show on Channel 4 had a 5.2 rating.

The combined 22.3 rating on the three network affiliates isn’t quite twice the normal morning average. Of course, that’s not counting the coverage on all the cable networks. The network hype was about quadruple the normal amount.

* Confession time: I’ve probably seen about 30 minutes of this season’s “American Idol,” which is getting strong reviews for new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler as the march to the Final Four approaches. It also has been getting strong national ratings and remains the No.1 show on television nationally.

Western New Yorkers are hanging in there without Simon Cowell but ratings are down by about a point from a year ago or about 7 percent. “Idol” is averaging 15.1 this season on Fox affiliate WUTV after averaging a 16.2 to this point last season. With the talent level supposedly higher (I haven’t seen enough), I imagine ratings here would have been higher if Cowell had returned. 

* How low can they go? Channel 4 executives probably don’t want to imagine the answer to that question when it comes to ratings for WNLO’s “Winging It! Buffalo Style.” After averaging a 1.9 rating in premiere week, the program hit a 1.7 in week two and a 1.2 in week three when it had to compete with Will and Kate last Friday morning. Jeff Simon’s very funny review of the program in the Buffalo News is unlikely to help ratings.

* My favorite moment in last week’s episode of “The Office” dealing with Steve Carell’s departure from the show came near the end when Michael Scott (Carell, see above) looked at the fake documentary crew cameraman as he headed for an airplane out of town and asked if any of this would ever air before he took off his microphone. Then Pam (Jenna Fischer) said her goodbye at the airport without the audience being able to hear what poignant thing she said.

* Had to laugh at an ad-lib comment made by Channel 2 anchor Maryalice Demler on Carell’s departure. She said she’s a Carell fan but an even bigger Will Ferrell fan. It gave the impression she thought that Ferrell was going to be Carell’s permanent replacement. Ferrell has joked about the possibility, but most industry people can’t imagine that happening considering how busy Ferrell is on multiple projects. 

* Imagine if the broadcast networks became wise and decided to steal the White House Correspondents Dinner away from one of the C-Spans. I’m not sure if it is possible but it makes sense for them to rotate the coverage like they do with the Emmys.

After all, it is carried on a Saturday night, when few people normally watch network TV and networks often run reruns of shows carried earlier in the week.

And the Correspondents Dinner, which Saturday was hosted by “Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Meyers,  annually proves to be funnier than an episode of “SNL.”

The latest dinner Saturday included some good lines aimed at Donald Trump by that noted standup comedian Barack Obama. And if you have time, head to YouTube to see a three-minute filmed parody of “The King’s Speech” that imagines what would happen if President Obama lost his teleprompter.

Maybe the government could even get a rights fee from the networks that it could use to lower the federal deficit.

* Can’t imagine how tough it is to Brian Frons, the ABC executive who canceled the ABC soaps “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.” Bet you didn’t imagine that Frons is a 1977 graduate of Fredonia State College. He majored in history. So if you want to protest the decision, you know who to write.

* Fox has announced it has renewed “Bones” for a seventh season, which should please local fans of Buffalo native David Boreanaz. That leaves the suspense of how long it will take to make a deal for the expensive return of “House,” a Fox show that is actually produced by a NBC arm. The suspense shouldn’t last much longer. Fox announces its fall schedule in less than two weeks. I can’t imagine that Fox doesn’t find a way to bring Hugh Laurie back.


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Ch.2′s Williams Heads West; Buffalo Draft Viewers No.1

Donald Trump in February 2009

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This is what I’m thinking:

* Remember when Dennis Williams was booted as the sports director and sports anchor at Channel 4 to make room for John Murphy?

He didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out to be a good thing for Williams.

After all, sports coverage on TV has diminished to the point that Channel 2 is the only station in town with more than two on-air sports anchors and reporters.

Williams also recovered quite nicely working as a salesman and on-air spokesman for his clients at Channel 2, the NBC affiliate owned by Gannett.

And now he gets a big payoff.

Next week, he heads to Sacramento, Calif. to become the business development manager at Gannett’s ABC affiliate there.

In an email exchange, Williams wrote that it is tough to leave Buffalo.

“I arrived in 1996 in a U-Haul and didn’t know anyone,” wrote Williams. “Fifteen years later, I have a wife from here, and two kids who were born here, and more friends than I can count.”

However, the Sacramento job is an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“To move into a management position in a Top 20 market for a great company like Gannett is a tremendous opportunity,” he worked.

He added that the thing he’ll miss most about Buffalo is the people, which is a common answer when media personnel leave town.

“From a sports perspective, I will also most certainly miss the passion this city has for hockey,” added Williams.

* “We’re No. 1, we’re No. 1, we’re No.1.”

Buffalo Bills can shout that cheer, according to ratings for the National Football draft on ESPN, ESPN2 and The NFL Network.

The top 5 in local market ratings for draft coverage were Buffalo (4.79 household rating), New Orleans (4.58), Milwaukee (4.52), Cleveland (4.25) and Jacksonville (4.24).

If you look at that list, one thing is clear. All but Cleveland are among the smaller markets in the league. Clearly, interest in the NFL is higher percentage-wise in those markets.

Of course, a lot more people watch in bigger markets because a rating point equals a lot more viewers in those markets.

* Donald Trump’s (see above) absurd flirting with running with the Presidency and all the attention that he has received hasn’t helped the ratings for NBC’s “The Celebrity Apprentice” here.

Ratings on Channel 2 remain pretty consistent in the 8 to 9 range. There is no Presidency bump for The Donald here. The program was averaging under an 8 last Sunday when NBC bumped the final 20 minutes or so for news coverage of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

For those who care, viewers can watch the final 20 minutes of Sunday’s program on Time Warner Cable’s Primetime on Demand.

* I’ll end with a laugh and go back to football for it.

One of my colleagues at a college where I teach communications courses looked at the headline about the killing of Osama bin Laden in Monday’s Buffalo News and sent me this entertaining note: “Holy s—! (expletive deleted). That’s what it takes to get sports off of the front page.”

The Buffalo Sabres playoff run and the Buffalo Bills draft had recently made the front page of the paper look like the front page of the sports section.

Some journalism teachers are not amused by the philosophy change that makes the newspaper look like local TV news.


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Williams Made Right Call in Night of Mistakes

Brian Williams at the premiere of Baby Mama in...

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At some point before midnight Sunday, NBC anchor Brian Williams (right) noted that the killing of Osama bin Laden was one of those historical moments when “people will remember where they were when they heard the news.”

Williams certainly knew where to be – again.

He was the only Big Three network anchor in the studio Sunday as coverage of the momentous events occurred.

Three days earlier, Williams also made a smart move by deciding to ditch his assignment covering the Royal Wedding after arriving in London, England because a bigger story about the devastation from tornados was happening in the States. So he turned around, went home and kissed off The Big Kiss.

Jolly good call Brian.

It may have even helped him get in his anchor seat Sunday night while ABC used George Stephanopoulos instead of Diane Sawyer and CBS used Russ Mitchell instead of Katie Couric.

I was watching ABC’s “Brothers and Sisters” Sunday night for the first or second time this season, which told me how little network TV attracts me on Sunday nights.

Just about the time that Beau Bridges was about to tell Sally Field something momentous on a soap opera scale, Stephanopoulos appeared with the Breaking News that Public Enemy No. 1 had been killed.

Presumably, that was about the same time that Williams interrupted Donald Trump several minutes before he was going to fire someone on the “Celebrity Apprentice.”

I also turned to CBS just in time to see that network was staying with “CSI: Miami” too long.

The networks had to vamp for a good 30 minutes or more before President Obama gave one of his trademark strong speeches. He hit just the right tone and touched all the appropriate bases about justice being served and our nation’s continued sympathy for the families of 9/11 victims.

Since the News Break and the President’s speech happened so late, I’m sure many Americans went to bed without knowing bin Laden was dead and hearing all the earlier network speculation that turned out to be dead wrong.

If accuracy was important, Americans were better off going to bed and waiting until this morning to find out what really happened.

Let me count the ways that the networks apparently got it wrong before the President spoke.

* News report: bin Laden was killed a few days ago, but the administration had meetings for days about announcing it because it wanted to wait for a DNA match.

* Apparent Fact: The attack was approved by President Obama on Friday morning, apparently about the time the networks were focused on the escapist news of Kate and Will’s wedding. bin Laden was actually killed on Sunday, hours – not days — before the President confirmed it.

* News report: bin Laden’s death was the result of attacks by airplane drones.

* Apparent Fact: He was killed in a firefight by a U.S. military operation.

* News report: The military operation was led by a secret force, called Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC, that few Americans were aware even existed.

* Apparent Fact: The special forces attack was led by the Navy Seals, which most Americans have heard of. However, they are associated with JSOC.

* News report: There was a DNA match to confirm that bin Laden was dead.

* Apparent Fact: NBC reported this morning that the DNA match hasn’t been made, but that bin Laden’s body was captured and the match was made by looking at him and looking at matching pictures.

Normally, I would be a journalistic stickler for getting things right.

But one fact overrides all others: The evil bin Laden was dead.

That was cause for celebration by the networks and Americans who spontaneously celebrated outside the White House, at Ground Zero and at the stadium where the Philadelphia Phillies play.

“I cannot explain how momentous this is and how much joy there is in the intelligence community,” said ABC’s Martha Raddatz.

Noting that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 will occur in about four months, Stephanopoulos added: “How different that will be.”

The President got high marks from network analysts, who did all but declare the 2012 election is now his.

Noting that a lot of things can still happen in President Obama’s first term, NBC’s Chuck Todd added” this will be one of the most significant, if not the most significant, accomplishments of his (first) term.”

“This is a game changer for Barack Obama and the U.S. military,” said NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

But network analysts all added that joy was tempered by what might happen next as Al-Qaida and bin Laden’s other supporters plot their next moves.

“This is going to have consequences that we cannot foresee,” said CBS’ David Martin.

Martin, NBC’s Tom Brokaw and several others got that right.

But we can also be sure that there will be plenty of erroneous speculation in the days and weeks ahead about what is going to happen.


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Kiss Me Kate Has a Much-Needed Sequel

Cropped headshot of Katie Couric

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All I can think of is my late English grandmother Mary had something to do with waking me up at 6:02 this morning, just in time to turn on the TV to see Catherine Middleton walk down the aisle to marry Prince William.

After all, I vowed not to care about the wedding.

It was my way of protesting the networks attempt to force the wedding down American throats and make big bucks off advertising with what amounted to a month-long pregame show.

It got to the point that you wondered if the networks would find a sponsor for the big Kiss this morning.

Since I didn’t watch any of the pre-wedding Royal coverage, I didn’t realize the couple wasn’t going to kiss for more than an hour after they were pronounced man and wife.

Just about the time that I wondered why the couple hadn’t kissed, ABC’s Robin Roberts told me it was scheduled at 7:25 a.m. on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

A short time later, Katie Couric or someone on CBS said it wasn’t going to happen until 8:25 a.m. or so and added that the couple had practiced the kiss so the perfect picture could be taken.

CBS was right. The Kiss happened around 8:25 a.m.

If you want to call it a Kiss. They must not have practiced enough. The Brit commentator on CBS called it a peck.

“I hate to be ungrateful, but that’s it?” asked Couric.

It apparently wasn’t. A few minutes later, they kissed again.

“For the first time in history, there were two kisses,” said ABC’s Barbara Walters.

As you can see, I did a lot of dial switching. I started off watching ABC but switched when Channel 7 briefly lost the picture. Then I changed channels as soon as I got bored with the coverage on the network I was watching.

So here are some of my thoughts. Just don’t ask me where I heard them while watching in bed without a notebook.

* Someone claimed to lip read Prince William’s comment to Kate as he first looked at his bride: “Beautiful, beautiful.” He got that right. Her entire family – mother, sister, father, brother — looked beautiful.

* Kate looked a lot happier and natural than William.

* Every British guy who spoke at the wedding had a great speaking voice. They all could have second careers on TV.

* Some British commentator discussing how Kate would handle the unrelenting media said “Kate is cool, (Princess) Diana wasn’t cool.” Ouch. That’s not cool.

* I wish the networks had identified some faces in the crowd at Westminster Abbey. The only person that I recognized outside of the Royals was Elton John.

* At one point, CBS’ Katie Couric (see above) noted that the world has become so much more casual that it is a good thing once in a while to watch “some pomp and circumstance.” No argument here on Casual Friday.

* Reluctantly, I also suppose it’s also a good thing for the world to share a positive experience since that happens so rarely these days.  

* Over at NBC, the guest Brit commentators noted that there had been some ambivalence about the wedding, but added a Royal wedding is a massive big deal.

* At around 8 a.m., NBC’s Matt Lauer jokingly likened the crowds lining the street to see the Royal couple to crowds at the British Open.

“I think It is slightly more important than the game of golf,” cracked the British commentator working with Lauer.

Sorry, Grandma. It was beautiful and it was uplifting. But I’m still not so sure the British commentator is right.

* Not surprisingly, the Buffalo Sabres’ 5-2 loss Tuesday to Philadelphia in Game 7 of their playoff series didn’t get a rating as high as expected.

The game averaged a strong 20.4 rating. But that was significantly lower than Game 6 on Channel 2 despite being a deciding game.

The rating hit a high of 24.1 in the first period and stayed strong into the second period. But by the third period, the rating slipped to as low as 16.4 as fans apparently lost hope that the Sabres could stage a miracle comeback.

I imagine the combined local rating for the network coverage of The Wedding will be considerably higher than  the rating for the Sabres.


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Sabres Make TV Exit as WGR Takes Calls

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 09: Lindy Ruff, head coa...

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After the Buffalo Sabres were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday from the Stanley Cup playoffs viewers might have thought that the MSG post-game show would stick around for an interview with Sabre Coach Lindy Ruff.

Sabres public relations man Mike Gilbert noted the post-game show ended early after all the games in Philly and the timing of the press conferences is controlled by the home team.

The shorter post-game shows on the road were perfectly understandable after the first three games in Philly. But Tuesday was different because the loss meant the season was over. A viewer might have expected that the Sabres channel would have waited for interviews with Ruff (see above) and goalie Ryan Miller.

However, host Kevin Sylvester signed off without a word from either.

Gilbert explained that it was about 30 minutes after the game before the Flyer interviews were done and it was time for Ruff to address the media, and the TV crew couldn’t wait for him because it had to catch the team plane.

That was unfortunate.

Undoubtedly, many Sabre fans headed to WGR radio for post-game interviews.

And those looking to hear Ruff and Miller came away disappointed, too. They may have gone to bed before WGR played the interviews.

The radio home of the Sabres took phone calls for 45 minutes or so from fans before it aired the Ruff interview.

WGR Program Director Andy Roth explained that post-game host Brian Koziol made the editorial decision to take fan calls rather than instantly run the interviews.

“The phone lines were blowing up,” explained Roth.

It wouldn’t have been my call to take fan calls. It never would be.

I mean what would you rather hear more? Sabre fans expressing their disappointment, airing gripes or being part of a therapy session or an interview with the coach after the end of the season?

I would have carried the interviews first, especially since the coach wasn’t on TV.

After all, we have a whole week or a whole summer for amateur analysis from fans who usually don’t know what they are talking about.

It turns out WGR postgame producer Dave Buchanan agrees with me. He said his boss probably didn’t realize that the station played the Ruff interview as quickly as it could after reporter Paul Hamilton finished his interviews and sent them back in a way too complicated for a non-technical wizard like me to explain.

“Paul does his best to get us the sound as soon as he can and Brian Koziol does and excellent job at mixing in the callers with the interviews,” emailed Buchan. “We did the best we could with the tools we have.”

I’ll take him at his word. But it is hard to believe in the 21sth century that the MSG coverage couldn’t wait for a Ruff interview and the Sabres’ radio station needs 45 minutes to get a Ruff interview on the air.

It would be preferable for WGR to have the equipment to carry post-game interviews on the road live. 

Ideally, Ruff could have been heard live and fans “blowing up the lines” would have stayed to give their comments and get their therapy after the coach had his say. After all, WGR stayed on for Sabre talk until midnight.

The last thing I needed to hear after the game was fan analysis.

However, I wish there had been more analysis from MSG announcers Rick Jeanneret, Harry Neale and Rob Ray during the series.

In the days when Jim Lorentz was the analyst, a viewer would at least know what lines the Sabres were trying to match with their opponents.

It also would have been nice to hear the announcers discuss whether Miller should have stopped the first goal on a soft, tipped shot and the fourth goal by a slap slot without a screen Tuesday night. Matthew Barnaby, the former Sabre who now is an ESPN analyst, faulted Miller on both goals.

As a rule, Miller often gets unduly criticized. The local newspaper noted that Flyer goalie Brian Boucher had a higher save percentage and a better goals against average in the series.

However, it isn’t as if the two goalies faced the same type of shots. The number of saves that a goalie makes and the number of goals a goalie allows usually are telling statistics but not always. The Sabres defense was so inadequate at times that the quality of the Flyers’ chances far exceeded that of the Sabres’ chances throughout the series. I mean, I know Danny Briere is small, but couldn’t any Sabre defenseman find him next to the net all series?

The Sabres won two games by 1-0 scores and the Flyer goalies lost a third game by letting in cheap goals in game five. The Flyers almost lost game six because of the goaltender, too.   

Looking at that, one could even make the case that the Flyers could have swept the Sabres if the two teams had traded goalies.

Gee, I’m sounding like someone calling a radio show who is in desperate need of therapy. Please forgive me.


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Double, Triple Coverage on Radio Explained


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The blog is called stilltalkintv but I’ve branched out since leaving the local newspaper.

Tuesday I was talking about the change in page 1 philosophy at the Buffalo News.

Today I’m talking radio.

Specifically, I’m talking about the decision of Entercom Radio to simulcast WBEN-AM on another of its stations, 107.7, the former home of the progressive rock channel The Lake.

I’ll also be talking about Entercom’s decision to simulcast radio coverage of Buffalo Sabres playoff games on WGR (its regular home), WBEN and 107.7 FM.

Except for occasional columns about sports radio, I haven’t covered radio for years. That may surprise some readers. It even surprised some of my editors at the News, who didn’t realize I had stopped non-sports radio coverage years after Anthony Violanti valiantly took over the beat and allowed me to concentrate on the 500 TV channels that are now on cable.

After Anthony left the newspaper for a job in Florida, the paper assigned someone to cover radio who was more interested in food. He didn’t exactly have Tony’s passion for radio.

So nobody really covered radio. And nobody really covers it now except when something newsworthy occurs.

So thanks to The Lake, I am reluctantly going back into the waters of covering radio for one blog.

The elimination of The Lake was addressed by the newspaper in one column that understandably lamented its move from 107. 7 to HD radio and the internet so news and talk leader WBEN could get a FM spot.

 The double coverage didn’t make much sense so I waited for an explanation. Since I didn’t get one, I called Greg Ried, the vice president and general manager of Entercom, to understand why the company sent The Lake packing from its old FM spot.

Ried was more than courteous. He seemed eager to explain the reasons for simulcasting WBEN and to say how much everyone at the local Entercom headquarters in Amherst loved The Lake.

“A lot of people are disappointed that The Lake is not on FM,” said Ried. “Nobody is more disappointed than the people in this building. Everybody loved The Lake and poured their heart and soul into the station. Because it was so unique and different, it never attracted a large mainstream audience.”

In the last rating book in the fall of 2010, Ried explained that The Lake was No. 13 in the market.

I’m sure that will help readers to guess the primary reason for putting WBEN on FM.


Ried explained that AM news and talk stations across the nation have had great success when they are simulcast on FM. That’s because listeners have been leaving the AM dial, especially the younger listeners who gravitate to FM. And younger listeners are more valuable to advertisers than the older ones more likely to listen on AM.

In the last ratings book, Ried said WBEN was No. 4 or No. 5 in the morning in the age 25-54 demographic that is attractive to advertisers. “We want to be third or second,” he added.

He believes the simulcast on 107.7 FM can help WBEN achieve that and that can translate into more revenue than The Lake earned.

“To most people outside the business it makes no sense to do this,” conceded Ried. “It is happening across the country and we’re one of the last (markets) to do it.”

People outside the business might wonder if Entercom would have been better off trying a new format on 107.7 FM. Ried dismissed the idea, saying that any new format on the station would most likely get a rating similar to The Lake and Entercom wouldn’t do any better financially even if the new format moved the station from No. 13 to No. 10. The upside is much better by simulcasting WBEN, he said.

Ried loved The Lake and thought the two employees he let go did a wonderful job hosting and programming it. But he added it didn’t make any money. “We lost money on The Lake,” he said.

He added the station made money when it premiered seven years ago with the revolutionary  idea of playing 2,000 songs a week. But he said other stations in the market started to compete by playing more songs and the competition made The Lake unprofitable. He added that The Lake’s legacy is that the other stations continue to play a lot more songs than they did pre-Lake.

Ried understands why there has been an outcry about the loss of The Lake on the FM dial. But he has two children – ages 16 and 22 – who don’t think it is such a big deal. They know that The Lake is still available online and on HD radio and that’s where most young people get their music anyway.

“To people our age, it may be foreign,” said Ried. “To the younger demo, the Lake is not gone.  The station still gets a significant online audience.”

Now on to issue No.2: Why did Entercom simulcast Sabre games on WGR, WBEN and 107.7 FM during the team’s seven-game playoff run?

The answer is simple. Ried said each station has different signal patterns and carrying Rick Jeanneret, Harry Neale and Rob Ray on all three enabled everyone in Western New York to hear them. Additionally, the Sabres playoff games were by far the No.1 radio choice of Western New Yorkers so WBEN and 107.7 weren’t going to get much of an audience by playing its usual programming opposite those games.

“When you put all three signals together, they get coverage everywhere and no one can miss them on the radio,” said Ried. “They are either watching on TV, listening on the radio or not interested in the Sabres.”

Now that the Sabres have been eliminated from the playoffs, there is a lot more to be disappointed about here than losing The Lake on FM.


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The Newspaper Becomes More Like TV News

Buffalo Sabres Forward Patrick Kaleta

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During my lengthy tenure as the television critic for the Buffalo News, I was frequently taken to task by readers who thought that the newspaper was guilty of a few things that I held the local television stations accountable for doing.

The answer my first editor told me to say to those critics was “I don’t critique the newspaper.”

Now that I’ve left, I can critique the newspaper in my role as an overall media critic.

I still love the newspaper. It still does things that no other local media can do – like Sunday’s excellent profiles of congressional candidates Jane Corwin, Kathy Hochul and Jack Davis by Phil Fairbanks and Jerry Zremski.

But too often lately, the paper seems more like local TV news. And that isn’t a compliment.

Specifically, I’m talking about the coverage of the Buffalo Sabres playoff run against the Philadelphia Flyers in a series that ends with Game 7 tonight.

After every game, the newspaper has been prominently running columns by sportswriters Jerry Sullivan or Bucky Gleason on the front page.

I’m of two minds about this development. For years, I criticized the local television stations for leading newscasts with lengthy stories about the Sabres.

Sure, the Sabres game probably was the most-talked about subject. However, we’re talking about a sports story, not a news story. It belongs in sports, except for unusual circumstances like a series win or a title victory. The newspaper always seemed to value what is important over what is popular.

In other words, the paper always seemed to keep sports in more perspective than the TV stations. Not anymore.

I’m not totally against the change, even if it looks like it is partly inspired by the same problem local TV stations are dealing with: the loss of reporting manpower. With less manpower after buyouts, there are fewer high quality stories being done worthy of the front page. That leaves more room for sports stories and local columns that used to run in other sections of the paper.

If I were still at the paper I’d even advocate highlighting star local columnists like Sullivan, Gleason, Donn Esmonde, Rod Watson and Jeff Simon because they give the paper something distinct from all the national stories that the paper runs that can be found on the internet or on a local TV or cable website. I’d also highlight the expertise of political writer Robert J. McCarthy, music critic Jeff Miers and theater critic Colin Dabkowski as often as warranted. And I’d try to create new stars, as the paper is trying to do with columnist Denise Jewell Gee.

However, they only would make it to the front page when their stories or columns are warranted of being there.

And largely because of deadlines, the Sabres columns often don’t seem deserving of the front page.

A week ago, the paper ran a Sullivan column on Page 1 about the impact of new Owner Terry Pegula the morning after the Sabres lost game 3. Not exactly a new topic. Clearly, the majority of the column was written before the game, which meant there was about one paragraph about the game.

Last Thursday, a Gleason column on the front page extolled the virtues of Patrick Kaleta, who was labeled the Sabres “perpetual pest.” The focus on Kaleta seemed odd since goaltender Ryan Miller was the star in a 1-0 victory Wednesday night. Gleason skillfully wove Miller in the story, but Kaleta remained the headliner.

The columns on Pegula and Kaleta were decent – for an off day. They looked out of place on page 1 after a game. Columns like that make it look like the change in page 1 philosophy doesn’t take into account whether columns are worthy of being on the front page.

Additionally, we’re talking about the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. If the first round gets front-page treatment for routine columns, how will the paper up the ante if the Sabres upset the Flyers in Game 7 tonight and qualify for round 2 against Washington?

Will there be two front page stories about the Sabres if they play the Caps?

Of course, the Sabres were the underdogs in the Flyers series. Readers might have been confused because the day the Sullivan column on Pegula ran the page 1 headline read “Flyers Upset Sabres.” The Flyers are the second seed in the East, the Sabres are the seventh seed. That headline was as big a head scratcher as the Kaleta page 1 headline.

However, the Flyers win did seem to upset the newspaper’s planning on a day Pegula was being celebrated again.

The headline was another illustration of how forced some of the Sabres coverage has become.

Another illustration came Sunday when the newspaper started a lengthy story on page 1 that suggested that Sabres fans would have to choose between watching the Easter Sunday afternoon game on national television and sitting down for Easter dinner.

Some of my Jewish friends jokingly wondered where was the story Monday when another game competed against the first night of Passover? Joking aside, the majority of the Sunday story seemed to suggest that only Christians live here.

The placement – and even the story – was a head-scratcher since it would have been relatively easy to schedule Easter dinner around the 3:20 p.m. game start.

But what made the story look even sillier was a story that ran on a recent Sunday that detailed the increasing difficulties of getting people to church on Sunday.

The Sunday game drew the highest-rating of the series locally. In other words, Christians apparently didn’t seem to have much difficulty making the choice.

Easter dinner versus the Sabres on TV was really the kind of superficial story that you expect to see on local TV news and not on page one of a high-quality newspaper like The Buffalo News.


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NBC Coverage is Exasperating

Darren Pang at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Image via Wikipedia


If there was anything more exasperating for Buffalo Sabres fans than watching the home team blow two, two-goal leads, it had to be NBC’s coverage of the 5-4 overtime loss to Philadelphia on Easter Sunday.

It was exasperating throughout the game but especially in the second period.

While “Inside the Glass” reporter Darren Pang (see right) was on camera yammering about the Flyers change of goaltenders, the Flyers’ James van Riemsdyk scored a goal to cut the lead to 3-2.

There should be a rule against putting a reporter on camera during game action.

Let the game sell itself. Besides, NBC allows so much crowd noise that it is hard to hear what the announcers are saying about half the time.

A few minutes after the van Riemsdyk goal, Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pang were talking about some nonsense presumably aimed at the national audience when a key penalty was called against the Sabres.

A viewer might have sensed that a penalty was called because the Buffalo crowd was booing in the background.

Shortly later, the Flyers’ Danny Briere scored a goal to tie the score at 3-3.

You almost hope that NBC doesn’t get any more Sabres games if they beat Philadelphia Tuesday night in game 7 and advance to the next round.

Of course, the game on NBC was the highest-rated of the six played so far with a 23.4 local rating on Channel 2 that represents 23.4 percent of area households. That was about 12 percent higher than the Sabres playoff game with Boston (20.5) on NBC a year ago. So much for the idea promoted in a lengthy story on the front page of Sunday’s newspaper that it would be a tough choice for many local Christian families to choose between Easter dinner and watching the Sabres. (Of course, families could schedule both at times to make a tough call — and the story — unnecessary).    

The four games last week all had very healthy ratings and averaged close to a 20 rating. Monday’s Game 3 Sabres loss had a 17.7 rating. Wednesday’s Game 4 Sabres win had a 19.5 rating, which at that point was the highest in the series. The Sabres overtime win Friday had a 19.1 rating. The six games of the series have averaged a 19.3 rating.

By comparison, the six games in the series that Buffalo lost to Boston in 2010 averaged a 15.8 rating. That’s about a 20 percent increase this year, with Game 7 on MSG (thankfully) Tuesday expected to get a rating in the 20s.


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A Final Pitch for “Friday Night Lights”

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 16:  Actress Conni...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife


I spent last weekend watching the final 12 episodes of “Friday Night Lights.”

That illustrates a few things.

It shows how exciting some of my weekends are.

And it shows how much I love “Friday Night Lights.”

Of course, regular readers know that.

Last week, I blogged about last Friday’s opening episode of the fifth and final season. The sentimental opener and the entire season previously ran on DirecTV and now NBC hopes it will get a larger audience at 8 p.m. Fridays.

It will be tough to do this Friday in Buffalo because the second episode will compete with Game 5 of the Buffalo Sabres playoff series with Philadelphia.

It may be ideal to watch it on DVD (I’ve read it is available now) anyway the way I did last weekend. Like a good novel, it is hard to put down once the series draws one in.

How good is the final season?

Well, it was good enough for me to stay up until 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday to finish it.

The series starring Kyle Chandler as Texas high school football Coach Eric Taylor and Connie Britton (see above) as his wife Tami works on so many levels.

Football is the backdrop for a series about a small Texas town and residents battling for survival in a tough climate and a tough economy.

This season, Tami became the guidance counselor at East Dillon High, where she deals with students at risk even before the district’s budget problems threatened many programs. And that includes football.

Meanwhile, the Taylors’ oldest daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), is taking a few ill-advised risks in her first semester in college and ruining her near-perfect image.

The school budget cuts aren’t the only issue that make this season of “Lights” seem ripped from current events.

One of the star football players, Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), is being recruited by big-name colleges as a junior and his father becomes overly involved. By no means is the plot taken directly from the controversy surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who is expected to be a first-round draft choice after leading the Tigers to a national title. But it may remind viewers of the Newton case that drew NCAA attention.

This season also includes a story line in which a young female student takes on a typical male role and another story line in which Tami asks her husband to put her career first after 18 years of marriage. Naturally, those stories lead to some potential conflict between the sexes.

There also are some strong romantic story lines. And several of the original cast members – including Scott Porter, Taylor Kitsch, Zach Gilford and Adrianne Palicki — return in story lines that don’t seem too forced for the most part.

If there was one disappointment, it is that Minka Kelly, the future Mrs. Derek Jeter, didn’t make it back to “Lights” as Lyla Garrity.

The scripts of “Lights” often generate strong emotional moments and this season is no different. I’m not ashamed to admit that I choked up a little after watching at least half the episodes. A speech that Coach Taylor gives to Vince – his star quarterback — about striving to be better in episode three next week is one of several season highlights. Another highlight comes when Vince’s dad tells his son about experiencing pride for the first time in his life.

Of course, it would irresponsible to tell viewers how “Lights” ends. Let’s just say, the ending couldn’t have strived to be much better.

The Silly Season: Who writes this stuff? I was watching Channel 2 this morning and heard anchor John Beard say “The Buffalo Sabres are closer now to the Stanley Cup.”

Of course, the Sabres tied their series with Philadelphia, 2-2, Wednesday night and that line is technically correct. But they are 14 wins away from the Cup so you might say the line is more than a little optimistic and premature.


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