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Gus Johnson yesterday made his Fox Soccer play-by-play debut for the net's UEFA Champions League telecast of Manchester United-Real Madrid, and "proved that he was no sideshow," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Where Johnson was "very good was going from 0 to 60 when something happened in front of the net." But moving forward he must "start making observations on what he sees on the pitch, something he rarely did." He also was "rarely critical of play." The game at times "moved too fast for him, and he was late on the run of play a number of times in the first half." Johnson will "improve with more reps and as he becomes more familiar with broadcasting from international locales." Deitsch graded Johnson's performance as "around a B- or C." Fox Sports co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said that he texted Johnson after the game, writing, "Strong start. I really appreciated your passion and commitment to this and today it showed." Shanks said, "On March 5 for the return match, I think everyone will see a big improvement" (SI.com, 2/14). In N.Y., Andrew Das wrote Johnson's "best days are ahead." Das gave Johnson a "B-minus." Das: "Not great, not awful. Workmanlike." Johnson was "right to focus on the first rule of announcing: First, do no harm." After a "timid start," Johnson seemed to "hit his stride, rising to meet the play or dialing back his words appropriately." Still, he often went "silent for long stretches at odd moments." Johnson "avoided the brutal gaffes that fans feared, though he did mis-identify players a few times" (NYTIMES.com, 2/13).
CHEERS & JEERS: THE BIG LEAD's Ty Duffy wrote Johnson showed some "imperfections, but, all told, it was a promising debut." The "most important thing: Gus' spasmodic delivery works." His "ability to go from 0-90 on a dime is tailor-made for soccer." Johnson "resisted the worrisome American tendency to 'over-talk' and fill gaps with inane blather." But he "needs a more authoritative handle on the rules, particularly the offside rule" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 2/13). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Matt Yoder wrote Johnson's commentary was "quite understated throughout the ebb and flow of the game." Johnson's call of the game's first goal was "somewhat muted, but as the game went on that trademark excitement appeared more frequently for the big moments." While Johnson "certainly passed his first test, you can tell there's still plenty of room for improvement." Fox "has to be incredibly pleased" with Johnson's debut. He is "never going to win over 100% of soccer fans, but it was an impressive opening statement to the doubters and skeptics" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 2/13).
TWITTER REAX: Johnson's debut was a hot topic on Twitter yesterday, with Sporting News' Brian Straus writing, "Gus Johnson era off to promising start. Measured during play, doesn't add fake, affected accent when pronouncing foreign names. Good start." Grantland's Brian Phillips wrote, "If Gus Johnson did exactly this well calling the World Cup, he would be fine." The Washington Post's Steven Goff wrote of Johnson's call of the game's first goal, "Quality goal call by Gus Johnson. Didn't overdo it. Fears of bombastic reaction alleviated. Well done." SI.com's Avi Creditor: "Initial #Gus thoughts: Enjoyable, professional call. Plenty room to improve, but encouraging debut indeed." ESPN's Max Bretos: "Was going to wish Gus Johnson good luck ahead of his Champions League call. Doesn't need it, called a solid 1st half on his maiden voyage." ESPN FC's Jason Davis: "So Gus is fine you guys. What's the next thing we can get angry about?" SI's Deitsch: "Somewhere in L.A., Fox Sports executives are smiling." Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald: "I think that some of the people who were expecting Gus Johnson to be shouting the whole time haven't watched him since he left CBS." NBCSports.com's Joe Yerdon: "I think you can be critical of Gus Johnson doing soccer solely based on him not having the proper timing down to read plays." SI's Mark Mravic wrote, "Game moving too fast for him, tho. extraneous info as shots fly MT." Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt tweeted, "Gus has clearly been studying his 'Soccer' phrasebook like it's a foreign language. Expect 'Donde esta la biblioteca' any minute now."
IS BOEHEIM OUT OF LINE? SB Nation blogger Sean Keeley wrote, "Of course Katz is a great reporter. But if Boeheim feels like something OTR was reported, why can't he be pissed off?" Deadspin's Timothy Burke replied, "That's fine, then just don't answer his questions. 'Idiot' and 'Disloyal' only show Boeheim to be a petty moron." Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith wrote, "Journalists are not supposed to be loyal to sources. They're supposed to be loyal to the truth." ESPN's Dick Vitale wrote, "@ESPNAndyKatz trust me is no idiot-he is a tireless worker-Jim Boeheim is totally off base using childish name calling to make a point." USA Today's Dan Wolken wrote, "Finally saw the Boeheim vid. He should apologize to Andy."
The Astros yesterday announced their TV and radio broadcast teams for the '13 season. Bill Brown will be joined in the TV booth by former MLBers Alan Ashby and Geoff Blum, while the radio crew will consist of Robert Ford and former MLBer Steve Sparks. The '13 season will be Brown's 27th as the Astros' primary TV play-by-play voice. Ashby will serve as color analyst while working with Brown, but also will fill in for Brown in handling the play-by-play duties. Blum will serve as color analyst when Ashby handles play-by-play. Ford prior to joining the Astros served as the radio pre- and postgame host for Royals games on K.C.-based KCSP-AM. Sparks has served as a pre- and postgame TV analyst for Astros games over the last several seasons (Astros). In Houston, David Barron noted Ashby spent eight years as an Astros broadcaster before his "abrupt dismissal" after the '05 season. Ashby returns as "part of the on-air team for the Astros' new television affiliate, Comcast SportsNet Houston." His return "resolves the disappointment that followed the decision by owner Drayton McLane not to retain him for the 2006 season, when he hoped to assume the radio road game duties" relinquished by Milo Hamilton. Games on new flagship station KBME-AM will be called by Ford, who "makes his major league play-by-play debut after stints with three minor league clubs and four years" with the Royals' flagship station. Ford, who has not called a baseball game since '08, will be the team's "third lead radio play-by-play voice" (CHRON.com, 2/13).
A "seismic shakeup" at Boston's WEEI sportsradio has "brought to an end the tenure of longtime host Glenn Ordway ... after a decline in ratings brought on in part by the ascent of a competitor," according to Chad Finn of the BOSTON GLOBE. Ordway will be "replaced" by ESPN Radio 710 Seattle co-host Mike Salk, a Boston native. Ordway was the "ringleader" of WEEI's afternoon drive program, "The Big Show," which was a "tremendous ratings success through the late 1990s and well into the last decade." He has been a "prominent radio voice in Boston for more than 30 years as a host and former Celtics radio announcer." The "fall is a stunning one for Ordway, even by the volatile standards of the radio business." Sources said that Salk’s salary is "expected to be in the vicinity of $100,000" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/14). In Boston, Matt Stout writes Ordway became the "latest casualty of the pitched battle between his venerable station and its upstart rival," WBZ-FM The Sports Hub. Ordway's departure makes way "for a new younger talent" in the 34-year-old Salk as WEEI "scrambles to reboot its stale image and regain lost ground before it’s too late." But whether "ousting the popular Ordway will stem the tide or cause irreversible damage remained an open question among media experts." WBZ has "rocketed past WEEI in the ratings by pumping up-and-coming personalities." SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said that Ordway’s "hefty salary," reportedly $1M per year before a 50% cut after down ratings in '11, "likely played a role in his departure" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/14). Ordway yesterday said on-air, "I apparently didn't do a good enough job in the past couple of years, so I paid the price. ... They made that call, but I don't want to BS it." Ordway, whose final show will be tomorrow, has been with WEEI since '87 and has been a part of "The Big Show" for 18 years (BOSTONHERALD.com, 2/13).
AIRING GRIEVANCES: In Boston, Gayle Fee writes of Ordway's ouster, "The writing had been on the wall for some time." WEEI "blew up his groundbreaking 'Big Show,' which featured a revolving cast of characters, in February 2011 and paired him full-time with midday host Michael Holley." A few months later, the station "cut Ordway’s salary in half after the program’s ratings didn’t hit the top three." Ordway said, "The mistake WEEI made that got them into this trouble was the fact that they were on AM, an antiquated band that basically was listened to by nobody under the age of 40. Forty or 45. When The Sports Hub came on the air, they went with the FM band and they stole away this whole young audience." He said of his next career move, "I’ve got a couple of projects I’ve been working on in the last few months, including a business venture that I believe is the future of our business. ... I think the business is going to the Internet. Internet radio is the next big thing" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/14). The HERALD's Steve Buckley writes Ordway "didn't invent sports talk radio in Boston, but he took a meandering, still-finding-itself format and turned it into an industry" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/14). WEEI morning show host Gerry Callahan said, "Any sports radio station in the country you hear has been influenced by Glenn" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/14).
CLEANING HOUSE? The GLOBE's Finn reported WEEI on Monday "fired" sports update anchor Kevin Winter "just six weeks after his debut as the replacement for Jon Meterparel." Sources said that Winter was told that the "chemistry between him and hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan wasn't working." Finn wrote Winter's "energetic style seemed an odd fit with the more cynical Dennis and Callahan from the beginning." Winter previously worked for ESPN Radio (BOSTON.com, 2/11).
Golf Channel's "Feherty," a "half-interview, half-improv gabfest," has emerged as the net's "only must-see original programming," according to a cover story by Franz Lidz of GOLF WORLD. Host David Feherty has become golf's "first crossover TV star." The show's guests have "ranged" from golfer Annika Sorenstam to actor Samuel L. Jackson, from Golf HOFer Billy Casper to former President Bill Clinton. Feherty is "lavish and inexhaustible." He "cascades opinions on any subject, from belly putters to belly lox, punctuating his effusions with goofy faces, strange sounds and grand, intense gestures." Feherty's appeal is "so broad" that CBS even asked him to "audition as Andy Rooney's replacement on '60 Minutes.'" But for all the "mugging and slapstick, his interviews can be as languidly brilliant as his tournament commentary." Feherty is "affectionate, but not infatuated; admiring, but not adoring." Since his "very first TV commentating gig" for CBS at the '96 Sprint Int'l, he has "separated himself from the pack by gently ridiculing convention and pomposity." ESPN's Bob Knight asked to be a guest on the show "after watching an episode in which the host shot questions" at Basketball HOFer Bill Russell. Knight "laughed so hard that he wanted to be part of the fun." He said, "David puts you at ease. He's not mean-spirited, and he won't throw you under the bus." Feherty said he would love to interview Tiger Woods on his show, but "only when he's ready." The guest he "most covets is the person he most fears: Bill Murray." To Feherty, Murray is "one of the game's most important figures," because his Carl Spackler character in the movie "Caddyshack" made the game "cool." Feherty acknowledges that Murray is a "nightmare interview," but he wants him on the show "precisely because he's a nightmare interview" (GOLF WORLD, 2/18 issue).
TALK SOUP: GOLFWEEK's Martin Kaufmann noted Golf Channel last week relaunched "Morning Drive" with some cast additions and "a new, vastly improved studio." Kaufmann: "When the men of 'The View' -- er, 'Morning Drive' -- are seated in their comfy chairs, it would be nice to think they're just four buddies swapping stories and opinions. But it often seems so scripted." The show is "so structured that it sometimes feels as though they're speaking their lines." A little more spontaneity "would be nice." While there is a "big cast, there's no compelling voice who will make viewers put down the morning paper to listen." Still, the "de facto star is the voluble Gary Williams, who seems to be likable, diligent and well-prepared" (GOLFWEEK.com, 2/12).
The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Hagey & Jannarone cite sources as saying that Time Warner is “in talks to divest most of its Time Inc. magazine group in a deal with Meredith Corp.” Time Warner “would retain its flagship newsweekly Time, along with Sports Illustrated and Fortune.” But the “rest of its magazines, including People, InStyle and Real Simple, would end up combined with Meredith's titles.” UBS analyst John Janedis estimated that Time, SI and Fortune “account for less than 10% of Time Inc.’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/14). In N.Y., Chozick & De La Merced note keeping Time, Fortune and SI "would allow Time Warner to maintain its name and historical roots, at least until a buyer with interest in the remaining titles emerged" (NYTIMES.com, 2/13).
EAST COAST BIAS? YAHOO SPORTS’ Mike Oz wrote, "For the first time in a long time, the West Coast is the center of the baseball universe.” The Dodgers and Angels are “super teams,” while the Giants are the reigning World Series champs and the A's are one of MLB's “most promising young teams." But when Fox released its schedule of Saturday afternoon national games for the '13 MLB season, "only the Dodgers" represent the West Coast among the eight teams with the most appearances. Oz: “Do we really need FIVE Red Sox vs. Yankees games on Saturday this season?” The West Coast is “what most people will be watching," but apparently "not on Saturday afternoons" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/13).
GETTING THEIR KICKS: The MLS Dynamo announced 27 games this season will air on Comcast SportsNet Houston, CSN2 and KPRC-NBC. CSN Houston will produce all matches in HD, with 20 of those matches airing live on CSN Houston or CSN2. KPRC will carry six matches live (Dynamo). Meanwhile, the MLS Earthquakes announced that KLIV-AM and KZSF-AM this year will again cover all 34 games in English and Spanish. KLIV's Anthony Passarelli returns for his second year with the Earthquakes and will be joined for all home games by former MLSer Chris Dangerfield. KZSF's Carlos Cesar Rivera returns for his sixth season (Earthquakes).
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: One World Sports yesterday announced a partnership with the Nippon Television Network Corporation to bring the Nippon League Yomiuri Giants to North America. The agreement provides One World Sports exclusive North American rights to broadcast 72 Giants ’13 regular-season games via television and broadband from March 29 through September. One World Sports on average will broadcast three games per week in primetime (One World Sports).