THE MEDIA : KABC DOESN'T HAVE BLUES OVER LOSING DODGERS.
There was hardly a kick or a scream from the execs at KABC-AM (790) on Wednesday when the Dodgers boldly declared on a competing station that this would be the 23rd and final year of their association.
Beginning in 1998, the Dodgers take their business and somewhat waning fan base to KIIS-AM (1150), a station that promises more and, in these times of declining rights fees, forked out more than KABC would ever have dared in trying to gain instant recognition.
A contract that paid the Dodgers some $9 million a season will be replaced by KIIS' pledge for about $7 million a year for the duration of the five-season deal. KABC would have asked to come down considerably from the $9 million figure.
The Dodgers warned KABC there could be other suitors. For almost two months, the club had been talking to the new KIIS owner, Jacor, which runs 122 radio stations in 26 cities, recently bought all-sports XTRA in San Diego and also has radio rights to the Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies and new Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Jacor has been hinting loudly about making KIIS-AM an all-sports format sometime this year, ending a simulcast of Top 40 music it has been doing with KIIS-FM. Management is aggressively lining up a roster of sports-talk hosts, both locally and syndicated, without fear of what happened to all-sports format attempts in L.A. by KMPC-AM and KMAX-FM (which showed promise but failed) and KWKN-AM (which has new ownership and hasn't shown much commitment to a regular lineup).
When Jacor stepped up to the plate and promised much more ancillary programming, the Dodgers embraced it tighter than a Tommy Lasorda bearhug. The team told KABC about the decision Wednesday morning, after announcing it on KIIS, without giving their partner a chance to counter offer.
As if KABC really wanted to counter offer.
It has been no secret that new KABC general manager Maureen Lesourd, who seven months ago replaced George Green, has ideas about how sports programming wedged into a talk-show format isn't such a great fit. Her focus has been a ratings battle with rival talk-station KFI-AM (640) - which, ironically, long ago gave up the Dodgers' rights to KABC. Recently, KFI gladly gave away its biggest sports franchise, the Raiders, for the same reasoning, just as KNX-AM (1070) has weaned itself from sports to concentrate on all-news.
(And to take it another step: KTTV-Channel 11 gave up on the Dodgers three years ago when parent-company Fox wasn't crazy about its new network programming frequently preempted by baseball. It led to KTLA-Channel 5 taking over the Dodgers' TV contract.)
Lesourd said the Dodgers have been a commercial and marketing plus for the station, but it has done nothing to help ratings in the past few years. That should come as no shock, considering the state of baseball.
``We would like to have seen more of a ratings growth than we had,'' said Lesourd, who declined to give specific numbers because, frankly, there's no need to be specific. ``It's all in the way a station promotes a team and a team promotes itself, and baseball in general has had its share of problems trying to re-establish itself.
``There are so many options now for people to get sports. And sports has a different audience. It's a real challenge to try to promote the regular lineup on a consistent basis and make sure the (talk) audience comes back after the games.
``A lot of radio stations across the country might be questioning sports-rights fees and how valuable they are to the station. On the East Coast, they're valuable. Most games are at night. Here, (a road game) will preempt the afternoon drive, and that's a powerful revenue and ratings tool for the station.''
It used to also be a powerful ratings boost. Now, between March and October, KABC has annually had to disrupt its regular programming - Michael Jackson, Dennis Prager, and, this summer, the new nighttime hit Mr. KABC (who has said on air that he's no fan of the ``hired gun'' pro sports team mentality) - to accommodate the Dodgers during spring training and the regular season.
There are also no guarantees the on-again, off-again ``SportsTalk'' show, currently running from 7-9 p.m., will return next year, either. KABC started ``SportsTalk'' in L.A. Now it seems to want to end it as well.
Since Disney-owned Cap Cities runs both KABC and KMPC in Los Angeles, the Angels should be a safe KMPC tenant, even if it goes against everything Lesourd just said. They've been on KMPC since their inception in 1961 because Gene Autry owned both the team and the station. Fact is, he bought the team for his station. Now he has no say in either.
KMPC's contract with the Angels also expires after the '97 season, but Lesourd did not seem concerned that talks haven't started with the team. The Angels are not nearly as high-maintenance as the Dodgers - their exhibition games are broadcast only on weekends, and there's no pre- or postgame talk.
So up steps KIIS-AM, more than happy to make the announcement at the crack of dawn Wednesday with morning-show ace Rick Dees bringing Dodgers outfielder Todd Hollandsworth in studio.
The new station has promised the Dodgers a boost in its signal from 5,000 to 50,000 watts, plus even more opportunities for team-related propaganda - er, programming.
The Dodgers could use all the positive pub they can get, especially in the midst of an ownership change. Solidifying this radio deal should only help As for KABC and sports . . . guess you could kiss it goodbye.
THE 4th ANNUAL BEST AND WORST OF THE L.A. SPORTS MEDIA
THE TOP 10
1. Mike Lamb, USC football radio: In the analyst octagon, Lamb comes out the ultimate winner. His no-holds-barred approach - spending as much time in the video room as the players - combined with a great sense of humor and a laugh to match it, puts the knuckle sandwich on all the rest. It's a blast to finally hear an ex-player make an impact at his alma mater where it matters. Last year: 6.
2. Jimmy Fox, Kings TV: They finally renamed the channel after him. What more tribute does this man deserve? Last year: 2 (tied).
3. Bryan Heyward, Ducks TV: Hey, now. It's worth bugging your cable operator to add Fox Sports West 2 just so you don't miss his keen insight and steady influence on the broadcast. Last year: 2 (tied).
4. Rich Marotta, boxing TV: By our tale of the tape, Marotta ought to be doing this on a national basis instead of just local Forum bouts. But we shouldn't say that too loud. It might happen. Last year: 5
5. Sparky Anderson, Angels TV: The introduction to ``Spark-bonics'' to Southern California schoolchildren did not result in a wild protest from educators that we anticipated. So he don't talk good. It ain't that bad, either. Listen to the substance. He's back for a second season even though he'd better serve the team by pulling on a uniform and walking to the mound every eighth inning to wave in Percival.
6. Jim Hefner, USC basketball radio: Where has he been hiding all this time? Congrats to the rights holders for giving what is the best basketball analyst in the city this gig after Mike Lamb and Ty Reuter gave it a decent tryout. Last year: Not ranked.
7. Bill Walton, UCLA basketball TV Sorry, but the honeymoon is over. Maybe all those bizarre pick-and-roll comments from the Big Redhead are finally catching up with him. We adore this one - he has said on the air he doesn't understand why any prep hoopster on the West Coast wouldn't want to play in Westwood. This, from a parent who hand-delivered his kid to LSU. Last year: 1.
8. Vacancy, UCLA basketball radio The decision to place Marques Johnson and Mike Warren on the porch, ringing the doorbell and running away was the only option. Interesting, though, it came down to economics and not quality of broadcast. XTRA could either budget its money to simulcast the feed on KIEV so it would be heard in the Valley, or it could hire a colorman for the artist currently known as Chris Roberts. It took the lesser of two evils. bold
Last year: Mike Warren was 1 on bottom five.
9. Jerry Reuss, Angels TV: On call at ESPN, where he really showed his stuff before settling into this regular job. Last year: Not ranked.
10. Tom Ramsey, UCLA football TV: Coulda swore he was on the Patriots sidelines dressed as the emergency QB during last Sunday's Super Bowl. Last year: Honorable mention.
Honorable mention: Ron Foster, CSUN football radio; Tony Femino, USC football radio sideline reporter (a weekend joyride from his gig on Phoenix sportstalk); Paul Sunderland, college basketball TV; Rory Markas, Clippers radio; Lisa Leslie and Ann Meyers, women's college basketball TV; George Raveling, college basketball TV (but still not on USC games).
THE BOTTOM FIVE
1. Vacancy, Dodgers radio and TV: This might border on sacreligious, but here goes - Vin Scully's insistance on flying solo might work for him, the loyal listeners and the team's ticket office. But in the overall scheme, Scully's two relievers are kind of left to twist in the wind. Ross Porter can aptly handle it, but a second voice wouldn't hurt. Rick Monday is an analyst playing out of position. Fox Sports West 2, doing 40 Dodgers games starting in April, could at least get a partner for whomever it hires to do play-by-play. Our short list: Jeff Torborg, Al Downing, Ken Brett, Jim Gott, Jerry Reuss or Jay Johnstone. Don't even think about Duke Snider.
3. Stu Lantz, Lakers radio and TV He's got top-10 ability, but as long as he's stuck in this position, Stu is just one syllable away from stupid. Last year: 3 (bottom five).
4. (tie) Steve Hartman, UCLA football radio; Bill Werndl, San Diego Chargers radio: The co-rookies of the rear winners. ``Homer'' Hartman sounds like a little kid who got lost looking for his seat. Makes you miss David Norrie. Werndl's saliva shower forces Lee Hamilton (not his real name) to wear a raincoat in the booth (not the only reason). Thufferin' thuccotash. Just because the dogmatic duo torment sports-talk listeners on a weekday basis is no grounds to grant them probation on the weekends. Last year: Neither ranked.
5. Mike Allison, Kings radio: Unlike his predecessors, he's no Brian Engblom, Tom Laidlaw or Nick Nickson for that matter. But Allison's aim is true, so we'll cut him more slack. At least he's not slashing like ex-King Pat Conacker over on the Ducks radiocast. Last year: Not ranked.
This is the conclusion of a four-part series ranking the best and worst of L.A. broadcasters.
Box: THE 4th ANNUAL BEST AND WORST OF THE L.A. SPORTS MEDIA