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CLASSIC SPORTS' GOLD MINE?

Byline: TOM HOFFARTH Media

It's not a bad idea. Nor is it new. In fact, it's so old, Steven Bass loves it the more he thinks about it.

ESPN Classic, meet your future competitor: the Golden Sports Channel.

If you haven't heard of the latest niche network despite its official launch Monday, that's by design.

Bass, who says he's ``pretty much'' a one-man operation from his Staten Island, N.Y., home office, is content to fly as low as possible under the radar with his new channel devoted to re-airing old games and events from the the '50s, '60s and '70s - otherwise known as the Golden Age of television.

It consists of just eight hours of programming a night (4 p.m. to midnight Pacific time). It's available only on the big satellite dishes, of which there are only about 700,000 active nationwide, on Telstar 4 Transponder 9. And it's a subscription channel that runs about $6 a month.

``And it's the real McCoy,'' the 58-year-old Bass bragged.

There's no question today's TV technology can handle this enterprise. It's just that as a business proposition, will another old-time sports channel draw and sustain an audience?

``Let me worry about that,'' said Bass, a self-proclaimed entrepreneur who has held jobs in syndicated television since 1975.

``The market is great for this; they're crying for this,'' insisted Bass, whose target viewers will be the 45- to 65-year-old Baby Boomers.

What's going to make this trip to Nostalgiaville different from what's presented by ESPN Classic, which began as the Classic Sports Network until ESPN bought it and reformatted the daily programming five years ago, is the specific content.

Basically, Bass draws his programming from years of begging, borrowing and dealing.

Working on a rock 'n' roll TV project in the late '80s, Bass needed vintage footage. He went to TV stations across the country to get into their vaults.

That's when he found these storage rooms also had thousands of reels of sporting events saved on film, unseen for years.

Many times, as stations grew and needed new facilities, they would simply throw away the stored film rather than lug it to the new building.

``Sadly, some of the best stuff is now in a landfill somewhere,'' said Bass, who recalls a time when he tried to collect film on the old Southern California Sun of the World Football League in the mid-70s, but former KTLA producer Bob Speck already had donated it to UCLA's renowned film library.

But not all of it has disappeared. Collectors and scavengers have squirreled away plenty of stuff of which not even ESPN Classic execs are aware. Bass has been able to network with these collectors - even some pro teams and colleges - to produce thousands of hours of events for his channel.

``It's a long, hard, tedious process,'' Bass admitted. ``Then there are precedents about what's in the public domain. But I have some great stuff.''

Such as boxing, which consists of about 20 percent of the programming and includes the Pabst Blue Ribbon Wednesday night bouts and the Gillette Friday night fights. Roller Derby was another sports staple from that period, as well as wrestling and bowling.

Baseball, football, basketball and hockey also provide plenty of hours on the schedule available on Bass' Web site (www.goldensports.tv).

``The goal is to make you feel like a kid again,'' Bass said. ``It's the exact programs we saw once upon a time. It's undiluted, authentic programming.

``I think it's the greatest thing since chocolate milk.''

Now, if only he can milk it for all it's worth.

--Whatever happened to ...: Brian Bedol and Steve Greenberg, who started Classic Sports Network until mounting debts forced them to sell it to ESPN, are involved in creating the first 24-hour, all-college sports network.

College Sports Television (formerly called the National College Sports Network) is scheduled for a Feb. 23 launch from its new broadcast center in New York.

``New York City is the natural home for College Sports Television given the city's role as a melting pot for alumni from virtually every college in America,'' Bedol said.

CSTV (www.cstv.com) has programming agreements with 22 college conferences, including the Big Ten, Big 12 and Big Sky, covering more than 250 universities. The emphasis will be on events not normally covered by the other networks.

SOUND BYTES

WHAT SMOKES

--On the classic sports theme, two Internet sites have emerged as a prime place to find old baseball games. BaseballDirect.com has one of the finest catalogs of TV and radio games. For $17.95, there are audiotapes of games dating to 1930. Some from the '50s are Dodgers games that include broadcasts done by Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett. There's also the first Angels game ever played (April 11, 1961), with Bob Kelly, Don Wells and Steve Bailey. Also, MLB.com offers many of the same recordings on CD for $19.95, plus games such as Dick Enberg's call of the night Nolan Ryan set the single-season strikeout record for the Angels (Sept. 27, 1973) and one with Scully and Mel Allen doing Don Larsen's perfect Game 5 in the '56 World Series.

--ESPN's Saturday morning ``College GameDay'' goes to a Division I-AA contest - Harvard at Penn - for the first time in the 10-year history of the road show.

--Must-read: The first of Alexander Wolff's special series on high school athletics in Sports Illustrated this week.

--ABC plans to use Keith Jackson on the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl, which will determine the Bowl Championship Series championship.

WHAT CHOKES

--In the October issue of Hispanic Business Magazine, Fox Sports Net's Lisa Guerrero was included in a list of the ``100 Most Influential Hispanics.'' This probably clinches it that she'll not likely use her birth name, Lisa Coles, ever again.

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SOUND BYTES (see text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 15, 2002
Words:976
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