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Mike Richards, photographed at the TSN studio on Richmond Street West in Toronto on April 8, 2011, is the new host for TSN radio, which hits the airwaves next Wednesday, April 13, 2011. (Photo by Peter Power/The Globe and Mail) (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Mike Richards, photographed at the TSN studio on Richmond Street West in Toronto on April 8, 2011, is the new host for TSN radio, which hits the airwaves next Wednesday, April 13, 2011. (Photo by Peter Power/The Globe and Mail) (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Usual Suspects

Five ways TSN Radio can become more distinctive Add to ...

NHL camps are opening across the continent soon, and all eyes are on Vancouver, where the Canucks are welcoming back members of a team that went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. One notable figure in the Vancouver hockey scene was supposed to return on Tuesday, too, but when the TEAM 1040’s afternoon drive show started, host David Pratt was nowhere to be heard.

As the popular program began, Jeff Patterson sat in for Pratt. There were no audio stings identifying the highly rated Pratt & (Don) Taylor duo, who were due to kick off a new season Tuesday. Staff at the radio station had already been told that Pratt and the station are in a contractual impasse, but nothing was to be discussed publicly. Pratt, who’s been a Vancouver radio figure during almost three decades, feels he’s in the same league as the lucrative contracts handed out by CHUM to Mike Richards at TSN Radio 1050 and by Rogers to Bob McCown of The Fan 590.

The station apparently feels otherwise. Pratt, once an original TSN host, has gone to the mattress successfully in the past over his contract. But insiders suggest this time might be different with new managers in place. Despite the powerful ratings for the show during the Canucks’ spring run, radio observers believe that if Pratt has any leverage, he may have to use it soon.

James Stuart, general manager of the Team 1040, tells Usual Suspects, “At this point, I have no public comment to make on the situation.” David Pratt has not returned requests for comment.

Update on Team 1040: Ray Ferraro, who co-hosted the station’s morning drive show with Scott Rintoul, is taking a reduced load as he steps into Pierre McGuire’s role at TSN on a three-year contract. Ferraro will do a half-hour show daily with Team 1040, plus appearances on the other CHUM sports stations in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg. In addition to his NHL role, Ferraro also steps into McGuire’s role at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Alberta over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday.

Radio Daze: Okay it’s September. Or Put Up Or Shut Up Time, as they call it in radio. TSN Radio 1050 has had about five months to shake out the kinks as they head to its first crucial fall book. So far, the ratings numbers have been underwhelming, although some younger demographics seem mildly interested in the new all-sports effort.

Let’s assume that most of the audience has yet to seriously sample the new station, advertised as the “Evolution of Sports Radio.” (Probably best for TSN Radio since most of what they’ve done so far has been a distant echo of Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590.) Even morning man Richards, the real difference maker between the two stations, seemed determined early on to do an imitation of the Fan 590’s style - not his strong suit.

Lately, he seems on his game again -being offensive/ juvenile/ opinionated - and he’ll have to be to make any inroads against The Fan 590. (In his defence, Richards’s former employers at Rogers have restricted use of the material he developed while working at The Fan 960 in Calgary.)

While we take no sides in the fight, here are five things TSN Radio needs to become more distinctive:

- Put Jay Onrait on opposite Bob McCown in afternoon drive. His manic pandering makes us want to put spikes in our eyes when we see him on TV. But it’s not about us, it’s about a younger, hipper audience. And Onrait’s In Need Of Meds act apparently resonates with the not-Bob-McCown set. (He just won a Gemini!) It would also work better on radio where we wouldn’t have top see his preening expression begging for laughs all the time. Be bold TSN.

- Get a very sexy woman’s voice to do all the station’s time signatures, teases, promos etc. Again, not conventional. But if Kathryn Humphries’s voice suggested we listen to Mike Richards, we might find a way to be there. Besides, you can’t get a lower voice than the guy on The Fan 590 without threatening seismic action.

- Tell Richards to do half as many sports interviews as he does now. More production stuff, less kissy-face with jockdom. Plus get him on TV soon. And please, get David Bastl or anyone else to replace Claude Feig as the sidekick. Oh, and remove the banner on the website that says he’s still on till 10 a.m.

- Get the Maple Leafs’ radio rights. Expensive as hell, yes. Easier said than done, too. But a must in bringing ears and attitude to the radio. With the FAN 590 married to the Blue Jays, doubling down on the Leafs would give TSN Radio an ID.

- Bring the station’s website out of the dial-up age. Could you put less thought into a website? Looks like something the government would produce (although the pols would spend way, way more for their mediocrity). No content, no links to the TSN website’s info, nada. One might almost get the impression that TSN is trying to insulate its brand from its CHUM radio experiment. But why would they do that when they’ve slapped the TSN brand on the other CHUM sports stations across the country? They haven’t? Oh. Never mind.

Fashion Faux Pas: Football fans are still trying to digest the ultra-modern uniforms sported by the University of Maryland on Monday. Modelled on the state flag of Maryland - which itself looks like the work of a committee - they are the product of Under Armour, whose owner is a former U of M football player. If the idea was to get people talking about lowly Maryland, it worked.( @JayBilas: “The 1970's Houston Astros have just released a statement that they would not be caught dead in the new Maryland football uniforms”)

The unis trended at the top of Twitter all Monday night and Tuesday morning. While traditional fans hated the Terrapins threads, ESPN’s Colin Cowherd pointed out that they weren’t for old fogeys but for elite young athletes trying to make a decision on what school to play for. Said Cowherd on Tuesday, if you’re a Texas kid who runs a 4.4, and saw how Under Armour jerseys make you the talk of the nation, whose colours would you want to wear, ultracool Maryland or boring, staid Penn State or Oklahoma?

Clearly the Winnipeg Jets are not in line for the Under Armour treatment. Their traditional air-force-influenced jerseys introduced Tuesday are perfect for the generation that saw the Jets in the their previous incarnation, i.e.. aging Boomers. How they trend with younger fans will be telling.

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