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(Fred Lum)
(Fred Lum)

Usual Suspects

The odds seem stacked against AM640 Add to ...

There's an old Irish expression, "Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?"

That droll sentiment sums up the sports-radio market clash come April, when TSN Radio will make it three stations with sports content battling for position in the lucrative Toronto market, joining Rogers-owned Sportsnet Radio FAN 590 and Corus-owned AM 640.

AM 640 program director Gord Harris wants it known that his station will stay the course despite the impending clash of the titans on radio. The station has Maple Leafs broadcast rights.

"We don't plan any changes," Harris said. "We're proud to be the home of the Leafs. That's our identity, and we're happy with it. We are who we are. I don't worry about what the competition does."

Asked whether his owners have made the decision to go after the Maple Leafs radio rights again, Harris says it's a confidential matter between the station and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Based on Harris's comments, AM640 will apparently stay the course from now till the end of the 2011-12 NHL season (and host Bill Watters' contract) rather than sell off rights.

After that, the odds seem stacked. Its rivals will throw dump trucks full of money at MLSE to get the Leafs. MLSE may also factor in AM640's inability to leverage the hockey team's rights for a sizable ratings grab. And AM640 has reduced its hockey content to afternoon drive and evenings, reducing the team's exposure on the station. Watters - the face of the Leafs coverage - may leave after his contract expires.

Only talented youngster Bryan Hayes gives promise for the future. But Harris is phlegmatic. "We enjoy our relationship with the Leafs. It's been very beneficial. I expect that to continue."

Pal Joey: Could Joey Vendetta's guest-hosting gig on The FAN 590's morning show last Christmas have been more than a one-off? While Greg Brady keeps the seat warm since Andrew Krystal has left the studio, the FAN brain trust is supposedly looking for someone who can get A-List talent to the phone or the studio in morning drive. During his holiday stint, the Los Angeles-based Vendetta had producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Steve Perry, Jason Reitman and mayor Rob Ford on the show.

The former Q107 host has been in southern California the past 13 years but has stayed in touch with his old hometown. If Krystal was a contrarian choice, Vendetta's rock 'n roll style really would go off the radar. FAN 590 program director Don Kollins says nothing to announce yet. "I cannot comment on any speculation regarding a new host at this time," Kollins told Usual Suspects in an e-mail.

Dan's The Man: Guess Dan Shulman has done his last appearance on Rogers Media with Bob McCown. Shulman, named by Sports Illustrated as the top U.S. sports announcer for the decade of 2000-10, has signed with TSN as a special contributor. He will still work for ESPN as the play-by-play voice of Sunday Night Baseball, which airs on TSN2, and on college basketball for ESPN. Look for his TSN role to be like that of Jesse Palmer, the Canadian who was a regular voice on NFL and college football for the Canadian network.

Need To Lede: So ESPN has no trouble leading with news on Brett Favre, who played in small markets in the Midwest, over the New York Giants or Jets. The NHL's best team is the Vancouver Canucks. The Canadian team has five defencemen injured and played its No. 12 defenceman, Yann Sauve, on Tuesday. Sauve's coming back from being hit by a car! Must be a dramatic story that should top the 6 p.m. Sportscentre, TSN's national signature show, right? Uh... no. It took 10 minutes to get to any Canucks news on the Tuesday cast. And then it was just a microscopic 30-second bumper for the Canucks' game in Minnesota.

Instead we got yet another lengthy torturing of Tomas Kaberle trade rumours from the Maple Leafs. Brian Burke says he's talking to Boston! That's the NHL's 26th place team in the diamond lane to nowhere. Plus, a piece on the Boston Bruin Milan Lucic, who, shockingly, was facing Toronto that night. We understand time zones and the mighty Toronto market, but if ESPN can see past its big-city biases, then why not TSN?

For that matter, why lead TSN's That's Hockey with Leaf content when it's on against the Leafs playing live on another channel? If you're a Leaf Nation fanatic, you're already watching the game. Just saying.

Talk The Talk: Great piece in the Wall Street Journal by Jeff Pearlman describing how being a sports fan these days is all talk and no walk. According to Pearlman, the saturation of sports talk on TV and radio has rendered the games themselves secondary. The drama of Brian Burke and the Leafs, the Brett Favre narrative, the off-season of trades and signings and the DUIs - all have become more compelling for average fans than actually watching the three hours of a game.

"Watching sports is mostly boring," writes Pearlman. "Talking and speculating about sports is riveting... Nowadays, points aren't merely made, then made again. We are sponges for input. We crave the next tweet, the next update. We want to know … need to know … have to know. Everything. Anything."

It's why the NFL's Red Zone Channel is such a hit, suggests ESPN's Colin Cowherd. Grazing a dozen Sunday games rather than concentrating on one is like eating the icing without having to swallow the cake. As Twitter has reduced communication to 140 letters, the sports-talk agenda of ESPN/ TSN? Sportsnet has reduced sports to bullet points and executive summaries.

Forehand Winner: Sportsnet scored a straight-sets triumph in announcing its acquisition of the Rogers Cup, the ATP Masters 1000 Series and the ATP 500 series in the same week that young Milos Raonic made tennis relevant again in Canada with his dramatic win at the SAP Open. There's much to go before Raonic becomes Canada's first prominent male singles player, but Sportsnet will be in a position to frame the narrative should he succeed.

 

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