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Usual Suspects

Change is the operative word in sports radio Add to ...

Change is the operative word in the sports radio business these days with TSN contemplating a dive into the sports talk radio pool. Not to be outdone, competitor Rogers is re-branding its radio station in Toronto as Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 and in Calgary as Sportsnet Radio The Fan 960. The idea is to extend the Sportsnet brand throughout Rogers’ holdings and create a more homogeneous feel inside and outside the company.

The announcement was made in a press release Wednesday from Rogers executive Scott Moore. Much money and credibility have been invested in the FAN brand since it began at CJCL 1430 in 1992, so it was kept as part of the title. But Sportsnet Radio will speak to the Rogers brand, say sources there, and help with a much-needed integration of the image.

Industry insiders have described Rogers as a silo operation where the various arms of the company - TV, radio, publications, cable, cell phones - have traditionally had little co-operation with one another. In some cases it has been more like open hostility between the branches of the company. The Sportsnet people would rather have chewed ground glass than promote FAN 590 and vice versa. The challenge for the new management of Rogers Media under president Keith Pelley is to allow for cross-promotion and co-operation - long a strong suit of CTV.

The silo effect is not uncommon. When Usual Suspects worked at CBC in the 1980s and ‘90s, the resentment between radio and TV, national and local departments bordered on open warfare. It was an industry joke that press conferences had one crew from each of Global, CTV and CITY - and five crews from CBC.

But successive managements have quelled much of that by integrating promotions, assignment desks and staffing. While traditionalists howled every step of the way, the moves have saved crucial money and created a more unified promotional face for CBC. Rogers hopes it works the same for them.

Heavy Load: Speaking of Sportsnet, the network bagged its limit Tuesday across its five channels: Five NHL games broadcast, a WHL game and all the requisite panels and highlights. Oh, and everyone wearing ties.

Late Hits: Endless media forensics on Tom Kostopoulos’s devastating hit that broke Brad Stuart’s jaw. The Flames’ forward got six games for launching himself at Stuart’s head well after the Detroit defenceman released the puck. Mike Milbury, naturally, sees nothing wrong. “A deaf, dumb and blind kid can see what it is,” quoth the Mad One on Hockey Night In Canada.

Replied blogger Puck Daddy: “Make no mistake Kostopoulos should have been suspended, logically. He's a repeat offender (three games in 2008 for a hit on Mike Van Ryn). It was a reckless play.” But all agreed that the latest tortured wording of the NHL rules on head hits clearly did not cover what Kostopoulos did to Stuart.

What all the cheapest hits - from Matt Cooke on Marc Savard to Kostopoulos on Stuart - have in common is that they are late. The victims are not handling the puck when hit. We’re not sure why but the NHL mantra about “finishing your check” has come to encompass legally hitting opponents two or three beats after they release the puck.

A simple solution to much of the cheapness is to penalize any late hits on a player not carrying the puck under “interference”. Incidental contact is allowed but a targeting of any player not carrying the puck? Two minutes. Five if he injures the opponent. Simple. Neat. Hard to dispute. Even Milbury can get the hang of it.

Almost There: TSN’s Dan O’Toole observing that Toronto coach Ron Wilson’s 600th win leaves him a mere 644 behind Scotty Bowman for all-time wins: “He’s getting there.” He was kidding. We think.

Missed The mark: Normally, we’re fans of ol’ Brent Musberger and his sidekick Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN. When Musberger delivers his patented “You’re looking live...” you know you’re set for a dandy football game. But in Monday’s BCS Championship Game both Musberger and Herbstreit appeared to miss on two major stories as they developed.

First, they failed to acknowledge how hurt Auburn QB Cam Newton was in the fourth quarter of the game. Newton took a shot in the back on a third-down run and was never the same all night. He later fumbled - an error that almost cost Auburn the game. But Musberger and Herbstreit were too busy prattling about “This is for all the Tostitos” to even acknowledge that there might be an injury problem with the game’s biggest star.

Second, it was clear that the field was like an ice rink as players continually lost their balance, wiping out to create big plays. It took Musberger and Herbstreit till halfway through the second quarter to finally note that footing was an issue. Finally, with 7:22 left in the third quarter ESPN’s sideline reporter got around to explaining how staff were trying to keep the players’ cleats from jamming with turf. Even then, Musberger and Herbstreit never returned to the issue.

MSNBC’s Darren Rovell didn’t miss the story. During the game he tweeted, “If I'm adidas (which also owns Reebok), I run this ad tomorrow: “We have cleats that actually keep you from slipping.”

On Second Thought: Now that the furor over the peeping Tom incident has died away, it’s probably safe to say that Erin Andrews can’t carry the microphone cable of Suzy Kolber or Michelle Tafoya as a sideline reporter.

Tweet Twit: Finally, LeBron James takes the high road again. Watching his former teammates from Cleveland get ventilated 112-57 by the Lakers, LeBron took his talent to Twitter. “Karma is a b****.. Gets you every time. Its not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!” And He had the Lakers plus 54.

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