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Looking west towards the CN Tower (left) and office buildings (right). Photo taken from paltform level at Union Station.PHOTO BY FRED LUM/ GLOBE AND MAIL (Fred Lum)
Looking west towards the CN Tower (left) and office buildings (right). Photo taken from paltform level at Union Station.PHOTO BY FRED LUM/ GLOBE AND MAIL (Fred Lum)

The Usual Suspects

Toronto sports radio set to unveil morning host Add to ...

And then there was one. Sort of.

The epic search for a morning-drive show host for Toronto sports radio station FAN 590 has seemingly reached a conclusion. The list of potential candidates is down to Nos. 1 and 1-A after months of dark alleys and blind switches in the pursuit of a successor for Don Landry and Gord Stellick between 6 and 9 a.m.

Sources tell Usual Suspects an offer has been extended this week in an attempt to bring closure to a process that's gone on longer than John Furlong's speech to open the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. After a brief flirtation with CBC host George Stroumboulopoulos and an entertainment format, the suits on Bloor Street seem to be headed in the direction of a more sports-oriented host to precede Andrew Krystal on the schedule.

When the deal is finalized - hopefully within the week - the question will be: How fast can the winning candidate tie up business and get to his new post? Ideally, this would happen by Labour Day to fit into the fall ratings period.

Realistically, the Rogers Communications Inc. brain trust will want someone behind the mike by the time the Toronto Maple Leafs start NHL training camp in mid-month. Failing that, FAN program director Don Kollins says, "it's more important to have the right person than a rushed process."

So what took so long? The easiest explanation is a new PD (Kollins), a Rogers bureaucracy in which every constituency must be heard, and the limited number of people in Canada who have done the morning-sports format successfully.

So far, Kollins's hires of Krystal and Greg Brady have invigorated the schedule. For the sake of listeners who've had to endure some less-than-sterling broadcasting since the demise of Landry/Stellick, let's hope the next hire works as well.

Rival Radio

Also complicating the FAN's focus is the lurking potential of all-sports cable TV channel TSN launching a national radio challenge to the FAN's hegemony.

Any plans to do so are still in double deep secret status at TSN, allowing plausible deniability to executives not in the loop. But Usual Suspects has learned discussions about timing and on-air personnel have been held - without any firm conclusion until the new year.

Should it choose to move, TSN's parent company owns the CHUM national radio chain - which has all-sports stations in Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver. If it wants to launch in Toronto, CHUM also has the 1050 AM frequency now devoted to ratings-challenged CP24. Rogers, meanwhile, owns FAN stations in Toronto and Calgary, while Astral Media Inc. owns the remaining all-sports format, Edmonton's Team 1260.

The key question in any TSN plan to go after Rogers's radio branch is how to slay the beast - host Bob McCown, the FAN's meal ticket in Canada's biggest market. It was CHUM's utter lack of a challenger to McCown's dominance of the Toronto afternoon-drive slot that led to the demise of CHUM's national Team format earlier this decade. Likewise AM640, the Maple Leafs rights-holder, has tried mightily to knock McCown off his perch with Bill Watters the past three years - to little effect.

McCown's contract at the FAN is up in the two years, so TSN could wage a bidding war for the radio host, who's never been shy about getting the last buck in a deal. Or they could concentrate on a dominant morning show that would balance any pyrrhic battle in the afternoons. And then there's question if there's enough revenue to fund dual sports-radio formats in the same market to allow a Risk-like battle for supremacy.

Drop The Puck Already

If you're the type who plans winters around Hockey Night in Canada, then Wednesday was your lucky day.

The CBC released its 87-game schedule for the 2010-11 NHL season, featuring the Jan. 1 Winter Classic from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the Feb. 20 Heritage Classic from McMahon Stadium in Calgary and Hockey Day in Canada from Whitehorse on Feb. 13. Without the Olympics, the All-Star Game returns in its "do we have to?" glory on Jan. 29 and 30. Hockey analyst Don Cherry urging kids to cover the points will recommence with the season-opening doubleheader on Oct. 7.

Interestingly, CBC is adding 10 AHL games to it broadcast schedule this winter. Not so interestingly, six of them will involve Toronto's farm team, the Marlies, in mortal combat against … well does it really matter? It's HNIC and the Leafs farm team.

And while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman talks about parity, don't look for it in the CBC broadcast schedule. The Nashville Predators - remember them? - are featured once all season on a national broadcast.

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