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"Can you hear me now?"

With Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 and TSN 1050 Toronto now sharing the broadcasts of the Toronto Maple Leafs, listeners have a choice of post and pregame shows, analysts and signal strengths. While both on-air products are amusing and annoying, TSN 1050 is chasing from behind on signal strength.

Depending on weather and altitude, TSN 1050's night-time signal can fade after sunset in peripheral areas around Southern Ontario. If you're counting on getting your game via TSN 1050 (TSN shares the broadcasts equally with The Fan 590) you may have issues around Milton, Orangeville, Barrie and Bowmanville, places that get the signal during the day.

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TSN Radio acknowledges it's had "20 to 22" listener complaints about reception since games began on TSN Radio on Jan. 19.

"Honestly, it hasn't been a lot of complaints," says Robert Gray, program director for TSN Radio. "But getting the best signal is important. Our engineers are always looking at ways to boost the signal strength in our market."

For now, Gray recommends Leafs fans experiencing trouble getting the TSN 1050 signal try one of the other stations on their network in Kitchener or Peterborough. "Or you can always listen live online," Gray adds. "That's a feature we couldn't use in the past."

Fan leads in key demo

For now, every listener counts for TSN 1050 in its challenging quest to match or surpass The Fan 590.

BBM numbers released for the December-January ratings book show that TSN 1050 is still stuck in the range it's had since coming on air in April of 2011. That is to say, some modest gains in the male 18-34 demographic but a gaping chasm in the coveted male 25-54 demo.

Overall, The Fan 590 leads TSN 1050 7.4/7.3 to 1.0/2.4 in the 25-54 male demo. It's closer in males 18-34 with The Fan ahead 3.2/4.2 to TSN's 1.5/3.5.

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Mornings with Mike Richards on TSN illustrates the gap. Richards leads the 18-34 with 3.1/4.6 over The Fan's 2.0/3.4. But factor in the older crowd and The Fan 590 program with Greg Brady and Jim Lang leads comfortably 7.2/11.0 to 2.8/4.0.

So what will it take to move the needle for TSN 1050?

"Maple Leafs play-by-play," Gray says. "In a [portable-people-meter] system, ratings follow play-by-play. We think people will find our broadcasts of the Leafs and decide to stick around."

He points to the one TSN Maple Leafs broadcast on Jan. 19 included during the latest ratings period to show how the Leafs rights can boost TSN's ratings.

"The Leafs game on Jan 19 was the No. 4 most-listened-to broadcast in its time slot for all people (A2+) with a 8.2 share," says Gray in an e-mail to Usual Suspects. "only beaten by three FM stations. And it was No. 2 most-listened-to broadcast in its time slot for males 25 to 54."

With a 14.3 market share, the Toronto/Montreal game was only beaten by CHFI and was No. 1 in cumulative audience in that same male 25-54 demo.

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The negative effect of play-by-play was seen in Vancouver, where the Canucks broadcaster (a TSN-owned station) dropped precipitously during the lockout. "Same hosts, same format, just no play-by-play of the Canucks," Gray says.

Of course, the converse of TSN's optimism is The Fan 590 also gets Leafs games and the same ratings boost.

Leslie back to radio

Sportsnet anchor Ryan Leslie has decided home is where the heart is. So Leslie is returning home to Calgary as a host on the afternoon drive show for Sportsnet Radio The Fan 960. He replaces Bryn Griffiths, who returned to Edmonton late last year. Leslie was previously with Global TV in Calgary.

Marino's past

In the category of return to sender, the New York Post delivered a poison-pen message to CBS on the brink of its Super Bowl weekend coverage. The Post revealed that legendary QB and CBS star Dan Marino had fathered a love child by a CBS Sports employee, who then was dispatched to Texas to keep Marino's 28-year marriage intact.

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The details of Marino's personal life are for him to deal with, but the Post knows every time Marino's fake smile comes onscreen this weekend, it will be like a commercial for the Post. Frankly, Marino, who had a celebrated cameo in Ace Venture: Pet Detective, is a drag on CBS's pregame show at the best of times. CBS is getting some serious karma for keeping him on the air years past his stale date.

Commercial brakes

It used to be that prestige meant having your commercial included in the Super Bowl broadcast. Now, having your ad rejected by the Super Bowl is the je ne sais quoi. The more flimsy the pretext for banishment, the better. Taco Bell pulled its commercial when something called The Center for Science in the Public Interest said the ad hated vegetarians. "It's bad enough that there aren't many ads on television for broccoli, kale or carrots," said Margo G. Wootan, the centre's nutrition policy director. "The last thing healthy fruits and vegetables needed was to be the subject of attack ads."

If vexed vegans aren't touchy enough, purveyors of the race card decided this splendid Volkswagen commercial had a little too much of the "irie" for their liking. "Respect boss mon, Winston!" Oh, and get a life.

Meanwhile beverage company SodaStream's effort featuring Pepsi and Coke employees was punted for showing Pepsi and Coke employees.

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