Media Bits & Bytes (1/6/15)

WGN revamping weekend sports programming… The dismantling of WGN-AM 720’s “Sports Central” became official over the weekend. The show’s co-hosts Glen Kozlowski and Jim Memolo are also out. In its place will be “The Beat,” a new sports-centric show featuring Connor McKnight, Adam Hoge and Jarrett Payton — former hosts from WGN’s now defunct all sports format “88.7 The Game” on WGWG-LP.

Todd Manley, WGN’s vice president of content and programming, was quoted in Robert Feder’s column yesterday that the station is incorporating “some of the best things of The Game and reinsert them back into the AM.”

I suppose former Game midday host Ben Finfer be damned — who in my book is an obvious rising star in sports talk radio — for having the audacity to smear station management on air upon finding out that the station would cease operations at the end of 2014.

McKnight and Hoge are both fine talents and are suitable for weekend sports talk duty at WGN. Payton, I’m not yet sold on as a radio personality. Perhaps my negative influence towards him stems from his pairing with Harry Teinowitz and Spike Manton (whom I am not particularly fond of) while on The Game.

As far as the best aspects of the Game, what is the measuring stick? It sure as hell can’t be ratings.

WTMJ adds Brian Noonan to weekend lineup… Brian Noonan, a long-time part-time host at WGN-AM, has signed on at WTMJ-AM 620 in Milwaukee. Noonan will hold the fort each Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. while continuing to work his Sunday night show on WGN.

I’m happy for Brian, who orchestrates an overly fun and informative talk show. He really ought to be more than a part-time radio host. Prior to WGN’s fall 2013 schedule revamp, it seemed inevitable that Noonan would move to a more prominent role there, with my hope that he would occupy a midday slot. His stock had risen at the station during his successful pairing with David Kaplan as co-host of “WGN Sports Night.” Such ideas for a Noonan ascension at WGN stalled when he announced that he had accepted a full-time position outside of radio and would only be available to work his Sunday night show.

I still wonder to this day if that was completely his choice or a fall-back plan after being told by management that they had no plans for utilizing him further.

WNUA going big for country… As of noon yesterday, WNUA-FM 99.5 is now a country music station. The iHeartMedia-owned station’s regional Mexican format previously known as “95.5 El Patron” will now be branded as the “Big 95.5.” With the format change, iHeartMedia hopes to draw listeners from CBS Radio’s WUSN-FM/US 99.5 country format.

With WIND-AM/AM 560 The Answer morning host John Howell’s long-term on air direction still unknown, it’s worth wondering if the former US 99 personality may have an offer from the new WNUA/Big 95.5. Howell, whose contract with WIND expired at the end of December, is still on air as of this week. As first reported by Robert Feder, Howell was believed to be considering an offer to join WLS-AM 890 to take over their morning show, though Feder had mentioned Howell was in talks with at least one other Chicago station.

For the time being, I’ll bet on Feder. I believe Howell will ultimately end up on WLS.

Jonathon Brandmeier missing in action… Jonathon Brandmeier, who originally had penciled Jan. 5 for when he’d resume live broadcasting, remains absent. It was announced via his Facebook page on Sunday that he will continue to air “best of” shows via the Brandmeier channel on TuneIn as his crew continues to get things sorted out (finding a new studio, possibly figuring out how to monetize the show, etc.).

The state of Brandmeier’s show has been murky since it was initially reported by Robert Feder that Tribune Media had parted ways with the host (the following day, Brandmeier insisted that aspect of Feder’s report was incorrect). Brandmeier’s show had been a fixture of the WGN.FM stream since fall 2013, and on air at Tribune Media’s WGWG-LP/88.7 The Game since February. With the dismantling of The Game format, it was later believed that Brandmeier might work out a deal to keep his show affiliated with Tribune Media in an online sense (as of the final week of 2013, WGN.FM was re-branded as “WGN Plus”).

Brandmeier has been grooming his listeners that his show would at the very least continue in some capacity via his TuneIn channel. While it now appears he no longer has affiliation with Tribune Media, he will be left to his own devices to broadcast any further live shows unless the two sides can still come to some sort of agreement. His listeners are encouraged to follow his Facebook page or sign up for email updates via his website.

Dan McNeil teases radio comeback for early 2015

Dan McNeil

While wishing his Twitter and Facebook followers a happy New Year, Dan McNeil teased that a radio comeback may happen sooner rather than later.

McNeil elaborated a bit further via Facebook saying “for those of you who’ve said you’ve missed me on the air…thanks for the “love” and there will be news within a month or so.”

With no further details, McNeil’s fans are left to guess where he may resurface and in what capacity. While contract negotiations between McNeil and his former employer WSCR-AM/670 The Score broke off in August, there’s been no reports or other hints of any ill will preventing the two sides from working together again.

If McNeil were to return to The Score, would it be back to full-time or more of a part-time capacity? If full-time, the obvious question is where and at the expense of which current daytime Score show? McNeil’s former Score midday show partner Matt Spiegel is now paired with ex Bear Patrick Mannelly. While ratings have declined since McNeil’s departure, any change to the Score’s morning show (Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley) or afternoon show (Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein) would be quite the surprise (unless of course Boers does decide to retire or some of the other hosts are re-shuffled).

A part-time capacity for McNeil seemingly shouldn’t be out of the question, as McNeil himself has admitted that he discussed such possibilities with Score’s Operations Manager Mitch Rosen. McNeil who appeared to be burnt out near the end of his last Score run might benefit from a lighter workload on weekends or filling in for sick or vacationing Monday-Friday hosts. A part-time role might be enough to satisfy his radio itch without the five day a week grind.

I also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of McNeil doing something completely different, perhaps with something involving his love of music. With plenty of FM rock stations in town, perhaps some sort of role might exist for him somewhere? One possible place might even be Score sister station WXRT-FM 93.1, which is also managed by Rosen.

The idea of McNeil returning to WMVP-AM/ESPN 1000 would be a huge surprise, and in my opinion, unlikely. While I had early hopes that he would surface in afternoons on WGWG-LP/88.7 The Game, that is no longer an option now that the Tribune Media sports/talk format has ceased operations. Another possibility, though seemingly slim, might be for McNeil to surface on WGN-AM 720, which is rumored to be re-tooling its own sports presence (while the weekend “Sports Central” show is believed to be on its way out, some sports programming is still expected to exist, though it would make sense to involve former talent from 88.7 The Game).

Perhaps wishful thinking, I still wish an opportunity would allow McNeil to partner with his former producer Ben Finfer, who is now available following his stint at 88.7 The Game. Finfer is a young and energetic host with strong opinions, which would contrast well with McNeil. I always thought that Finfer, who frequently worked on air along-side McNeil while filling in for Spiegel, made for a better on air partner.

I have previously suggested shortening the shifts of the midday and afternoon shows and scheduling McNeil for an early afternoon slot (in which he would be paired with Finfer). With how budget tight The Score is though, I would guess that such a scenario of an added show, which would include salaries and benefits, would be unlikely.

All we can do now is wait and see if anything materializes in the next month or so. Echoing the words McNeil used to finish his Facebook post, stay tuned.

ESPN debuts new graphics during college bowl games

ESPN is phasing in a new graphics package, first unveiled at the start of the College Bowl season in mid December. The new graphics so far have only surfaced for select Bowl games. For example, today’s ESPN 2 broadcast of the Outback Bowl was still using the older graphics package. Today’s Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl broadcasts had the new graphics.

The new look resemble the new graphics used for “SportsCenter,” which debuted over the summer. Much like the new NBC Sports graphics unveiled today, the new ESPN graphics are bigger, bolder and shinier, obviously meant to take full advantage of large high definition displays.

With new graphics comes a new score bug, which is positioned in the lower-right corner of the screen. The score bug is big, if also not somewhat awkwardly designed. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the new score graphic, but its design allows for some wasted space, specifically to the right of the game’s score digits. The waste of space is relevant because real estate on any screen is limited, meaning graphics should be designed to convey necessary information that is easy to read, while using any allocated space as efficiently as possible.

One component about the new score bug I do like are the pop-up graphics that surface above the score bug to show added information relevant to what’s happening on the screen (i.e. the player who just scored the touchdown). Assuming this graphics package is eventually used for all other live sporting events, it will be interesting to see how it is implemented for other sports, specifically basketball and baseball.

The below screen shots, from both the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl show various uses of the new ESPN graphics package.

New ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl PlayoffNew ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl Playoff

New ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl Playoff

New ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl Playoff

New ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl Playoff

NBC Sports unveils new graphics for 2015

With the new year, NBC Sports unveiled an updated graphics package for today’s NHL Winter Classic on NBC and the English Premiere League on NBCSN. While clearly inspired by the previous graphics, the new package is no doubt bigger and bolder with curved sides, fully meant to take full advantage of large high definition television screens.

While the new graphics were used for both the Winter Classic and the English Premiere League, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be used for all live NBC sporting events just yet. It is possible that they will be rolled out in phases, much like how Fox, CBS and ESPN do when rolling out new graphics (ESPN has been rolling out new graphics during select college bowl games). We should have a better idea Saturday night with NBC’s NFL wildcard broadcast. NBC is broadcasting this year’s SuperBowl, so it would make sense to implement the new graphics for the largest televised broadcast of the year (in contrast, Fox Sports implemented new graphics just after broadcasting last year’s SuperBowl).

It’s also worth noting that the NBC Sports graphics have also been used for live events on the Comcast SportsNet regional networks, part of the NBC Sports Group, since 2012. Will these new graphics be rolled out for the CSN networks or will they be exclusively for NBC and NBCSN?

The previous NBC Sports graphics were my all-time favorite. They were well designed for both function and looks. They displayed the necessary information during a live games without ever being distracting or appearing awkward. They were absolutely beautiful as far as color with the right amount of gradient and the added sparkle effect.

As for the new graphics, after one game, I have no complaints about them functionality wise. As for looks, they lose some of the flair the previous set had. I’m not fond of the silver sided curves, while in some cases, some smaller text sloppily positioned. I’m not saying that I don’t like them — they do look very nice and have a nice polish — I just initially don’t like them as much as the previous set. There is a chance that NBC may still tweak these graphics as they get more use, and there is the chance they will grow on me once I get used to them.

You can judge the new graphics for yourself via the below photos.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Open

Open for the NHL Winter Classic on NBC.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Player Name Graphic

New NBC Sports graphics package nameplate for identifying players and stats. Compare to previous graphics.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Score Bug

New NBC Sports score bug during NHL Winter Classic.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Intermission Score Graphic

New NBC Sports graphic showing the score at the first intermission.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Studio Hosts

New NBC Sports graphic identifying NHL on NBC studio hosts.