Move of U.S. Open questioned

Posted Sept. 11, 2008, at 12:06 a.m.

A decision by officials at Bangor television station WABI (Channel 5) to hit a passing shot on U.S. Open tennis coverage to digital sister station WABI-DT (better known as “The CW”) this week drew some foul calls from some fans.

WABI was caught flat-footed by CBS’ announcement Monday morning to air the men’s championship match, postponed by rain on Sunday, at 5 p.m. on Monday.

“That would have removed all our local programming and our entire evening news block, and we didn’t feel this was the proper time and reasonable time to schedule the tennis, especially since CBS was running reruns of comedies on Monday night,” said Mike Young, vice-president and general manager of both stations. “We weren’t shy about complaining to CBS and suggesting alternatives. They didn’t agree, but they did agree to let us move the coverage to our secondary digital channel, commonly referred to as the CW.”

The problem with that move was CW’s inaccessibility to some local viewers — in particular those who are Dish Network satellite TV subscribers and those who get their TV via over-the-air (antenna) signals.

“We have no hard data as far as the penetration of digital receivers in our market, but if we assume Dish has about 20 percent of the audience and up to 50 percent of the 145,000 homes in our area has digital receivers, it could be as high as 40 to 50 percent of our audience not having the ability to watch that match,” Young said.

Why the coverage gap for the nearly 2-year-old station? Since the CW is a digital channel, it can only be seen via digital TVs and tuners or via cable TV systems.

“We’re on every available cable system within our coverage area and on DirecTV with the CW. The one place we’re not is on the Dish Network,” Young explained. “Despite our best efforts to encourage Dish to add CW when they were launching a local channel lineup, Dish has ignored our request.”

That left Young with a tough call that generated many more.

“We received a fair amount of calls and e-mails expressing dissatisfaction with our decision to run the match on the CW,” Young said. “But for every call or e-mail that left a return number or message, we replied to them and after we explained what happened, they accepted and — in many cases — agreed with our decision. There were a few exceptions, but most understood our decision and accepted it.

“The bottom line is we have to serve the public interest and in this case, the news is more important to more people than the U.S. Open. That’s not to say the U.S. Open is unimportant.”

But in this case, the Open wasn’t enough to ace out the local newscast.

“We had to play the hand we were dealt, and we feel we made the best decision we could,” Young said.

There is good news for tennis fans, however, as CBS has offered WABI the chance to re-air the men’s final. WABI will air the taped match on Saturday from noon to 2 p.m.

WWMJ gains four years with Pats

Officials at Ellsworth radio station WWMJ (95.7 FM) have agreed to a four-year contract extension that will keep New England Patriots game broad-casts on Eastern and Central Maine radio waves through the 2012 NFL season.

This is the third year Cumulus station WWMJ has been a member of the Patriots Rock Radio Network.

Cumulus vice-president and market manager Tom Preble said the Patriots’ recent success was a driving force behind the deal for the 50,000-watt station.

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