As the 2010-2011 high school basketball season nears its tipoff phase, several local radio stations are ready to play ball with a lengthy lineup of broadcasts.
One station duo — Cumulus Media’s WDEA (1370 AM) in Ellsworth and WBZN (107.3 FM) of Old Town — is beefing up its live game broadcast schedule significantly this season with the addition of WBZN’s Internet broadcast capability (at www.wbzn-fm.com) to WDEA’s (www.am1370wdea.com) as well as WDEA itself. The end result is a 122-percent increase in the number of broadcasts, from 41 last season to 91 this season.
“We realized there’s a hole to fill and high school basketball has been king in the winter for years,” said WDEA account executive and broadcaster Chris Popper, one of four broadcasters who will call game action. “With the technology available, more and more people have computer Internet access now, so why not make a move to fill the hole that’s been left in the market?”
That hole appeared to grow a bit bigger recently when Bangor all-sports radio station WZON (620 AM) dropped its all-sports programming in favor of liberal news/talk while still retaining a two-hour afternoon sports talk show as well as continuing to do about 80 high school hoops games along with other local high school and college sports broadcasts.
However, despite switching from all-sports, WZON’s winter sports broadcast schedule is the same with 100 high school games (including basketball tournament and playoff hockey) on 620 AM and the station website (www.zoneradio.com).
“Nothing has changed there,” said WZON sports director and broadcaster Dale Duff. “We’re doing about 35-40 games during the season and another 40 or so for the tournament.”
WZON will also be simulcasting some of its game broadcasts involving Aroostook County teams and sharing them with CanXus Broadcasting stations WCXU (97.7 FM), WCXX (102.3 FM) of Madawaska and WCXV (98.1 FM) of Caribou.
Cumulus’ decision to expand coverage had already been made well before October’s WZON shakeup.
“We’ve had enormous success both commercially and in listenership from doing Ellsworth and MDI basketball on WDEA for five years, and every now and then we’ve grabbed some baseball games and covered Ellsworth soccer playoff games,” Popper explained. “This fall, we realized when they (Ellsworth boys) went to the state final, Bangor’s boys and girls were both down there and there was no coverage of them. Since I was going to be down there, we figured why not put those game on WDEA Internet? We had 400 listeners without any kind of advance promotion and we were thrilled with that.”
Cumulus’ plan calls for 50 regular-season boys and girls broadcasts on WBZN Internet involving Greater Bangor teams Bangor, Brewer, John Bapst of Bangor, Hampden Academy, Orono and Old Town. Another 41 broadcasts of Ellsworth or Mount Desert Island games will air on WDEA radio and Internet.
“Schools which typically haven’t had a lot of radio coverage are getting some now, like Orono, which I think we’re doing eight games of,” Popper said. “It’s also a chance for County fans to listen to games on the Internet they wouldn’t normally be able to follow, like when Caribou plays Old Town.”
Popper said they will also broadcast all Class B, C, and D Eastern Maine Tournament games along with any Class A tourney game from Augusta involving the six primary local teams.
The primary announcers are Popper, Charlie Farley, former WZON broadcaster Pat Spekhardt and Jeff Solari, who is calling Husson University basketball games for WZON.
“I think I’m doing around a a dozen and a half games over the regular season, due to schedule restraints,” said Solari, an MDI alumnus who is now manager of business development at Rudman and Winchell law firm after recently leaving WZON as a full-time broadcaster. “I’m doing only MDI games for WDEA and a half dozen games for WBZN.”
Other stations will be going full bore with basketball as well, such as Houlton’s WHOU (100.1 FM on the radio and www.whoufm.com on the Internet), which plans to air 50 games involving Houlton, Hodgdon, Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, Greater Houlton Christian Academy and Washburn.
Presque Isle’s WEGP (1390 AM) will air 39 games involving County teams, starting with preseason games this weekend, and Machias’ WALZ (95.3 FM) is airing 28 games featuring Narraguagus of Harrington, Washington Academy of East Machias, Woodland, Machias, Shead of Eastport and Sumner of East Sullivan.