June 23, 2018
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Schools, Boutwell launch Maine Sports Network radio

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

Jeff Schools said he and business partner Matt Boutwell are “sports junkies.”

And Schools, a South Portland native, felt they were getting the short end of the stick living in the Portland area when it came to radio coverage of local sports.

“We wanted to put the light back on local sports in the Portland area like it is in the other parts of the state,” explained Schools. “The rest of the state does a great job with local sports.”

So Schools and Boutwell began podcasting their sports radio show in 2008.

The next step was a sports gig courtesy of a friend.

“I knew Dave Patterson and he had a 25-watt station (WJZF) he operated out of his home,” said Schools.

That led to a job with WJJB FM (Portland) and WLOB AM (Portland) in April 2009 and they subsequently broadcast the three state high school football games in 2009.

They eventually purchased their own “high-end broadcast equipment” including the state-of-the-art Comrex Mobile Broadcasting System so they could broadcast any sport from any venue. And they added a financial partner in Tom Nolette from MBR.org.

In addition to doing the three high school state football championship games last fall, they branched out into basketball, doing 63 games including tournament games.

They left WJJB/WLOB on July 5 and have set up their Maine Sports Network (MESN) with WLVP-AM 870 in Gorham and WLAM-AM 1470 based in Lewiston.

Schools said they were grateful to WJJB and WLOB “but we needed to go somewhere where we could control our own destiny and more of our own business.”

“Both have very strong signals, much stronger than 1310 (WLOB),” said Schools whose father, Lee, is a Houlton native and whose mother, Cynthia, has family in the Howland-Lincoln area.

Schools and Boutwell have their own call-in radio show called “The Offensive Line,” which began Aug. 6. They are on from 12:30-5 p.m. on Fridays and 8 a.m.-noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

WCHS sports director Lee Goldberg has a call-in show Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.

They will do 30 high school football games with Michael Hoffer doing the play-by-play and Schools handling the analyst chores most of the time. They will kick off their coverage Friday night with the Windham-Scarborough game and the game between South Portland and defending state champ Cheverus of Portland on Saturday.

They will do the state championship games before sliding over to high school basketball.

Schools said they intend to do other sports as well.

“We’ll do most anything,” said Schools, who would eventually like to expand the coverage to eastern and northern Maine.

Their programing can be heard on the Internet (Mainesportsnetwork.com).

Schools said they have been having a lot of fun and is looking forward to Friday’s football opener.

“I can’t wait. It’s going to be a blast,” said Schools, who credits WZON 620 AM in Bangor with being a helpful model of a top-notch local sports-oriented station.

WZON is no longer 24-hour sports station but program director Dale Duff said it will continue to broadcast high school football and soccer games this fall.

“We won’t be doing Friday night football games until the Red Sox clinch (a playoff spot),” explained Duff, whose station carries the Red Sox.

However, they will do Saturday games including the Bangor-Lawrence game on Sept. 10. That will be their first high school football game. They open their fall coverage with the Bangor-Waterville girls soccer game on Sept. 6.

Duff said they will do 25 football and soccer games this fall and will have the luxury of “waiting and seeing what the best matchups are.”

WZON entered into a broadcasting deal to do various Husson University games a year ago but Duff said nothing is definite yet.

“We’re still talking with them,” he said.

Blueberry Broadcasting will also be doing high school football games with three of their stations, WRKD (AM 1450 in Rockland), WFAU (AM 1280 in Gardiner) and WIGY (FM 97.5 in Madison), simulcasting their games beginning with the Belfast-Gardiner game Saturday night and the Morse-Camden Hills game Saturday afternoon.

Jon Shields of Blueberry Broadcasting said several teams will be featured with Gardiner, Waterville, Mt. Blue of Farmington, Camden Hills and Lawrence of Fairfield being featured multiple times apiece.

Bruce Biette, the chief operating officer of Blueberry Broadcasting, said their station changeover will occur Thursday with their highly-successful country station The Bear, 104.7 FM, switching over to 97.1 FM.

“We will be able to reach 53,000 more listeners on 97.1,” explained Biette.

That will make 104.7 FM the Fox Sports channel.

University of Maine football and men’s hockey games will be heard on 94.5 FM, WKSQ in Ellsworth. The Black Bear men’s and women’s basketball games and baseball games will be aired on 910 AM, which will be the AM Fox Sports network affiliate.

High school football games will begin being carried on 910 AM in a month.

WDEA (AM 1370) will carry all Mount Desert Island High School football games, home and away, and WSYY (AM 1240 and FM 94.9) in Millinocket will air all Stearns High School football games.

If the Red Sox are on, they will be carried on FM 94.9 and Stearns will be carried on the AM station.

WDEA is licensed in Ellsworth and program director Fred Miller said they will also be interested in airing Ellsworth High School football games when it becomes a varsity sport. Ellsworth will be eligible to become a varsity program next fall.

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