Not all of the hardball pitches for the Baltimore Orioles are being made on the baseball diamond this season. Representatives from Washington radio stations WWRC-AM (980), WMAL-AM (630) and WTOP-AM (1500) have been talking recently with the team's executives about the valuable, exclusive broadcast rights beginning next season.
"We are discussing a continuation of our current arrangement," acknowledged Michael Douglass, general manager of WTOP, the 50,000-watt powerhouse that has broadcast the games here since 1978. Douglass refused to say whether his station is seeking to become the team's flagship station or simply remain one of the 35 affiliates on the Birds' network. Douglass said WTOP's proposal has been submitted, but he refused to discuss financial details of either the current or proposed contracts.
WWRC General Manager Ted Dorf has been involved in "discussions for several weeks" with the team, but on Friday he said the station has not yet worked out a proposal. Dorf, however, said WWRC does not care to originate the Baltimore broadcasts -- that is, be the flagship station -- but merely seeks to be an affiliate.
Tom Bresnahan, president and general manager of WMAL, said last week that the Capital Cities/ABC-owned station has been talking for two months with the Birds but must complete a profit-and-loss statement before submitting a proposal. Bresnahan said WMAL is interested in serving either as the team's flagship station or as an affiliate.
In Baltimore, WBAL-AM (1090), WCAO-AM (600) and WCBM-AM (680) have also discussed broadcast rights with the team, according to Marty Conway, Orioles vice president for marketing.
When WTOP's current contract began, WCBM bid for and won the rights to serve as the flagship station for the network, which now stretches from central Pennsylvania to Charlotte, N.C. But WCBM went bankrupt and dark after the first year, and WTOP assumed the flagship responsibilities. As flagship, a station produces the broadcast for each game beginning with spring training, then all 162 regular-season games and all playoff games through the World Series if the team goes that far. Being the flagship also can be highly lucrative for the station because it collects fees from network affiliates and may also control commercial time on the network for such products as beer, automobiles and soft drinks. WTOP, however, sold its right in 1988 to operate as the flagship station to Hearst Broadcasting's WBAL in Baltimore and became an affiliate.
Several years ago, WTOP was the flagship station for the Washington Bullets basketball and for Capitals hockey, but both teams dropped the station in 1986. The Bullets moved to WWDC-AM (1260), but WTOP has won back broadcast rights beginning in October. The Capitals are under contract with WMAL, which also is in the middle of a three-year, $8 million deal as flagship station for the 94-station Washington Redskins Radio Network, which stretches from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. Bresnahan said WMAL's contract is the most expensive in the National Football League.
"We want an experienced, committed station," Conway said. "We think we have one of the best-quality broadcasts in baseball, and that's something that we want to keep. We want to maintain that."
Because bids are still expected, Conway would not divulge the amount the club is seeking but said, "Several franchises in the last three or four months have gotten in excess of $3 million per year." Conway added that the new three-year contract "will cover some pretty exciting times, with the new stadium opening in 1992 and the All-Star Game in 1993."
Asked if the $3 million figure sounded high, Bresnahan said, "Yeah, sure it's a lot, but all sports rights fees have grown and grown and grown over the years."
Said WWRC's Dorf: "That sounds like an awful lot of money. That's more than the Redskins. That sounds a wee bit high." WTOP's Douglass would not comment on Conway's remark.
Conway said the team would decide on the stations' proposals "by September 15 or so."
Fair-Minded People Rockville's WINX-AM (1600) is broadcasting each night from 6 to 9 this week from the Montgomery County Fair in Gaithersburg. The fair runs through Saturday.
At the Prince George's Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, the Prince George's County Fair -- Maryland's oldest fair -- will celebrate its 148th year with an event beginning Labor Day, Sept. 3, and running through Sept. 9.
Some local radio voices will make appearances, starting with WXTR-FM's (104.1) Bob Duckman with the Hubcaps on Labor Day and again for two shows on Sept. 9; DC-101's Doug (the Greaseman) Tracht, Tuesday; WMAL-AM's (630) Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver followed by WPGC-FM's (95.5) live broadcast hosted by Albie D (coincidentally, a beautiful-baby contest separates those two acts) on Wednesday; WMZQ-AM/FM (1390/98.7) midday host Bill Worthington, Friday; and WHUR-FM (96.3) morning duo Candy Shannon and Gerry Bledsoe on Saturday.
John Lyon Back on the Air -- Temporarily Former WMAL-AM midday host John Lyon tonight will complete a two-day stint as guest host of "The Mike Cuthbert Show" on WAMU-FM (88.5) from 8 to 11 p.m. Veteran reporter and fill-in host Matt Coates will sit in Wednesday through Friday while Cuthbert hosts the Diane Rehm talk show 10 a.m. to noon.