Hot off the wire! Bulletin to all Oriole TV fans in Washington: ORIOLES TO HAVE NEW CLEANUP HITTER
The Orioles this week announced they have signed a rookie contract with a new cleanup hitter.
The big kid is hopelessly out of shape, has never appeared in a game and can't run, throw, or hit so much as a weak fly ball. Only 30,000 fans this year will actually see him play. In an unusual about-face, he will pay the Orioles $200,000 for the privilege of cracking the lineup.
The phenom's name is Super TV. "We're happy to have Supe aboard," said owner Edward Bennett Williams. "He may become a very valuable player within the next few years."
Super TV is the Washington-based, over-the-air subscription television service that will carry 16 Oriole home games this year. Like Eddie Murray, the pay-TV service is one of the club's big sticks. If it works as well as Williams hopes it will, the Orioles might profit well into the next century.
Let's map out the Orioles' TV-radio plans in this bountiful, but perhaps pivotal, year for viewers:
Beginning Tuesday, April 13 (Royals, 8:30 p.m.), WMAR-TV-2 will air a total of 55 regular-season games. WDCA-TV-20 will pick up 43 of these games, including the April 13 "opener" (most of the nonpickups will fall on weekday nights in April and May). As for radio, WTOP-1500 plans to carry 143 of the Orioles' games, save for Bullets' playoff pre-emptions.
Super TV will begin its 16-game prime-time package with a telecast against the Twins May 20. If you subscribe, some guy will come out and charge you $43.95 to put an antenna on your roof and a decoder device (about the size of a breadbox) on your set.
This will entitle you to pay a minimum of $19.95 a month for Super TV's mix of movies and sports (the service also will carry Bullets' playoff games and the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns fight May 24). Once you pay up, you tune in to Channel 50 and--voila!--your picture has been miraculously unscrambled by headquarters.
Super TV will use its own production staff and several announcers. Now being considered are Bullets play-by-play man Mel Proctor, Capitals announcer Jim West, Channel 2 sports anchor Ted Patterson, Orioles public address announcer Rex Barney and former Senators pitcher Dick Bosman.
The Orioles this year will make $1.05 million from commercial radio and television stations--the fourth-lowest figure in the major leagues, according to Broadcasting magazine. By comparison, both the Yankees and Phillies make $6 million, not including revenues from network TV.
Small wonder that Williams, looking to dip a toe in the waters of the new TV technology and hoping to drum up more interest for his team in the Washington area, stumbled into Super TV's transmitting tower at Ninth and Peabody streets NW. It was a marriage born of expediency.
Super TV, which has 30,000 subscribers in the Washington area, will pay the Orioles about $12,000 per game. Interestingly, the Orioles' move to pay TV comes in the final year of its "free" TV contract with Channel 2. For viewers, the $64 question has got to be: How long before all games go to pay TV?
Fear not, said Williams.
"We don't intend to give up or abandon our over-the-air 'free' television programming. I look at it (Super TV) rather as a supplement to that. Almost all of our over-the-air 'free' television is away games. If we go into subscription television or cable (after this year's experiment), it will be for home games.
"Depending on our experience for this year, we'll expand it, continue it or restrict it next year. What we're interested in is its effect on our live gate."
Williams said Super TV may extend its reach to the Baltimore area by late summer. There also have been recurrent rumors that WBFF-TV-45, the only independent station in Baltimore, may become a prime-time subscription service soon. All this smacks of a power play--inadvertent or otherwise--on Channel 2, the Orioles' flagship station.
"The timing could not be better for the man (Williams)," said one broadcasting source. "Any station that doesn't want to lose the rights will pay more so they (the Orioles) don't put the games on pay.
"He can play both ends against the middle. WMAR has the rights. Williams says, 'I'm going to put these games on pay.' They say, 'Oh, no, you can't do that!' So he gets more money."
At the very least, these are the days that try the souls of such "free" TV stations as Channel 2. Until the several-weeks-old strike by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) is over, Channel 2 must make do without Chuck Thompson and Brooks Robinson.
Thompson and Robinson recently decided not to cross picket lines. Before the first televised exhibition game last month, the station named nonunion producer and former sports anchor Jack Dawson as its play-by-play man and former Orioles coach Billy Hunter as its analyst.
Our advice to Channel 2: Send these guys to the showers. Use somebody from Glen Burnie. Even Jayne Kennedy would be better in the booth.
Dawson is so nonchalant he's almost invisible; as an announcer, Hunter makes a terrific third-base coach. In their debut on the Reds game March 26, they failed to announce the news of an Oriole trade until the third inning; talked about pitches being "right down Broadway," and came up with no--that's zero--anecdotes about players on either team.
Unless the strike ends, it's going to be a long, painful summer with these drones buzzing about.
Please, pretty please. Won't you come home, Chuck Thompson?