In Washington, we have to listen to the Orioles on a radio station that doesn't seem to have huge amounts of respect for its baseball audience--and one that lately doesn't know what to do with its sports-fan listeners in general, it seems.
Two weeks ago, recent instances of WTOP-1500's overstuffing the space between innings with commercials were attributed by Michael Douglass, the station manager, to "sloppy board work."
WTOP was not deliberately causing listeners to miss, occasionally, the first 20 seconds and/or one or two pitches of an inning, Douglass said. It was due, he said, to control-room board operators who didn't pay attention to what they were playing during those 1 minute 40 second commercial breaks, breaks that alternate with two-minute commercial slots on the 60-station Orioles network.
Well, Douglass is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment. What did reach us was a copy of an April 6 memo from former program/news director John Wheeling to the WTOP staff that read, in part:
"In the Orioles baseball format there are several 1:40 commercial slots. We do not sell 40-second commercials. So, at times these slots will be filled with a 60-second spot, a 30-second spot and a 10-second i.d. or promo. At other times, we will fill these commercial holes with two 60-second spots. That means that we will get back to the game 20 seconds late. It will not be a clean join and we may miss some action, but it should not happen often."
It should not happen, period. Why is it that most of the other stations on the Orioles network--none of them, incidently, a 50,000-watt, big-market powerhouse like all-news WTOP--manage to conform to the minute-40 format? The question pops up often at Rockville-based Metrosports, which syndicates the Orioles network. On the one hand, Metrosports loves having such a big station carry its games. On the other hand, said President Len Klompus, Metrosports wishes WTOP would stop violating its contract, a three-year pact that expires after the 1983 season.
"It's not sloppy board work; we all know what it is," said Klompus.
Sloppy boardroom work, perhaps?
"That practice, if it did exist, has been looked at and . . . changes made," said WTOP Business Manager Joe Koontz, speaking yesterday about the between-the-innings issue, in Douglass' absence. John Watkins, the program director, who replaced Wheeling several months ago, was also out of town and unreachable.
"It is not being done," Koontz said, meaning two 60-second spots in a 1:40 space. The change was made about a week ago, he said. "It was a rarity prior to that."
Also a rarity at WTOP lately has been any coherent attitude toward sports news--particularly since the departure of Phil Wood, who did WTOP's nighttime sports call-in program until Wheeling canceled it last year in favor of more news.
Wood also did the afternoon sportscasts until he himself was canceled last month by WTOP, and since then the station has filled in with Ron Weber, Al Koken and afternoon news anchor Ira Melman (a sportscasting veteran from the ill-fated Enterprise satellite sports call-in network, and CBS). Although this is August and everybody important is out of town, it still seems like a cavalier way to treat the rest of us.