WTOP-1500 has renewed its contracts to broadcast Washington Bullets and Washington Capitals games for another year and is looking into the possibility of creating radio networks for each team.
One of WTOP's strengths -- its powerful signal -- works against the station when it tries to duplicate a network similar to ones created by the Redskins on WMAL-630 and the Baltimore Orioles on WFBR-1300. At night, WTOP and its 50,000 watts carry clearly up and down the Eastern seaboard.
"It's tough to go into Richmond or Baltimore and say to stations, 'Hey, you want to pick us up?' when WTOP can be picked up there," said Lew Strudler, Capitals marketing director. "I've heard people tell me they've heard our games in Montreal or as far south as Florida."
"We have always aspired to having a network," said Michael Douglass, WTOP's station manager. "We're having preliminary discussions right now . . . The jury's still out (on whether a network can be put together for the 1985-86 season)."
WTOP, which experimented with a network a few years ago, has broadcast the Capitals since their inception in 1974 and the Bullets since 1975. Bob Wolff, who broadcast Washington Senators games from 1947 to 1960, recently recalled television's remarkable early days.
"When I first started doing games on television, the commercials were live. There was a beer called Old Georgetowne then that sponsored games. At that time, we drank beer on camera. We'd end every commercial, 'And it tastes good, too,' and take a swig of the beer.
"Well, we did these commercial spots just about every other inning, and (announcer) John Batchelder was starting to stagger during these doubleheaders. I was a tactician. I had a solution. I brought out a bucket. I told him, 'Drink it, then spit it out when the red light (on the camera) goes off.'
"So that's what he did. Except one time he said his last line and took a drink of the beer, and he thought the light had gone off and spit it out right on camera." Sure, U.S. and Soviet officials probably spend a good part of every day plotting evil, planting spies and polishing missiles. Who wants to be around a dusty nuclear warhead, anyway? But when the sun sets, the two superpowers in town now enjoy a common convenience -- cable sports.
The White House last month had Home Team Sports installed by Capitol Connection, George Mason University's omnidirectional microwave system. And the Soviet Embassy is negotiating to have a four-channel system, to include HTS, installed at its new Wisconsin Avenue NW complex.
Maybe the Americans and Soviets aren't both rooting for the Orioles, but when 7:35 p.m. rolls around these days, the world sure feels like a much safer place to be. WTTG-TV-5 sportscaster Bernie Smilovitz interrupts in midquestion, leaps magically through the telephone and shakes his interviewer senseless: "Baseball -- I want it bad."
Smilovitz apparently wants baseball in Washington badly.
"We have a subway right here at the station. I would go see a few innings and get back here to do the (10 o'clock) news," he said. "Right now, you get in a van at 3 in the afternoon, drive 45 miles in traffic to Baltimore, do your interviews and come back by the time the game begins."
If a team came here and Channel 5 got the broadcast rights, Smilovitz might leap through several doors for the chance to do the games. "My theory is: I'm interested in doing anything. Whatever the station wants me to do, I'll do," he said. "But I'll tell you what -- it would be a dream."