Browns Radio Rights: Throwing The Long Ball

In what’s been perhaps the worst kept local radio secret since a certain Cleveland station switched to a sports format, that station is about to get into the big leagues when it comes to play-by-play rights.

Did we mention the games will also air on their biggest rival station?

In what has to be a unique situation, the NFL’s Cleveland Browns are expected to announce Thursday morning what everyone already knows…that the team is leaving a multi-decade relationship with Clear Channel, which has aired the games most recently on rock WMMS/100.7 and talk WTAM/1100 (give or take a few, more on that later).

Starting the parade was the first to report this news, the News-Herald’s Bob Finnan:

The Browns will be broadcast on CBS Sports Radio’s WKRK-FM 92.3 The Fan on the FM side, and ESPN WKNR-AM 850, two industry sources confirmed.

Mr. Finnan didn’t say “or” there between the two stations. He said “and”.

If all the reports are correct, and at this point, we’re only beating the Kimpton Middle School newsletter on this (bonus points if you get the joke), the two fierce sports talk competitors will BOTH be broadcasting Browns games.

Both have “major announcements” planned for 9 AM Thursday, and it’s not likely they’ll be announcing a charity golf tournament.

Since Finnan’s article, it’s also come out that CBS will contribute two FM signals to the party…also adding Browns games to WKRK “brother” station classic rock WNCX/98.5. (Hat tip to the Plain Dealer’s Tom Reed for that article.)

The area’s NFL team is certainly compatible with WNCX weekend programming…and 98.5’s full market signal being in the mix ends potential complaints about “The Fan’s” signal.

What happened?

Finnan dips into it a bit:

As many as eight of the Browns’ preseason and regular-season games butted heads with Indians’ broadcasts, which bumped them off WTAM. They’ll no longer have to play second fiddle to the Tribe.

Clear Channel recently “doubled down” on its commitment to Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team, adding all but a handful of regular season games to the WMMS schedule, most in tandem with WTAM.

And though many chuckled when Good Karma Broadcasting-owned WKNR gave an hour of late afternoon drive airtime to the team infomercial “Cleveland Browns Daily”, that show apparently helped seal its part of the deal.

A sidebar: The Akron Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich posted on Ohio.com that “Cleveland Browns Daily” would move from its current time slot on WKNR of 6-7 PM weekdays…to 1-3 PM weekdays.

Could this mean the official end of the Jim Rome Era on AM 850?

Unless the station delays him to the former “Cleveland Browns Daily” evening slot, or banishes Rome to Sports Radio Siberia…where the first hour is already heard on WWGK/1540, the one-lung daytimer we call “Puny 1540 KNR2″…Rome’s now-CBS Sports Radio syndicated show could disappear from the Galleria studios entirely.

(No, we’re not ready to tackle the question about CBS finding room for Rome on its own station, “The Fan”. Rome is actually already heard in snippets on 92.3, doing short CBS Sports Radio commentaries.)

Who’da thought that Vic Carucci would be the man bumping Jim Rome off his long-time Cleveland market radio home, anyway?

Those of you worried about losing Browns radio voice Jim Donovan and analyst Doug Dieken should be heartened by all the reporting that the team isn’t breaking up its radio announcer team.

We’re making the assumption that the composition of the Browns Radio Network won’t change outside Cleveland. Those deals are usually signed separately from the flagship pact…and from each other, to boot…

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Wilma’s Exit

It’s no surprise that “Fox 8 News” anchor Wilma Smith would retire sometime soon…it’s just not been known when.

That changed on Monday, when the long-time WJW/8 anchor (with a total time in Cleveland TV news of some 35 years) announced to viewers that she was calling it a career at the end of May.

A lengthy, steady career it’s been for the former Wilma Pokorny.

Wilma is one of the last remaining members of a class that dominated the local TV landscape in Cleveland for decades.

She spent a lot of her nearly 20 years at WJW, now Local TV’s Fox affiliate – after a decade-and-a-half plus run at Scripps ABC affiliate WEWS/5 – with co-anchor Tim Taylor, another member of that group.

Since 2005, she’s been co-anchoring the 6 PM edition of “Fox 8 News”…first with Taylor, then with current partner Lou Maglio.

But many of us remember her many years at “TV5 Eyewitness News” with another bedrock of local TV news, Ted Henry.

Both Taylor and Henry are retired, and Wilma Smith now joins that illustrious list.

The “Fox 8 News” website article on her departure has a quote or two:

“It’s a lovely gift to be able to leave on your own terms,” says Wilma. “You may not see me in your living room anymore, but I hope to see you out and about in the community. It’s been a wonderful career and my heart will always be with you.”

WJW president/general manager Greg Easterly tells the Plain Dealer’s Mark Dawidziak that it’s “a bittersweet moment”, and one the station knew was coming:

“She’s been talking to us about this for a while. This is the transition moment for her career and her life, and this about where she wants her life to be. She loves the viewers and she loves her co-workers, but she loves her husband more, which is understandable.”

Despite the presence of some significant local anchors with deep roots in the market – Romona Robinson at Raycom Media CBS affiliate WOIO/19’s “19 Action News” comes to mind – it’s hard not to go to the “the end of the big anchor” card.

And over at 13th and Lakeside, Gannett NBC affiliate WKYC/3 has made a big anchor bet on former CBS anchor Russ Mitchell and co-anchor Kris Pickel, not to mention the employment of another of the Big 80s anchor class – 7 PM co-anchor Robin Swoboda.

For that matter, names like “Fox 8 News”‘ own Bill Martin could make their own case for anchor importance.

But one by one, the anchor class Northeast Ohio grew up with, and later grew old with, is dwindling.

Do we start the Dick Goddard Retirement Watch yet? Does “NewsChannel 5” noon anchor Leon Bibb fit in this conversation?

Our sincere best wishes to Wilma Smith as she moves on from the TV news game in a couple of months and change…

The Matlock Incident

Cleveland market TV viewers are no stranger to Ben Matlock in rerun form, or the propensity of local stations to run “Matlock” in prime time occasionally.

But this time, Gannett NBC affiliate WKYC/3’s decision to bump NBC’s Thursday night lineup out of prime time for a 2-hour 1992 TV movie featuring the genial southern lawyer played by Andy Griffith…well, went viral.

Almost as soon as ol’ Ben started TV lawyering, our own social media presence was swamped.

The clamor went nationwide, and even big time media watchers like the website of “Entertainment Weekly” picked up the baton, telling the nation that our local NBC affiliate preempted (actually moved to late night): a repeat of “The Office”, a new episode of “1600 Penn” (a White House-set sitcom), and a repeat of “Law and Order: SVU”. The Matlock Move also made The Hollywood Reporter and Huffington Post websites.

When you run the numbers, “EW”‘s James Hibbard says WKYC came out pretty well for the most part:

The metered-market ratings show Matlock actually outperformed 1600 Penn‘s recent delivery in the Cleveland market, and was about on par with The Office repeat’s national performance. During the 10 p.m. hour, however, the SVU repeat was clearly more popular.

ShowBuzz Daily has actual numbers, and Ben Matlock and his crew in Georgia courtrooms airing on WKYC actually edged out “1600 Penn”‘s average on 55 other NBC affiliates.

WKYC VP/GM Brooke Spectorsky comes up with a pretty good “reason” for jettisoning his network for a “Matlock” movie on Thursday, telling “EW” that the choice was made because Griffith “was controversially left out of the Oscars ‘In Memorium’ segment on Sunday.”

Nice gesture, but the real reason immediately follows in Spectorsky’s EW quote: “…and to catch-up on airing some local ad inventory.”

Simply put, the WKYC head honcho tells “EW” that they had the movie, and that the Oscars flap was a good reason to run it as one of the times the station runs local movies.

The math is simple: with even comparable ratings to the NBC prime time preempted shows, WKYC has all the local ad avails in the two-hour “Matlock” movie, and makes all the money.

But a rather simple local TV story caught fire nationwide for one reason: in the most recent national “sweeps” ratings last month, NBC actually finished FIFTH…behind the Univision Spanish-language network.

“Deadline:Hollywood” reports that Univision touted its success in an English-language ad… and of course, with its fourth-place finish among all networks, the owner of Cleveland’s WQHS/61 also beat…yes, Telemundo, a Spanish-language network owned by NBC Universal.

Though NBC actually won last November’s sweeps, the current performance reminds one of the Peacock Network’s ill-fated move of Jay Leno to prime-time.

As noted, Ben Matlock is no stranger to a prime-time role on Cleveland TV…as Scripps ABC affiliate WEWS/5 has turned to “Matlock” reruns to make more local cash in the past.

But WKYC’s Spectorsky tells “EW” that he did learn one thing with the preemption:

“The big lesson we learned was don’t pre-empt The Office. We’ve run into a lot of feedback.”

To that end, the AVClub website reports that they’ve gotten word from WKYC programmer Terry Moir that the Golden Matlock Train may be ending its ride with this week’s run:

in a possibly related move, director of programming and sales marketing Terry Moir told The A.V. Club that WKYC no longer plans to air Matlock: The Heist.

For its part, WKYC’s own website is having a lot of fun with the whole thing, noting that the decades-old TV movie beat ABC programming including a Jimmy Kimmel Oscars special in adult male demographics:

(“Matlock”) even tied Kimmel in the overall demographic of people 18 -34 years old, which is remarkable considering a good portion of that audience hadn’t been born or was still in diapers when the show premiered.