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Keck takes the air for Ch. 28 on Monday

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 29, 2001


For close to a year, Ch. 28 sports director Jay Crawford had been asking his bosses for help. WFTS-TV's sports staff had shrunk from three to two, a number he believed was too small to produce a top-quality report.

After Sam Stallworth took over as Ch. 28's general manager in January, he did more than listen to Crawford. He hired one of the market's most recognizable faces.

Shortly after Ch. 10 jettisoned longtime sports director Al Keck, Stallworth signed him as weekend anchor and Crawford's backup. Keck begins his new duties Monday, anchoring weeknights while Crawford is on vacation.

Having two local sports directors working together at one station could make for a crowded office, particularly when a 12-year veteran such as Keck finds himself answering to Crawford, who has been in the Tampa Bay area for three years. But neither seems bothered by the arrangement.

Rather than worry Keck will steal the limelight, Crawford said he is happy to have him to help pull Ch. 28 out of the ratings cellar. Just ahead in third place, incidentally, is Ch. 10.

"(As) I look at it, we're all working for each other and with each other," Crawford said. "I don't look at it as Al's working for me. ... We have the same goal. I've wanted to catch Ch. 10 for a long time. Imagine how badly Al wants to catch Ch. 10."

Keck, 46, said he is glad not only to be staying in the market but to be doing less anchoring and more reporting.

"I got away from a lot of the stuff I love doing, which was going out in the field," he said.

During football season, Crawford will travel with the Bucs and co-host the Sunday late-night post-game show, formerly called SportsRap, with Keck and possibly a "big-name Buc," Crawford said. Reporter Mark Olesh rounds out the three-person staff.

Now that he has what he wanted, Crawford knows it's time to deliver.

"(Stallworth) has been adamant that he wants to play us big," he said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't be out there doing as good, if not a better, job as anyone in town."

NFL SHUFFLE: Veteran reporter Lesley Visser, hired Tuesday to do analyst work for Westwood One/CBS Radio's Monday night football coverage, wasn't the only big name to get a new job this week.

Her new Westwood One colleague analyst Boomer Esiason will join Fox Sports Net's NFL This Morning pregame show along with Hall of Famer Deacon Jones, it was announced Thursday. Producer Mark Mayer is retooling the two-hour show, which was designed to be irreverent but -- with too many analysts trying to say too many things -- ended up being the least relevant of the Sunday pregame shows. Besides Esiason and Jones, Mayer said, only two are sure to return: former Bills coach Marv Levy and actor/comedian Jay Mohr. Two more will be named later.

Esiason turned to radio last season after he was fired from ABC's Monday Night Football. Though Fox Sports chairman David Hill has not brought up the possibility of a return to the booth, "I felt this was the right time to get back into (TV), and the right vehicle," Esiason said.

Also, former receiver Irving Fryar will join CNN's weekly NFL Preview as an analyst. The show begins its season at 10 a.m. Sunday. Finally, Mark May has been hired from CBS by ESPN for college games and studio shows.

BALL OR STRIKE?: ESPN is doing its best to provide the answer with "K Zone," a computer program that can outline a batter's strike zone and determine whether a pitch was a ball or a strike. Used on selected replays,the strike zone will appear as a shaded, three-dimensional, see-through box.

It will debut in this weekend's Sunday Night Baseball game (Mets at Braves, 8 p.m.). "We believe the "K Zone' has the potential to become as effective a technological advancement for our baseball coverage as our "First and Ten' system," said Jed Drake, senior vice president for remote production.

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