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Ch. 8 won't rain on the parade

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 18, 2000


WFLA-TV Ch. 8 was the first local station to break away from coverage of Hurricane Gordon on Sunday, so it could join NBC's Olympics broadcast when it began at 11 a.m. Not only was that not a difficult choice, it was no choice at all, vice president and news director Dan Bradley said.

Station officials in June discussed the Olympics coinciding with what usually is the peak of hurricane season and decided that unless there was an immediate threat the Tampa Bay area, the Games would go on.

The station opted to pull its local commercials and substitute Steve Jerve's live weather updates. It also used a crawl at the bottom of the screen and occasionally a split screen, called "squeeze back," where radar images were shown alongside swimming or beach volleyball.

"Imagine you're in the living room watching TV and a family member walked in and changes the channel," Bradley said. "You wouldn't like that. I think we've gotten a little bit smarter and are trying to be far more focused on the customer."

The station learned the hard way. On June 18, meteorologist Mace Michaels broke away from the U.S. Open to report a waterspout just as Tiger Woods was putting in his record-setting 15-stroke victory. WFLA and other area news outlets were flooded with irate phone calls and e-mails even though Bradley immediately issued an apology.

"Tiger was certainly a big lesson for a lot of us," Bradley said.

NO CANADA: Frustrated? Annoyed? Ticked off that NBC keeps showing events in prime time that are more than 12, and sometimes as much as 24, hours old while ignoring events that are happening live?

Hey, you think, who needs the Internet when I have a satellite dish? Isn't the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. showing live events practically around the clock?

It is, but good luck getting it. Though diehard fans in border cities can see events unfolding live by picking up CBC signals, only Floridians with a megadish and inside information can get the network. Those with smaller dishes, like Direct TV's and the Dish Network's, will not find CBC in their channel listings.

NBC's exclusive rights to programming within the United States prevents such companies from making the CBC coverage available to its subscribers. Only individuals (and sports bars) who have larger C-band dishes and can obtain the appropriate satellite coordinates can tap into the live broadcasts.

CBC can afford to show events as they happen. It paid $20-million for rights to the Games. NBC must recoup its $705-million investment by showing the big events in prime time and charging a bundle for ads. The network said it has sold $900-million in advertising.

GOAL HOST: When NBC selected the most famous soccer broadcaster on this side of the world to call men's and women's matches, it apparently neglected to consider the most basic qualification: the clarity of his English.

Miami resident Andres Cantor -- the guy who rose to fame by yelling "Gooooal!" during Univision soccer broadcasts -- undoubtedly is as entertaining and knowledgeable as anyone the network could have chosen. But much of the time, his heavily accented and clipped English is just plain hard to understand.

Cantor, born in soccer-mad Argentina but reared in the United States, rose to stardom with his work on Univision during the 1994 World Cup. He covered three World Cups and the '96 Olympics for Univision before switching to Telemundo this year. The Games mark his English-language debut.

Watch Cantor if you don't care much about play by play. His signature call translates well in any language.

THIS (REALLY) JUST IN: NBC has promised to present breaking news as it happens. So far the network has delivered.

The Associated Press moved a story at 1:39 p.m. Saturday about the death of the wife of International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch. At 2:01 p.m., after the U.S men's soccer game had ended, host Jim Lampley reported the news on MSNBC.

- Staff writer Eric Deggans contributed to this report.

Olympics on TV

TODAY'S COVERAGE: Ch. 8, 10 a.m.-noon, 7 p.m.-midnight, 12:40-2:10 a.m.; MSNBC, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; CNBC, 5-9 p.m.

HIGHLIGHTS: Ch. 8's prime-time coverage includes the men's gymnastics team finals, Lenny Krayzelburg's bid for gold in the 100-meter backstroke and Ian Thorpe in the 200 freestyle. MSNBC will show the U.S. women's basketball team and the U.S. softball team both taking on Cuba. CNBC features boxing, including Jeff Lacy's middleweight bout, and women's weightlifting.

How to reach us

Have a question or a comment about the Olympics? We'll publish comments and answers to readers' periodically questions during the Games. Contact us by mail at Olympics, St. Petersburg Times sports, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; by fax at (727) 893-8782 or by e-mail at sptsnews@sptimes.com.

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