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NBC yanks playoff game

Pax-TV will carry tonight's game because of the debate.

By ERIC DEGGANS and CRAIG NELSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000


It was already an inconvenience for baseball fans: instead of airing the American League's sixth playoff game between the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners at 8 tonight, Tampa's NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8 will broadcast the third and final presidential debate between candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush.

To catch the Mariners/Yankees matchup, Tampa Bay area viewers must turn to Pax-TV affiliate WXPX-Ch. 66, which will carry the game in place of WFLA.

But that arrangement could leave thousands of TV households in Citrus County out in the cold -- unable to see the game on either cable TV or over-the-air broadcasts.

That's because major cable companies such as Time Warner and Adelphia don't carry WXPX on their systems in Citrus County (Time Warner does carry the station in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Pasco counties).

Over the air, WXPX's broadcast signal only reaches the county's southern border, according to an official at the station. But there are currently more than 50,000 TV households in Citrus County, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Dan Bradley, vice president of news at WFLA, says station officials never discussed Citrus County in deciding whether to carry the debate -- which will also air on ABC, CBS, Fox (via tape delay), CNN, MSNBC, PBS and C-Span.

Across the Tampa Bay area, about 18 percent of TV households (or 275,000) lack cable or satellite service and must tune in WXPX over the air, according to Nielsen.

"I fully expect we'll get viewer (complaints), not only from Citrus County, but from people bothered by that fact that they can't see the game (on WFLA)," Bradley added. "We went with what we considered was the greater public service."

Initially, NBC declared it would broadcast baseball playoff games on two of the three planned presidential debates: Oct. 3 and tonight.

Later, amid criticism from the FCC and others, the network offered affiliates a choice between airing debates or baseball. (Bradley says that news came too late for WFLA to air the first debate).

At Dunbar's Old Mill Tavern in Homosassa, owner Neil "Dunbar" Barzano applauded WFLA's decision to air the debates -- even though his bar's three TVs can't show the game for fans.

"It's going to injure business for sure," said Barzano, who expects to see a few upset baseball fans tonight. "But this is a crucial time for this country. We're talking about hurting my business one night, versus a choice (affecting) the next four years."

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