By: John Molori
August 02, 2005

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THIS WEEK:

- SIRIUS about sports
- Stephen gets an "˜A'
- Manny happy returns
- Blitz Bits

SIRIUS brings sports to another level for listeners

Steve Cohen knows all about dynamic sports radio. In 1987, he joined WFAN in New York as the original board operator for Mike Francesa and Chris "Mad Dog" Russo. He eventually produced the popular program and was the executive producer for weekend programming including Giants and Jets games. Cohen was also an NFL beat reporter.

Now the vice president of sports programming for SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Cohen brings a sports talk edge to this cutting edge technology. "I am a sick football fan," says Cohen who joined SIRIUS in 2004. "It's so hard to find information in the off-season. It is our goal to provide listeners and callers with year-round coverage."

SIRIUS has done just that. The growing radio power is home to, among other entities, Wimbledon, the NBA, NHL college football and basketball, including March Madness. It is the NFL, however, that has put SIRIUS in its lofty position. The satellite service will feature the local broadcasts of every NFL preseason and regular season game in the 2005 season. In addition, Cohen features a lineup of NFL talk shows on NFL Radio channel 124 from 8:00 a.m.- 8:00 p.m.

Hosts include Dan Reeves, Shannon Sharpe, Pat Kirwan, Cris Carter, Gil Brandt and John Riggins. "Our relationship with the NFL is key," says Cohen. "I started with SIRIUS as a consultant for their 2004 NFL Draft coverage. The league is an amazing partner. We have every playoff game and the Super Bowl, in five different languages."

According to customer satisfaction surveys, the number one rated channel on SIRIUS is NFL Talk and, in the fourth quarter, 25% of SIRIUS subscribers listened to NFL radio, still, Cohen's goals go beyond football. He states, " We want to bring back sports that used to be on radio. People are paying money for a medium that would otherwise be free. We've got to give them a reason to subscribe."

SIRIUS provides coverage of the Tour De France, Premier League soccer, Arena Football, horse racing, extreme sports and, beginning in 2007, NASCAR. They also carry ESPN radio, ESPNEWS and Sports Byline USA.

Despite rumors of an imminent switch to SIRIUS, Major League Baseball is currently in the first year of an 11-year deal with XM Radio, a competitor of SIRIUS. Says Cohen, "We wanted baseball, but if the deal isn't right, we' re not going to do it. I don't waste time worrying about competitors."

While his roots are in big market sports radio, the 40 year-old Cohen presents a different style on SIRIUS. "We choose intelligence over arrogance," he says. "I am not a big proponent of stations like WEEI. They talk about themselves too much. Our hosts don't talk down to callers. We want our shows to feature ex-players, coaches and personnel guys who are more entertaining and less in your face."

SIRIUS debuted in 2002 and signed on with the NFL in 2004. The service has three satellites that cover the continental United States. The signal extends two hundred miles out to sea on both coasts. Currently, there are over 1.5 million subscribers with anticipated growth to 2.7 million by year's end. Set-up prices range from $75.00 to $300.00 with a monthly subscription rate of $12.95. Visit SiriusRadio.com for programming and price details.

Numbers aside, the true joy of SIRIUS radio is tooling through New England on a five-hour drive into Canada and enjoying a myriad of sports, music, entertainment and news options, commercial free.

Cohen talks about the future of the station saying, "We are looking forward to adding NASCAR in 2007 and we'll include in-car audio and a 24-hour NASCAR talk channel. We are planning a multi-cultural language channel. Ideas can sometimes grow faster than the company. We built NFL Radio in eight weeks, but we don't want to do things too quickly."

Manny mania

The recent love-hate fest between Manny Ramirez, Boston fans and the Boston media shows how truly awful a great sports city can be. I will preface this by saying that a few thousand fans at Fenway Park and a few callers to WEEI and WWZN do not represent all Boston fans, but they provide a fairly good cross-section.

Simply put, Boston fans deserve what they get. They booed Ramirez mercilessly, and then cheered him when he delivered a game winning hit a few hours later. How sad. Boston fans are justifiably lauded for their knowledge and intelligence, but I wouldn't want to be in a foxhole with any of them. They will turn on anyone in a heartbeat.

Fans, I suppose, have the right to be fickle. The media should be above such idiocy. When UPN's Dan Roche interviewed David Ortiz in the Red Sox locker room after the Ramirez boo-fest, Ortiz stood up for his teammate and accurately slammed the Boston fans. Roche, by the way, asked some terrific follow up questions to keep Ortiz on the subject.

During UPN38's post game show that same night, hosts Bob Lobel, Sean McAdam and Steve Buckley all showed that having a microphone is not akin to having sense. Lobel actually theorized that Pedro Martinez convinced Ramirez to demand a trade. McAdam hesitantly agreed saying that Martinez is Ramirez' protector. Buckley said that Martinez "puts his hands" into places they don't belong.

Buckley arrogantly stated that David Ortiz has no right to tell paying fans whom they should boo. He also said that the fans weren't booing Ramirez because of trade requests, but because of his lackadaisical play.

So, let's review. Lobel is Oliver Stone, but his magic bullet wears number 45 and pitches for the Mets. Hey Bob, is that a Dominican flamethrower on the grassy knoll? Lobel stopped short of blaming Martinez for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens and Chevy Chase's talk show, but I'm sure that's coming.

Buckley is the Amazing Kreskin with the uncanny ability to decipher why 36,000 people are booing. Simply incredible! Of course, the winner in all this is John Tomase, the Eagle-Tribune scribe who was fricasseed by radio ranters, television talkers and blogging babblers when he called attention to Ramirez' faults weeks ago. I disagreed with some of Tomase's points, but applauded his bravery in voicing them.

This time, Tomase was ahead of the curve. The majority of Boston sports media and fans are pathetically reactive, twirling in the breeze of the next hurricane, a hurricane that will no doubt be named after Pedro Martinez.

Even Stephen

If the debut edition is any indication, there is a new star on the sports talk show horizon. ESPN2's "Quite Frankly" with Stephen A. Smith (weeknights, 6:00 p.m.) premiered Monday night and was highlighted by a tremendous interview with 76'ers guard Allen Iverson.

Smith, who has already established himself as a magnetic on-air presence on a number of ESPN shows, was edgy, provocative and at ease in the host's chair. The hour-long show also featured a studio a udience. Smith is an interesting mix, embodying the best of Roy Firestone, Oprah Winfrey, Morton Downey Jr. and Arsenio Hall.

Like Hall did for hip hop and rap artists, it is clear that Smith will provide a forum for African-American and all athletes to show a unique side, beyond what people see on the field and in commercials. Iverson came off as a deep, caring and concerned man, a father and a good teammate.

Hopefully, Smith's show will force mainstream America to see beyond the tattoos and hairstyles and realize that personalities like Iverson are not the villains that racist or ignorant onlookers make them out to be. With his candor and courage, Smith has an opportunity to hold a mirror up to big time sports and sports fans. We may not like what we see, but we'll have to deal with it.

Smith is engaging, blunt and honest and, unlike most ESPN shows, "Quite Frankly" includes no hackneyed catchphrases or forced pop culture references. Here's hoping that Smith eschews the temptation to become more palatable to the masses, that he pushes the envelope, ticks people off and, to quote Iverson, keeps it real.

Blitz Bits

Fox Sports Net's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" will broadcast from Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino next Monday and Tuesday. Check fsnnewengland.com for upcoming guest and show info.

John Molori's columns are published in The Providence Journal, The Boston Metro, The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, Patriots Football Weekly, Boston Sports Review, New England Hockey Journal, New England Ringside Magazine, TheRemyReport.com, PatsFans.com, BostonSportsReview.com, BostonSportsMedia.com, ColdHardFootballFacts.com and MethuenOnline.com. Email John at JOMOL3@aol.com.


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