Tuesday October 13th, 2009

1. Lee Corso, ESPN, College GameDay: He could not speak. He could not read. And he was reduced to only partial use of his right arm and leg. That was Corso's world four months ago, after he suffered a mild stroke on the morning of May 16. (After picking up the Orlando Sentinel at the base of his driveway, Corso felt light-headed and soon was unable to speak. He was then rushed to the hospital.) While his speech is not back to its frenetic pre-stroke form, Corso's spirit and enthusiasm remain high, and ESPN deserves credit for showing patience with a 74-year-old broadcaster following a significant medical issue. Corso spent three days in the hospital following his stroke and kept the goal of Sept. 5 -- the first broadcast of GameDay -- as the driving force in his recovery. "That date drove me during therapy," he said. Twice a day Corso practices his handwriting for 30 minutes and does a series of verbal exercises, including reading passages designed to exercise his tongue and brain. ESPN officials have helped by eliminating his non-GameDay work (he no longer appears on SportsCenter). "I feel much more comfortable now and I think I'm doing a lot better than a couple of weeks ago, but I can't be as animated as I'd like to be," Corso said. "The therapists tell you the brain will let you know when it's ready. But I feel incredibly fortunate to be here."

2. Brian Sexton, Jaguars play-by-play radio announcer: It's likely every Jaguars game will be blacked out locally this season, meaning Sexton will be the eyes of his market for 2009. He's called every Jacksonville snap since the franchise's inception in 1995.

"I've been here since the beginning, so I'm aware of what the Jaguars mean to this small city in northeast Florida as a means to become a big-league city," Sexton said. "In small ways, we've seen that people are much more tuned into what we [Sexton and analyst Jeff Lageman] are saying. We've had a lot of e-mails from people that either want to praise the broadcast or criticize it because all of a sudden it's the only way people get involved."

Sexton said he hopes his broadcast prods some Jaguars fans to purchase a ticket or two and "solidify [the franchise's] future in a really nice little city. Radio has the opportunity to grab a hold of people in northeast Florida and make them feel what they are missing."

3. Ernie Harwell, legendary broadcaster: Harwell, 91, revealed to the Detroit Free Press last month that he has an incurable tumor in the area of the bile duct. The broadcaster, his family and doctors have decided against surgery or other treatment. "We don't know how long this lasts," Harwell told the newspaper. "It could be a year, it could be much less than a year, much less than a half a year. Who knows? Whatever's in store, I'm ready for a new adventure."

When asked by the Free Press what he wanted to have written about him, Harwell revealed why he's an iconic figure in the Midwest: "I don't want to make it too sweet because I don't want to get diabetes as well as this other stuff," he said, with a laugh.

4. Rich Hammond, Los Angeles Kings beat writer and columnist: NHL beat writers are slowly becoming extinct in the U.S. Plenty of newspapers have opted not to staff road games and the coverage in large metropolitan dailies has been significantly reduced in recent years. In response to the dwindling media, the Kings hired Hammond to cover the team for LAKings.com. His previous job was Kings beat reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News.

Asked about his editorial independence as a paid team staffer, Hammond said, "Nobody has changed a word of the copy, sought to change it or, after the fact, made any negative comments about anything I have written on my blog or for the Web site. The coverage has been completely independent."

Hammond said he met with five members of the Kings' front office over the course of a couple of weeks to discuss the job, including Michael Altieri, the team's vice president for communications, and former player Luc Robitaille, the team's president for business operations. "This job was not created overnight," Hammond said. "It was born after six months of discussions in a lot of different areas.

"We talked through so many little things -- Would I work out of the Kings' offices? [No.] Would I still park in the media lot? [Yes.] -- that by the time we agreed to go forward with this, both sides had a very clear understanding of what we were doing. I'm not saying, by any means, that the Kings and I have perfected the model. But if another team decides to go down this road, it needs to have a very clear understanding of what the job will involve. At every step, I felt comfortable, in terms of my journalistic integrity, with what the Kings were saying."

5. NFL Ratings: Whether it's economic conditions, the growth of fantasy football or another factor, the audience numbers for the NFL are at their highest in 20 years. Game telecasts were averaging 17.383 million viewers across NBC, Fox, CBS and ESPN through the first four weeks of the regular season, according to Sports Business Daily. ESPN's four Monday Night Football telecasts represented cable television's four largest audiences of the year, including a record 15.3 rating and 21.8 million viewers for the Vikings' Oct. 5 victory over the Packers in Brett Favre's first game against his former team. That game earned the biggest audience in the history of cable television and the highest rating in ESPN's 30-year history.

6. Andrew Siciliano and Scott Hanson, Red Zone Channel hosts: The NFL has made a major push to get some attention for its NFL Network's Red Zone channel (hosted by Hanson), including setting up bloggers and writers with a free pass to watch it online. The results were good, with positive coverage from the Los Angeles Times and St. Petersburg Times, among other places.

The Red Zone channels are terrific for fantasy football players and gamblers because each switches to game action when a team is driving or in the red zone. (Both are in HD and show every touchdown from every game.) Hanson and Siciliano guide viewers ably, though Siciliano (a frequent fill-in for Jim Rome on his radio show) is allowed to show more snark and personality on his version. Are the channels worth the extra cost? Depends how much you love football and an assortment of graphics featuring red-zone percentages.

7. Hal McCoy, Dayton Daily News sportswriter: The best news involving the Reds this season is that Hall of Fame baseball writer McCoy, who announced his retirement from the Dayton Daily News after the paper opted not to cover the Reds next season, has agreed to continue working for the paper in a freelance capacity. McCoy covered the Reds for 37 seasons and will continue to write a Sunday column as well as interact with fans through his blog, The Real McCoy, on DaytonDailyNews.com.

8. Adam Freifeld, NBC Sports and Bill Hofheimer, ESPN: If either Al Michaels or Mike Tirico is reading this, you should drop a serious holiday bonus on these guys. Both men, members of their respective communications departments, have been pitching me (and no doubt other media writers) why their lead NFL play-by-play announcer is the best in the business. Plenty of media stories are generated by public relations officials proselytizing about their programming or talent, and these two gentlemen have been pushing the merits of Mr. Michaels and Mr. Tirico with the zeal of Suze Orman. Of course, this item basically guarantees I'll be hearing from their counterparts at Fox and CBS.

9. BET Television: Given the amount of flotsam floating through reality shows (Spencer Pratt, David Hasselhoff, any Real Housewives of New York), I have little problem with BET's partnering with Michael Vick for an eight-part pseudo-documentary series tentatively titled "The Michael Vick Project." Where I'd draw the line is if the show attempts to sugarcoat Vick's involvement in dogfighting or mocks the second chance he was given by both the NFL and NFL viewing public.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the show's producers (Vick's production company, MV7 Production, is one of them), said the tone will be serious and somber and focus "on his personal struggles since his release, including the strains on his relationships with his fiancée ... and his children." Vick told Philadelphia reporters that the documentary is not filming during the season. The smart play for Vick would be to wait until 2011 to air something like this, but smart and reality show generally don't intersect. The guess is that the ratings will be high but the risk for Vick is high, too.

10. Chip Caray, TBS: At this point it seems like piling on to amplify the reasons Caray continues to miss as a No. 1 play-by-play voice during the baseball playoffs. TBS has made its choice, and it's the wrong one from this seat. Plenty of evidence via social media, as well as those paid to write, supports the supposition that Caray's ascension to his network's No. 1 spot is a mistake. (If you have a Twitter account and searched "Chip Caray" during a game he broadcast last week, you would see negative comments flowing as fast as Usain Bolt.)

Caray's 10th-inning call during the Twins-Tigers tiebreaker will follow him for some time. The problem now for TBS is that every Caray error will be magnified, no matter how small. It's not fun to advocate for someone to lose his job, and I'd have much less of a problem if Caray wasn't designated by the network as the 'A' play-by-play broadcaster. But he's not cutting the mustard. The postseason ratings for TBS have been good (the network averaged a 3.1 U.S. household rating, up 11 percent from 2008), but it's hard for the network to bask in glory when its main voice is getting killed in every medium.

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