WILLIAMS: Radio, cable-TV changes are many

The sports broadcasting landscape has changed quite a bit since the last football season ended.

On New Year’s Day, Cumulus stations WBBW-AM 1240 and WLLF-FM 96.7 dropped ESPN for CBS (so long, college bowl games on the radio).

A bigger change came when the Cleveland Browns dropped Clear Channel‘s WTAM-AM 1100 (The Big One) and WMMS-FM 100.7 (The Buzzard) as flagship stations. Locally, Clear Channel’s WKBN-AM 570 and WNCD-FM 93.3 (The Wolf) also were dropped from the Browns network.

Cumulus swooped in and Browns games now are heard on WBBW and WYFM-FM 102.9 (Y-103).

Who benefits? For one, Indians fans who prefer to listen to Tom Hamilton call their games. When WKBN carried the Browns, Indians games played at the same time weren’t heard locally.

Clear Channel still has the rights to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ohio State and Youngstown State. Steelers games remain on WNIO-AM 1390, but not on any of Clear Channel’s FM stations.

WNIO will have quite a few listeners this Sunday because WKBN Channel 27 will be showing the Miami Dolphins-Browns game at FirstEnergy Stadium and not the Tennessee Titans-Steelers game at Heinz Field.

When the Browns and Steelers play at home at the same time against AFC opponents, WKBN gets to pick which CBS game to show. The NFL considers Youngstown a secondary market to both teams.

When one is at home and the other isn’t, Channel 27 must show the team on the road. So on Oct. 20, Channel 27 will show the Browns-Green Bay Packers game instead of the latest chapter of the Baltimore Ravens-Steelers rivalry that has blossomed into one of the NFL’s best.

Cable-TV is overflowing with sports programming now that the four major networks each have their own sports channel. Those moves are an attempt to steal thunder from ESPN, which along with ABC is owned by Disney.

In 2012, NBC converted Versus (once known as Outdoor Life) into the NBC Sports Network. It’s the primary home to National Hockey League broadcasts as well as English Premier League soccer and Formula One and IRL races.

CBS recently created CBS Sports Network, home to a lot of lower-level college telecasts.

Last month, Fox Sports converted the Speed Channel into Fox Sports One. With highlights and talk shows, Fox Sports One most closely resembles the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

The big winner? Soccer fans, which is a little surprising since there are so few of them in the USA. FOX’s regional channels carry UEFA Champions League while NBC, NBC Sports and Fox Sports One carry the English Premier League.

Does ESPN have anything to fear? Maybe some day, if another network acquires the rights to the jewels in ESPN’s empire.

But as long as ESPN has “Monday Night Football,” hundreds of Major League Baseball games each season, the NBA (regular season, playoffs and Finals) and plenty of major college football games, it will remain king of the hill.

Tom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.

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