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Fox's Brown doesn't slip on new NHL ice


Few people were more surprised than James Brown when Fox Sports president David Hill tapped him to be the pre-game host of its new NHL coverage.

It's not as if Brown wasn't capable of being host of a studio show; he certainly proved that this fall on the network's "NFL Sunday." But, as he admits, Brown had little prior connection with hockey, whose fans are among the most demanding of their announcers.

"I told [Hill] if you are looking [for someone] who is steeped in hockey traditions or knows the game intimately, I am not that person," said Brown. "But if you are looking for someone who is willing to work hard enough to set up the experts who are knowledgeable, then I'd certainly like to be considered."

Brown, who played basketball at Hyattsville's DeMatha High and at Harvard, took the same approach to hockey that he did at CBS when he drew aerial skiing and speed skating assignments for the Winter Olympics.

That is, to read every available book and view any helpful videotape to get a solid grasp of the game.

"I had to suck it up and get my hands on anything that would help me learn the game. I'm reading books as basic as 'How to Watch Hockey,' and I've been talking with [Washington Capitals officials] David Poile and Yvon Labre as well as [studio analyst] Dave Maloney and the league has spent me basic tapes on watching the game," said Brown.

The notices, so far, are good from the fans, and from the players, who have been watching the first regularly scheduled network telecasts in 20 years with interest.

"What the people are telling me is 'You're doing a good job and we appreciate the homework that shows that you're learning our game,' " said Brown. "The fact that I'm new to the sport means that I'm not speaking in esoterica. One of the things that I heard from people during football was that the guys on the show did not talk down to them, that we were saying, 'We want you included.' "

Baseball returns to radio

WBAL (1090 AM) kicks off a seven-game Orioles exhibition schedule today, with this afternoon's game with the Texas Rangers from Port Charlotte, Fla., at 12:37 p.m. The station will air the next four spring training games, through next Monday, then pick up the home-and-home series with Philadelphia April 23-24.

Not quite a go for Joe

Ed Markey, an NBC spokesman, yesterday shot down a rumor emanating from Kansas City that soon-to-be retired quarterback Joe Montana was negotiating with the network for a spot next season.

However, a network official, who asked not to be identified, said NBC had been contacted by people representing Montana about a broadcast slot, but characterized the conversations as "preliminary inquiries."

Given the recent signing of former New York Giant Phil Simms, who made an impressive debut as a sideline reporter during the second game of NBC's NBA doubleheader Sunday, and Montana's reputation for being less than loquacious, the former Chief/49er's timing may be bad for the first time in his career.

Ratings roundup

The big winner in last weekend's ratings race was the Masters, whose Sunday finale pulled in some of the best numbers this side of football or Maryland basketball, according to Chris Mecchi of channels 45 and 54, this week's official "On the Air" ratings provider.

The final round got a 10.1 rating and 22 share of the audience for Channel 13, making it the most watched sporting event of the weekend by far. Still, Channel 11's NBA doubleheader of Chicago-Cleveland (6.7/19) and Phoenix-Portland (5.0/11) held its ground.

The second week of Fox hockey fared a little worse than the first, as the New York Rangers-New Jersey game did a 1.4/3 for Channel 45, down from 1.7 the opening week.

Baltimore was in keeping with the NHL's performance in other big markets. In Dallas, where the Stars' game aired, the contest drew a 1.5/4. Tampa and Orlando didn't reach a 1 rating. Philadelphia came in at 1.4/4.

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