WBAL countdown adds up to improved O's pre-game


When the Orioles play the Philadelphia Phillies Sunday at Camden Yards, WBAL (1090 AM), their radio flagship station, will unveil an ambitious pre-game show that will bring its baseball coverage in line with what radio's other baseball carriers do.

The new show, "Countdown to Baseball," airs one hour before the first pitch and is a 30-minute expansion from the current half-hour program. Josh Lewin, WBAL's sports director and nighttime talk host, will anchor the show, from either Oriole Park, or occasionally from the road for the first 30 minutes, before yielding to Jon Miller and Fred Manfra, the game announcers.

Lewin envisions "Countdown" as a radio version of ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," providing features and interviews, and taking the listener around the majors with highlights from other games.

Besides scores and highlights, each broadcast will have a distinct feature, with farm reports on Mondays and Thursdays, a look at league leaders on Tuesdays, Orioles memories on Wednesdays, an "ask a player" spot on Fridays, a "where are they now" look on Saturdays and a review of the past week with Pam Ward on Sundays.

Ratings surprises

It's probably not a good idea to try to extrapolate deep meanings by comparing ratings of preseason baseball games with late regular-season NBA contests, but the numbers from Sunday produced an interesting oddity.

According to Channel 11's Sharon Walz, this week's sole and official "On the Air" ratings supplier, Sunday's Orioles-Philadelphia Phillies exhibition game on Channel 13, the first chance to see the team on broadcast television since last August, got a 6 rating with an 18 household share.

That was good for third place, behind a pair of NBA games, the San Antonio-Denver contest (6.2/18) and the New York-Chicago dust-up (6.7/15), both on Channel 11.

Another note of interest: Sunday's hockey game, the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia overtime clash, drew the best rating of Fox's three-week run, getting a 2.0/6 on Channel 45. That said, the game still tied an ABC special on Nadia Comaneci and Katarina Witt for the least watched athletic program of the day.

No Bull from Jackson

Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson, who must be feeling quite a bit more comfortable these days now that Michael Jordan has returned to basketball, told ESPN's Andrea Kremer this week that he feared early in his coaching stint that Jordan might attempt to have him ousted, in much the same fashion that many believe Magic Johnson had former Los Angeles Lakers coach Paul Westhead removed in the early 1980s.

"This is a kid who's the biggest star basketball ever had. He was really young when I came in -- 25 or 26 -- as a coach. He wanted

to win a championship very badly; I knew that. And it was very important for him to do that," said Jackson. "But I think he knew it had to be the team first, and he had done a lot of individual things in basketball. And he was willing to sacrifice some of that individual stuff for the team."

Jackson told Kremer that, in his opinion, Scottie Pippen would not have taken himself out for the last 1.8 seconds of that playoff game with New York last season if Jordan had been with the team. Pippen balked when he was asked to pass to Toni Kukoc for the final shot.

"No, Scottie would've made that pass. Scottie always made that pass, and he was always there. But he wanted the opportunity [to take the shot]. He really wanted the opportunity that badly," said Jackson.

Clearing the record

Contrary to a slip-up that appeared here yesterday, John Madden is still with Fox, not ESPN. And speaking of Fox, its NFL pre-game show was nominated for the Sports Emmy for best studio show, and its actual game coverage was one of five nominees for best live sports series.

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