In teaching at Towson, Mills learns a little, too

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For each of the past 15 Monday nights, 22 Towson State students have trudged into a classroom for a 2 1/2 -hour lesson on the fine art of sports broadcasting.

And they've been getting their lessons not from a disconnected academic, but from someone on the inside, namely Towson State alum and Channel 2 weekend sportsguy Keith Mills.

"I had no idea that it would be this much work, but it's been a real blast," said Mills, who teaches the final class Monday.

Mills said he was approached a year ago by an assistant dean at the school about teaching the course, which covers reporting, script writing and on-air presence.

Mills said his students came to class with a rather rosy perception of how the sportscasting business operates, but have been fast and willing learners.

"They write really well, which I was not expecting," said Mills. "We get a lot of kids in for internships who have a hard time writing for television. I didn't give these kids as much credit as I should have. There are probably six kids here that I could hire right now for an entry-level position."

The only disappointment for Mills was that more women didn't sign up for the class. Only six women are enrolled, and Mills said the numbers are down because women generally aren't encouraged to get into sportscasting. You may have noticed that there have been no women doing sports on a Baltimore television station since Gayle Gardner left Channel 13 in 1983.

Mills, who got his start as a producer at Channel 13, is encouraging his students to pursue all options in the field, not just those in front of the camera.

"A majority of folks want to be in front of the camera as stars, but it doesn't always work that way," said Mills. "I think they realize now that you can't just walk out there on the set and go on the air. There's a lot of preparation on both sides of the camera."

Caps bottled up

Comcast's decision to drop Channel 20 from its lineup last summer in Baltimore and Harford counties really hits home now, because Washington Capitals playoff games on that channel are unavailable and are blacked out on ESPN and ESPN2 through the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs.

An ESPN spokeswoman said the network is required under the terms of its contract with the NHL to black out playoff telecasts in the first two rounds within 50 miles of a team's home arena, which, in this case, is in Landover, effectively wiping out the Baltimore market.

That's why folks in Baltimore and Harford counties didn't see Saturday's Caps-Penguins game, though city residents and people in Howard and Anne Arundel counties, who get Channel 20, were unaffected.

The Caps and Bullets are rumored to be heading to Washington's Channel 50 next season, but that would be of little help here, because no cable system in the Baltimore region carries that station. Thank goodness there's Home Team Sports, but, of course, we all know that comes at a steep price, especially in this area.

Golden NBA ratings

The news continues to be good for NBA commissioner David Stern and his hoopsters, who seem to be crushing all in their ratings wake.

The four playoff games on NBC this weekend averaged a 9.1 rating in the 32-market national overnight survey, a 21 percent improvement from the same time last year. Sunday's tripleheader posted a 10.2, up 26 percent from the same weekend in 1994.

Of course, the big winner was the Chicago-Orlando clash of the marketing titans, which did a 13.3/25, a whopping 37 percent boost from the Chicago-New York game of a year ago, giving the network a nice lead-in to "Jurassic Park," that sweet, little dinosaur movie that followed.

The good NBA ratings flowed to cable: The 24-game, first-round blitz that aired on TBS and TNT got a 2.9 rating, a 21 percent boost from last year's opening-round package. With Orlando-Chicago on tap for tonight and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the TNT Atlanta studio, the upward trend should continue.

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