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So Far, World Cup Runneth Over With Series of Blunders

World Cup woes: The first night that an NBC crew of 13 arrived in Mexico City for the World Cup, there was a bomb scare at their hotel, which was evacuated. A few nights later, there was an earthquake that measured 5.0 on the Richter scale.

Then when the crew members went to board a plane from Mexico City to Guadalajara to cover Saturday’s game between Italy and Bulgaria, they discovered that the plane had been overbooked--by 120 people. Six of the 13 got on, but the others took another flight that, they thought, would get them within a two-hour drive of Guadalajara. Incredibly, they were flown directly to Guadalajara after offering the pilot and his crew some NBC hats and pins.

Then at the game site, there were technical problems. NBC in New York was receiving no audio, so producer John Gonzalez had to dial a telephone, and a rough audio was transmitted over a phone line. Meanwhile, a number of Asian countries were picking up NBC announcers Charlie Jones, Paul Gardner and Ricky Davis loud and clear off a satellite.

Add World Cup: Through the first weekend, about 25 countries got the wrong commentary or none at all. And Spain got no picture or audio of its game against Brazil Sunday. That’s tantamount to Americans being deprived of watching the Super Bowl or World Series.

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Broadcasters throughout the world are furious at Mexican television, which is responsible for supplying the world feed. At least, an effort is now being made to improve things.

ESPN and the Spanish International Network have avoided audio problems because their announcers are working in studios in Toronto and San Antonio, respectively.

However, ESPN got no picture of last Monday’s Soviet Union-Hungary game, so it switched to Argentina-South Korea. But that turned out to be a blessing, since the Soviet Union won, 6-0, while Argentina won, 3-1.

ABC, known as a frugal network since being taken over by Capital Cities, broke tradition this week by throwing an elaborate party for its affiliate executives at the Century Plaza Hotel.

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Guests went to a world premiere of “Space Camp,” walked on red carpet through a mist as sentries in space-age uniforms stood guard, indulged in food and drink and were treated to music, an enormous light show and the Goodyear blimp flashing call letters of various affiliates.

“There was everything but ice sculptures,” Dennis Swanson, ABC Sports president, said the next day while addressing the executives. “I thought Leonard Goldenson (former ABC chairman of the board) had bought ABC back.

“Then this morning, I saw Tom Murphy (ABC’s new boss) arguing with a bellboy. I went over to see if he needed some change. He said, ‘Give him a dollar and get rid of him.’

“I knew things were back to normal.”

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Add Swanson: On Indy’s 5 3/4 hours of nonrace coverage May 25 from Indianapolis, which drew a solid 6.6 Nielsen rating, he said: “We’re going to start booking tropical rain storms.”

The national rating for Saturday’s race was only slightly better, an 8.8.

Frank Gifford, among the guests at the affiliates’ meeting, said: “I’ve been on ‘Monday Night Football’ for 15 years. Sometimes I felt more like the resident psychiatrist than the play-by-play man.”

And: “The only problem we had with Don (Meredith) was hoping he could find the right city.”

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From Al Michaels, the new play-by-play announcer: “When the score is 28-7 in the fourth quarter, we’re going to make Frank our vice president in charge of explaining rotating zones.”

Gifford: “It used to be when the score was 28-7, Meredith would just pull down the cowboy hat and forget it.”

Nose guard Dan Hampton of the Chicago Bears, among several athletes and coaches invited to the affiliates’ meeting, offered more than just the usual fluff.

“When we played the Jets in New York last year, I went over to Dennis Swanson’s house and saw this big spaceship he was building in the backyard,” he said.

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“I said, ‘What’s that for?’ He said, ‘We’re going to land on the sun.’ I said, ‘The sun? It’s 30,000 degrees.’

“ ‘No problem,’ Dennis said. ‘We’re going to do it during night-time.’ ”

On a more serious note, ABC, which for the first time will televise college basketball next season, announced its schedule at the meeting. ABC will televise 10 games over eight Sundays from Jan. 18 through March 8. ABC will open with a doubleheader--national champion Louisville at Purdue and LSU at Kentucky--and conclude with the championship game of the inaugural Pacific 10 tournament.

What makes the package attractive during a time of saturation and declining ratings for regular-season college basketball is that it’s a bargain deal. ABC reportedly will pay about one-fifth of what NBC and CBS pay for college basketball games.

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Also, Swanson, the new boss, is a basketball fan. He was a student manager at Illinois.

Swanson said the college basketball telecasts will replace ABC’s boxing series, but that doesn’t mean ABC will no longer be involved in boxing.

There has been speculation that ABC’s involvement in college basketball stems from a desire to be involved in the NCAA tournament.

“That’s not the reason we’re doing it,” Swanson said. “We’ve got a modest schedule that makes economic sense. Basketball is a very popular sport in this country, and we want to be a part of it. The pros are out for us, so that left the college game.”

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Swanson also announced ABC’s New Year’s Day football lineup. The Florida Citrus Bowl, an addition, will be televised at 9 a.m., followed by the Sugar Bowl at 12:30 p.m. The Sugar Bowl used to be televised at 5 p.m., and, going head-to-head with the Orange Bowl on NBC, had received terrible ratings in recent years.

“I’m tired of getting our brains beat out on New Year’s Day,” Swanson said.

Notes

Some bad news for fans who don’t care for having news mixed in with football: About two-thirds of the halftime during “Monday Night Football” next season will be devoted to news. That means there will be time for few highlights, possibly none at all. . . . Ratings game: The live coverage of the World Cup game between Italy and Bulgaria on Channel 34 last Saturday drew an L.A. Arbitron rating of 4.0, while the baseball game between San Diego and Philadelphia drew a 3.2. . . . The Sports Arena has installed five large screens to offer live World Cup coverage during the First Latin America Home Show, which starts today. . . . Contrasts: While Rod Carew prepared for life after baseball by banning an L.A. newspaper from the press conference announcing his retirement, Reggie Jackson prepared for his eventual retirement by winning more friends at ABC. Jackson took time to show up at the affiliates’ meetings Wednesday. . . . Julius Erving, recent college graduate and future broadcaster, sounded very articulate, as usual, during his halftime appearance on Game 4 of the NBA championships series Tuesday night, but his sidekick, Moses Malone, sounded like an illiterate Mr. T.

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Local scene: After next Friday, Bud Tucker will no longer be doing his morning sports spot for radio station KMPC but will continue to do Ram reports and other specials for the station. Tucker and his wife, Bunny, own radio station KIOT in Barstow, and Tucker has decided to devote all his time to running it. “Also, the drive from Barstow to L.A. and back was driving me crazy,” Tucker said. . . . Former Channel 7 sportscaster Ed Arnold is filling in for Rich Marotta at radio station KRLA while Marotta is on a cruise with the Raiders. . . . Tom Kelly has replaced Mike Smith, now with L.A.'s Channel 4, as the San Diego Chargers’ TV play-by-play announcer for the exhibition season. The commentator will be Larry Sacknoff, Smith’s replacement at Channel 10, the station that carries the games.


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