A Strong Off-Season for Lawler

If you were to ask Ralph Lawler how the Clippers did in the NBA draft, the answer might be, "Bingo!"

If you were to ask the man who has been the voice of the Clippers since 1978 how life was treating him, you'd probably get the same answer.

"I'm having the off-season of all off-seasons," he said Thursday from his home in Laguna Niguel. "I've never been happier in my entire life."

And not because the Clippers have Elton Brand, along with the prospect of becoming a playoff-caliber team.

On May 26, Lawler and his companion of 20 years, Jo Parent, were married at the Ritz Carlton in Dana Point.

So what took them so long to--so to speak--fasten their seat belts?

"We wanted to be sure," he quipped.

Lawler, 63, has one son, Ralph Jr., 37, and his 55-year-old wife has two children--Dawn, 35, and David, 34.

"We call them our children," Lawler said.

Saturday, in the category of best live sports coverage, Channel 9 earned a local Emmy Award for its Clipper coverage.

Lawler is part of a crew that includes announcers Bill Walton, Michael Smith and John Ireland, executive producer Jeff Proctor, and directors Tom Cetersky and Larry Meyers.

Now it appears the Clippers' play could match their award-winning coverage.

Channel 5 Upgrade

The Claudia Trejos era at Channel 5 ends this weekend. Taking over her position on the weekend sports desk will be KNX's Steve Grad, who will continue doing weekday sports reports for the radio station.

Grad, 51, a native of Chicago and a Southern Illinois graduate, has been at KNX since 1993. He has worked in television in San Antonio, Portland and Kansas City.

Grad said he didn't pursue the job, that station management contacted him.

Of Trejos, who did not have her contract renewed, Grad said, "I've never met her, but I understand she is a charming woman."

Lowering the Boom

Fox Sports Net has made some additions to its "NFL This Morning" pregame show lineup while also thinning what was seemingly a cast of thousands.

Newcomers Boomer Esiason and Deacon Jones will join host Chris Myers, analyst Marv Levy, comedian Jay Mohr and probably either Billy Ray Smith or Sean Jones. Gone for sure are Jackie Slater and Bob Golic.

Slater, who has been on the show the last two years, said: "There are ups and downs in this business, and this is one of those downs. I'm prepared to deal with it and prepared to go on. I'm grateful to Fox for the opportunity they gave me."

Of Esiason, Myers said, "We always could use a good quarterback to lead our team."

Esiason spent two years in ABC's "Monday Night Football" booth before being replaced by Dennis Miller and Dan Fouts and moving to the radio side. He'll continue doing Monday night radio.

"I'm glad to be back in television, and this is a good vehicle for me," Esiason said.

"NFL This Morning" begins Sept. 9.

Producer Mark Mayer said the show will be 90 minutes instead of two hours through Nov. 18 because Fox Sports Net will continue carrying "NASCAR This Morning" from 6-7:30 a.m.

Head Start

CNN's "NFL Preview" show kicks off at 7 a.m. Sunday and newcomer Irving Fryar is already talking a good game.

"We are going to get off the porch and run with the big dogs," he said. "We certainly aren't staying on the porch. I think viewers will get an informative show, packed with solid NFL information, but they'll also get some entertainment, too."

Voice of Reason

During a discussion on TNT Wednesday night, Kenny Smith said: "I'm not against education, but you go to college to get a job, and the NBA is a great job."

Said the astute Charles Barkley: "I disagree. . . . When you draft a high school player, you're telling your fans, 'We're going to struggle for the next two or three years. Be patient with us.' I don't think it's fair to the fans and it's not good for basketball. Right now, we got the Lakers who are really good and you got the rest of the teams that are really bad."

Technology Dept.

ESPN has a new toy for its baseball coverage that it plans to use on Sunday's 5 p.m. game between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. Called the ESPN K Zone, it not only shows the strike zone but also shows viewers where the ball is when it crosses the plate.

Asked what umpires might think of this, Joe Morgan said it really doesn't matter.

"We always take flak from umpires because we're always second-guessing them anyway," he said.

While developing K Zone, ESPN also came up with what it calls the dead-center camera. ESPN has been using it most of the season.

"What I like about this camera is it shows viewers how hard it is to hit a major league pitch because you can see the movement," Morgan said.

Meanwhile, ABC has a new toy, a virtual camera for golf that features 3-D animation. The network will begin using it this weekend at the Greater Hartford Open.

Short Waves

Fox Sports Net will begin airing a review of the Laker season, "Can U Dig It," at 9 p.m. Saturday. Paul Sunderland and Lisa Guerrero serve as co-hosts. Through July 8, it will be on Fox Sports Net six times and Fox Sports Net 2 four times. . . . Fox Sports Net's "Southern California Sports Report" celebrated its one-year anniversary Thursday night. The show was averaging a 0.1 rating a year ago and is now averaging a 0.8. . . . "Southern California Sports Report" anchor Gaard Swanson, who came from a Seattle station, will return to Seattle to work on Fox Sports Net Northwest's local news show.

CBS' NTRA Champions Series at 1:30 p.m. Sunday will originate from Hollywood Park and feature the Hollywood Gold Cup. Races from Belmont, Arlington Park and Monmouth Park will also be part of the 1 1/2-hour show. The announcing team consists of Dave Johnson, Randy Moss--not the Minnesota Viking--Lesley Visser, Gary Seibel and field reporter Caton Bredar. . . . ESPN will present a five-part series, "Japan's Rising Son," on Japan's impact on major league baseball. The series begins with Ichiro Suzuki's first U.S. television interview on "Outside the Lines" at 7:30 a.m. Sunday. Subsequent segments will be on the 3 p.m. edition of "SportsCenter" Monday through Wednesday.

In Closing

Now here's what you'd call a real frequent flier. Ernie Johnson, in London serving as the host of TNT's Wimbledon coverage, flew to New York to host the first round of the NBA draft, then immediately flew back to London. He arrived in New York at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and was on an 11:30 p.m. return flight that night. He was back in London at 11 a.m. the next morning and back on the air at 4 p.m. "Fortunately, I can sleep on a plane," he said.

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What Los Angeles Is Watching

A sampling of L.A. Nielsen ratings for June 23-24.

SATURDAY

*--*

Over-the-air Channel Rating Share Baseball: Angels at Seattle 9 1.9 4 Wakeboarding: Vans Triple Crown Series 4 1.4 5 Baseball: Arizona at Colorado 11 1.3 4 Basketball: Sacramento at Houston 4 1.1 4 Golf: LPGA McDonald's Championship 2 1.1 3

*--*

*

*--*

Cable Network Rating Share Baseball: San Diego at Dodgers FSN2 1.1 2 Horse racing: Hollywood Park Today FSN2 0.9 2 Prep football: CaliFlorida Bowl All-Star Classic FSN2 0.5 1 Golf: Senior PGA FleetBoston Classic CNBC 0.4 1 Hockey: NHL draft ESPN2 0.3 1 Auto racing: Nascar Craftsman Memphis 200 ESPN2 0.3 1

*--*

*

SUNDAY

*--*

Over-the-air Channel Rating Share Golf: PGA Buick Classic 7 3.4 10 Auto racing: NASCAR Winston Cup Sonoma 500 11 2.1 6 Basketball: Sparks at New York 4 2.0 5 Golf: LPGA McDonald's Championship 2 0.9 2 Track and field: U.S. Outdoor Championships 2 0.8 2 Pro football: NFL Europe, Berlin at Amsterdam 11 0.7 2

*--*

*

*--*

Cable Network Rating Share Baseball: San Francisco at St. Louis ESPN 1.6 3 Horse racing: Hollywood Park Today FSN2 0.9 2 Baseball: Atlanta at New York Mets TBS 0.3 1 Baseball: Chicago White Sox at Baltimore WGN 0.2 - Track and field: U.S. Outdoor Championships ESPN2 0.2 1 Golf: Senior PGA FleetBoston Classic CNBC 0.2 -

*--*

Note: Each rating point represents 53,542 L.A. households. Cable ratings reflect the entire market, even though cable is in only 63% of L.A. households.

Look Who's Talking

Sports figures to be featured on TV and radio, today through Thursday:

Jimmy Connors--"SportsCentury," tonight, 5 and 8, ESPN Classic

Andre Agassi--"SportsCentury," tonight, 6, ESPN

Mo Vaughn, Jay Mohr, Bob Baffert--"Last Word With Jim Rome," tonight, 5:30 and 11:30, Fox Sports Net

John Rocker--"Page One," 9:30 a.m., CNN; 10:30 a.m, 12:30 and 6:30 p.m., CNN/SI

Doug Mientkiewicz (guest host)--"This Week in Baseball," Saturday, 11:30 a.m., Channel 11

Trainer Craig Dollase, Hector Camacho Jr.--"Irv Kaze Show," Saturday, 6-7 p.m., KRLA (870)

Bret Boone--"Southern California Sports Report," Saturday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports Net

Jamal Anderson, Elvis Grbac, Daniel Snyder--"NFL Preview," Sunday, 7 a.m., CNN

Kyle Petty, Tony Stewart--"NASCAR This Morning," Sunday, 7:30 a.m., Fox Sports Net

Julio Gonzalez, Panchito Bajado, Buddy McGirt, Art Aragon--"Ringside With Johnny Ortiz," Sunday, 8-11 p.m., KSPN (1110)

Mario, Michael and Jeff Andretti--"Beyond the Glory," Sunday, 8 p.m., Fox Sports Net

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