Laker Simulcasts Are History

The simulcast, a Laker tradition through Chick Hearn's 42 seasons, will be history beginning next season.

Paul Sunderland, who just completed his first full regular season as the television and radio play-by-play voice of the Lakers, has been offered a two-year contract to do television only.

Stu Lantz, also offered a new two-year contract, was given his choice of TV or radio. He chose to stick with Sunderland on TV.

"Chick always told me, if they split up the TV and radio teams, take TV," Lantz said Thursday.

Lantz said his new deal was done. "I just haven't sent it in yet," he added.

Martin Mandel, Sunderland's agent, said he hoped to have his client's deal done soon, hopefully while the Lakers are still in the playoffs.

This may be wishful thinking, but Frank Mariani, the Lakers' executive vice president who negotiates the broadcast deals, said he hoped to have a new radio team in place by Game 3 of the Laker playoff series with Minnesota at Staples Center on Thursday.

Candidates for the radio play-by-play job are Larry Burnett, who currently works for flagship station KLAC (570), and veteran play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers, who lives in Southern California. Fox Sports Net's Bill Macdonald is also a possibility.

The radio commentating job is up in the air. Possibilities include Reggie Theus and UCLA commentator Don MacLean, but apparently no candidates had been contacted by Thursday.

Mariani said he thought that if Lantz had accepted the radio position, James Worthy, who works for Channel 9, would have fit nicely in the TV slot.

Worthy's contract with Channel 9 pretty much eliminates him as a candidate for the radio job.

One appealing part about the radio job is that it includes all playoff games. Under the new playoff format with ABC, ESPN and TNT, almost all telecasts are exclusive to the national network carriers after the first round.

For the series with Minnesota, Fox Sports Net will televise potentially two games side-by-side with the national carriers. Channel 9 has two games.

The end of the Laker simulcasts means there are only two NBA teams still simulcasting every game, Utah and Seattle. Phoenix still simulcasts its over-the-air telecasts.

The Lakers preferred to simulcast games because of Hearn. When you have an announcer of his stature, you showcase him.

Pat McClenahan, senior vice president and station manager for Channel 9 and Channel 2, said it was always understood that would change once Hearn was no longer announcing games. He said there wasn't time to make the change before this season.

"I think the telecasts will be better with two separate announcing teams," McClenahan said.

Sunderland, however, is disappointed about the end of the simulcasts. And not just because he won't get to work many playoff games after this season.

"I enjoy the challenge of doing a simulcast," Sunderland said.

It could be argued that doing only TV will make his job easier and also lessen criticism. Sunderland, considering he followed a legend, has been generally well accepted by Laker fans, although his critics complain he is hard to follow on radio during simulcasts.

Lantz also is disappointed to see the simulcasts go by the wayside.

"Fans relate to the announcers, and identify with them," he said. "Now, with a whole lot of announcers to follow, you're splitting that fan base."

New Playoff Format

Game 1 of the series between the Lakers and Timberwolves on Sunday is the one game on ABC this weekend.

ESPN has three games Saturday, and TNT has two. ESPN and TNT also have games on Sunday, sandwiched around the Laker game on ABC.

Game 2 of the Laker series will be televised by TNT and Channel 9, Game 3 will be on TNT and Fox Sports Net, and Game 4 will again be exclusively on ABC.

The new playoff format may take some time to get used to. Here's a breakdown:

* ABC will televise the NBA Finals and up to six playoff games, among them one Eastern Conference final game.

* TNT will televise up to 53 playoffs games and has exclusive coverage of the conference semifinals and Western Conference finals. TNT senior vice president Greg Hughes said exclusive telecasts would not be sold to over-the-air stations in the markets of the participating team because of the network's commitment to cable companies.

* ESPN will televise up to 31 playoff games, including all but one of the Eastern Conference finals. ESPN's exclusivity doesn't kick in until the Eastern Conference finals.

* NBA TV, available on satellite, will televise up to seven first-round games, some in high-definition.

* ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national coverage of telecast playoff games, including the entire conference finals and NBA Finals. Sirius, a pay satellite radio service for cars, which has been broadcasting up to 40 NBA games a week, will offer playoff games as well. The service costs $12.95 a month.

Ratings Game

NBA ratings nationally were up slightly this season. ABC averaged a 2.6, compared to a 2.5 for games on NBC in comparable time periods the previous season. TNT ratings were pretty much flat, although the 1.3 average for the second half of the season was an improvement over the 1.1 for the first half.

ESPN, in its first year under the new NBA contract, averaged a 1.2.

In Los Angeles, it was a boffo year for the Lakers. Channel 9 averaged a 6.1 for its Laker telecasts, up from a 5.3. Fox Sports Net averaged a 4.5, up 18%.

Steve Simpson, Fox Sports Net vice president and general manager, said the drama and uncertainty during the season caused the rating surge. Maybe that's what Coach Phil Jackson had in mind all along.

Short Waves

NBC last weekend made a big deal out of showing a trailer for the movie "The Matrix: Reloaded" during its weekly Arena Football League telecast. But it didn't help much. The Avengers' overtime loss to the Arizona Rattlers, going up against the Masters on CBS, got a season-low 0.7 national rating, well below the AFL season average of 1.2. NBC spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard said the network knew this would be a tough stretch but that the league was still on target to reach its rating goal.

How versatile is Kobe Bryant? Tonight at 6 on the Disney Channel, he appears as a cartoon character in the animated series, "The Proud Family."

Angel radio announcer Rory Markas had an outstanding interview with Texas Ranger catcher and former Angel Todd Greene on Wednesday's pregame show on KSPN (710). Greene talked about his wife Vanessa's cousin, Ronald Young, a pilot who spent 22 days as a POW in Iraq. Greene's expression of admiration for Young brought tears to the eyes.

Lisa Guerrero was paired with Steve Hartman on XTRA (690, 1150) Thursday and did a nice job. So did Chris Ello earlier in the week.... Hartman crashed his car last Friday in a trial run for the Pro-Am celebrity race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Then in the race, he spun out on the first lap and finished next to last.

In Closing

Shaquille O'Neal makes $243,902 a game, which figures out to $33.88 a second. But that's nothing compared to what bull rider Chris Shivers may do Saturday at 1 p.m. on NBC. During the Professional Bull Riders' "Million Dollar Bounty," Shivers has to ride Little Yellow Jacket, a 1,600-pound bull, for eight seconds to win $1 million. The 145-pound Shivers is 0-3 against Little Yellow Jacket, but he held on for 6.5 seconds the last time.

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