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Duck Calls Are Worth a Listen

Paul Sunderland is recognized wherever he goes in Southern California. So is Stu Lantz. Celebrity status comes with being Laker announcers.

This is the way it goes for Sunderland: He and his wife of 24 years, Maud-Ann, go to a movie on an off-day. A stranger sitting behind Sunderland taps him on the shoulder in the dark theater during the previews. The stranger wants to talk Laker basketball.

This is the way it goes for John Ahlers: He is walking his dog near his home in Anaheim Hills on Wednesday afternoon, a few hours before going to work. He is talking to a reporter on his cell phone, providing some background about himself. No one is going to recognize him.

So who is John Ahlers?

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It’s understandable if you don’t know he is the Mighty Ducks’ television play-by-play announcer. A Michigan native, Ahlers is in his first season with the Ducks after spending three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

His partner, Brian Hayward, is a little better known. A former NHL goaltender who was an All-American at Cornell in 1982, he has been the Ducks’ television commentator for all 10 seasons of their existence.

Ahlers and Hayward normally work in anonymity. Duck telecasts averaged an 0.4 rating on Channel 9 during the regular season, which means the games were watched in about 21,400 television households in a market of 5.3 million.

Games on Fox Sports Net and Fox Sports Net 2 did half that, averaging an 0.2 rating. That translates to about 10,800 households. Almost anything else does better than that.

But the Ducks, enjoying more success than they ever have, are averaging a respectable hockey rating of 1.3 on Fox Sports Net during the playoffs.

And Ahlers and Hayward, normally overshadowed in the Los Angeles hockey community by the Kings’ Bob Miller and Jim Fox, are finally getting some recognition.

Viewers are discovering Ahlers and Hayward are quality announcers as well. In these days of excessive exuberance, they don’t offer hype. They allow the viewer to enjoy the natural excitement.

Although Game 5 of the playoff series against Dallas Saturday at noon is exclusive to ABC, which will have Gary Thorne, Bill Clement and John Davidson calling the game, Ahlers and Hayward will be announcing Game 6, if there is one. It will be played Monday night at the Arrowhead Pond and televised on Fox Sports Net 2.

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Wednesday night’s Game 4 victory for the Ducks was televised on Fox Sports Net because the Dodgers were on Fox Sports Net 2, which usually televises the Ducks during the regular season.

The Ducks’ over-the-air station, Channel 9, had the option of televising road games during the first two rounds. But because of the May sweeps rating period, the station planned to carry only the weekend road playoff games not on ABC. However, ABC has opted for every weekend game, leaving Channel 9 with no games.

Fox Sports Net, meanwhile, has televised every Duck playoff game possible.

The run for Ahlers and Hayward is either over now or will be after Game 6. Game 7, if there is one, will be televised only on ESPN and the conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals are exclusive to national carriers ESPN and ABC.

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The Radio Side

If Duck telecasts draw minuscule audiences, imagine how many people listen on radio.

Steve Carroll is in his fourth season as the Ducks’ play-by-play radio voice, and Fred Wallin -- remember him? -- does the postgame call-in show on flagship station KPLS (830).

Carroll, in his 25th season as a hockey announcer, has mostly toiled in the minor leagues, although he spent one season (1995-96) with the Philadelphia Flyers.

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The Ducks don’t have a full-time radio commentator. Former Duck goaltender Guy Hebert and current Duck players who aren’t active help fill the role.

Hebert has been getting more air time on home games during the playoffs, which is fitting considering the phenomenal play of Duck goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Working Overtime

Game 1 of the Dallas series, in which the Ducks won, 4-3, 48 seconds into the fifth overtime, was the fourth-longest game in NHL history and the second-longest televised game. Game 1 was televised only on ESPN and the announcers were Steve Levy and Darren Pang.

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That duo has called the three longest televised games. The longest was Philadelphia defeating Pittsburgh, 2-1, on May 2, 2000, 12:01 into the fifth overtime. The third longest was Pittsburgh defeating the Washington Capitals, 3-2, in an overtime that lasted 70 minutes 18 seconds on April 24, 1996.

Chargers Make Inroads

KMPC (1540) will announce today that it will carry Charger games this season rather than Raider games. John Ryan, the station’s general manager, said that logistically it makes more sense to carry the Chargers because they’re closer to Los Angeles and will train in Carson.

Regarding rumors the Chargers might eventually move to L.A., Ryan said, “This decision was based on them playing in San Diego.”

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Short Waves

The season premiere of “On the Record With Bob Costas” will be on HBO tonight at 11:30. His guests will be “Bull Durham” stars Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Robert Wuhl and writer-director Ron Shelton. Costas said Sarandon and Robbins want the topic to be the movie and not their recent snub by baseball Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey.... Costas’ show was taped Thursday in New York, and then he flew to Louisville, Ky., to serve as the host of NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage Saturday. It’s Costas’ first NBC assignment since October.... NBC handicappers Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumeier were on a conference call with reporters Thursday. Battaglia loves the favorite, Empire Maker, while Neumeier pointed out the favorite has won the Derby only once in the last 23 years. That was Fusaichi Pegasus, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, in 2000.... The “Thoroughbred Los Angeles” show with Mike Willman and Kurt Hoover on KSPN (710) Saturdays and Sundays at 9 a.m. is preempted this weekend by Angel pregame coverage.... Hoover is in Louisville working as a reporter on ESPN’s Derby coverage.

Jim Rome’s new one-hour weekly television show, “Rome Is Burning,” makes its debut Tuesday on ESPN at 4 p.m. It will feature opinion, discussion and debate.... ESPN’s Sean Salisbury will stage his annual celebrity charity golf tournament Monday at Stoneridge Country Club in Poway. Spots are open. Information: 619 701-7346.

Boxing beat: Besides HBO’s $49.95 pay-per-view card featuring Oscar De La Hoya against Yory Boy Campas at Mandalay Bay Saturday night in Las Vegas, NBC offers boxing earlier in the day from Las Vegas’ Flamingo. It’s the first of a three-fight series in which NBC and Spanish-language partner Telemundo are sharing coverage. At least one undercard fight will be on Telemundo -- Channel 52 in Los Angeles -- at 11:30 a.m., and then NBC will televise the remainder of the card at 12:30 p.m., leading to the Kentucky Derby coverage at 2 p.m.

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In Closing

During Sunday’s Laker-Minnesota game on ABC, the director used the “Free Flight” camera too often during live action. Ideally, it should only be used during replays. Why put the viewers in the cheap seats?

As for the “Floor Cam,” which provided a gratuitous view of the inside of Shaquille O’Neal’s shorts, it should be dumped.


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