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Station Always Gave Fans Something XTRA

In 1990, XTRA, “the Mighty 690,” which had a powerful signal that covered all of Southern California, became one of the nation’s two all-sports stations. New York’s WFAN was the other.

After a 15-year run, 690 is switching formats next Thursday when KLAC’s music lineup takes over. And what is now XTRA (690 and 1150) moves to 570 as part of a shuffling by corporate giant Clear Channel Communications.

The moves mark the end of an era.

John Lynch, who owned stations throughout the country, bought San Diego’s XTRA in 1978. After acquiring the radio rights to the Chargers in 1988, he hired Lee Hamilton as the team’s play-by-play announcer and also gave him a daily sports talk show.

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Two years later, Lynch, in a bold move, went to 24-hour sports, featuring Hamilton in afternoon drive time and Steve Garvey in the mornings.

Garvey’s XTRA career was short-lived, but Hamilton, who bills himself as “the Franchise,” is still around. So is Steve Hartman, another veteran who first basked in the XTRA spotlight with the late Chet Forte.

But what the station might be best known for is creating Jim Rome and his empire.

In 1990, Rome was working at a little-known station in Santa Barbara.

“Working for XTRA was my dream,” Rome said. “I wrote to everyone at the station, and I wrote often. They finally gave me a tryout, and the deal was that they’d either hire me or they wouldn’t, but whatever, I would leave them alone.”

Rome was hired for $30,000 a year to do sports updates and a weekend talk show. The program director at the time, Howard Freedman, later planned to pair Rome with Joe McDonnell on a weekday show, but that plan fell through when McDonnell accepted a job at Los Angeles’ first all-sports station, KMPC (710), in 1992.

“The thought of Jim being paired with anyone makes me wonder, ‘What was I thinking?’ ” Freedman says.

Rome ended up with a daily solo show and now has more than 2 million listeners every weekday on more than 190 stations.

And ESPN announced this week that his TV show, “Rome Is Burning,” will be on five days a week at 1:30 p.m., starting Feb. 14.

Not bad for someone who was so nervous about his job interview at XTRA 15 years ago that he rented a car to drive from Santa Barbara to San Diego. He didn’t want anything such as a mechanical breakdown to keep from getting his dream job.

Ire Over Hire

The recent hiring of Steve Lyons by the Dodgers as a part-time television commentator has been criticized by some. One point is that he never played for the Dodgers. But then neither did Ross Porter. Or Vin Scully, for that matter.

A more valid point is that last season he was suspended for a game by the Fox network because of a joke that was offensive to some. Of Shawn Green’s taking a day off for Yom Kippur last season, Lyons, working on a Fox network telecast, said, “He’s not a practicing Jew. He didn’t marry a Jewish girl. And from what I understand, he never had a bar mitzvah, so he didn’t get the money.”

It was certainly inappropriate, but Lyons apologized and Fox executives stood by him.

Also there was a sexual-harassment suit filed by a woman after an incident in Maui in 2002. But Lyons said the suit had been settled.

Lon Rosen, the Dodgers’ executive vice president who was instrumental in the hiring of Lyons, said he was aware of the issues.

“The Shawn Green comment was an unfortunate mistake,” Rosen said. “We addressed that issue and everything else with Steve before we hired him. We think we did the right thing.”

Warning to Employers

CBS and CSTV announced an agreement Thursday that calls for out-of-market NCAA tournament games to be video-streamed on broadband computers. That means fans who have access to computers at work and pay $19.95 will be able to watch games at their desks via CBS.sportsline.com, CSTV.com or NCAA.com.

Employers who already have to deal with time wasted on fantasy leagues probably won’t be thrilled with this news.

Short Waves

Wednesday is the first day high school football players can sign a letter of intent with a college, and FSN West at 6 p.m. will offer a special hour-long edition of the “Los Angeles Times High School Spotlight” to cover the occasion. The show, with host Lindsay Soto, recruiting expert Greg Biggins and Times writers Mike Terry and Eric Sondheimer, will be repeated at 10:30 on FSN West 2.

The Avengers’ Arena Football League opener at Las Vegas against the Gladiators on Sunday at noon is the second game of an NBC doubleheader. The announcers will be Eli Gold and former UCLA and Indianapolis Colt tight end Charles Arbuckle. The team’s home opener Feb. 4 against Georgia will be televised on FSN West, with Bill Macdonald and John Jackson announcing. The Avengers’ radio announcers are Larry Kahn and Troy West.

Channel 7’s Rob Fukuzaki, a graduate of La Verne, will be honored by his alma mater with the President’s Award at a dinner Saturday night at the Ontario Convention Center.... The Southern California Broadcasters Assn. will hold its annual awards luncheon Monday at Lakeside Golf Course in Toluca Lake.

Fox Sports en Espanol is televising the five-day Caribbean World Series at Mazatlan, Mexico, beginning Tuesday. There are two games each day. There will also be a one-hour wrap-up show each night at 9 on Spanish-language radio station KHJ (930).

Dick Vitale and ESPN have reached an agreement on a contract extension through the 2011-2012 college basketball season.


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