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IMHO: Dartmouth sports in state of radio silence

  • Greg Fennell. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 9/28/2019 10:18:58 PM
Modified: 9/28/2019 10:18:56 PM

Do not adjust your dial. The silence coming from your radio is entirely not on you.

Perhaps you had another commitment and couldn’t make Dartmouth College’s home-opening football game with Colgate on Saturday night. Maybe you’re waiting for a more meaningful contest to grace the schedule.

Still, if you were expecting to find the matchup on local radio, you’re out of luck. You’ll remain in that state with Dartmouth athletics for at least the next year.

For the first time in at least three decades — and quite possibly longer — Dartmouth sports aren’t available anywhere on the local broadcast spectrum. The college and Great Eastern Radio, the West Lebanon-based owner of the large majority of the Upper Valley’s frequencies, let a three-year rights deal expire over the summer when they couldn’t come to terms on a new contract.

That’s the bad news. The good news is the Big Green hasn’t completely lost audio play-by-play coverage, and it still costs nothing — assuming you don’t count your data plan or internet service as an expense.

“Anybody that grew up on radio will have that sense (of loss),” Dartmouth sports information director Rick Bender told me last week. “The way technology has evolved and the way people absorb it, it’s a changing of the guard. But I don’t want to say we’ll never be on radio again. If the circumstances warrant it in what we can afford to deliver to the community, we will revisit that.”

On the outrage scale, this whole situation registers as mildly annoying to me, because it was avoidable.

Back in my professional radio days, not long after the tin-can-and-string method gave way to transistors, the college put football on WFRD-FM, the Dartmouth-owned commercial outlet. The school insisted that students do the broadcasts, no matter how much I and others argued that professionals would produce a better product. The result was occasionally tough to listen to, but at least the Big Green had an on-air presence.

Then, about 10 years ago, perhaps a little more, long after I had transmogrified into an ink-stained wretch, Dartmouth finally got religion. It began to hire pros for its football, hockey and basketball play-by-play. It farmed some coverage out to other Upper Valley commercial stations. That eventually led to the three-year contract with Great Eastern in 2016.

“The deal was good; we were happy, they were happy,” Great Eastern vice president of programming Matt Houseman said last week. “Over the term of three years, the times change and evolve. When it came time to discuss getting another deal, we couldn’t come to terms financially with something that made sense.”

Translation: Money got in the way. Bender said Great Eastern wanted about double the amount in fees it got from the initial deal. Houseman said the company’s increased value over three years and its geographical reach merited the request.

So, of course, the general public bears the brunt.

Why should this matter? As much as times may change, there remains a noteworthy percentage of us old fogeys who still like our sports play-by-play the old-fashioned way.

For me, sports on the radio determined what I wanted to do with my life. I listened to Ron Weber’s calls of Washington Capitals games on WTOP religiously; I wanted to be him. As a kid, I loved to grab an AM receiver, head to my room and find what game signals I could capture as they bounced off the atmosphere. (From the Maryland suburbs, my personal best: the St. Louis Blues on flamethrower KMOX. I fell in love with the World Hockey Association listening to Cincinnati Stingers games on WLW.)

While I’m no big Big Green football follower — sorry, Buddy — there was still a comfort in knowing that I could find a Teevens-led team on the Saturday air if I wanted accompaniment for a project in the garage or a ride on the lawn tractor. Without it, I feel less a sense of a changing of the guard and more of someone quitting.

To the college’s credit, free audio play-by-play remains available, if only by the athletics department’s website (www.dartmouthsports.com). Bender said the school is maintaining the same broadcast schedule it would have had with Great Eastern, meaning every football and men’s hockey game will air — as will most men’s and women’s basketball contests and about 10 women’s hockey dates — on the site. Pick the team schedule, find the game, click on “listen” and voila.

(I don’t know about you, but I’m not inclined to connect my cellphone to my pickup truck’s audio and go through all of the motions just to catch a few snippets of action on a trip to the dump. It’s easier to turn on the radio and hit one button. I’m old, lazy and set in my ways; sue me.)

To Great Eastern’s credit, it’s letting lead football play-by-play guy Brett Franklin continue in that role on Dartmouth’s webcasts, joined as always by capable,
long-time analyst Wayne Young. Learfield Sports, which handles advertising duties for Dartmouth athletics, will hire talent for other webcasts, as it did during the Great Eastern deal.

Hopefully, this radio-free situation will be over next year. A Dartmouth athletic department that doesn’t have its games on the air is one that doesn’t consider the community beyond its campus. A local radio network that wants to be viewed as an Upper Valley sports leader isn’t when it offers Ole Miss-Alabama or Ohio State-Nebraska where the Big Green could be. And, frankly, there are other radio stations out there capable of being hosts of Big Green athletics, including good ol’ WFRD.

Here’s one case where silence isn’t golden.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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