The Ruder Reality

Local sports news broadcasting ain’t what it used to be.

The rapid growth of the Internet and cable sports networks hassiphoned away many loyal viewers once relied upon late night newsbroadcasts to see how their teams fared. As a result, theonce-untouchable sports segment of the news has become the firstthing to go under the knife. The side-effects are shortersportscasts, less focus on hard sports and a greater attempt todraw in casual fans.

As Ron Pivo, a sportscaster at KGW-8 put it, the wisesportscasters must realize that, “We are not ESPN, so gearing [ourbroadcast] to the diehard sports fan wouldn’t be wise.”

Instead, the best local sportscasts must walk a fine linebetween information and accessibility. They must provide the scoresand highlights fans want, while making sure not to alienate casualviewers. Much like how local news has staved off cable news rivals,local sportscasters must maximize the one big advantage they haveover their national and regional rivals – local sports.

Different channels take different approaches, some give monthlyawards to local athletes, most devote extended segments to highschool sports during football season and all try to cover as manylocal events as possible with varying degrees of success.

Because all sportscasts are not created equal and because sportsfans don’t have time to waste (don’t laugh), I have providedcapsule reviews of the four main local competitors based on a weekof watching each broadcast every night. I’ve provided a briefoverview, a look at the main on-air personalities, strengths andweaknesses and the average time devoted to sports on the 11 (or 10)o’clock news.

I based my grades on five criteria: 1) Coverage of national andregional mainstays (Blazers, Seahawks, Ducks etc.) 2) Tendency tobreak developing stories 3) Broadcaster personalities and knowledge4) Coverage of lesser hyped and deserving local sports 5)Presentation. Because much of the national and regional coverage issimilar across the board, I weighted local sports coverage andtendency to break stories slightly more than the othercategories.

Remember, sportscasters determine what to show based on whatthey believe the public wants to see. If they’re not showing whatyou want to see let them know.

Most Conflicted and FrustratingSportscast
Ron Carlson and Katy Brown
Of all the local sportscasts, KATU’s is most emblematic of what cango wrong when the target audience is not defined. The sports scoreticker and synthesizer music playing during highlights (both uniqueto KATU locally) seem to target ESPN-watching diehards, whileCarlson’s play-of-the-night video montage (see “Low Point” below)and Writing 101 analogies (ex. “It’s the dentist’s favorite,because it’s drilled.” And “It’s like the father figure on ‘TheSimpsons,’ because it’s a homer.”) aim for mindless news-watcherswho wouldn’t know a baseball from a basketball.
Personalities: Carlson, a 20-year Portland vet, trivializes hismaterial with his atrocious analogies and other attempts at humor.On the rare nights, he plays it straight the broadcast benefits.Brown has developed into a solid, if not memorable, weekendanchor.
High Point: Best local Mariners coverage with the most highlightsand news.
Low Point: Close call between Carlson’s annoying analogies and theplay-of-the-night, but play-of-the-night-wins by a hair. Carlsonwould be better off using the time to cover actual sports thanwasting time cracking unfunny jokes with non-sports-relatedfootage.
Time Devoted: About 3 minutes. The only station that consistentlydevotes two segments to sports, though much of the second segmentis usually wasted with the aforementioned play-of-the-day.
Overall: Carlson’s broadcasts are often uneven and unwatchablewhile Brown’s are just uneven.
Grade: C

Shortest and Most Mistake-ProneSportscast
Ed Whelan and Scott Burridge
Other than Whelan’s trademarked “Hello everybody. Nice seeing youagain,” intro, KOIN’s sports lack any semblance of uniformity andare hampered by the shortest broadcast time of all Portlandstations. Clocking in between 90 and 120 seconds, KOIN’s sports areabout half the length of the competitors and the result isabbreviated or cut highlights and a rushed pace. Highlights oftenseem chosen at random with no emphasis on Northwest sports (i.e.:showing NASCAR but excluding any Mariners highlights).
Personalities: Whelan has been around forever and has the attitudeof someone who doesn’t really care anymore. Sometimes this resultsin insightful and passionate takes, but more often than not theresult is mispronounced names and a dismissive attitude towardsevents he doesn’t care about. Burridge’s enthusiasm is his strengthand his weakness. A relative newcomer to Portland, he tends to getcaught up in the hype over local sports teams and predict successfurther investigation might discourage.
High Point: Whelan’s obvious passion for football results in themost in depth coverage and the enjoyable highlight montage”Roadtrip” Sunday night’s during football season.
Low Point: Frequent mispronunciations and incorrect scores make theshort broadcasts seem to go on for an eternity.
Time Devoted: 1.5-2.5 minutes. Easily the shortest sports broadcastin Portland. Often gets preempted or shortened if other stories runlong.
Overall: Too many mistakes for such a simplistic and unambitiousbroadcast.
Grade: D

Most Consistent and PolishedSportscast
Ron Pivo and Joe Becker
The most established of the local sports broadcasts benefits fromthe strongest tandem of broadcasters and the station most committedto sports. Both Pivo and Becker are well informed about nationaland local sports and establish a good balance of the two. They alsobreak more developing stories than their competitors. KGW reliablycovers the spectrum of professional sports, using its 3 minuteswisely to fit in the oft-overlooked hockey, NASCAR and golf withoutcutting the staple sports. Most importantly, KGW’s broadcasts areequally accessible to die-hard and casual sport fans.
Personalities: Pivo’s sense of humor and Becker’s earnestness bothwork well for delivering a reliable broadcast without the gimmickryand pandering that undermines some of their competitors. Both havea nice rapport with the news anchors that makes the viewer feelcomfortable.
High Point: Sports Sunday, a weekly half-hour sports show devotedto highlights, interviews and the more in-depth analysis a 3-minutetime limit prevents. Exactly the type of sports program Portlandneeds should it ever want to be taken seriously as a sportstown.
Low Point: Of all the local stations, KGW is the most susceptibleto focusing too much on the Beavers and Ducks.
Time Devoted: 3 minutes. Sports Sunday is 30 minutes at 11:30Sunday night.
Overall: Like Mom’s home cooking: steady and true, nothing flashywith the occasional scoop.
Grade: B+

Portland Sportscasting Champion
Tim Becker and Adam Bjaranson
Thanks to their dedication to local sports and their willingness togo beyond the obvious and easy angle, Becker and Bjaranson (a ’95PSU grad) have built the rare local sports broadcast that not onlycovers sports, but also provides insight into them. Becker andBjaranson benefit from the only hour-long news broadcast in themetro area, the result being the longest sports segment, clockingin around 3-3.5 minutes. How they use the extra time is whatseparates KPTV from the rest of the pack. Instead of simply showingmore Mariners and Blazers highlights, Bjaranson and Becker seek outrelevant and interesting local angles and stories. Recent examplesinclude an interview with a local Olympic-bound fencer and aprofile of Warrenton football player who later signed as an NFLfree agent. Bjaranason and camera are seemingly omnipresent atlocal sporting events and the resulting footage differentiates KPTVfrom the bunch.
Personalities: Neither Becker or Bjaranson is especially memorable,but both are knowledgeable and bring a level of professionalism toKPTV sports that was lacking a few years back.
High Point: By far the best coverage of PSU sports and otherlower-profile sporting events. Broadcasts usually have actualfootage and interview snippets where others just have scores.
Low Point: There’s really nothing to complain about except thecrappy newscast preceding it.
Time Devoted: 3-3.5 minutes. The longest sports in the Rosecity.
Overall: Informative, in-depth and well produced. Any type ofsports fan will benefit.
Grade: A+