Mark Story: Fans won't hear changes in Kentucky's new radio deal

Also: Grad student's Web site hits local baseball hard

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 1, 2011 

Mark Story

When the 2011-12 University of Kentucky sports seasons commence, there will be a significant behind-the-scenes difference in the radio broadcasts of Wildcats games.

Back when UK radio rights were held by the Lexington-based Host Communications and continuing after Host was purchased in 2007 by IMG, the broadcasts of the Wildcats were produced from a facility here in town.

Starting with the coming school year, that function will be performed in North Carolina.

In 2010, IMG bought a rival firm, North Carolina-based ISP. The combined company will produce its radio broadcasts from the former ISP broadcast center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Tom Stultz, senior vice president for IMG College, says Wildcats fans will notice no difference when listening to the games.

"The broadcasts will still have the same talent calling the games, still be on the same stations, still basically have the same format the listeners are used to," he said.

Continuing the commercialization of big-time college sports, the IMG-ISP deal creates a potential marketing behemoth.

IMG had the media rights to Florida, Tennessee, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio State and UK, among others. ISP had an even longer list of clients that included Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Duke, UCLA, Notre Dame and hometown Wake Forest.

The goal of the combined companies, Stultz says, "is to create a large enough presence that we can sell national (advertising) packages."

Part of the deal that IMG cut with ISP was the merged companies would be based in Winston-Salem.

Not all of IMG College is leaving the Bluegrass. The publishing division (think NCAA Tournament game programs, etc.) is staying, Stultz says. The people that sell the advertising for UK sports broadcasts will also remain here.

Another part of the company that manages groups such as the American Volleyball Coaches Association (among others) has been sold to a former IMG executive. The new firm is staying in Lexington, too.

Some of the other IMG College employees, including those who worked in the broadcast center here in Lexington, are not making the move. They have received severance packages, Stultz said.

For Stultz, who grew up in Greenup County, the deal means leaving his home state at the age of 60 to relocate to North Carolina.

"I wasn't really looking to leave Kentucky," he said. "But the opportunity this deal presents for national impact is very exciting. Hopefully, our house (in Lexington) sells."

In the meantime, UK fans who listen to Tom Leach's calls on the radio presumably won't notice big differences. Leach says ISP broadcasts tended to use a little more music playing you back into games from commercials than the Big Blue Network did.

"But it will still be Jeff and I on football and Mike and I on basketball," Leach says of color analysts Jeff Piecoro and Mike Pratt. "As far as I know, not much is going to change."

BluGrass Baseball

I was in Rupp Arena for a late-season Kentucky basketball game when I noticed on the "tweet deck" of a media member sitting next to me something that made me laugh.

An Internet site called BluGrass Baseball had just tweeted an apology for failing to note that a former high school catcher from Louisville was about to make his college debut for Coastal Carolina.

I started out amused, then got kind of impressed that there was someone following baseball in Kentucky so intensely that such an oversight would merit an apology.

It turns out, Jon Hale, the 23-year-old UK graduate student who runs the blog blugrassbaseball.com., is trying to cover the sport of baseball in the commonwealth with the same passion most reserve for following Wildcats men's basketball.

"I figured anybody could make a Web site on Kentucky basketball," said Hale, a Floyd County native who earned a journalism degree at UK in 2009. "I was going to try and corner the market on something else."

This is how detailed Hale's site gets.

Before the college baseball season, Hale projected starting lineups for Kentucky's major-college teams. He tracks Kentuckians at all levels of professional baseball.

"I think there are 106 players in Division I college baseball who played high school in Kentucky," Hale says. "I might have missed a few at real small schools.

"There are 104 Kentucky players in affiliated (professional) baseball, minor leagues or major leagues, and that includes guys like Dan Uggla and Mark Reynolds who were born here but didn't play (high school) here."

Hale says his site averages "300-400 unique visitors" a day.

"I don't think my readership is that great in the general public," he says, "but among the Kentucky baseball community I think I have a pretty wide penetration."

Hale finished graduate school last week and has taken a job with a news Web site called KyForward. He plans to take his baseball blog with him as part of his new gig.

"To some extent, my blog is a niche," Hale says. "If you're not a huge baseball fan, why would you care? But I do think there is kind of an element of 'generalability' in that everybody likes a story of a hometown boy done good."

Like that catcher at Coastal Carolina.

Says Hale: "His name is John Fidanza. He went to Ballard High School in Louisville."

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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