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ESPN Radio finally finds an outlet

ESPN Radio has been a fringe player in the Boston market. That's not to say you can't find it. XM Satellite Radio subscribers have access on Channel 140, and if you happen to be driving up Route 3 north of Boston, you can pick up ESPN's signal on WSNH (900 AM) out of Nashua, N.H., the closest over-the-air station to carry the full day of ESPN programming.

In Boston, WEEI (850 AM) has been the ESPN affiliate, but it generally picks up only ESPN's baseball telecasts and some weekend and overnight programming. Now, ESPN's signal is poised to join Boston's airwaves full-time.

Mega Communications recently sold WAMG (890 AM) and WLLH (1400 AM), both of which had a Latin/tropical format, to J Sports, which plans to institute ESPN's programming on both stations, meaning you likely will be able catch "Mike and Mike" in the morning followed by "The Herd" (Colin Cowherd), and "The Dan Patrick Show." Depending on how much local programming the new ownership introduces, you might also hear "The Sports Bash" (Erik Kuselias), and "Game Night" with Chuck Wilson, John Seibel, Doug Gottlieb, and Freddie Coleman.

Even though ESPN is a decidedly national product, the stations' incoming principal executive is just as decidedly local. She's Jessamy Tang, who grew up as a Boston sports fan, attending Lexington High School before receiving degrees from MIT and Stanford.

"We're still working on the actual format," said Tang by phone from California Friday. "We'll definitely have a local feeling with news, weather, and traffic updates. We feel good that the signals cover the market and are good complements for each other."

The timing is interesting because all-sports WEEI has never been stronger in this market and local programming has made it the powerhouse station among the 25-54 male and all-adults demographics.

That's been the conundrum for networks such as Sporting News Radio and ESPN when they look at programming a Boston outlet. National sports programming hasn't had a strong history in this parochial market. Even now, WWZN (1510 AM) continues to try to grow and find the right balance between SNR's syndicated shows and its own programming.

Tang is more than familiar with the ESPN 24/7 format. She helped develop it while working at ABC and ESPN Radio, then later was general manager of the ESPN Radio outlet in Pittsburgh (WEAE).

"We want to get involved in the community on a local basis," she said, "but also to break national news with ESPN resources such as Peter Gammons and Chris Mortensen."

That, too, will be interesting, with Gammons a weekly regular on WEEI's "The Big Show."

Jason Wolfe, WEEI's director of programming and operations, confirmed that his station will be parting ways with ESPN.

"It should happen in the next 90 days," he said. "Our affiliation with ESPN is going to change. Someone else is buying [the rights]."

But, added Wolfe, "We hope to keep baseball."

How that plays out remains to be seen.

"We'll have the full ESPN package," said Tang, citing access to the network feed of NBA and MLB games.

Making a bracket

CBS (Channel 4) has the official "NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Selection Show" tonight at 6, hosted by Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg, and Seth Davis. They'll be joined by Jim Nantz and Billy Packer from Chicago, site of this afternoon's Big Ten championship game (3:30 p.m.), plus Bob Bowlsby, chairman of the tournament selection committee . . . Tournaments are the ultimate "made for ESPN" events. The network has the women's selection show today at 5, followed by "SportsCenter" at 6 with immediate coverage and analysis of the men's brackets once they're announced on CBS, followed by a two-hour "ESPNU Bracketology" special at 7 p.m. that will employ two sets. Chris Fowler, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, and Dick Vitale will be on one, with Rece Davis, Steve Lavin, and Rick Majerus on the other. Boston College coach Al Skinner will be among the live guests on the show . . . For the fourth year, ESPN has the men's play-in game (No. 64 vs. No. 65) Tuesday at 7 p.m. . . . College Sports TV starts breaking down brackets with the women's hockey selections at 6 tonight, followed by the women's basketball selections and then the men's selection analysis at 7 . . . For much of the season, BC fans complained about the Eagles not getting national TV dates. Well, the team may want to avoid future ESPN games. ESPN analyst Bill Raftery told WEEI's Ted Sarandis that he's seen BC play four times this season -- and those were the Eagles' four losses, all on ESPN or ESPN2.

Baseball lineup
WEEI will switch to baseball mode in the next week or so, with weekly appearances by Sox president Larry Lucchino with "Dennis and Callahan," Terry Francona with "Dale and Holley," and Gammons on "The Big Show." Wolfe said, "We hope to announce some players will be appearing, but that's still in the works. It could be zero or as many as three." . . . WEEI morning cohost Gerry Callahan has a guest spot on ESPN's "The Sports Reporters," this morning at 10, joining Globe columnist Bob Ryan to give the show a decided Boston flavor. Regular panelist Mike Lupica sits in for host John Saunders (recuperating from an auto accident) . . . Sox newcomer David Wells is on tonight's "Red Sox This Week," which settles into its new time on Channel 38 (10 p.m., with a repeat on Channel 4 at midnight) . . . Rodney Harrison was miked during his officiating training camp in Tampa, Fla., last week. "Sports Final" (Channel 4, 11:30 p.m.) has highlights . . . Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield teaches Wendi Nix how to throw a knuckleball on "Sports Xtra" (Channel 7, 11:30 p.m.).

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com


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