Homer Runs

Calculating the pluses and minuses of rah-rah sports coverage.

After KOA gave him a weekend show, Manoogian left the Rockies and started Major League Marketing, a company that puts together corporate events, often with a sports theme. On November 21, his firm is co-promoting a flag football game at Ford Field in Detroit (his home town) between alumni of the University of Michigan and Ohio State University to commemorate the 100th football match-up between the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Locally, his biggest coup was brokering an arrangement between the Jefferson County school district and Pepsi that generated around $7.2 million for Jeffco schools.

This "day job," as Manoogian refers to it, would keep most people busy enough, but he supplemented it with a weeknightly KOA talk show from 1996 to 2000, as well as fill-ins and specialty shows like Broncos Talk at the station after that. Because he has three small children, he initially balked at Fan program director Spence's overtures late last year, but he eventually changed his mind. He says the cries of misery from Clough admirers that greeted him in January didn't make him regret the decision. As he puts it, "People were used to listening to the show that preceded me. And the people who've decided to stick it out the last ten months, obviously they've adapted to my style. And if they don't listen, they've moved on to something else."

According to the Arbitron ratings service, Manoogian's performance to date has been underwhelming, and overall station numbers among listeners twelve and above are down. These figures don't mean much to The Fan, which targets men between ages 25 and 54, and Spence says the station is in the top ten for this demographic between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Still, the station continues to lead out of sports updates with the likes of staffer Mitch Hyder "reminding you to remember the time you spent listening to" specific shows. Spence won't say the words are directed at people who keep Arbitron diaries, because the company has rules against tampering with the process. Draw your own conclusions.

Mike Gorman

On the other hand, two other Denver sports radio stations -- The Zone, a Clear Channel property, and KLZ, which recently hooked up with ESPN -- didn't even register in the latest Arbitron survey, and Spence says the beginning of the seasons for the Avs and the Nuggets should provide a boost. He's upbeat about Manoogian, too. "Lou is the fan's fan, living and dying with every team, every snap of the ball, every shot of the puck. It's a growth opportunity, and I think today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow is better than today, and it will continue to grow in that fashion."

These comments are echoed by Manoogian. "I'm having a great time, and I enjoy going to work every day," he says. "The positive remarks and the negative remarks show that people are listening. All I can do is go in every morning and give the best effort I can."

Clough, meanwhile, is taking the road less traveled. "Part of the problem I have with sports-talk radio, whether it's national or local or whatever, is that it vacillates between vicious personal attacks -- calls for the firing of coaches, the releasing of players, stringing them up in effigy -- and a kind of relentless, systematic homerism and boosterism. And there's no gray area in between. I try to operate in that gray area."

Getting on top: The October 30 Rocky Mountain News contained a bonus for readers -- a 48-page booklet titled "Top of the Rocky: An insider's guide to the Mile High City's peak people, places, shopping, sports and dining." In the publication, readers discovered picks made by Rocky editorial types and respondents to an online poll for top choices from musicians to margaritas. But many honorees weren't caught off-guard by this designation. A week or two before the fact, they were informed about their victory by Rocky salespersons, who told them what they'd won and asked if they'd like to buy an advertisement in the issue to acknowledge the achievement. Around a dozen businesses took this offer; thank-you spreads accounted for around half the ad space in "Top of the Rocky."

On the surface, this move raises ethical questions, or at least possible perception issues. Most newspapers have rules in place to prevent ad dollars from influencing coverage, a philosophy known as "the separation of church and state." But the proximity of ads about "Top of the Rocky" awards to the awards themselves may have given the impression of a quid pro quo that, as Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple points out, didn't exist in this case.

"The selection of 'Top of the Rocky' was completely independent and had nothing to do with whether a person purchased an advertisement or not," Temple notes. "If we had called an advertiser and said, 'We will name you a winner in this section,' that clearly would be unacceptable and would damage the credibility of an editorial product. But I don't know how the credibility would be damaged by us independently picking the winners and then going to people who are winners and saying, 'You're going to be a winner. If you'd like to buy an advertisement, you can do it.'"

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