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Mariners fans tossed a curve by TV stations

March 22, 1990

By Dan Weaver
The Spokesman-Review

Brace yourself for another curve, fans. There’s trouble ahead for anyone who ever hauled the portable outside to catch the Mariners on TV in between the mowing, the raking and the cold ones.

The trouble is this: you’ll see 36 fewer M’s games on free television this season. It’s the difference between what KAYU wanted to do and what KXLY will do.

As sorry as that is, the story has the potential to cut deeper than just 36 games on free TV, but more on that later.

First, KXLY, long the leader in local sports, has decided that it has room for only 10 Mariners games, all on weekends. Five will be delayed. The local ABC affiliate station, KXLY has to be a little sensitive to interrupting Jim McKay with Jim Lefebvre.

Still, KXLY might be playing a little broadcast hardball here. KXLY carries 162 Mariners games on the radio. If you can’t get the M’s on TV where do you turn? To Newsradio 920, of course, KXLY.

Could KXLY-TV be looking out for the ratings of KXLY-Radio? Maybe it’s just good business but broadcast hardball is going around. Shots are being fired in a TV turf war.

KSTWashington, the Tacoma-based station that has the rights to the Mariners, won’t put KAYU on its Mariner network even though KAYU, Spokane’s independent station, wants to carry 46 games.

The plug was pulled on KAYU in part because it’s one of the Spokane stations that pushed some of KSTW’s syndicated programs off the cable here.

Anyway, what do you care? You’re on Cox Cable. You get KSTW, channel 23, the Mariners’ flagship station. KSTW does 65 M’s games, all on the cable. You’ll have Mariners to wake up to on Sunday mornings from New York and Mariners to go to sleep with on Wednesday nights from Oakland.

Right?

Well, yeah, for now.

Cox Cable subscribers – I’m told that’s 67,000 homes in Spokane – should study the fallout over Syndicated Exclusivity – syndex for short. It was the topic of Michael Murphey’s story in the business section of Sunday’s paper.

Basically, local broadcasters are putting the squeeze on KSTW. It’s their right under a Federal Communications Commission rule which protects exclusive rights to syndicated shows. It’s a stab at fairness.

It means your cable company has to black out shows on KSTW, among them “M*A*S*H,” “Cheers” and “Family Ties,” that run on local stations. It also means KSTW ties up cable space with a certain number of hours of a blue screen and a message. It means Cox Cable might dump KSTW.

It means if KSTW goes the M’s go with it.

What can you do?

Write Jeff Smulyan, the Mariners owner who made his fortune in radio. Media exposure here has been cut and the situation could get worse.

Write Bill McLain, KSTW’s public affairs director and a childhood hero. He was Brakeman Bill on TV. I’m going to call him. Brakeman Bill wouldn’t railroad me. Anybody who gave the youth of Puget Sound Country The Three Stooges would certainly understand the attraction of the Seattle Mariners.

Write Alan Collins, General Manager, Cox Cable, 1717 Buckeye, Spokane, 99202. Tell him you want Mariners baseball and you’ll take it any way you can get it.

I wouldn’t call. You’ll wind up with Nadine, Cox Cable’s Audio Response System. Nadine is a machine. She (it) is the voice of progress. She (it) deserves a Peabody for Bureaucratic Dodging. She (it) will hold you off until you punch 1, 2, 3 or 4 and a Customer Service Specialist rescues you.

It’s easier getting an audience with the Wizard of Oz.

I did get a message to Collins, who called back. What he said was reassuring and disturbing.

“Our subscribers are Mariners fans and we are sensitive to that,” Collins said. “We are not going to make a hasty decision as to whether it (KSTW) is carried or not carried.”

On the other hand, Collins is taking a “wait and see approach” on the future of KSTW in Spokane, with the idea that “all of this should shake out in the next couple of months.”

That should take us at least to the all-star break.

“In the next several months we will evaluate how many blackout requests we have (from local stations) and how they match with KSTW’s schedule,” Collins said. “KSTW may be providing a second blackout-free feed to cable systems in Eastern Washington, which may alleviate the syndex problem.

“A lot depends on how local stations counter-program what KSTW distributes,” he added.

Deciphering televisionese isn’t fun for someone who just wants a viewer-friendly world where Pete O’Brien can prove he’s the answer at first.

I do know that Cox Cable could eliminate the question by expanding service. Cox doesn’t offer WGN (the Cubs), Prime Sports Northwest (Sonics and Pac-10 football) or SportsChannel America (National Hockey League). Other Inland Northwest cable companies do.

Adding channels might cost more but I can think of less attractive alternatives.

One is no KSTW, which would leave us with six months and only 10 Mariners games, five of them delayed.

Thursday, March 22, 1990

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