April 07, 2020

WZON’s deal had impact Highs, lows felt in broadcast sports

The year gone by certainly brought plenty of Maine television-radio sports developments.

Arguably, the most significant of these was made by Bangor radio station WZON (620 AM). The Sports Zone was true to its nickname, acquiring radio broadcast rights for all University of Maine sports.

The effects of the exclusive three-year contract announced in March were felt in the Bangor radio market for months.

After WABI (910 AM) in Bangor – a longtime broadcaster of UMaine football and baseball contests – was bought by Bangor businessman Chip Hutchins a few months later, WABI agreed on an exclusive, one-year broadcast deal with Husson College for Braves men’s and women’s basketball and baseball.

Prior to the Husson deal, which was objected to by WZON officials who thought they had also had a deal with the Bangor college, WABI officials announced a plan for a more “hometown approach” to sports coverage with broadcasts of high school and American Legion games.

There were other chain reaction effects of the WZON-UM deal: The potential for broadcast schedule conflicts between UMaine’s three high-profile sports – hockey, women’s and men’s basketball, which play on similar nights of the week – increased.

Also, it brought a halt to a 34-year association WABI radio announcer George Hale had with University of Maine sports.

The WZON-UM deal certainly made the most news, but 1997 was not without several other broadcast sports highs and lows. Among them:

Sports bars and cable companies continued to butt heads over exclusive sports telecasts and Maine was no exception. Legends Sports Restaurant and Pub in Bangor paid Cablevision for Legends’ unauthorized showing of the first pay-per-view heavyweight boxing match between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson.

Further proof of the immense popularity of the Eastern Maine basketball tournaments came when WABI radio aired games on both AM and FM for the first time in more than a decade.

Candlepin bowling returned to local TV airwaves as Candlepins for Cash debuted on Bangor Warner Brothers affiliate WBGR-TV Bangor (Ch. 33).

WBGR and WABI-TV Bangor (Ch. 5) agreed to allow all Boston Red Sox games not aired on WABI to be aired by WBGR – giving Bangor-area viewers 59 more Red Sox games to watch.

A weekly Maine golf television show debuted in the Portland market and planned to expand north.

No state TV stations bid on rights for the University of Maine sports package, prompting the university to offer rights on a piecemeal basis.

After a 10-year drought, WABI-TV re-acquired rights to UMaine sports, teaming up with WPXT-TV in Portland (Ch. 51) for football and women’s basketball.

The Bangor Blue Ox two-station radio network collapsed just weeks after it formed, leaving only one station to broadcast games.

FrontierVision agreed to purchase Cablevision’s Maine operations, increasing the chance that sports-minded WPME-TV of South Portland (Ch. 35) might replace Boston’s WSBK-TV (Ch. 38) in the local cable lineup.

WLBZ-TV in Bangor (Ch. 2) learned the hard way through angry viewer calls and letters how popular Women’s NBA (WNBA) broadcasts were.

WABI-TV angered college football fanatics by not airing the second games of Saturday doubleheaders during the 1997 season.

WPXT angered New York Giants fans by replacing Giants games with network-suggested games of the week before doing an about-face and returning the Giants to the Maine airwaves after a barrage of viewer complaints.

Former UMaine hockey player Bob Beers returned to the ice as an announcer – earning positive reviews in his first season as color analyst for the Boston Bruins.

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