On the Air: WPXI covers Steelers best at 11 p.m.

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Sundays from September through December are important in Pittsburgh because the Steelers are playing, which means they also are extremely important for local television. The drive to outcover the opposition on the Steelers is a consuming passion not just with the sports departments, but with news staffs in general.

The three stations that have 11 p.m. newscasts go all out for the Steelers, but no one does it on game days quite like WPXI, which allocates more time and more manpower than WTAE or KDKA.

It is to the credit of WPXI management that it goes a step beyond in its Steelers coverage. That station signs off its regular news at 11:15 and goes to Black & Gold Extra, almost 20 minutes of sports, almost all of it Steelers coverage.

It's a bold move to cut the news, but why not for the Steelers, and especially why not on a Sunday, the slowest news day of the week?

It's surprising one of the other stations hasn't taken such an approach. The additional time gives WPXI a chance to show off the large staff advantage it has. WPXI has a four-man sports staff. The other two stations have two-man staffs.

All three stations gave an overview of the Steelers-Buffalo game Sunday at or near the top of the newscast, where the anchor delivered the highlights. Here, too, WPXI gave more.

With John Fedko anchoring and Rich Walsh reporting from Heinz Field, WPXI spent almost three minutes on highlights, quick interviews with key players and a brief look at the injury to James Harrison.

Bob Pompeani spent 90 seconds on his report on KDKA and Guy Junker a bit less at WTAE.

In fairness to KDKA and WTAE, the reports of Pompeani and Junker were concise and gave viewers all they needed at the top of the show.

The main sportscast is where WPXI had the largest edge. Not counting two commercial breaks, the station had 13 minutes of sports news. KDKA had seven minutes, not counting one commercial interruption, and WTAE, without commercials, had about 5 minutes, 20 seconds of sports.

Clearly, if you can't get enough Steelers -- and who can in this town? -- WPXI offers the most programming.

It's quality work, too. With Fedko anchoring from the studio, Walsh and Bill Phillips contributed numerous reports that covered the key points of the game. The station also gave time to the two other AFC North Division games and a 30-second report on the Pirates.

WTAE gave almost a minute to Cleveland's win against Cincinnati, plus brief snippets on the Ravens' win and the Pirates. KDKA also gave about a minute on the Cleveland win, but did not mention the Pirates.

If quantity equals quality, and in this case it did, WPXI was the winner of the day.

Madden, ESPN near deal?

Negotiations between Mark Madden and ESPN Radio 1250 are progressing on a contract that expires at the end of the month.

"Things are moving along well," said Dennis Begley, the station's general manager. "We do intend to sign him."

Chuck Greenberg, Madden's lawyer, said: "There are no problems. We're ironing out the final details."

It would appear neither side has significant leverage.

Despite the success of the Junker and Crow Show from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Madden, whose talk show is heard from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays, remains the face of ESPN Radio 1250. The station runs promos that refer to it as "The Mark Madden Station." It needs Madden's edgy style to continue to pull in his late afternoon audience.

Whether Ellis Cannon, 6 to 8 p.m. on NewsTalk 104.7, is close to, equal or ahead in the ratings is difficult to determine. But Madden remains the most talked-about sports talk-show host.

Likewise, Madden doesn't have many options. His often over-the-top style would not play on most Pittsburgh stations. It's unlikely, but not impossible, the two major players in the Pittsburgh radio market, Clear Channel and CBS, would put up with his act.

ESPN needs Madden; Madden needs ESPN.

Tirico takes the air

Also at ESPN Radio 1250, Mike Tirico began yesterday as the replacement for Dan Patrick in the early-afternoon time slot. Tirico's show will run from 1 to 3 p.m. Patrick's show had extended until 4 p.m. nationally, but the final hour was not carried in Pittsburgh.

Tirico, who has a deep and varied background in many sports, including his role as play-by-play announcer on "Monday Night Football," figures to be a significant upgrade over Patrick.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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