By Dave Hughes
As 2011 draws to an end, here are my top Baltimore-area sports media stories for the year -- in no particular order.
• In February, the Orioles hopped to WBAL-AM after four years on WJZ-FM. WBAL had been the Orioles flagship for 19 years, until the team moved to 105.7 in 2007.
• This year, the Federal Communications Commission officially approved the merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. Locally, the deal puts Comcast cable TV systems in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas, plus the Bethesda-based Comcast SportsNet, under the same corporate umbrella as NBC's Channel 4/WRC, the NBC/MSNBC Washington News Bureau, plus a batch of sports networks. There will be some changes at Comcast/NBC's sports networks, including the renaming of Versus as the NBC Sports Network.
• Nick Charles, a sports anchor at Baltimore's Channel 13/WJZ in the early 1970s, who went on to the just-launched CNN in 1980, died June 25 at age 64. Most recently, he'd been covering boxing for Showtime and HBO. Charles had been suffering from bladder cancer since 2009.
• Baltimore loses a radio sports talker. In June, the Mangione family pulled the plug on its sports talk format at Baltimore's WVIE, 1370 AM. The station went with politically based news talk. Those out included Jerry Coleman, who hosted the afternoon show, Rob Long who did late mornings, and PressBox Publisher Stan "The Fan" Charles, who did a noon show.
• The body of Orioles great Mike Flanagan, 59, was found on Aug. 24 on rural property he owned in Baltimore County. His death was ruled a suicide. For the past two years, Flanagan was a color analyst for Orioles games on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. He spent more than 30 years with the Orioles as a player, coach, front-office executive and broadcaster.
Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun tells us that sports news Web site SBnation.com has ranked Jim Palmer's tribute to Flanagan -- an hour or so after he learned that his good friend, ex-Orioles teammate and MASN broadcast partner had committed suicide -- as the greatest sportscasting moment of 2011.
"If we had the time, I'd love to have us watch the last hour of the Orioles game called by Jim Palmer on Aug. 24," SBnation's Jon Bois wrote. "Because during that game, Palmer learned that Mike Flanagan, his teammate and longtime friend, had tragically and suddenly passed away.
"Everyone would have forgiven him for excusing himself from the broadcast, or getting emotional during the game. I don't think anyone else expected, or would have even asked for, the superhuman degree of professionalism Palmer exhibited. But clearly, he expected it of himself. He called the rest of the game as he always would, and here, after the game, he finally allows himself to cry.
"As I watched Jim Palmer follow up a superhuman evening of broadcasting with a heartbreakingly human moment, I thought of who sportscasters really are to us. We knock them all the time for their factual errors and their biases and all sorts of things, and I think that's okay, because that will always be a component of our relationship."
Speaking of the new NBC Sports Network, the legendary hockey confrontation between Team Canada and the Soviet Union will be the first original production when the network debuts in place of Versus on Jan. 2.
"Cold War on Ice: Summit Series '72" is a 90-minute documentary and will run at 4:30 p.m. It will follow NBC Sports Network's post-game coverage of the 2012 NHL Winter Classic on NBC.
Posted Dec. 30, 2011