Same song, different verse, déjá vu

by Ogi Overman

Flipping though the channels last Saturday morning I landed for a moment on a high school football game. Having already watched ‘“Sports Center’” twice and read Molly Ivins and Leonard Pitts, I lingered on the game for more than my short attention span and itchy remote finger normally allows. Knowing that ESPN and some of the other national sports cable channels occasionally broadcast a high school game from Texas or Florida, naturally I figured I was watching Plano or Odessa or one of those big-time programs that could beat some Division III colleges.

After a couple of plays something tipped me off that this was not The Deuce and we weren’t in Texas anymore. It wasn’t the production or picture quality, which were excellent, nor the players, who were fast and/or huge. The field looked good and the stands were filled. The commentators were polished and their banter smooth, both having obviously done their homework.

But wait ‘… that voice. I know that voice. Cranking up the volume, I realized that it’s my old buddy Jay Shurling, once a well-loved Triad sports anchor and reporter, with whom I’d lost contact after the Prowlers arena football team folded. Turns out Jay is doing play-by-play for this outfit called TSEN, and the game they’re televising is the previous night’s Page-Grimsley contest. It’s being aired on WGPX PAX 16, which airs in Greensboro on cable channel 14.

I made a mental note to call the station next week and get the details, but before that I got another unexpected surprise. Sunday afternoon, with no Panthers game on, I flicked to channel 14 again and, son of a ding-dong, there’s Guilford College and Greensboro College on tape delay in what’s become their annual Soup Bowl. Now I really need to get the skinny on this.

And here it is, but first a little back-story. Since WGGT sold out and merged with WUPN in the early ’90s, Greensboro and the Triad have been without a true local, independent, unaffiliated, commercial TV station. All this time I’ve been incessantly beating the drum for someone, anyone, to take the plunge and air some locally generated programming. It would not need a full news, sports and weather staff and therefore would not compete directly with the local network affiliates, but it would be able to do myriad things that would be off-limits and unfeasible for channels 2, 8, 12 or 45. Such as, oh I don’t know, maybe televise the Page-Grimsley game or the Guilford-GC matchup. Hello!

When Robert Meeks at WGPX informed me of the person behind these two telecasts, I was not the least bit surprised that it was a kindred spirit named Dan Falinski. I’d gotten to know Dan during those two glorious years when the Carolina Hurricanes played in the Greensboro Coliseum. He covered the games for the station he owned in Reidsville, WXIV. Many a night, sitting high above the frozen pond, he would regale me with his dreams of getting Time Warner Cable to pick up his small, over-the-air station, which would give him the viewership base and potential ad revenue to televise some local sporting and other events. But because his tiny microwave station fell outside the federally mandated must-carry rules, Time Warner was under no obligation to carry it ‘— so they didn’t. Finally Dan gave up the ghost in May 2004 and sold WXIV to Star News Corp., out of Martinsville, Va.

Some people just don’t know when to quit, and apparently Dan and I are two of them. Rather than take the money and run, he has rekindled his dream and retooled his approach.

‘“I’ve learned through bitter experience not to burn any bridges,’” he said when I caught up with him last week. ‘“I was a little too belligerent, a little too aggressive with my plans. Now I realize you’ve got to crawl before you can walk.’”

What that means is that for the immediate future he will continue to lease time on WGPX. His TSEN (Triad Sports & Entertainment Network) is buying its own equipment and will resume its high school football schedule Nov. 5, the last week before the playoffs. It will carry a tape-delay game each Saturday through the playoffs and will also air the North-South Shrine Bowl game on Christmas Eve. Then on New Year’s Eve it will begin coverage of a high school basketball game of the week, which typically will air each Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m.

Dan also has his sights on other sporting events. Modified racing at Bowman Gray Stadium looks quite promising, he says, and Caraway and Ace speedways are also possibilities. Plus, there’s this minor league baseball team that plays in a new stadium in downtown Greensboro that would be ripe for TV coverage.

But that’s only the beginning. Tune in next week, same Bat time, same Bat channel, for the rest of the story.

Oops, I mean same Grasshopper time.

Ogi can be reached at ogi@yesweekly and heard each Tuesday from 9:30 to 10 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM.