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Paul Finebaum brings hot sports show to Charlotte

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

He’s been described by The Wall Street Journal as the “Oprah Winfrey of college football” and by the Huntsville (Ala.) Times as “the most influential sports-talk personality in the Southeast.”

He’s Paul Finebaum, a sports radio host from Birmingham who is soaring to the national stage by launching an ESPN career from Charlotte.

Finebaum has just landed a spot at ESPN’s Ballantyne hub, which will be beefing up as operations center for the August 2014 launch of the SEC Network.

Finebaum is one of those love-him-or-hate-him voices familiar to SEC fans, particularly the opposing forces of Alabama and Auburn. His Birmingham-based show, which was syndicated throughout the Southeast, was known for his provocative wit and ability to needle callers into spitting tirades.

Even if you’ve never heard of the show, you’ve probably heard of what happened on it Jan. 27, 2011, when an Alabama fan called in to say he had poisoned historic oak trees on the Auburn campus. Auburn soon confirmed that a powerful herbicide had indeed been poured on the ground around the trees.

Authorities eventually traced the call back to a retired Texas state trooper, who was convicted of criminal mischief and served jail time. Auburn removed the oaks.

Finebaum’s five-year deal with ESPN includes radio and 100 televised appearances annually. Plans are to do a TV simulcast of his radio show on the new SEC Network.

“It would be the understatement of my life to say I wasn’t thrilled,” Finebaum told The Wall Street Journal.

Finebaum’s ability to tap into the passion callers have for collegiate sports has worked well in the SEC, arguably the nation’s premier football conference. What remains to be seen is whether his talents will transfer to a national audience.

Lanny Ford, general manager of WZGV-AM (“ESPN” 730) says his station would be interested in picking up the show, which debuts Aug. 1, but he hasn’t gotten details yet from the network. “We’re always interested in expanding the ESPN brand in Charlotte,” Ford said.

Media Movers

She won’t be listening to the alarm go off at 3 a.m., but Stacey Simms, who left “Charlotte’s Morning News” in December after a decade at WBT-AM (1110), is returning to radio. She’ll be the community face of WLKO-FM (“The Lake” 102.9), the variety hits station that replaced the old “Lite.” Simms will be doing promotions, commercials, social media and public appearances for the station. ...

Mark Kemp, editor of Creative Loafing for the past two years, leaves amid a restructuring of the weekly. “We had a good run,” says Kemp, who is getting married next month and says it’s a good time to move and find his next challenge. Managing Editor Kimberly Lawson moves up to the No. 1 spot. ...

David Zeplowitz, better known as Cigar Dave, will bring his two-hour nationally syndicated radio show to the Golf Pavilion at the Golf Club at Ballantyne at noon June 1. This is his 15th annual visit to Charlotte and is open to the public. His show is carried locally on WBT-AM (1110). ...

New top officers installed this week at the American Advertising Foundation-Charlotte are Theckla Pope of Saturday Brand Communications as president, Jonathan Piscitelli of Split Second Sound as first vice president of programs, Brion Blais of Speedpro Imaging as second vice president of membership, Brandon Kirby of Wray Ward as treasurer and Shruti Chandra of Carolinas HealthCare System as secretary, social media chair. ...

Two Charlotte-area bachelors will be among the 25 potential suitors for Desiree Hartsock when “The Bachelorette” debuts at 8 p.m. Monday on ABC. Jonathan Vollinger, 26, is a December graduate of the University of Miami School of Law from Hickory. Nick Mucci, 27, is an investment adviser for Vanguard from Charlotte. In his profile he said his dream job would be sportscaster. ...

Fox Television Stations, which bought WJZY (Channel 46) and WMYT (Channel 55) in January and will move Fox network programming from WCCB (Chanel 18) on July 1, has added Council Bradshaw as vice president for creative services and will oversee promotion. He worked with general manager Karen Adams when they were at WGHP (Channel 8) in Greensboro. ... Amy Burkett starts Tuesday as general manager of WTVI (PBS Charlotte, Channel 42), taking over from the retiring Elsie Garner, who has led the station since 2003. ...

Charlotte resident Janaye Williams won a three-year subscription to Sirus/XM Satellite Radio on an appearance Monday on “The Price Is Right.” ... Disney XD’s “Lab Rats” star Kelli Berglund will appear from 3 to 5 p.m. June 1 at Monroe Crossing Mall as part of WGFY-AM’s (Radio Disney, 1480) promotion at Beach Blast 2013.

Washburn: 704-358-5007.
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