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New WSOC sports director scores in sports

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

He comes from a family handy at math, so his goal was to become an engineer. On his first calculus test, he scored a 12.

Out of what?

“That’s what everyone asks,” says Phil Orban, WSOC’s (Channel 9) new sports director. “Out of 100.”

So Orban adopted the trade where the arithmetic-challenged are drawn – mass communications.

As a student at the University of Maryland, he landed an internship at the “The George Michael Sports Machine,” a Sunday-night syndicated sports highlights program. He came to be in charge of NASCAR highlights, which gave him an appreciation for a sport he knew little of before, and provided a foundation he would come to draw upon in his career.

Orban, 30, landed his first sports director job at a Monroe, La., station where he learned bass fishing, then went to the ABC affiliate in Richmond, Va., where he’s spent the past five years.

He was interested in moving to an NFL city and applied to WSOC after the departure of Tiffany Wright. In coming to Charlotte, he says, he feels like he’s moving up in nearly every sport. He’s trading Virginia collegiate football for the Panthers, two NACAR race dates in Richmond for three in Charlotte, and AA minor league baseball for AAA with the Knights.

Coverage of local sports is a divisive issue in the TV business. Many stations, reacting to research that show’s viewers don’t care much about it, have cut way back. Others have maintained costly sports staffs.

“There’s still room for local sports in a market like this,” Orban says. He wants to create a sportscast that appeals even to those who aren’t sports fans per se.

Nothing in sports means more to local stations, he says, than high school football coverage in the fall. “That’s where you connect most to local viewers and parents.”

In Richmond, Orban developed a sideline feature – he’d select a high school band of the week and record them to play back during the scrolling scores. It became a popular honor, and he’s considering the idea for WSOC’s Friday night preps coverage.

Orban, who has a wife, a 2-year-old daughter and another child on the way, says he doesn’t know of a better way to make a living than reporting on sports.

“I can’t imagine sitting behind a desk all day,” he says. “Today, I talked to Rusty Wallace at Trump National Golf Course, and then I was at the BB&T Ballpark. And there’s not a ton of math.”

Media Movers

Kim Saxon moves up from executive producer to assistant news director of WBTV (Channel 3), replacing Yvonne Simon. … Alexa Ashwell joins WSOC (Channel 9) as a reporter. She comes from the NBC affiliate in Dayton, Ohio. …

Meteorologist Meghan Danahey departs from WCNC (Channel 36) after four years for a forecasting job at the CBS affiliate in St. Louis. … Nick Kosir joins WJZY (Channel 46) as meteorologist for the station’s morning show, expected to launch in May. He comes from the CBS affiliate in Twin Falls, Idaho. …

WNOW-AM (1030) will carry Sunday home games for the Charlotte Knights in Spanish with Rafael Bastidas doing play-by-play. He’ll be joined by Jhony Lopez, Tony Ramos and Ernesto Hurtado in the booth. …

Reporter Lisa Miller will moderate WFAE-FM’s (NPR, 90.7) next public conversation series, “What’s in Our Water?” at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Wells Fargo Auditorium at the Levine Center for the Arts. Panelists will include Richard Gaskins, executive director of Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, and Barry Gullet, director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities. …

WSOC-FM (103.7) is bringing in celebrities to sit in for morning host Rob Tanner, who has returned to Florida for a few weeks of follow-up care from his cancer surgery in January. This week, co-host Guenn Schneider and producer Chris Allen did the show with former American Idol winner Scotty McCreery, John Rich from “The Apprentice” and vocalist Jana Kramer. Next week, guests will include members of the band Parmalee.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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