Why Charlotte? That’s the question that Paul Finebaum gets all the time.
Finebaum, who is to media covering the Southeastern Conference what God is to religion, gets asked why ESPN’s new SEC Network is based in Charlotte, about 100 miles north of the nearest SEC beachhead in Columbia.
Finebaum’s reply: “Why not? It’s television. It doesn’t matter where you are.”
Actually, it matters a little. Last May, when ESPN announced its 20-year deal to run the SEC Network both on TV and through digital platforms, it said it would be based slightly beyond the conference footprint.
ESPN had plenty of room to expand at its Charlotte hub, where ESPNU is based (and where its NASCAR unit was once housed), and the two networks have lots of synergy. Plus, the cost of living and doing business is a fraction of what it is in Connecticut, where ESPN has its headquarters.
Both ESPNU and the SEC Network are nestled in the vast, monolithic office-park maze of Ballantyne. ESPN showed off their snazzy digs this week, and Finebaum was among the media celebrities provided for hobnob purposes.
Finebaum, a former newspaperman, made a name for himself as a sports radio host in Birmingham who got syndicated in SEC markets across the South. 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 from the love-’em-or-hate-’em school of broadcasting, perhaps best known for skillfully provoking fans perched on the rival axis between Auburn and Alabama.
Under his five-year contract, his radio show – now on ESPN Radio – has moved to TV, and when the SEC Network launches on Thursday, he’ll play the role of oracle and perhaps provocateur alongside other personalities on the network like Brent Musberger on play-by-play, analysts Tim Tebow and Marcus Spears and up-and-coming reporter Kaylee Hartung.
Though Finebaum is media royalty in the SEC, he admits he feels a little humbled here.
In Charlotte? Why Charlotte?
“It’s the first time I’ve ever lived in a pro-sports town,” he says. He found himself cheering for the Bobcats this year, like he’d just discovered the NBA. And he hopes to hit his first Panthers game some Sunday this fall.
That makes sense, though the NFL might seem a little tame after a career of watching SEC football.
In all, 21 sports, including volleyball, will be carried by the SEC Network on TV or on its Internet site. HD-capable fiber lines have been laid from the control room in Charlotte to all 14 campuses to ensure the signal is network quality. Robotic cameras, controlled from Ballantyne, have been installed in every SEC athletic department for remote interviews. Finally, a real Charlotte’s web.
After five years, Tenikka Smith departs from WSOC (Channel 9) where she was reporter and anchor to a Cox sister station in Jacksonville, Fla., where she will be evening anchor. Brian Christiansen joins WJZY (Channel 46) as a junior digital journalist. Erick Weber, anchor at New England Cable News, is joining WJZY’s soon-to-be-launched morning show.
Anniversary of note: Tammy Woehler Lowry, national sales manager at Greater Media Charlotte, marks 15 years at WLNK-FM (“Link” 107.9) and WBT-AM (1110). Reid Spivey leaves WHQC-FM (“Channel” 96.1) to join a sister Clear Channel station in Savannah, Ga., where he’ll do evenings and be program director.
A woman who lashed out Monday at journalists outside the Catawba County Courthouse in Newton has been charged with assault. Darlene Odom was leaving the arraignment of her son, Sharman, accused in the strangulation of a high school counselor, when Channel 9 reporter Sarah Rosario pointed a microphone at her and asked, “Do you have anything to say about the charges?” She batted Rosario’s microphone away, saying “Get out of my face!” Then she smacked the lens of a Channel 9 camera held by Andrew Perdue, then smacked the camera being held by WBTV’s (Channel 3) Steve Ohnesorge. Perdue wasn’t hurt but Ohnesorge suffered a cut to his eye socket. Ohnesorge has been on five tours of combat zones during his 38-year career at WBTV. “And never a scratch,” he says.