City Reporter

City Reporter

| August 10, 2001

Down To the Wire

Grizzlies are exploring TV and radio broadcast deals.

By Chris Przybyszewski

Randy Stephens is a busy guy. "We are still talking to a lot of people," says the Memphis Grizzlies' director of broadcast on the team's efforts to secure local television, cable, and radio rights. With a pre-season schedule starting October 9th, Stephens knows that he is on deadline.

"On the over-the-air side, we've had serious discussions with Clear Channel, WMC, and their partnership with PAX," Stephens says. Those are the obvious choices since the NBA's official network is NBC, WMC's affiliate.

The other two network affiliates, according to Stephens, are probably out of the running.

"It's very difficult for them to be involved because of their network commitments," he says. "So even if they wanted to put Grizzlies games on, they can't free up enough space to do it."

But even one cleared schedule might not be enough. The Grizzlies are looking at stations that share ownerships.

"WPTY and WLMT along with WMC and PAX have a common ownership," Stephens says. "So they have two stations to work with. That gives them a little more flexibility in their scheduling. In either one of those scenarios, you will see games on both stations in the partnership."

Things are complicated with the radio deal as well.

"It's pretty obvious that the all-sports stations are going to be interested," says Stephens, though there is still more of a selection here than he first expected. "For a market this size to have two all-sports stations [AM 560 and AM 790] is quite unique. We'll see how it plays out. It's a good thing for us. It's a built-in interest."

There has also been surprising interest from FM stations.

"That would be unique," Stephens says. "There are currently no NBA teams that have an FM station as their flagship broadcaster. But when you consider on the AM side [in Memphis], there is no 50,000-watt mega-powerhouse that can boom the signal out in this market."

Media revenues generated in Memphis will be the smallest in the league, in proportion to Memphis' status as the smallest media market. However, Stephens feels that the team can get the same profits as when the team resided in Canada.

"Vancouver was actually quite similar to here," he says. "It was a larger market but you have to keep in mind that all the broadcast revenues we would take in were in Canadian dollars. That makes a huge difference right off the bat. The other issue is that Vancouver was very much a hockey town. The [NHL] Canucks did very well with their broadcast revenues. The Grizzlies did not do so well.

"Historically, when the teams were under common ownership, there was a lot of packaging and the Grizzlies benefited from that. When Michael Heisley bought the team and we went to it on our own, we lost those built-in advantages and then were in a competition situation with the Canucks. It was much harder to generate broadcast revenues."

Whichever stations get the deals, there will be a lot of basketball to broadcast. For starters, the team will make efforts to show all 41 scheduled away games. And though Stephens would not guarantee the entire schedule, "68 to 72" games shown in the home market is the league average. Also, Stephens says that the Grizzlies will not practice "blackouts" in which the home team pulls local broadcasts if the home arena does not sell out.

"That's not something that we're interested in doing," Stephens says. "We believe the ability for fans to see our product is the best advertisement we can get. The old-school theory was that if you televised your game you would hurt your attendance. I'm not sure that is true."

The Grizzlies will employ two broadcast teams, one for television and one for radio. They've found half their team for radio.

"The only announcer we currently have under contract is Don Poier," Stephens says. "He's been the radio voice of the Grizzlies since day one and he has agreed to relocate to Memphis. He's obviously a wonderful tool for us. If anyone knows the history of the Grizzlies, it's him. He's seen almost every game."

Poier's radio partner as well as the local television team could be composed of both national and local broadcasters. "We've had a lot of national names people would recognize," Stephens says. "We've also had a lot of folks from the Memphis marketplace. We're still trying to determine what is best: someone with a built-in profile in the Memphis marketplace, or since this is a new product, we could establish someone new. We're still working through that."

Local Theater Awards Have New Name, Format

By Chris Davis

Jim Ostrander
“And the Ostrander goes TO . . .”
After 17 years, the Memphis Theatre Awards, an event co-sponsored by Memphis magazine and the Memphis Arts Council, have finally settled on a suitable name for the actual award. Henceforth they will be known as the Ostranders in honor of Jim Ostrander, a 30-year veteran of the Memphis boards who was sidelined last season due to his ongoing battle with jaw cancer.
Ostrander’s acting career began while he was a student at Christian Brothers College. He has performed on every stage in town, gaining the respect of his peers and the universal adoration of the theatergoing community. Before his last surgery he was a company member at Playhouse on the Square where he continued to give award-winning performances even after having portions of his jaw removed.
Over the years Ostrander has received a number of Memphis Theatre Awards and was most recently honored with the Eugart Yerian Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In the past the Memphis Theatre Awards have been based on excellence with a number of awards handed out in every category, but that too has changed. Following the lead of other major awards such as the Oscars and the Tonys, there will now be a number of nominations and only one winner. The nominations are considered to be the equivalent of “an award for excellence.” The Ostrander will go only to the person or show that the judges believe to be the season’s best.
Janie McCrary, the awards organizer, says, “The use of nominees and one winner raises the profile of the awards while raising the bar for excellence in the theater community.”
The Ostranders will be handed out on Sunday, August 26th, at The Dixon Gallery and Gardens. The nominees in all major categories are listed in “Sealing the Envelope” on page 42 of this week’s Flyer. The complete list can be found at www.memphisflyer.com.

Schools Begin Year With Budget Questions

August 13th is a big day for the Shelby County school system. It's the first day of school for Shelby County students. It's also the day that Shelby County teachers may find out what their salaries will be this year.

On the teachers' first day back to work, Monday, August 6th, they signed their contracts as they've done every year. But this year, the contracts were lacking one thing: a dollar amount. Instead, the contracts told the teacher what pay step they were on, depending on their education and experience.

"We're operating on a continuation budget," says Shelby County Schools spokesperson Mike Tebbe. "The salary would be based on what they had last year depending on the county commission."

Tebbe says the school system did the same thing last year, when in a similar situation. The next time county commissioners will have an opportunity to approve the budget is August 13th.

"Once the budget is formally approved, salary increments or raises will be factored in," says Tebbe. "We hope that when August 13th rolls around we'll be fully funded."

But county and the city go hand in hand, especially when, as of this writing, funding is also uncertain at the state level. --Mary Cashiola

Mental Health Center Opens

The public is invited to the August 9th grand opening of the new Drop-In Center at 1048 S. Bellevue. The center is designed to handle individuals over the age of 18 with mental-health problems or with recurring mental-health needs.

"The purpose of the grand opening is for people to get to meet the staff as well as become familiar with the facility," says Linda Cooper, Drop-In Center coordinator.

Foundations Associates, the host agency, is allowing the center to open and run free of charge due to grants and private funding. Individuals will have the opportunity to learn new skills, join support groups, take part in daily activities, meet one-on-one with a counselor, and much more. Individuals who are unable to drive can be picked up by vans the center will operate daily.

The center will have a television room. In addition, the facility includes a vocational room for those who are interested in learning computer skills, a game room, a music room, and a dance stage. The organization is looking for volunteers to teach music and other activities.

The grand opening will be Thursday, August 9th, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The center will be open Monday through Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. For more information, call 725-6566. --Hannah Walton

UrbanArt Unveils First of Three Sculptures

The 17-foot steel shade structure on the Memphis riverfront is not just there so people will sit out of the sun -- it is a piece of John Medwedeff's artwork.

The outdoor sculpture, titled Whirl, is one of three artist-designed structures that visitors to the Memphis riverfront can admire. This steel arrangement, commissioned by the UrbanArt Commission and the Riverfront Development Corporation, is the first of three public art commissions on the riverfront.

"It has been a great collaboration to get the sculpture here in Vance Park, and everyone seems to be really excited about it," says Carissa Hussong, executive director of UrbanArt. "The overall response to Medwedeff's structure has been very positive."

Native Memphian Medwedeff completed his training at the National Ornamental Metal Museum. This is his first public art structure here, but he has previously completed several large-scale public art projects with his company, Medwedeff Forge and Design.

Carol Todd, Reb Haizlip, Brantley Ellzey, and Leonard Gill have designed the other two structures for the riverfront. --Hannah Walton

city beat

The Last Mile and the Last Integrationist

Richard Fields wants to block a new "all-white" school.

by John Branston

The complicated way of funding city and county schools got a lot more complicated this week as some key players took off in opposite directions.

First, veteran NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Richard Fields threatened to sue to block construction of a new $40 million Shelby County high school in Arlington, which is literally the last mile of eastward suburban sprawl. Beyond that lies Fayette County. It's all infill now.

The proposed school, he says, needs more black kids. The way to attract black families, he says, is to build more low-income and multifamily housing in the area. No integration, no school.

"They cannot build a $40 million all-white high school," vowed Fields. "That is just not gonna happen."

On Monday, the Memphis Board of Education took a different tack, voting to spend $40 million to reopen Douglass High School and Manassas High School, two all-black schools that were closed several years ago because they were losing population. The driving force for closing Douglass back in 1981 and sending its students to integrated Craigmont High School was Fields and the Legal Defense Fund.

Times have changed. On Monday, city councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Holt asked school board members to "give back what the devil took away." The overwhelming sentiment at the school board was for neighborhood schools. The same rationale was used to save Carver High School a few years ago. Instead of tearing it down as planned, MCS spent $10 million to rebuild it.

Separate but equal is no problem for the city system, at least financially. Under the average-daily-attendance funding formula, as long as the county keeps building new schools, the city collects roughly $2.50 on the dollar. MCS is in the midst of a 15-year building boom that will exceed $1 billion by 2006.

Suburban sprawl drives the county school construction boom, which in turn fuels the city school construction boom. Meanwhile, instruction costs per pupil as opposed to capital-improvements spending lags far behind peer cities for both systems.

A few fiscal conservatives on the Shelby County Commission think this is madness, because they have to keep raising property taxes. County Superintendent James Mitchell has suggested using rural school bonds instead because they would not trigger city spending. Richard Fields would like to see schools built where both black and white kids have a realistic chance of attending them.

Both views are in the minority. Most everyone loves new schools. Developers and homebuilders love them. Landowners love them because the value of their property increases. The construction industry, architects, and bricklayers love them. Politicians love them; Monday's board of education vote was unanimous. Alumni love them; Manassas and Douglass supporters packed the auditorium. Board members Sara Lewis, Hubon Sandridge, and Lee Brown graduated from Manassas.

Fields admitted Tuesday that the vote caught him totally by surprise. Could he be the last integrationist, just as Arlington is the last mile?

"I don't know," he said after a pause. "I think everyone believes in integrated schools. I'd take a poll of our elected officials and see where they send their kids to school. I think it would show that most send them to private school or the best city schools. A number of our black officials make sure their children go to school with white children."

No matter. A lawyer, whether he's Richard Fields or Duncan Ragsdale, doesn't need a constituency to bring construction of a school or an NBA arena to a halt, just a case and a sympathetic judge.

Fields says what Memphis needs is more money for instruction, not construction. "Our schools should be centrally located," he says. "They should be community centers that are used 18 hours a day, 12 months a year."

The populace, however, wants schools in their own backyard. And the bottom line is that politicians will vote to put them there every time and worry about paying for them later.

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