For the Fantasias of Fairmont, it all started a half century ago.
These were days when television was just beginning to catch on but most everyone had a radio, and if you wanted to be brought West Virginia University football or basketball, it would come over that radio, be it alone in the car or with the family gathered around in the living room.
The late Nick Fantasia was representing his radio station, along with a few others and a young broadcaster by the name of Jack Fleming, putting together the network that would carry the games … in those days over telephone lines.
Over the years, no matter how high the definition became on television, radio ruled and, for that matter, it still does. Fleming, of course, is gone, replaced by Tony Caridi and now what you had come to know as an in-house Mountaineer Sports Network has been sold off to IMG.
The sale was completed just a week or so ago under the messiest of circumstances, with John Raese and his West Virginia Radio Corp. battling if not to keep its piece of the broadcast pie, at least to keep some of its competitors from moving forward.
They saw enough dirt to move the fight into the courts and to make life uneasy, but not impossible, for what seemed to be inevitable from the beginning, this marriage between WVU and IMG.
Now, though, July is rapidly melting into August, and a new network has got to be woven together while Caridi has to be brought back into the fold, in part because it is the right thing to do, in part because he carries a strong following and, in part, WVU won his heart away from his alma mater at Syracuse.
Time became a factor and so it was that on Friday IMG announced that its first station in the new Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG would be WMTD-FM in Hinton, also known as ESPN Radio 102.3 The Ticket.
Shortly after that announcement was made, IMG came forth with yet another announcement, and that was that Nick Fantasia, the son’s, WRLF-FM and WTCS-AM in Fairmont would be the first stations on the network in North Central West Virginia.
Considering the half century connection, one wondered what it was like for Fantasia to be on the sidelines as this battle was waged, not knowing what the future held, although as it turned out that was a bit too dramatic.
To begin with, Fantasia’s contracts with MSN ran for another year, so he was fairly certain that no matter what the outcome short of a blackout that his station would be carrying the games, just as he is as certain as he can be that he will be signing up for an extension beyond this year.
“From our perspective we’re a willing participant,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity for us to be a part of WVU that’s what we’re going to do. That’s where we’ve grown up; it’s where we went to school. My family has had a strong on-going relationship there. My kids were born there.”
Still, there were things churning inside as the battle raged in the media over the network and the school’s media rights.
“It’s like you sit back and watch folks you know battle over something and, while you’re not worried it would affect you, you had to be mindful of if you went one way or another,” Fantasia admitted. “It’s a shame in a state this size with everyone having similar interests we can’t learn to play in the same sandbox.”
Certainly there is a lot of money at stake, WVU getting $86 million for its rights to its radio and other Tier 3 rights and all of the radio stations landing important properties in WVU athletics.
And there are changes that can only help the local stations, for WVU will go from an hour pre-game show to a 3.5-hour show and from a half-hour post-game show to a two-hour show.
“How could it not be a good thing (to get WVU sports)?” Fantasia said when asked what it meant. “As a station you have opportunities to bring more advertising in. As a program director you have more opportunity to present a very high-profile product to your listeners. As a sports fan, there’s WVU … how can that be bad?”
WVU, of course, is everything Fantasia could want for both his stations. It offers ratings and more, although the ratings angle is sometimes difficult to figure.
“That’s hard to quantify because the audience that listens to WVU is different than the audience that listens to your regular programing,” Fantasia said. “WTCS, for example, is a 45-plus demographic with a news/talk format. The WVU audience is a younger, 18 to 45 person’s audience. So, while the numbers may be the same, it’s a different audience.
“With WRLF-FM it’s a classic rock audience, so the demographic for WVU is very similar.”
Fantasia Broadcasting has sports image.
“We carry the Steelers; we carry NASCAR; we carry the Penguins and the Pirates. From our standpoint, all of the teams you like are part of the family, so it’s a good fit,” Fantasia said. “For us, our image is the station that brings the marquee teams to the market.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.
For the Fantasias of Fairmont, it all started a half century ago.
- Bob Herzel
WVU women topple Texas, advance to Big 12 championship
Buckle your seatbelts. It’s time for West Virginia-Baylor III, and this time the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Tournament championship is the prize.
HERTZEL COLUMN- Ejim’s season wasn’t better than Staten’s
You’ll pardon a little old-fashioned outrage this morning, I hope.
It doesn’t come as often from this old body as it used to.
Staten, Harris tabbed with Big 12 honors
West Virginia’s point guard Juwan Staten was named to the All-Big 12 team and selected as a member of the league’s All-Defensive team but lost out to Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim in the Player of the Year voting.
WVU riding Kansas win into Big 12 Tournament
All season long, whenever anyone would ask coach Bob Huggins what his West Virginia team had to do to win games — and believe it, that question came up before almost every game — Huggins always had the same answer.
Mountaineers stun No. 8 Kansas, 92-86
The missing link finally showed itself for West Virginia University on Saturday, maybe just in time to save the season for the Mountaineers.
“Better late than never,” is the way WVU guard Eron Harris put it after freshman center Devin Williams stepped out of the shadows and put together the game everyone has been waiting for in leading the Mountaineers to a crucial 92-86 victory over Kansas.
HERTZEL COLUMN: Eron Harris bounces back to spark WVU
One minute and forty-seven seconds had ticked off the Coliseum clock on Saturday afternoon and things were off to the kind of start most people had expected, Kansas in the lead, albeit as slender as a one-point lead can be.
That was when Juwan Staten spotted Eron Harris open beyond the 3-point arc.
Staten plans to test NBA after season
To the surprise of no one, West Virginia University guard Juwan Staten is going to explore his opportunities in the NBA at the end of this season, a season in which he has become perhaps the best player in the Big 12.
WVU women outlast TCU to advance in Big 12 tournament
In the afternoon, West Virginia’s men’s team gave up a career-high 41 points to Andrew Wiggins but found a way to tough out a victory over Kansas.
Then Saturday evening, the West Virginia women’s team gave up a career-high 32 points to Zahna Medley but found a way to tough out a victory over TCU in the second round of the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championships in Oklahoma City.
HERTZEL COLUMN: Buie returns to WVU after a year away
It’s nearly every little boy’s dream to become a college football athlete, to play in a stadium before 60,000, 70,000, 100,000 fans, to wear the colors of a university proudly. There are cheerleaders and groupies; there’s your name in headlines, your picture in the newspapers.
WVU looks to back up Huggins’ prediction
It was after Kansas defeated West Virginia University, 83-69, a month ago in Lawrence, Bob Huggins reached into his deep library of inspirational sayings and came out with one from Abe Lemons, of all people, the one-time Texas coach who never was at a loss for words.
- More Bob Herzel Headlines
- WVU women topple Texas, advance to Big 12 championship