By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.