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THE SIGNING of Buffalo Bills General Manager John Butler by WBEN-AM to participate in a weekly call-in show at 7 p.m. Wednesdays during the football season has created quite a stir in local broadcasting circles.

Starting Sept. 1, Butler will essentially replace former Bill James Lofton in aweekly round-table discussion of the Bills that will be hosted either by WBEN's Rick Maloney or Howard Simon.

What makes the move intriguing is the fact that Butler's predecessor, Bill Polian, had a weekly call-in show on WGR-AM, which carries the Bills games.

Polian signed with WGR a year before the Bills moved from WBEN to the Rich Communications station.

Some people are wondering if Butler's move -- he also was courted by WGR -- says anything about the Bills radio future after their contract with WGR expires at the end of next season.

"We're just thrilled John Butler has elected to do his radio show at our radio station," WBEN's Larry Levite said.

"WBEN was willing to put together a deal for John that was better than we were willing to do," said WGR's Chuck Finney.

The move may not mean anything. Butler was an occasional guest on WBEN and may just feel more comfortable there.

But then again, the move may make WGR management a little nervous.

As a rule, stations that hold sports contracts hold an advantage over those trying to lure them away.

However, all bets are off after the Bills recently chose Channel 7 to carry two preseason games over a "monster bid" made by the Empire Sports Network, which carried the one preseason game a year ago.

There is speculation that Jerry Foran, the Bills vice president who will make the Cannot distribute vertically broadcasting decisions in the Bills new management alignment, wants to distance himself from the Polian era. A switch in radio stations could further that goal. Foran was out of town this week and couldn't be reached for comment.

Ironically, Polian reportedly was at odds with WGR repeatedly last season and there were no assurances he was in favor of keeping the games on the Rich station.

Politics aside, the bottom line most likely will be the bottom line. The station willing to pay the most will probably obtain the rights to Bills games. WGR and WBEN may not be the only bidders.

Before the end of last season, WGR had reason to question its more than $1 million a year investment. But since then, the station has overtaken WBEN in the ratings. There is no question the Bills' three trips to the Super Bowl had a lot to do with that.

WGR may be losing on the Bills contract by itself, but it is impossible to measure how much having the Bills has helped the station's overall ratings.

One thing is certain: Now would appear to be the wrong time for WGR to lose the Bills.

NHL on ABC was a tough draw

In case you were wondering, the five National Hockey League playoff games carried on ABC on Sunday afternoons averaged a 1.7 national rating.

That is about 40 percent lower than the 2.8 major league baseball received for its early season games. And the baseball rating is considered disappointing.

However, ABC says the NHL draws more men ages 18 to 34 than baseball and about the same number of men 18 to 49 as baseball.

The NHL really couldn't expect much more. Its first 27 playoff games on ESPN -- many of which were exciting overtime contests -- only averaged a 1.1 rating. That's significantly lower than the 1.7 rating the first 27 playoff games earned in 1988.

Since the cable sports channel enters 67 percent of the nation's home, it stands to reason that ABC's ratings would only be about 30 percent higher.

The most discouraging thing about the NHL's ratings is that they slipped for the last two weeks to a low point of a 1.3 rating, primarily because they began to compete with the NBA Playoffs.

Of course, coverage by ABC and ESPN doesn't have much of an impact here. Those stations generally are just carrying games that are already available here via "Hockey Night in Canada," which is carried on the CBC affiliate in Toronto.

ESPN hires ex-Ch. 4 anchor

Pam Oliver, the former Channel 4 noon co-anchor, has been hired by ESPN as a full-time correspondent based in Houston.

Oliver, who was at the Bills-Dallas Super Bowl in Los Angeles, most recently has been a sports anchor at KHOU-TV in Houston.

Calder Cup on Empire

The Empire Sports Network is carrying the fifth game of the Calder Cup championship series between the Rochester Americans and the Cape Breton Oilers at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

WWKB show nearing the end

The 5 p.m. daily sports talk show on WWKB-AM co-anchored by Rich Redanz and Rich Deitsch is expected to have its last broadcast at the end of June or in the middle of July. Redanz added his job is likely to be eliminated, leaving the station without any local on-air staffers.

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