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WGR'S CRASS ACT MIGHT BE VULNERABLE TO EMPIRE

If anything made some sports talk fans long for a radio alternative, it was the noise emanating from the left side of the dial during a Bills bye week.

After the Bills did an imitation of the UB Bulls in the Jets game, one had to turn on -- or call -- WGR-AM at one's own risk.

In the few minutes I listened Wednesday afternoon, I heard the self-proclaimed "Coach" call a caller a "moron" after the caller said the Bills' Web site announced that Jonathan Linton was going to start at running back against the Indianapolis Colts.

When the caller proved to be correct a few minutes later, the "Coach" called the Bills coach who made that decision "a moron."

A week earlier, the same "Coach" proclaimed himself a doctor and said sources told him that Bills quarterback Rob Johnson had surgery on his passing arm. He added that the Bills had called a 4:30 p.m. news conference, presumably to confirm it.

Of course, there was no such surgery and no news conference, just a post-practice interview in which Johnson said that he had tendinitis.

With the credibility on the left side of the dial looking about as good as the Bills' special teams these days, is it any wonder that the Empire Sports Network thinks it might draw sports fans with its new radio station?

Though it is carrying Sabre games and there obviously is a core of fans looking for an alternative, Empire radio can be viewed as a bit of an underdog at the start. FM stations aren't known to carry sports talk and it will take awhile for fans to find 107.7.

WGR sounds a bit worried, with "The Coach" allowing a Wednesday caller from Rochester to disparage the first talk show host hired by Empire, Mike Schopp. Schopp will work the afternoons on 107.7 FM starting Oct. 2, when the radio station switches from country to sports.

Speaking of country, one of the new Empire sports talk hosts will be familiar to fans of WYRK-FM. Tom Campbell, who was part of the morning team on the station for about a decade, will be the morning host on 107.7.

The evening host is going to be Dave Miller, whom Buffalo Sabre fans might remember from 1995 through 1997 as the radio host during pregame and postgame shows. Since then, the graduate of Geneseo State College has been the play-by-play man of the Cleveland franchise in the International Hockey League.

Manning the 6 to 11 p.m. shift, Miller's hockey background will come into play during the nights that the station carries Sabres games.

Bob Koshinski, the Empire executive in charge of the radio plans, said Campbell was hired because "he had a proven track record in this market. He also is an athlete, having played football at Lafayette."

That's not Lafayette High. That's Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. You can almost hear the insults coming from the left of the dial.

Koshinski praises Miller's "exceptional knowledge of hockey" and adds that he is a radio veteran from Buffalo.

The game plan for the station that is billing itself as "The Sports Authority" is for Campbell to work the 5:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. shift, followed by Tony Bruno of Fox Sports Radio from 9 a.m. to noon. Art Wander, a WGR veteran who has a show on the Empire Sports Network, will battle Jim Rome on WGR from noon to 2 p.m. Then comes Schopp, Miller and the Sabre games.

During the weekend, Empire radio is going to have a local show from 10 a.m. to noon and then rely on Fox Radio.

The talk hosts will get some help from regular guests and regular shows. Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, General Manager Darcy Regier and winger Rob Ray will have shows. Ray, who declined to move his weekly show from WBEN-AM to WGR-AM last season, will do a weekly hour show. On the day of Sabre games, Empire's Mike Robitaille will work with Schopp from 4 to 6 p.m. He'll also come on the following morning. Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret will make morning visits on game days. Empire's Danny Gare will come on with Miller from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, except on Sabre game nights.

Howard Simon, Jim Brinson, Bob Trimble, Bremante Bryant and other members of Empire's TV team are expected to make occasional visits to the radio side. And Empire's postgame Bills programs will be simulcast on the radio side, starting Oct. 8. That makes sense. Since Empire TV is prohibited from carrying game footage, the postgame show really is radio with pictures.

Koshinski said talks are continuing with former Buffalo News hockey writer Jim Kelley, who had a popular weekly show on WBEN-AM. Steve Tasker, who had made occasional appearances on WGR, is expected to move over to the right side as well.

Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser and former News football writer Vic Carucci are expected to join 107.7 after their contracts expire with the Bills' station, 97 Rock.

Koshinski says he is looking into carrying NHL playoff games, NCAA basketball and possibly Canisius College, Niagara University and Syracuse University basketball.

As to how Empire is going to differ from WGR, Koshinski repeats his mantra:

"There will be much less opinion, much more facts," Koshinski said.

In other words, the word "moron" won't be thrown around quite as loosely.

Olympic-sized error

Overstatement of the Olympic Games: After American swimmer Misty Hyman upset Australian Susie O'Neill in the 200 butterly, NBC analyst Rowdy Gaines called it "the biggest upset in the history of the Olympics."

Cut to host Bob Costas, who noted that though Hyman's victory was a huge upset, there was a certain Olympic hockey game in 1980 that retains the honor of being the greatest Olympic upset.

Around the dial

Memo to CBS pregame expert Mike Ditka: The Bills' quarterback is Rob Johnson, not Brad Johnson. The Chargers' quarterback is Moses Moreno, not Moses Malone. . . . The Buffalo Blizzard, without a home now that Adelphia has purchased 107.7 FM to put Buffalo Sabres games on, will now have all 40 regular season soccer games carried on WWKB-AM, 1520.

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