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At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Western New York sports fans were dealt a damaging body blow. Instead of tuning in to the Empire Sports Network and watching Jason Bristol anchor "The Sports Report," we were treated to taped programming.

That's because earlier that afternoon the 30 remaining hard-working, dedicated and talented employees at Empire Sports Network -- down from a one-time level of more than 100 -- were presented with pink slips, effective immediately.

We can thank the Rigas family and the current Adelphia Communications management team for this black eye on our community. More than what the network provided our local sports fans, it helped position our big league city to sports fans and former residents around the country. Many of the calls to their talk shows and the Sabres' postgame programs featured callers from all over the country.

Adelphia, which is in bankruptcy court, could have saved Empire by accepting a $17 million offer from a group headed by Buffalo native Joshua Pollack. He did not want to see his hometown's local sports network leave the airwaves after Adelphia had already pulled the plug on its all-sports radio station.

The losers in all of this are not only the fans, but the local professional, college, high school and amateur teams that received excellent coverage on the station's three half-hour daily shows. It also presented coverage of all major sporting events and featured talk shows with some of our top sports journalists and celebrities.

The employee loss count is another negative to our region but it's more than that -- the station carried our flag across the nation to sports fans everywhere.

To everyone who ever worked at Empire, we will miss you and godspeed in your quest for future employment.

Michael J. Billoni


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