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Joe Buscaglia’s ascension at Channel 7 is a sign of the times

Some eyebrows may have been raised when WKBW-TV announced that Joe Buscaglia was becoming the station’s new lead sports anchor with the departure of Shawn Stepner.

After all, Buscaglia doesn’t even turn 30 until Nov. 6. And he has only been working in television for about 16 months.

It has been a meteoric rise for the St. Francis High School and SUNY Buffalo State graduate who came to Channel 7 in April 2015 after seven years at sports station WGR radio.

He most likely is getting the job on the basis of potential and because of his social network capability. He has been a quick study on TV and deserves the shot to prove he belongs in the company of past Channel 7 sports anchors Rick Azar, John Murphy and Jeff Russo.

In a telephone interview, Buscaglia said he is “really humbled” to be in their company.

“It is really surreal that this legendary station that has employed so many great Buffalo broadcasters, that I can have a little slice of it,” he said. “It’s wild. I thank my lucky stars every single day.”

The TV sports game has changed significantly since Channel 7’s sports legends were on the air and Buscaglia reflects the change. Ever since his WGR days, he has been a leader on social networks, analyzing Bills game film and giving every player a grade for his 61,000 Twitter followers.

Since digital is the future, Buscaglia is well positioned. He will remain the station’s Bills beat reporter.

“Social media has changed the game completely,” said Buscaglia. “To ignore it would be silly. With Twitter and Facebook Live, there are so many opportunities to become more of a presence than just five and a half or six minutes a day on a newscast. Absolutely, you make sure the TV side is covered and is compelling. For viewers, it is 100 percent important. But the web is just as important and we need to treat it as such. The web is a glorious opportunity to expand on what little time we have.”

He grew up watching Murphy, the sports director at both Channel 7 and Channel 4, who left to work for the Buffalo Bills after it became clear the importance of the on-air portion of the job was diminishing.

Russo’s move to news from sports also is reflective of the change. There is more upside to being a news anchor.

The next stop for Stepner, who was Russo’s backup for about eight years, also illustrates how little stations care about sports these days. He is joining an E.W. Scripps station near his hometown, WMAR-TV in Baltimore, that hasn’t had a sports staffer. It still is a good move for Stepner, who wanted to move to Maryland for “family concerns.”

The decision of WIVB-TV (Channel 4) to drop a regular 6 p.m. weekday sportscast was another sign of sports being diminished even in a sports crazy market. It hasn’t abandoned sports at 6 p.m. If any sports news is important, it is presented in the first 15 minutes of the newscast.

Even the timing of sportscasts 23 minutes into a newscast is reflective of how little sports is valued. According to researchers, the first seven and a half minutes of any 15-minute time period is much more important in Nielsen measurements and the final seven and half minutes might not count at all.

So whoever is the sports anchor really isn’t that important with a few possible exceptions: Breaking and covering big stories and having opinions about them.

That’s another place Buscaglia will be measured over time.

But it isn’t like local sports anchors have as much time in a three-minute presentation to be opinionated on-the-air as I have space here to critique them.

The most opinionated are Channel 2’s lead sports anchor Adam Benigni and backup Jonah Javad. As dean of local sports directors, Benigni has the most credibility. Now that he has been here awhile, Javad’s opinionated storytelling style is an asset.

Channel 2 has the largest sports staff in town. Stu Boyar is old reliable, competent but dull. Heather Prusak is a promising young female reporter-anchor. She probably would have had to spend a few years in the minors in the old days of Buffalo television, but she has grown in the job.

Channel 4 has improved itself by hiring an entirely new sports team in the last year. Sports director Josh Reed, who sports a constant smile, is smooth and solid. Backup Tom Martin has a good voice and style, though he appears to be a little robotic at times.

After years of having two sports staffers, Channel 4 recently added a third on-air member of the staff, Shannon Shepherd. A St. Bonaventure graduate, she instantly got some scoops involving her alma mater’s women’s basketball team. She had some seasoning in the minors in Syracuse and a small Wisconsin station so I expected her to be a little smoother. But she appears to be hardworking and enthusiastic and should grow into the job.

She would be fortunate to grow as quickly as Matt Bove, who has moved from Channel 7’s morning program to sports with the departure of Stepner. He was hired straight out of Buffalo State. Full disclosure: He was a student in a class I teach there. And Buscaglia has spoken to my sportswriting class.

Bove has been much more impressive on the air than even I expected. A friend, who I respect and used to work in TV sports, predicts that Bove will eventually outshine Buscaglia.

The third member of Channel 7’s sports team is Nick Filipowski. The fact Buscaglia has leapfrogged over him to become sports director is perfectly understandable. He is an adequate backup in these diminished sportscasting days who stumbles far too often when reading copy.

Bove, who is a Western New York native who graduated from Niagara Wheatfield High School, is much smoother. His Channel 7 biography says he “is a loyal Bills and Sabres fan, learning at a young age that supporting the home town teams requires perseverance.”

Now that Bove is part of Channel 7’s sports team, he undoubtedly realizes from his Buffalo State classes that he’ll have to get over being a Bills fan.

It hasn’t been a problem for Buscaglia. He grew up a fan of Green Bay’s Brett Favre.

email: apergament@buffnews.com

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