Football season means many things to many people.
For Charlie Weston, it means puzzle time - finding a way to piece together schedules for a pair of radio stations that carry an array of overlapping sports content for an audience that has strong opinions about what it wants to hear.
In addition to football, Forever Broadcasting's two Altoona stations - WFBG-AM (1290) and WVAM-AM (1430) - have commitments to the Altoona Curve and Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as weekly coaches' shows for Penn State and Pitt.
So, next weekend, when high school and college football season begins and baseball season remains of interest, the puzzle pieces provide all kinds of options for Weston, the stations' program director, and other local radio leaders.
Next weekend's schedule begins Friday night with the Pirates on one station, the Curve on another and two high school football games (Altoona and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic)?streaming online.
On Saturday, Penn State's 8:30 a.m. kickoff from Ireland makes things a little easier to manage - although college football's TV-friendly practice of not determining many kickoff times until six or 14 days before many games represents the most troublesome part of the schedule-making process for the veteran Weston.
"It's not as subjective as it seems. I do have a pecking order - it's just not always easy to maintain," he said. "I get a little nervous because no matter how much you think things out, one little thing can go wrong, and that's it. In radio if you make one mistake it's like Niagara Falls - it just gathers speed as it goes downhill."
Still, Weston and the local stations are more successful than not, and they do not waver in their commitment to listeners and sports fans.
Providing consistent coverage of high school sports (a rarity in markets this size), the Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Penn State and Pitt comes with numerous challenges.
The overlapping schedules and "what ifs" provide almost unending options, but solutions do exist.
For September on the Forever stations, that means a commitment to Pirates games on Friday nights, with high school football games streaming online. Weston believes that's a good move if the Pirates remain in contention (and the plan could change if they don't.)
An increased use of Internet streams has been an all-around positive in recent seasons. They provide better quality and wider reach for many listeners.
"We've been able to use the Internet in addition to or instead of regular radio, and it's been successful," Weston said.
That additional option also allows Weston to meet his primary objective as a program director.
"My main goal is that everyone who wants to listen to a game has a chance to hear it," he said. "Plus, I like scheduling things and putting together a plan."
Weston mostly works with draft schedules on paper, and with football season just five days away, he's already pretty far ahead evaluating the options. He's into February considering the possibilities for winter sports seasons.
"The luckiest part is all those things eventually seem to fit together," he said. "Plus, I think we've improved a lot, especially the past couple of years. We've taken feedback from listeners and gotten better."
Of course, with all that planning, it's not really puzzling why things work out. It's the result of a conscientious (and sometimes seemingly all-consuming) approach.
n "Sports Talk with Steve Jones and Brian Tripp" plans a promotion focusing on the top 10 moments in Penn State football history. Things begin Monday with special guests Fran Fisher, the longtime play-by-play man of Penn State football and the predecessor to Jones in that role, and Lou Prato, the respected Penn State football historian. The show airs from 1 to 3 p.m., and the two guests will be part of the entire show.
n "The NitWits," now in its 17th season and sixth on WTAJ-TV, will typically air at 11:35 p.m. on Sundays, beginning tonight. The show features a panel of PSU football experts (the Mirror's Neil Rudel, FightonState.com's Mark Brennan, WTAJ's Jacob Kaucher and a weekly guest analyst) and may also be found at altoonamirror.com and Altoona Public Access Channel 13 at designated times.
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