When it comes to sports announcers, Buffalo media outlets change their personnel less often than Buffalo changes mayors.
But in the almost three years between the time I left The News and came back, there has been more change than usual.
And more change is coming with Channel 2’s Ed Kilgore announcing this week that he will be leaving the station after the May sweeps to work for a company owned by Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula.
So it is a good time to address the results of all the sports changes in the latest edition of my Rip Van Winkle tour.
The biggest change has occurred at Channel 4, which lost both sports director John Murphy and backup anchor-reporter Paul Peck in the past nine months.
Murphy’s replacement, Steve Vesey, arrived after spending some time in the minors in Elmira. His presentation has been impressive. He is a decent sports reader and has the proper amount of enthusiasm. He is a very good hire. It is on the big sports stories that he needs to improve and show that he has some insight. He hasn’t been around here long enough to develop any significant sources on the Bills, the Sabres or local Division I college athletics.
That may take some time. But right now, that means he is playing from behind. A good presentation can take you only so far in a city where fans crave insight.
Peck’s replacement, Lauren Brill, arrived with enthusiasm but little experience from cable’s MSG Varsity, and has quickly reminded viewers how valuable Peck had been over the years as a backup. Brill is clearly in over her head and is a work in progress. She talks too fast and is mistake-prone. She also has some annoying hand gestures, but those are nowhere near as annoying as the difficulty of understanding what she is saying.
I don’t blame her. I blame her bosses for not realizing that she needed more seasoning before going to a sports market where viewers demand accuracy and insight. Some people may be surprised to learn that she does have a couple of state Emmy nominations for her MSG Varsity work. They indicate that she has some talent. Right now, it just may not be in front of the camera.
I met Brill on a flight back to Buffalo from New York City. She is personable and eager to please. She has responded well to my criticism. But so far she has been an Aaron Maybin mistake. Time will tell if she overcomes first impressions and is taken seriously.
With Kilgore’s announcement this week, Channel 2 backup Adam Benigni soon will add the 6 p.m. sports anchor duties to the 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. slots he received more than a year and a half ago when Kilgore went down to one sportscast.
Kilgore is a pleasant personality but he never has been one to provide much insight or strong opinions. Benigni has been patiently waiting to become No. 1 on the station, a spot he deserved a few years ago. He is by far the best sports anchor in town. His presentation is as strong as some of his opinions and he has a good feel for what is going on locally.
Channel 2’s newest sportscaster is weekend anchor Jonah Javad. He replaced Ben Hayes, who was best working on features. Javad tries really, really hard to write catchy, opinionated, clever, snarky copy and succeeds some of the time. But more than occasionally, he comes on too strong and reaches too far. Once he learns when things work and when they don’t and he’s been around long enough for Buffalo viewers to believe that he is entitled to be so sarcastic, he’ll be fine.
Channel 7 hasn’t changed much in three years. Jeff Russo is a good No. 1 anchor with a solid presentation style who would benefit by becoming more opinionated. Shawn Stepner got his best chance to impress during Channel 7’s post-game Bills shows last fall, and proved to be an adequate backup.
I haven’t really seen enough of the YNN sports personnel to form an opinion, but will be watching in the coming weeks.
The Buffalo Sabres changed their TV lineup on MSG this season, with Brian Duff replacing Kevin Sylvester as pregame, intermission and post-game host while Sylvester went to do a daily WGR radio show.
Sylvester was fine in the TV roles so there was no real need to make the switch. Duff has proven to be solid, more than occasionally giving an honest assessment of the team’s play to counteract TV analyst Rob Ray’s more rosy view after losses. Ray’s grammatical failures also can be a distraction.
As far as local radio, WGR has added one significant talk show host: Sal Capaccio, who seems to be on 24/7 because he fills in for so many people. He also hosts a Time Warner Cable sports program.
I’ve been impressed. It may be partially because he’s a big Syracuse basketball and football guy. But that’s not the only reason. In fact, Capaccio can be aggravating at times talking about my alma mater. As I drove to a Syracuse-Georgetown game at the Carrier Dome Feb. 23, Capaccio annoyed me a few times.
First, he claimed that Michigan coach John Beilein’s story that he was the only Division I coach to offer his son Patrick a scholarship was bogus and that Patrick was a very good prospect who had plenty of offers. Beilein once told me Patrick’s choice was between West Virginia and a Western New York college. I think it might have been Canisius. His story wasn’t bogus.
Secondly, Capaccio and a Syracuse media buddy of his thought that Syracuse should not have retired Carmelo Anthony’s jersey before the jerseys of Lawrence Moten and other older Syracuse players.
Puh-leeze. You don’t retire jerseys or put players in halls of fame in order of when they played. As Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said on Feb. 23 when Anthony’s jersey was retired, Anthony has done more for Syracuse basketball than any other player because he led the Orange to a national title.
Despite my minor quibbles with Capaccio, he is an entertaining and opinionated talk show host who has respect for his audience (unlike another WGR host). He’s a good hire who I hope will entertain and annoy me for many years after Buffalo gets a new mayor.