SPORTSWATCH: Radio daze: 'Jagr shoots . . . and scoresssssss'

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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The bright lights of the big city had faded miles before,

but the angelic tones of 12-year-old Alessandra Guercio were as clear as the

Eastern Long Island sky.

This was just after 7 a week ago Saturday night, around Exit 55 of Sunrise

Highway, and the Canadian and American anthems never sounded better.

That itself qualified as news. Why? Because a Rangers game was beginning

and fans east of Patchogue actually could hear it.

ESPN 1050 this season has partnered with WLNG (92.1 FM), a Sag Harbor

station that covers the East End. That's the good news.

The bad news is WLNG is a hyper-local, oldies-oriented, 5,300-watt FM

station not designed to reach much beyond its home base.

So while it's nice that fans in Riverhead at last can run errands and

follow the bouncing ball at the Garden at the same time, holes remain in the

Knicks' and Rangers' Long Island radio grid.

That became evident about 75 minutes after Miss Guercio sang, when Carrie

Underwood could be heard (sort of) on ESPN 1050 singing the American anthem

before Game 3 of the World Series.

Between Stony Brook and Port Jefferson on 25A, it sounded as if military

jets were flying over her as she sang.

Actually, it was static; the flyover came after the anthem. So it went that

night, as SportsWatch celebrated the start of the winter sports season with a

stunt that, um, seemed like a good idea at the time:

Driving around the Island for four hours to find the remaining radio dead

spots for the Garden's two marquee franchises.

Why Oct. 27? Less traffic on a Saturday, plus with the Rangers on WLNG and

the Series on 1050 - the Rangers were bumped to WABC that night - I'd have more

hours of games to monitor.

Moral of story: Nassau County and the East End were fine, as was most of

the South Shore, other than a small no fan's land around Oakdale.

Much of Western Suffolk, though, was not.

(Signals vary based on conditions and equipment - in this case the radio in

a 1997 Camry.)

The signal from WLNG was clear east of a north-south line drawn from Port

Jeff to Patchogue. West of there, it started bleeding into 91.9-FM, which

blasted some sort of techno pop likely played in dance clubs that open after my

bedtime.

ESPN 1050 was audible west of WLNG's range, but not reliably so east of the

county line, where after dark it is a jumble of interference, static and

fadeouts. (The Islanders were on WBBR that night and came in mostly clearly in

Western Suffolk.)

The spookiest moment came near Hauppauge, where on 1050 Beano Cook sounded

as if he were doing a duet with a soprano belting out Motown tunes. It turned

out her voice had flown in from CHUM, an oldies station also at 1050 on the

dial.

In Toronto!

The signal of ESPN 1050 (officially WEPN) is a sensitive issue as it

battles WFAN.

The problem is that while each has 50,000 watts of power, WFAN is a "clear

channel" protected from others at or near its frequency; WEPN is not. It is up

against rules put in place in the primordial days of radio; both it and WFAN

have histories dating to 1922.

WEPN's signal is beamed from a tower in East Rutherford and in some places,

such as Manhattan, can be heard more clearly than WFAN's.

Nighttime is the problem. It is then that interference worsens because of a

phenomenon called "sky wave," in which signals from elsewhere bounce off the

ionosphere and turn up in unwanted places.

WEPN general manager Tim McCarthy said that within the next year, the

station plans to move its tower, which ought to allow it to better reach

central Long Island.

Also, there have been talks to add another outlet that would better serve

Western Suffolk for the Knicks and Rangers.

"We're doing everything we physically can that is allowed by the FCC to

improve the signal of 1050," McCarthy said.

"It's never going to be WABC, which is the best signal in the country, but

we're working on it."