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Islanders, Hofstra believe radio deal will work

A view of Nassau Coliseum, home of the

A view of Nassau Coliseum, home of the New York Islanders. Credit: Newsday / Paul J. Bereswill, 2008

The Islanders are not the first major pro franchise to place their games on a college radio station. Charlie Finley beat them to it in 1978, when his Oakland A's spent a month on Cal's 10-watt outlet, KALX.

But the Islanders' new deal with Hofstra's WRHU (88.7-FM), even if it is not unprecedented, is a more carefully considered arrangement, one certain to last more than a month.

The team believes fans will benefit in two ways:

First, the station's signal is an upgrade over WMJC, partly in terms of strength but more so in location. It covers all of Nassau County and parts of eastern Queens and western Suffolk.

Previously fans had complained postgame shows barely could be heard in Nassau Coliseum lots.

Second, unlike last season, when television audio was simulcast on the radio, the Islanders are back to dedicated radio play-by-play calls, featuring veteran announcer Chris King.

The element that has raised eyebrows and led some fans to fret over the image of the franchise is that Hofstra undergraduates are heavily involved in the production.

That includes not only technical work and interviewing players and coaches but the working the game itself.

For the first two games, Anthony Barra, a junior, served as a color analyst alongside King. A senior, Mitch Merman, was to work Wednesday night's game.

College kids with neither pro playing nor pro announcing experience on NHL games? Really?

"I think anyone that heard the first two games that had that perception would have a totally different attitude," King said.

Hofstra knows to make this work it must allow only its most talented, experienced students on the air, a task that falls largely to veteran radio man Ed Ingles, the station's "professional in residence."

But even budding broadcasting stars usually are works in progress at that age, aren't they?

Paul Lancey, the Islanders' senior vice president of sales and marketing, cautioned against stereotyping.

"The movie that's No. 1 in the market, I think it's called 'The Social Network,' is about the founder of Facebook," he said. "I think he was a sophomore at Harvard when he founded it."

Mark Zuckerberg made billions; Hofstra students will settle for experience. The Islanders deal is sure to be a recruiting edge against schools such as Fordham and Syracuse that are known for producing sports broadcasters.

"Kids are going to be coming from Sweden and Finland; Russians are going to be coming here," said Ingles, exaggerating for effect. "How many places can you go for this opportunity?"

What's in it for the Islanders? For one, the cost of putting games on WRHU is lower than commercial stations. (The Devils pay dearly to be on WFAN).

But Lancey said the bigger motivation is cultivating a new, younger fan base. Games already stream on WRHU's web site but the plan is to expand to handheld devices once the rights to do so are secured.

For West Coast games it is likely either the TV audio will be used or King will cover them alone.

When there are conflicts with Hofstra sports events, those games will move to a station in Greenwich, Conn., and the Islanders will remain on WRHU.

"I think this is a landmark decision we did here," Lancey said. "It wasn't an easy one. We knew we'd get some heat. But two games into it, it looks pretty damn good from our shoes."

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