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Channel 4 will go the distance

For a while last fall, it looked as if no local TV station was willing to pony up to cover the Boston Marathon. Then Channel 4 news director Jennifer Street decided the station could not pass it up.

"There's no sporting event like it in the world, and I'm not exaggerating," she said.

On Monday, Channel 4 will have wall-to-wall coverage, including pre- and postrace programs, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Reporters will be at the start, the finish, along the 26.2-mile course, and in the press trucks. Sports director Bob Lobel, along with race analysts Kathrine Switzer and Toni Reavis, will cover the finish from their new perch on a photo bridge that crosses Boylston Street. Nationally, Versus will carry the race from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Guy Morse, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association, acknowledged there are pros and cons to having just one local station cover the Marathon.

"Certainly it's easier logistically to provide all the necessary factors for one official station," he said. "That's been somewhat easier for us as far as planning and implementation. It's also been good for us in the sense that we've been able to work more closely with one station in terms of helping them develop informative stories and giving them additional attention to the planning and production."

The downside is that the costs are not divided, as they were before.

"The simple arithmetic is that it is more expensive for us to produce, because we're not sharing the costs," said Morse. "There are some savings as well, in terms of production needs, just in terms of volume. But when it all bottoms out, it is more expensive at the end of the day."

Morse was asked what the selling point is to stations.

"The general agreement is that the Marathon is a very special event," he said. "It's certainly a sporting event, but it's much more that that . . . it's an annual spring event that the entire region supports and comes out to celebrate. And it's one of those few important annual events that everyone depends upon to be not only run properly but to be covered properly."

That was enough for Street, who has worked on the Marathon since 1991 and has been executive producer for three years.

"The one thing about the Boston Marathon is that the race itself doesn't change a lot from year to year," she said. "The Marathon is very consistent in the product they present. You can pretty much plan your life around it. With that said, this year is probably the biggest change, certainly in my memory, because it's become a morning race instead of an afternoon race.

"For us, it really doesn't change much, though. I think the biggest difference for viewers is that when they turn on their TVs at 9:30 in the morning, they're going to see the racers starting as opposed to seeing previews. But at 5 a.m., they'll see Scott Wahle and Paula Ebben [on the early-morning news], then at 8 a.m., they'll see Bob Lobel and Lisa Hughes getting ready for the start.

"The fact that it's a holiday evens the playing field," Street added. "We still treat this as the sporting event that it is, so therefore, Bob Lobel leads our coverage and Steve Burton and Alice Cook take part. Then this year we also have Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson joining us in the prerace coverage. [They used to be on Channel 5.]

"The elite runners are an amazing story, but they're part of a bigger story that is Patriots Day in Massachusetts, and this fabulous event where you have 20,000 runners from all over the world coming to our 26-mile stretch of the state. And for us to be the only local station broadcasting that event, I don't think you can put a price on that."

Cakes are baking
Last week, John Havlicek got to blow out his birthday candles; this week, it's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's turn. NBA TV will honor his 60th birthday Monday by replaying the April 5, 1984, game between his Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz, when he set the NBA scoring record to overtake Wilt Chamberlain, who had 31,419 points. Abdul-Jabbar ended his career with 38,387 points . . . Ken Macha, former Oakland A's manager and a member of the Red Sox organization for five years, joins NESN as a Sox studio analyst. Also joining the station as a feature reporter is Naoko Funayama, who was a sports reporter and anchor at WMUR in Manchester, N.H. . . . NESN will air the Boston College-Maryland baseball game tomorrow at 1 p.m.

Susan Bickelhaupt can be reached at