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Driving force for language barrier

Sept. 18, 2005 is a date Bill Weber won't forget any time soon.

That's the day a NASCAR driver swore during a live TNT interview at New Hampshire International Speedway.

``It was unfortunate," Weber, the play-by-play announcer for TNT and NBC's Nextel Cup coverage, recalled earlier this week. ``Sometimes guys need a few extra minutes to compose themselves. You want to get the emotion of the drivers, but you don't want it at the point when the driver might still be on edge and say something he'll regret later."

Although TNT, because it is a cable network, was not punished by the FCC for Robby Gordon's curse -- NASCAR fined the driver $10,000 -- a recent story in the Hollywood Reporter disclosed that the commission has requested tapes from live broadcasts of sporting events to review them for indecent material. Examples of indecency include swears uttered by athletes or vulgarity from fans picked up by microphones.

David Fiske, FCC director of media relations, said the commission is not targeting sports broadcasts. Fiske said the FCC would only review tapes of athletic events if the commission received a complaint about a specific broadcast. Locally, the FCC has not requested tape of NESN's Red Sox games, according to Joel Feld, the network's vice president of programming.

``We don't monitor the airwaves," Fiske said. ``What we do is investigate and respond when we get complaints. When we receive specific complaints about indecent material, we routinely request tapes so we can make a determination."

In 2005, the FCC received complaints after then-Minnesota Viking Randy Moss scored against the Green Bay Packers, then pretended to moon fans at Lambeau Field. Last March, the FCC ruled Moss's act was not obscene. Fiske did not expect the FCC to make any sports-related rulings in the near future.

Networks have established safeguards, such as a five-second delay at ABC and ESPN, to prevent situations like Moss's celebration from airing. Executives have debated optimal placement for microphones to pick up fan noise while steering clear of foul language that could be heard in the background. During NASCAR races, TNT does not air live communications, which can often turn salty, between drivers and their teams.

The best intentions, however, don't guarantee clean broadcasts, as Weber and TNT learned last September. Gordon had just left the infield care center when pit reporter Dave Burns converged on the driver for his reaction. Gordon was all too happy to oblige, swearing during the interview.

``It's a fine line," Weber said. ``You want to capture the emotion but you don't want to do bad TV. It's like interviewing Alex Rodriguez immediately after he makes a throwing error that lets in two runs. You hope they remain composed."

Clear signal
Earlier this month, Pat Ryan, who lives in Palmyra, Va., was among a horde of angry out-of-towners prevented from watching NESN's pre- and postgame Red Sox programming via DirecTV. Before the blackouts, viewers outside New England could watch them via DirecTV's Sports Pack, which offers regional networks such as NESN to subscribers for $12 per month.

The blackouts for the pre- and postgame shows (``Boston Globe Pre-Game Report," ``W.B. Mason Extra Innings," and ``Granite City Electric's Extra Innings Extra"), according to NESN spokesman Gary Roy, have been lifted, although some viewers couldn't watch the programs last weekend because of a technical misunderstanding by DirecTV. On Wednesday, Ryan confirmed he has been able to watch the shows.

``It's all been cleared up," said Roy, echoing an e-mail he sent to angry viewers who lodged their complaints with NESN.

However, non-New England viewers are still unable to view non-news programs such as ``Red Sox in Two," ``Red Sox Classic," and ``Red Sox Rewind." These shows, according to Roy, fall under Major League Baseball's directive that regional networks are not allowed to re-air games or broadcast programs that contain significant amounts of game highlights. Out-of-town viewers such as Ryan complain that other regional networks, including the YES Network, air shows that are similar to NESN's non-news Sox programs.

``Someone at NESN has made a mistake and should own up to it," Ryan wrote in an e-mail, ``and restore all the baseball and sports talk shows that were blocked beginning 2 1/2 weeks ago."

``We need to do what we need to do," Roy said in response to Ryan's complaint, ``to keep in compliance with league restrictions."

Last Friday, when NESN aired an hour-and-a-half pregame show, officials at DirecTV, according to Roy, mistakenly believed it was a different program that might have conflicted with MLB's mandate against airing Sox-heavy programming outside New England, blacking it out for out-of-town viewers.

Mobile matters
In a Merrill Lynch report issued last Thursday, analysts Jessica Reif Cohen and Michael Kopelman urged Disney to pull the plug on Mobile ESPN, the cellphone and service catering to sports diehards. The analysts estimated that Disney, ESPN's parent, will bring in 30,000 Mobile subscribers this year, below their original projection of 240,000. Mobile ESPN spokeswoman Rebecca Gertsmark said the company has no plans of ending the service. Sprint, a competitor, is offering a similar service named NFL Mobile, giving subscribers real-time scores, transactions, and injury reports on their cellphones along with video streams from the NFL Network . . . Last Thursday, NESN drew a 2.7 rating for ``What If," the program that explored what would have happened had Red Sox manager Grady Little pulled Pedro Martínez in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium . . . OLN, home of the Tour de France, reported a spike in viewers during Floyd Landis's Stage 17 comeback that set up the American to capture the yellow jersey (which is now under scrutiny because preliminary tests showed Landis had abnormal hormonal levels ). According to OLN, there was a 77 percent increase in viewership that day compared with the previous stage . . . Former Detroit and San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci will serve as an analyst on the NFL Network's ``NFL Total Access" and ``NFL GameDay" this season.

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