Illini Basketball

Overtaking Chicago

Alan Griffin deserves a hero’s recognition.

You have umpteen places to read about his heroics, because a relevant Illini team playing at Northwestern brings the biggest media contingent of any game in any season. You get all the B1G Chicago people including Andy Katz, the Trib’s Shannon Ryan and Teddy Greenstein plus all the C-U blogs and websites that rarely cover road games.

Read their pieces for game coverage & photos. I got a lot of Referee Butt tonight. It’s the most common complaint among basketball photogs. Tonight, it nearly killed me.

No biggie. My story was formed before I set foot in Welsh-Ryan Arena.

WLS 89-AM is broadcasting Illini basketball to more millions of homes & 18-wheelers than you can imagine.

Normally, I take a Peoria Charter to road games. You might have noticed. But I drove to last night’s game, and after WILL 580 faded, I tuned to 890 for traffic updates, as I usually do when driving into the city. The Afternoon Drive jock kept mentioning the Illini game. He even said he might drive up to Evanston to watch it himself. It won’t be sold out, so I can get a ticket no problem he speculated out loud.

If you’re 30 and under, you might not know how powerful a clear channel (not Clear Channel) AM radio station can be. The one that broadcasts from the World’s Largest Store, atop the former Sears Tower, reaches the nation’s capital, and Denver, and farms in North Dakota, and bogs in Louisiana. The signal strength is affected by weather, but it’s pretty damn good in any circumstance.

Hearing Brian Barnhart & Deon Thomas — on what is arguably* the nation’s most powerful radio station — changed my perspective of Illini sports.

Maybe satellite radio & podcasts have reduced the power of terrestrial radio and the DIA got suckered into supporting a dying industry. I’d like to see the latest Arbitron ratings (whatever they’re called now). I expect we’ll find that a shitload of previously untapped audience got a taste of Illini basketball from this deal.

That said, I felt bad that the DIA hasn’t been able to maximize its monetization of the WLS deal. I listened from the 6:30pm open until I got to the Welsh-Ryan parking lot, about 3 minutes into the game. I heard too many Public Service Announcements and not enough commercials. PSAs are required by the FCC for all licensed broadcasters, but most stations play them at 3am, not during Evening Drive/Prime Time.

There’s a huge advertising opportunity available to non-agricultural, non-insurance companies. Millions of people listen to WLS.

*WNYC, KROQ and KCRW are the only contenders I can think of, and this was my college major.