|By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer
This time last year, the local Internet venture was an idea in the audio ether and one full-time employee in Gibsonia.
Now the Nauticom Sports Network is seven full-time employees and possibly nine more by fall, hundreds of scholastic and collegiate sports broadcasts from September to May, a wish list of more than 75 radio affiliates covering five states, a new studio inside its new Wexford offices and, coming soon to the AM dial near you, an on-air presence in Western Pennsylvania.
"They’re worried about us not growing fast enough," marveled Alex Panormios, the director of broadcasting and first full-time sports employee of this branch of the Internet-provider Nauticom. "We’re just trying to fill this niche, get as many slots and stations as we can, and step up to the next level."
Hey, it isn’t Mark Cuban and www.broadcast.com and billions upon billions. But these sports broadcasts, found online at www.nauticomsports.com, attracted 1.4 million page views last football season. That doesn’t include the over-the-radio listeners who also heard the Nauticom brand over a 14-station network that aired pregame, halftime and postgame shows all brought to you in radio-online simulcast by these local Internet wonder boys.
Listen to them grow:
With those radio affiliates already covering a sizable Tri-State area — from Canton, Ohio, to Indiana, Pa., from Franklin to Morgantown, W.Va. — Nauticom now moves to expand into other football-fertile areas. Some of the Internet wonder boys hit the road last week, trying to add stations in Texas, Florida, northeastern Ohio and eastern Pennsylvania. Two of their 12 target AM and FM stations in northeastern Ohio have signed with the radio-online network. The same for nearly half of 26 target stations in eastern Pennsylvania. Former Pittsburgh Press sports writer Rich Emert, Nauticom’s new director of operations, resident writer and on-air host, was in Texas working from a list of 24 prospective network affiliates.
"We’re trying to duplicate it in Texas and Florida," Panormios said. The plan for those areas and eastern Pennsylvania calls for three full-time employees in each place to sell commercial time, operate the network and serve as on-air host. One of every three Internet users listen to radio online, according to an Arbitron study last September, but people like to read, too. Toward that end, Nauticom’s plan also calls for web stories targeted to those markets far from Wexford.
"It’s hard to say next year where we’ll go," Panormios said. "California, maybe."
More college sports, too: They already air Duquesne football and women’s basketball, along with CrosseFire professional lacrosse and a scholastic lineup that even includes wrestling and baseball.
By next month, Nauticom will move its weekly Wednesday-night "Scholastic Forum" from Internet only to a radio-online simulcast. That’s why they need the new studio. That’s why they have an agreement with scholastic-affiliate WZUM-AM 1590 of Carnegie to broadcast the show. "That’s a good fit for us," Panormios said. "They need programming, and we need stations." Also on the simulcast front, Panormios said Nauticom plans to use another radio affiliate, WWCS-AM 540 of Canonsburg, to stream a new 4-7 p.m. weeknight show set to air starting this week with host Paul Pysh — previously a sports-talk host in Brookville and Pitt football sideline reporter.
Nauticom keeps growing and growing. The WPIAL basketball playoffs this week. Berwick and Central Bucks West and North Penn football this September. The Florida state football championships this November? California the next? As show host Don Rebel put it: "Mark %5BSteward, the Nauticom VP and their boss%5D knows we might not be the only ones growing for long."