|By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer
Forty-seven thousand times last weekend, people clicked onto the Nauticom Sports Web site to hear parts of the WPIAL football semifinals. That phenomenal figure surpassed the attendance inside Three Rivers Stadium for four games last Saturday. That phenomenal figure emphasizes what these radio-meets-Internet dudes began to believe last summer:
There is a listening audience out there.
"Things are moving in good directions," said Alex Panormios.
One year ago, Panormios worked in a Downtown law office and finished his first season producing a high-school radio game of the week. Eight months ago, the Nauticom folks from the North Hills-based Internet provider brought him into the fold with the command to put together an audio network on radio and the Web. Sixteen network affiliates aired about 276 games on radio this season, with another five Internet-only broadcasts, and it all comes to an aural climax Saturday when the Nauticom Sports Network is the main local carrier of the four WPIAL football championships from Three Rivers Stadium.
The lineup all starts tomorrow at 7 p.m. with a preview show on the radio network and the www.nauticomsports.com site. Then, via the site and WLSW-FM 103.9, Bob Orkwis and Paul Paterra will announce the Class A Monaca-South Side Beaver final starting at 10 a.m Saturday. Theyíll be followed by John Phillips and Jason Coleman handling Class AA Washington-Waynesburg, Dave Shinsky and Doug Morgan working Class AAA Belle Vernon-West Allegheny, and Panormios plus Rick Smith calling Class AAAA Woodland Hills-McKeesport.
But this goes farther than the football finals and keen black-and-orange team jackets. Next, the dual network enters into WPIAL basketball coverage in mid-December, with plans to air hockey, wrestling and baseball along with video streaming.
After that may come radio-and-Internet network forays into eastern Pennsylvania and Ohio, maybe even NCAA Division II football in the state or scholastic football in such other fertile territories as Florida and Texas.
Meet the Buzz Lightyears of WPIAL broadcasting: To infinity, and beyond.
"Our broadcasts are unlimited," said Don Rebel, the former WIXZ-AM scholastic announcer who does a weekly Wednesday Internet show and sideline game reports in addition to helping Panormios organize this venture, "whereas stations are limited by their signals."
They put content on their pages, too. But what brings mouse clicks and messages from as far as South America and Singapore are the archived games ó audio that folks can fast-forward, rewind and hear at any time. "Itís not just all Friday nights and Saturdays," Panormios said. "Itís every day of the week, and itís growing."
In October, the siteís busiest day was 12,000 visits. In November, it went below that figure only once. The audience isnít only teens but, when you realize that 9 of every 10 high school kids get onto the Internet, itís a demographic worth grooming for the future.