|By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette
This fall, the rest of the world will be one mouse click away from listening to WPIAL football games.
Alex Panormios, who formed two radio networks with his booth buddies last year that brought you a local high school game of the week and Mt. Lebanon High School games, has taken this broadcasting gig to the World Wide Web. He quit his day job at a Downtown law firm to coordinate a radio-and-Web network for Nauticom, an Internet access service based in Gibsonia.
He was given the title of director of sports broadcasting and the freedom to grow the network - nine radio stations covering eight counties and 50-plus high schools, and still burgeoning. Those stations will be carried by RealAudio on the Nauticom site along with any other game or athletic event that a high school wishes to air there.
Wonder what the world will think of, say, our Mars? Our Moon? Our Derry Area?
Hard to believe that the season before last the world for Panormios and his buddies was simply North Hills and Duquesne University football games on whatever radio station would give them a couple hours’ time.
"This is a big project, a lot to coordinate," said Panormios, four weeks into this new venture.
"But the response I’ve had from advertisers and stations is they’re excited.
"This is only going to expand, only going to get bigger."
So far, Panormios and Nauticom have lined up a hefty Friday night lineup: an Allegheny County game of the week (on the same WPIT-AM 730 they and Nauticom started with last fall); a South suburban game (WWCS-AM 540); two games in Butler (WBUT-AM 1050/WLER-FM 97.7 and WISR-AM 680); two games in Westmoreland County and the East suburbs (WLSW-FM 103.9 and WQTW-AM 1570); an Alle-Kiski region game (WGBN-AM 1150); and a Mt. Lebanon game (WZUM-AM 1590). Affiliates with the City League and Greene County plus another in the east end of Allegheny County also are in the works.
All those will be available on the Nauticom Sports Network, which, for now, remains at Panormios’ original Scholastic Sports Network site. They also are offering high schools the cyberspace for Internet-only broadcasts of any school athletic event - say, two North Allegheny students calling a Tigers soccer game - and the chance to Web-simulcast a game being taped for later air on the local cable-access channel.
In short, they are opening the world to this still-growing list of high schools (besides those aforementioned): Apollo Ridge, Baldwin, Belle Vernon Area, Bethel Park, Burrell, Butler Area, Canon-McMillan, Central Catholic, Deer Lakes, Elizabeth Forward, Ford City, Fox Chapel, Franklin Regional, Freeport, Gateway, Greensburg Central Catholic, Greensburg Salem, Hampton, Hempfield, Highlands, Indiana, Johnstown, Kiski Area, Kittanning, Knoch, McGuffey, McKeesport Area, Mount Pleasant, New Castle, North Hills, Norwin, Penn Hills, Penn Trafford, Peters Township, Pine-Richland, Plum, Ringgold, Riverview, Seneca Valley, Shady Side Academy, Shaler Area, Southmoreland, Springdale, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity, Uniontown, Upper St. Clair, Valley, West Mifflin, Woodland Hills and Yough.
Former radio veterans Don Rebel and John Phillips, the soccer RiverHounds’ public relations director, will work games and postgames - maybe even an Internet-only talk show with Panormios, too.
Nauticom carried the game of the week and Mt. Lebanon broadcasts on its Web site last season, averaging about 100 hits per game. Mark Steward, Nauticom’s vice president, got to thinking about expanding this service, and in January, he brought aboard the part-time radio guy, full-time law clerk.
"We think it’s a really untapped resource," said Steward, whose service employs 35 and links 10,000 users across Western Pennsylvania from a red-brick building and converted home on the grounds of North Pittsburgh Systems. "There’s a lot of interest in high-school football, but now we’re working to get it out to the masses. We’re becoming the glue for the small stations."
Sure, the company can make some money: By coordinating the networks, it gets to insert commercials into game broadcasts and sell time on its 15-minute network postgame as well.
Such a deal also spreads the company’s name. If you figure upwards of 150,000 attend local high-school football games under the Friday night lights, that could translate into a bunch of audio hits off the Web site.
They also plan to archive games, so some planet could conceivably listen to entire Mars seasons in the future.
That’s out there, man.