Shooting for ‘OK’

When the American League Championship Series is in the books,

all Ernie Johnson wants from

Rangers fans is to say he was “OK”

calling the games for TBS.

Most

Rangers fans never have heard

Johnson call a baseball game. In his rookie season as TBS’s lead

baseball play-by-play voice, Johnson has called seven national

Sunday afternoon games and the Yankees-Twins three-game American

League Division Series.

Given the relatively microscopic ratings in Dallas-Fort Worth

for those 10 games, the FBI could have stashed someone in witness

protection in the TBS booth.

That changes tonight when the Yankees and

Rangers begin their best-of-7 series

in Arlington. Johnson, Ron Darling – a one-time

Rangers pitching prospect who went

on to win 136 games elsewhere – and John Smoltz, who pitched in 24

postseason series in 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, will be

the television voices of the series. At long last, the

Rangers’ ratings should be

enormous.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Ernie Johnson, a relatively

soft-spoken broadcaster in a business of loudmouths. His work in

two decades at cable’s Turner Sports has made him the signature

voice of TBS and TNT.

Johnson is best known as TNT’s NBA studio host. You know, the

guy who plays traffic cop while Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith try

to break as many broadcasting rules as possible while being a

little insightful and a lot outrageous.

Johnson says calling him a “traffic cop” is unfair to people who

earn their living that way. They try to prevent accidents.

“Me, I wave Kenny into the intersection and then get Charles to

broadside him,” Johnson said Thursday.

That’s kid stuff compared to calling playoff baseball. Viewers

are most comfortable with the hometown announcers who have guided

them through marathon seasons for years.

The game changes when the “nationals” take those seats in the

postseason. Viewers more often than not perceive the “nationals” to

be rooting against their team. They begin to dislike the announcers

and everything about the broadcasts.

That’s why Johnson thinks “OK” would be an acceptable grade. He

knows it will be a tough group of graders.

Johnson has a background in a baseball booth. His father, Ernie

Sr., was a major league pitcher who became the longtime radio and

television voice of the Braves. From 1993 to 1996, Senior was

joined in the booth by Junior, who was hired by Turner Sports in

1989.

When TBS got into the business of postseason baseball in 2007,

Johnson was assigned to host the baseball studio. But when

play-by-play voice Chip Caray, an object of endless ridicule, was

fired after last season’s playoffs, TBS asked Johnson if he wanted

to move to the booth. As an enticement, he would get to work 30

Braves games on local cable.

Johnson couldn’t say no because “baseball has been in my blood

for a long, long time.”

Johnson said he tries to paint a picture of what’s happening on

the field and then get out of the way so Darling and Smoltz can

have their say.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the guys next to me

who played the game.”

Darling, who works New York Mets games, calls Johnson “a

pro.”

“He’s smooth. He knows when to give the meat and potatoes and

also is very, very generous,” Darling said. “When you sit in the

seat I sit in, that’s one of the things the great ones are because

they know how good they are and are not trying to force it.”

In 2006, Johnson, 53, was treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He

underwent six rounds of chemotherapy. He sees his oncologist three

times a year. He is cancer-free.

“I’ve never felt better, he said.

Which we all should know is much more important than “OK.”

Too much technology

One easy way to make the TBS telecast better

Get rid of that omnipresent strike-zone graphic that eats up the

right side of screen. Not all technology is good technology. Used

judiciously from time to time it might work.

Talkin’ Cowboys

It’s not often that a pair of 1-3 teams star in a Sunday

afternoon national broadcast, but the Cowboys and Vikings will at

3:15 p.m. on Fox.

The schedule, which is pretty much etched in stone, was set

several weeks ago and no one really believed both teams would limp

in on the brink of playoff elimination.

Believe it or not, however, Fox is hoping that will actually

boost ratings. Call it the “rubbernecking at the accident”

approach.

With “Baseball” Joe Buck moonlighting at the National League

Championship Series and World Series for the rest of the month,

Troy Aikman will work the game, ticketed for 96 percent of the

country, with Thom Brennaman.

Win or lose, the Cowboys will remain on center stage for a

while. They will host the New York Giants on ESPN’s Monday Night

Football next week. Then CBS’s No. 1 team, Jim Nantz and Phil

Simms, will be at Cowboys Stadium when the Jacksonville Jaguars

visit on Halloween.

That will be followed by an NBC Sunday night appearance at the

Green Bay Packers. You can be sure Aikman and Buck will work the

Cowboys at Giants game that follows.

Looks like the string will be broken one the Sunday before

Thanksgiving, when the Detroit Lions visit Cowboys Stadium.

Grieve on Lewin

Rangers TV analyst Tom Grieve had

this to say about the

Rangers’ decision to part ways with

Josh Lewin, his play-by-play partner for the last nine seasons:

“When the nine years started, I was a little worried we would

have a generation gap. But as the years evolved I think it worked

out. {ellipsis} I enjoyed the nine years. I thought it went well. I

hope what he goes on to do is exciting, fulfilling and everything

he wants.”

Then he added, “I’ll be very interested in who becomes my next

partner.”

That’s all Grieve would say.

Was he mad, sad or glad about the

Rangers’ decision?

Grieve said he had nothing more to add to the conversation.

A tribute to ‘Holtzie’

During a press box dinner before Tuesday night’s

Rangers-Rays game, I asked Eric

Nadel if he had planned a game-ending radio call if the

Rangers won the ALDS. He said he

did not.

But after Ian Kinsler’s home run in the top of the ninth

propelled the

Rangers to the brink of their first

playoff series victory, Nadel got an e-mail from his friend, Pete

Alexis, back in Dallas. The subject line read: “Why don’t you say

‘Hello, win column’ as a tribute to Holtzie.” There was no message

below.

Alexis, of course, was referring to Nadel’s longtime

Rangers radio partner Mark Holtz,

who died in September 1997 at age 51.

Nadel said he mulled over the idea between innings and decided

it was “brilliant.”

And so after shortstop Elvis Andrus caught a pop-up for the

final out, Nadel used Holtz’s signature call:

“And the

Rangers are on their way to the

American League Championship Series. Hello, win column,” he said on

KRLD-FM (105.3)

It was the first time Nadel has borrowed his old partner’s

call.

“That was in tribute to Mark Holtz, who is undoubtedly smiling

right now,” Nadel said Thursday, repeating what he told listeners

on the postgame show.

In the basement

Dallas-Fort Worth was last among the eight division series

markets in TV ratings when it came to watching the hometown team.

Rating is the percentage of homes in the market that tune in

Philadelphia 24.6 Cincinnati 21.9 San Francisco 15.6 Atlanta

11.6 Minneapolis 21.9 New York 11.9 Tampa-St. Petersburg 12.1

Dallas-Fort Worth 10.5

Taking the temperature

of sports TV and radio

BARRY HORN TELLS you who’s doing it right and what to watch for

on our media blog. sportsmediablog.dallasnews.com