By David Scott
Boston Sports Media Watch

A SHOTS FIELD TRIP TO. . .

This has never been the regular series it should be, but every once in a while Shots does leave Hull and venture into the crowded streets of – and around – Boston. It usually ends poorly with a traffic jam or general bitterness, but sometimes we do discover new and exciting ventures when we venture off-peninsula. On Tuesday of this week, we had just such an opportunity at the offices of YouCastr in Cambridge. Our tour guide was a co-founder of the “The You” and serial start-up guy, Brad Johnson. Regular Shots meanderings follow, so feel free to skim ahead if you’re not into featurey/business story content.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Across Hurley Street, outside the makeshift conference room’s windows at YouCastr headquarters, the building with the Biopure logo on it sits as a cautionary tale for any 21st century start-up. Biopure appears to have stumbled sloppily in chasing what all new ventures covet: financial success.

Brad Johnson, however, is too busy unwrapping a chicken burrito and glancing at his handwritten notes about YouCastr to even think about Biopure. Or the inherent obstacles of standing out in today’s (overly) crowded digital sports media sector.

“You have to have a level of comfort in taking risks in the start-up world,” says Johnson, YouCastr’s co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, who previously founded Intrepid Learning Solutions and has been on the inside with major players like EMC, PepsiCo, Polaroid, and KPMG. “We don’t pretend we’ll be a huge media company. In fact, our dream is to be a part of large media company like Disney or FOX.”

For now though, the angel-funded, small (under 10 person) start-up is still crawling into its walking phase. Already, the YouCastr crew has developed a robust community of both amateur and professional New Media providers and consumers. At present, the nascent site is a conglomeration of 21st century Ham radio operators who are experimenting with broadcasting globally while thinking locally. They exhibit varying degrees of professionalism and entertainment and they mostly do a good job of taking blogging into its 2.0 phase (video, audio and interactivity).

The bulk of the site is currently audio-driven, but there are written elements as well with video on the horizon. With a mix of opinion-based talk-radio-influenced shows and live broadcasts of high school, college and amateur sporting events, YouCastr’s fledgling “community” is offering up original content heretofore unavailable for widespread consumption.

“We’ve had several hundred listeners who tuned in for an American Legion Baseball tournament,” said Johnson, 46 and a native of Jamestown, New York who did undergrad at St. Bonaventure. “And we’ve had smaller numbers for things like a Whiffle ball tournament and some high school football games. (So-called) ‘Olympic sports’ participants at colleges are loving it because they have a way for their fans to follow them when they’re on the road.”

(The site seems perfect for campus radio stations to use for coverage of non-revenue sports created entirely by students at reasonable costs.)

Added up, the numbers will begin to become attractive for advertisers (and/or potential investors in YouCastr), according to Johsnon, because the users are from all over the country and hit a desirable, hard-to-reach demogrpahic (mostly 14-29 year-olds, Johnson indicates). Still in the Beta phase, Johnson said YouCastr is averaging a respectable 30,000 unique users per month.

That number is likely to jump considerably in the coming weeks as video is incorporated and the chance for live video streams from users becomes available. Already, the audio format is simple-to-use for even novice podcasters and the video offerings will be similar, according to Johnson. In some ways, YouCastr is creating a live-version of YouTube with an emphasis on sports. Although, as Johnson admits, “it translates into all sort of news coverage, entertainment, politics.”

Instead of having 10,000 people listen to one broadcast or show, Johsnon says YouCastr is looking to offer thousands of options to niche audiences. In September, YouCastr had 1,200 broadcasts, Johnson says.

“We had a grandmother from Hawaii write in to thank us for allowing her to listen to her daughter’s softball game from the University of Alabama.”

The concept for YouCastr was conceived, according to Johnson, on the Back Bay roof deck of co-founder Ariel Diaz. “We’d bring a white board up there and just write down ideas of what we thought it could be,” said Johsnon. “There are a lot of broadcasters that bring an event to thousands of people. We realized that what no one was doing was bring a thousand different things to a hundred people each.”

The broadcasts incorporate the ability to chat with users, conduct polls and, for purposes of sports talk shows, accept callers. There are logical extensions being incorporated for hand-held device usage. “One group of our broadcasters have already come together and they have basically created a “station” with regular time slots, cross-promotion and crossover banter,” says Johsnon, “just like a talk radio station would have.” YouCastr has also forged deals to livestream existing radio stations’ content, including that of 890 ESPN, an early signee that helped shape what YouCastr could best provide for commercial stations.

“I didn’t realize how quickly and (virally) the community would spring up,” says Johnson.

That community is expanding with an army of foot soldiers being assembled on college campuses to help spread the gospel of YouCastr through giveaways and buzz-creation. “It’s a good way to put feet on the street at a low cost,” says Johnson. “We’re all over Facebook, MySpace, Twitter – that’s how our users communicate and that’s where we have to be (telling our story).”

It’s a story that Johnson hopes won’t include the travails of its across-the-street neighbor in Start-upVille.

• The tireless and incomparable Michael David Smith picked up on some irresponsible accusations from Angry Michael Wilbon on Thursday’s “Pardon the Interruption.” Shots too was taken aback by the Wilby Words.

We get the feeling that the between-segments “bumper” between Wilby and on-satellite Dan Le Batard wasn’t meant for audio. These are some of the most damning words Wilbon uttered (taken from MDS’s transcription and copacetic with what Shots heard as we were in the backyard in listen-only mode for the segment).

“I don’t know what Kimbo’s ties are,” Wilbon said. “Kimbo still could have taken a dive while others are trying to prop him up. He could have gotten paid.”

His “ties?” That’s not a very nice word to be insinuating about an event that, in one night, had at least the same amount of viewers as the average MLB division series number on TBS (4.3 million).

“Ties” suggest something untoward (as does the fix discussion Wilbon initiated, of course) and without substantiated evidence, Wilbon is treading very lightly on some serious legal grounds. he certainly wouldn’t make such claims about the NHL or, shudder at the thought, the Arena Football League.

Reached via email on Thursday night ESPN spokesman, Mike Soltys, said, “PTI has been doing something different the past month with little segments in the middle of commercial breaks that have the appearance of being accidental look-ins, but (are) all planned. I didn’t see show, but I assume that is what happened.”

. . . Kimbo and Wilby on CBS for the next installment? Might make for a better match than a rematch with the Smoothie King. Might have to rename Wilbon “Mimbo” for the evening.

. . . Sure sounds like a better investment to do an EliteXC event for short money and grab an audience comparable to one of America’s Three Major Sports, right? Elite is actually the poor man’s version of the industry standard, UFC, and its Boston-connected president, Dana White.

. . . Good work by the Herald’s Dan Duggan to get White on the record on Wednesday.

. . . How about old WWZN 1510 AM friend Jon Anik making his mark on ESPN’s MMA show? Anik certainly never got his due in this market as the video confirms.

. . . Lot of MMA talk out there if you’d like a crash course.

• Am I the only one laughing out loud at HBO’s new “Life and Times of Tim?” Not to mention I’m in love with his cartoon girlfriend Amy (yep, a new low for Shots – Cartoon Girl crush). Best I can tell, Tim is a cross between Ray Romano and Jerry Seinfeld. Oh, and Tom Werner is an executive producer, so you’ll be supporting Red Sox Nation by watching.

Trust me on this one. Sunday nights.

• There’s just no need for the three man booth we’ll be getting from TBS for the ALDS [Chip Caray (play-by-play), Ron Darling (analyst), Buck Martinez (analyst) and Craig Sager (reporter)]. Darling and Martinez are equally unimpressive and to try and create one full color analyst out of two halves is a waste of air time. Caray has been underwhelming for the most part and there’s not one iota of homerism when we tell you that Don Orsillo is very close to meriting the Caray role. Very close.

Ernie Johnson has been his usual stellar self in-studio (although you just know he misses Kenny and Charles) and Dennis Eckersley has again proven he’s a National guy with a capital “N.” ESPN really should make another run at The Eck and figure out a way to use him – even if he doesn’t want to go Bristol all the time.

. . . Outdoor pre-season hoops with Charles however could be worth a looksie.

• My goodness, Lou Merloni has really burst on the scene, hasn’t he? Framingham Lou went toe-to-toe with Basketball Bob Ryan on “Globe 10.0″ this week and Lou-Lou held his own across all sports.

. . . Brian Daubach on the other hand, not so good in his WEEI 850 AM shifts.

• Comcast SportsNet announced on Thursday that Tommy Heinsohn will work zero road games this season for the first time in 28 years. In addition, Shots has confirmed that the network’s nine-year relationship with add-in color commentator Bob Cousy has ended. Cousy had averaged about ten games per year for CSN, according to a spokesman for the regional network.

Heinsohn will continue to do color commentary for home Celts’ games alongside Mike Gorman and Heinsohn will provide in-studio analysis for road games, alongside Gary Tanguay. Donny Marshall gets color duty for the full slate of CSN’s road games and Greg Dickerson continues as sideline reporter for both home and away contests.

. . . CSN is also boasting “new in-game graphics, including a new logo; new in-game scoreboard; and new in-game animation. During every Comcast SportsNet Celtics telecast, fans can chat with Comcast SportsNet talent . . . during the game via ComcastSportsNet.com.”

. . . Shots has confirmed that Marshall will not return to the network’s “Celtics Now” weekly, in-season magazine show and that a sole, male host will fill the role previously held by Marshall and Laura Behnke (who left the market, see below). The as-yet-named replacement is from outside the network, Shots is told.

• Behnke is now a few months into her stint at WNTV, the NBC affiliate in San Francisco, and in an email correspondence with Shots reported that things are going well on the Left Coast.

“It’s been interesting so far, but I must admit I do miss many things about Boston, especially the sports passion,” said Behnke, who shone brightly in her NECN and CSN time in Beantown, even making a smooth transition into fill-in duty at WEEI 850 AM. “I still keep a close eye on the New England teams, and had a great time covering the 49ers/Patriots game last Sunday.”

Behnke said she was on Lane Kiffin Watch the past month or so in addition to her sports anchor duties and added that she is learning how to navigate her way through Candlestick Park and McAfee Coliseum.

“This is a much more laid back market, something I’m definitely not used to,” said Behnke. “Bottom line, so far, so good in San Francisco; though part of me will always be in Boston.”

• The Boston Globe’s “OT Magazine” has made its first major mistake by bringing aboard ex-WBZ-TV sports anchor Bob Lobel as a columnist. Lobel – who has incredibly managed to land a morning radio gig – lost all credibility (or what remained of his cred) when he overinflated and mis-reported some Manny matters in July. Now, upstart ‘OT’ brings Lobel aboard and immediately gets demerits for such a useless addition. Name recognition is one thing, one trick ponies are quite another. We have no problem with a responsible and credible contributor like Tom Caron for ‘OT’, but why on earth would a “new” publication with a group of fresh voices go for the such a trite cliche of Boston’s sports media past.

• Monday night’s ALDS celebration once again brought out the worst in local sports anchors from Fenway. Between the giddy screaming of NECN’s Chris Collins and the over-the-top fawning of everything Red and Sox from WHDH Channel 7′s Joe Amorosino it was enough to force all sane-thinking viewers over to Channel 4, which had the good sense (or lack of resources) to go with its regularly scheduled programming of David Letterman at 11:30. (Not surprisingly , Dan Roche got some of the best stuff from the post-game, which ran fresh during Monday’s evening news broadcasts). NESN did a pretty solid job of mixing in analysis and interviews, even utilizing Framingham Lou on-field with Kathryn Tappen (while Heidi Watney once again was relegated to soaking clubhouse duty).

• Lastly, we know we say it regularly and then never follow through, but we really and truly need to get away from this blog for the sake of our “real life” projects. If I’m doing what I’m supposed to be and progressing as I need to, my visits to these parts will be infrequent. I hope you understand and appreciate your support. A couple a months of solitude and we’ll be back at you before the year evaporates.

David Scott writes from a seaside shanty on the shores of Hull, Mass. and can be reached at shotsATbostonsportsmediaDOTcom.

Scott’s first book, with Memphis Coach John Calipari, is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2009.