Sunday, May 20, 2001

Sports on TV-Radio

UC track star does NBA for NBC

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lewis Johnson was fast on the track, but he didn't take the fast track to his current position in the broadcasting.

        Johnson has been working the NBA playoffs for NBC as a sideline reporter. He will be part of the network's team for the NBA Finals. It's the latest high-profile assignment for the former University of Cincinnati 800-meter runner.

        “It's been a blast,” he said Friday from his home in Dallas. “The NBC executives gave us a mandate: Be lively and have fun. It's different each weekend. I'm having a great time.”

        Johnson took the long route to the top. He started as production assistant with ABC while running on the European circuit in the early '90s. That meant driving around the talent, getting sodas and making copies.

        “A glorified go-fer,” he said. “I'd be signing autographs at a track meet in Paris one day. The next, I'd be at the British Open staying eight, nine deep in a hotel room.”

        But Johnson used the opportunity to learn the sports television business.

        “I saw what ABC was doing behind the scenes,” he said. “I had access to the (production) trucks. I followed around guys like Lynn Swann and saw how they did their job.”

        Johnson, 38, grew up in Austin, Texas. His family moved to Cincinnati when he was a teen-ager. He went to Northwest High, where he ran track but wasn't highly recruited. He ended up walking on at UC. By his senior year, he was an All-American in 1987, finishing eighth at the NCAA meet. He ran in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Trials and spent summers running in Europe, where track and field is huge.

        Johnson's first on-air gig was with ESPN as a reporter on the network's track and field coverage.

        That led to a reporting job as part of ABC's college football coverage. He continued to work as a free-lancer, getting jobs on ESPN, Fox Sports Net and Turner.

        His first big assignment for NBC was at the World Track Championships in 1999.

        He was one of the main track reporters in Sydney, which led to his current NBA assignment.

        “It's been an amazing turn of events,” Johnson said. “... I tell kids when I speak to them that if you have dreams, hang in there and they'll happen. I'm living proof.”

        RADIO WOMEN: WVXU-FM (91.7) will air a Xavier women's basketball package next season. Twelve regular-season games and all postseason games will be broadcast.

        The deal is particularly attractive to the Muskies program because WVXU is broadcast over the Web.

        The announcing team has not been picked.

        NEXT FOR FOX: Keith Olbermann's departure from Fox Sports Net is the strongest signal that FSN is losing its battle with ESPN on the national news-show front.

        Olbermann, one of ESPN's former stars and one of the top talents in sports broadcasting, was brought in to prop up Fox's National Sports Report, but National has never made much of a dent in SportsCenter. He was pulled off the daily show to do The Keith Olbermann Evening News on Sunday night. It's ratings were awful — 0.3.

        Rumors have been floating for months that FSN will drop National and go strictly with its regional reports.

        The regional news runs immediately after a Major League Baseball game. The local version pulls good numbers after Reds games.

        There has been talk that Fox will launch a new national news show, along the lines of an NFL pregame show, which means it will be wacky and irreverent.

        That might work. But it's time to give up on trying to beat SportsCenter at its own game.



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