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AN EXCLUSIVE: Ken Pries Discusses Changes In A's Radio Coverage

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The A's took today's contest 8-7, Chavez went 1-2 with a triple, and Buck hit a monster homerun. The defense was sloppy. -baseballgirl

On Thursday, I had a chance to chat with Ken Pries, Vice President of Broadcasting and Communications for the Oakland A's, about some recent changes - most notably changes in the A's radio post-game show (welcome, Chris Townsend) and in KTRB's signal.

Regarding the change from "Extra Innings with Robert Buan" to a new show hosted by Chris Townsend, Pries emphasizes that the decision was not the A's but rather the result of a new package deal. "Part of our contract with Xtra Sports is that they provide an hour long post game talk show for A's fans," Pries explains. "In prior years we had been responsible for putting that show together. And they wanted a different feel to it, a different sound to it. We pushed very strongly for Robert (Buan), because he has a very good following - plus he has not only a good rapport with fans, but he has a good rapport with the players as well."

Of course, who cares who's hosting the post-game show if you can't hear the station through the static anyway? KTRB's signal disappointed many last year, particularly those who lived in "drop zones" like Berkeley, where the station was required, by FCC rules, to decrease its signal to defer to another station at the same frequency. As best as I can gauge from reader feedback, last year's KTRB signal ranged from fine in random parts of the East Bay to disappointing in Oakland to pathetic in Berkeley.

As of last week, things have changed! Until the sun goes down, anyhow. From sunrise to sundown, when KTRB is allowed to boost its signal, "The station is louder, it's stronger," says Pries. "The transmitter is now in Hayward next to the Bay. The water is a great conduit for AM radio and as a result of that it's a powerhouse." Powerhouse? We'll see. (Of course if we're comparing it to the A's lineup, then sure.) But hey - I'll gladly settle for "much better."

Pries claims that since the change, which took effect about a week ago, he has been able to get a clear KTRB signal while driving in Chico, adding, "I've got a couple of employees, one in Berkeley one in Albany. I called them same day (I listened in Chico) and they said the station is stronger than they've ever heard it and it has definitely solved that problem - in daytime."

Some listeners in the North Bay also figure to be pleased by the new developments. "The other weak area we had was in the Petaluma/Novato area, "Pries notes, "and (according to my engineer who lives there) it's incredible - the signal right now is as strong as any of the other 50,000 watt stations out of San Francisco during the day."

The caveat is that when the sun goes down, it will take KTRB with it. "Basically the daytime signal is: They flip it on at sunrise and they flip it down at sunset," says Pries. "And they have to do that as part of the rules that the FCC lays out for them. The good news is that during the Summer, as we get into July and August, sunset is 8:30pm-8:45pm." So for day games, East Coast games, and games started by Mark Buehrle, we're set. As for the rest, well  - once the sun goes down the signal will be no better than it was last year, but it will also be no worse.

Pries is well aware that many A's fans are less than impressed with the team's media coverage, but insists the A's make radio and TV coverage a priority and actually have made great strides. "I've seen your site; I've seen people who take shots at us and say we don't care about the fans," he says, "and I just want people to realize we're doing everything we possibly can. If you look at where we were 5 years ago, from a broadcast standpoint, we are so far ahead, more than we could ever dream we could be - with 145 games televised, the Hi Def games, the radio broadcasts, the signal that we (now) have - I think we have a lot to be proud of."

The A's signed a 10-year deal with KTRB this past off-season. Given all the uncertainty surrounding where the A's will be playing in 10 years, ever since the KTRB 10-year extension was signed, it's been nagging at me: Does this radio deal offer clues as to where the A's plan to be by 2020?

The way I broached this question to Pries was to ask, " good is KTRB's signal in San Jose?" Not my subtlest moment. "The (KTRB) signal in San Jose is tremendous," Pries says. "It gets all the way down into the Morgan Hill/Gilroy area and down into Monterey, particularly the daytime signal now, so we're wall to wall down there now - which was a big part of being able to do this deal because we knew this transmitter change was going to happen."

So does that mean the 10-year contract with KTRB was entered into with a move to San Jose in mind? Pries says no: The deal was simply made with "opportunity" in mind. "Looking at where are we going to be in 10 years," says Pries, "I just look at it by the history of the past 10/15/20 years, and there's no surprise to fans what struggle we've had getting a strong station. So I think the way we look at it is, we've got a strong station now and it's time to hold onto it. Because we're never going to be able to get on KNBR, we're never going to get on KGO, and we're never going to get on KCBS. There just aren't the numbers there to support putting an A's game on an all-news station, and the Giants aren't going anywhere...We were as frustrated as fans were jumping around the dial, and we felt that having a consistent home for years to come was going to make a big difference for us."

So as Chris Townsend will say at many a sundown, "And that's your A's wrap-up for toccccchhhkkkkk chzzzkkk kkkkkkchchzzchch."