Sun Sentinel Author/Byline: TOM JICHA

The Florida Marlins have another South Florida entertainment entity with which they can commiserate – WAMI-Ch. 69.

A week into its existence, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market’s newest TV station has demonstrated it has much in common with the thrown-to-the-wolves Marlins. WAMI owns a couple of genuine pros – Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect, snagged from ABC after disrespectful treatment by WPLG-Ch. 10, and tapes of Neil Rogers’ WQAM (AM 560) radio show.

There also are some raw newcomers with promise. The 10 p.m. Sportstown beats most of the other roundup shows to the air by an hour. The Times, the station’s newscast, keeps its promise to cover the local news scene minus the mayhem. Now it has to grow up a bit in its presentation, attitude and choice of topics. And City Room: The Herald gives viewers a look at how newspapers gather and edit stories.

However, the majority of what is being offered skirts truth-in-advertising laws in billing itself as big time. Traffic Jams (road maps set to music) is less than filler; the one-minute Lips news update should have been punched out after one appearance; and Kenneth’s Freak-quency in late-night is an attempt to re-create The Rocky Horror Picture Show but comes off as Wayne’s World minus the sophisticated repartee.

However, the programming that actually appeared on the screen is the least of WAMI’s worries. More troubling is what didn’t show up – the correct shows and commercials – a lot of the time. Throughout its premiere week, the screen would suddenly go to black in the middle of programs. White-on-black title cards, which aren’t supposed to be seen by the audience, would pop up. Commercials would appear when they weren’t supposed to, and wouldn’t be there when they were supposed to be. Spots that didget on the air were cut short.

Viewers frequently complain that the sound levels of commercials are appreciably louder than the surrounding programs. These people should tune to WAMI. The audio in some spots could barely be heard.

In more than one program, the station returned from a commercial only to put up the same segment that had appeared before the break. Then the same commercial. For a couple of hours last Wednesday, WAMI was off the air entirely.

Is it any wonder that during his radio show, Rogers has been psychotic on the topic of WAMI? What must the Miami Heat be thinking? Their games are a cornerstone of WAMI’s roll-out, in the hope that pro basketball will bring in viewers who otherwise would not sample Channel 69. The Heat has to be wondering now if fans can count on games even getting on the air.

While awaiting basketball season, the new TV station’s best promotional tool may be videotaped highlights of Rogers’ radio program, airing on WAMI at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. (as well as in the wee hours). Rogers has discussed little else for the past week. Unfortunately for WAMI, there has been little positive he could say. Instead of handling his TV program like the asset it is, WAMI seemed to do everything it could to sabotage it.

Sabotage might seem a strong word, but WAMI couldn’t have embarrassed Rogers any more if it had set out to do so. He was cut off in midsentence. He was shot from unflattering angles. One evening, the same segment repeated three times. Another time, Rogers was seen doing nothing for two to three minutes as a comedy bit was played.

The comedy tapes are pleasant changes of pace during Rogers’ four-hour monologue on radio. Why they would even be considered for the half-hour of highlights on WAMI is inexplicable. Also, as long as WAMI is going to use Rogers at least twice a night – double the original plan – it would be a good idea to present different shows. There are, after all, four hours a day from which to draw. The only feasible explanation is that WAMI has enough trouble getting one show right, let alone trying to do two.


Another major humiliation for WAMI can’t be blamed on the local station. It’s hard to imagine someone 6 foot 9 being in over his head in anything. But this is the only way to describe Magic Johnson’s new talk show, The Magic Hour. The former pro basketball player is charming and personable, but he is no more a talk host than Michael Jordan was a baseball player.

Famously nimble on the basketball court, Johnson is a klutz in the talk arena. He tries to cover up his loss for words by alternately clapping or pointing to his guests, palms upward and outward, as if to say, “You’re the man.”Johnson got the idea that he could be a host from his frequent stints as a guest, for which he drew fawning praise. What he didn’t realize is that it’s one thing to respond to straight lines from a pro, who knows how to make his guests look good; it’s another thing entirely to be the one who has to set up others.

Clearly, Johnson has a scripted list of questions and he is going to ask them in order – even if the guest responds to a previous one by admitting that he is the real killer O.J. has been looking for.

Fact is, the best questions during his opening week came from the audience, in one of the segments created to cover up Magic’s deficiencies as a conversationalist.

The only saving grace was that Johnson was able to attract a galaxy of A-list stars – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Whitney Houston, etc. This won’t last. Once the show has been roundly panned and ratings plunge – both of which are inevitable – the big stars won’t even return the calls of Magic’s producers. He’ll be lucky to get Chevy Chase, whose Fox show looks better with every edition of The Magic Hour.

What WAMI will do when Magic fouls out is a matter of conjecture. Maybe they’ll run Rogers several more times a night. If nothing else, this would increase WAMI’s chances of getting it right at least once.

Copyright 1998 Sun-Sentinel Company