- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Washington Nationals fans, say goodbye to the blank screen.

After more than a year and a half of operations, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network finally began broadcasting programs other than Nationals games this week, fulfilling its long-held promise of becoming a round-the-clock regional sports network.

The network began broadcasting expanded pre- and postgame shows Monday for the Nationals game in San Francisco and televised a game from the 1970 World Series between the Orioles and Cincinnati Reds, plus Canadian Football League games and simulcasts of radio shows from WJFK-AM (ESPN 1300) in Baltimore.

No one’s declaring it Emmy-Award winning fare, but it is no doubt an upgrade from 20 hours of nothing.

Beginning later this month, the network will have a more robust slate of programs, including all four Baltimore Ravens preseason football games and five Ravens-oriented shows. In the fall and winter, it will broadcast at least 25 Division I college football games and 100 NCAA basketball games. Featured colleges will include Georgetown, Morgan State, Loyola, Towson, Coppin State, Maryland-Baltimore County and Bowie State. The network also expects to broadcast reports from baseball’s winter meetings and spring training. It also will show press conferences of any trades or other news.

MASN plans to round out its schedule with niche sports programming, including horse racing, poker and adventure sports.

“We are fortunate to live in a region with so much quality athletic competition, and MASN will bring home the games you can’t see anywhere else,” MASN spokesman Todd Webster said. “This is a network for local sports fans, and given the quality of our programming, the demand for MASN will become even greater. Every fan will want to get MASN.”

By expanding its programming, MASN is attempting to establish itself as a more legitimate competitor to Comcast SportsNet, the top regional sports network in the Baltimore-Washington area.

And the programming debut comes as the Federal Communications Commission stepped in this week to help end a dispute between MASN and Comcast Cable, which has refused to carry the network. Comcast’s refusal has left about 1.3 million subscribers unable to watch most Nationals games.

MASN is the main broadcast home for the Nationals and also will show most Orioles games beginning next year. The network, owned primarily by the Baltimore Orioles, was formed before the 2005 baseball season as part of an arrangement to allow the Nationals and Orioles to share a broadcast territory. That territory, which stretches from parts of Pennsylvania to as far south as North Carolina, had been exclusive to the Orioles until the Nationals moved to the region last year.

The FCC said Monday that MASN could select an arbitrator or administrative law judge to settle the matter. MASN has until the end of this week to choose; the arbitrator or law judge then would have 45 days to make a decision on the case.

MASN’s lack of programming was one of the reasons Comcast refused to carry the network. The cable company argued that the network was overpriced given its lack of content. The introduction of new programming is unlikely to sway Comcast, however, as it also has argued MASN was formed out of a breach of contract between Comcast SportsNet and the Orioles.

MASN already is available on cable services from Cox, Charter, RCN and Verizon, as well as on DirecTV satellite service.

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