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Internet radio gives high school sports fans fresh way to connect with teams

Kevin Mays • Jun 28, 2020 at 2:30 PM

Joe Carter and Chris Carr have a love for sports, for young people and for their Gate City community.

It’s a perfect combination for the duo on Gate City Sports Radio.

Carter and Carr are part of a recent trend among most schools in the Mountain 7 and other districts known as internet radio.

While actual radio coverage of high school sports over the radio airwaves has declined in recent years, area schools — working together with school supporters and broadcasters — have developed the means and resources to broadcast games on the internet.

The schools’ networks are broadcast through different web platforms, though right now most use a program called Spreaker.

Fans who want to hear play-by-play coverage of various sports from their favorite high school can access it through such networks.

Exactly how the networks work revenue-wise varies from school to school and from each corresponding network.

One thing they all have in common, however, is purpose: to promote a school’s sports and the athletes who play them.

“Chris and I love to support young people,” Carter said. “Chris is an educator with 19 years of teaching experience to go along with coaching basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and football. I was an educator for six years and have coached football, basketball, baseball as well as track and field.

“Even though we work full-time jobs and receive no money for the countless hours we put into this station, it remains a labor of love.

“And our ability to provide any recognition for our young people is worth more than anything to us,” Carter added.

Carter said the group began offering Gate City game results and information on social media in 2014. In 2018, the network launched its play-by-play coverage.

The network’s following has only continued to grow. In March, it set a record.

“This year’s VHSL state championship basketball game between Gate City and John Marshall had the most individual listeners for a single broadcast in our station’s history, finishing with 4,016,” Carter noted.

Other networks launched around the same time as the one covering Gate City, and they also have continued to grow.

The John Battle Radio Network, Abingdon Falcon Radio Network, Union Bear Radio Network and Bearcat Radio Network — covering Virginia High sports — all started offering play-by-play broadcasts of their schools’ various sporting events a couple of years ago.

The Central Warriors Radio Network and Ridgeview Radio Network started this past basketball season.

The reach of the internet-based broadcasts is worldwide — meaning the networks not only count alumni, players’ relatives and school supporters from across the country among their listeners but also people in other countries.

“I think it gives great exposure to the athletes at John Battle High School,” Tim Burnette said. “A lot of times, we have had parents come up to us letting us know they’ve listened to us because they were out of town.

“Players can go back and listen to a broadcast after a game. Grandparents that live out of state have been able to listen to their grandchild play in a game.

“I think it’s great that not only do the John Battle athletes get exposure, but the other high school athletes in Southwest Virginia that have a radio network establishment get exposure as well,” Burnette said.

“Our listeners seem to love the concept, especially for away games that not everyone can attend,” said Chris Wilson of the Central Warriors Sports Network. “We’ve tried to use the platform to promote athletics as well as all things Central High School. We’ve run ads for school dances and school art productions. We’ve made efforts during each broadcast to congratulate cheer, One Act (theater) productions and a variety of other events that don’t lend themselves to being covered easily with live broadcasts.”

Down the road from Central at Union, similar things are happening with the Union Bear Radio Network.

B.J. Richardson flies solo on most Union broadcasts right now, but he said plans are for students to start assisting him with game coverage.

“We want to help them learn about the concept of sports broadcasting and podcasting so if they are interested in pursuing that as a career or in college, they already have a scope of work they can use,” Richardson said.

Steve Puckett and the Abingdon Falcon Radio Network have expanded from play-by-play coverage of sporting events to also having a weekly show in which coaches and players are interviewed.

“We have used this to promote our kids and sports for AHS with spotlight interviews of athletes each week, a weekly interview show of coaches and players and a student-run podcast that was developed this year to highlight AHS activities and interviews beyond athletics,” Puckett said.

Dillon Hutton of the Bearcat Radio Network has been doing similar programs.

“In the last few seasons, we’ve had the ‘Bearcat Sports Chat’ coaches’ show where we interview coaches and athletes,” Hutton said. “We have also added things to our broadcast, including a sideline reporter for our football coverage the last two years.

“And we have broadcast select baseball, football and basketball games on our Facebook page via Facebook Live.”

The Ridgeview Radio Network began its broadcasts only this past winter with basketball games. The network’s David Moore said the response already has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The Dickenson County listening community has been amazing,” Moore said. “We have had so many of our home listeners thank us because they can listen in their cars, from wherever they are, if they have to miss a game.

“We have listeners, players family and former Dickenson Countians listen from all over the U.S. We love to give them a shout-out and send their messages to players when they message us.”

When the Ridgeview network started, it received support from other schools’ networks that were already in operation, Moore said.

It’s a group effort, he said. And it’s an effort to support high school sports and extracurricular activities and students involved as well as the communities they serve.

Just ask Carter.

“The loyalty Gate City fans have for their sports teams is unmatched, and we consider it an honor to be a part of celebrating that into the future,” he said.

The other network broadcasters enjoy the same feeling about their schools and communities.

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