WOONSOCKET — There’s a drumbeat sounding on the local airwaves with a specific demographic in mind – the high school football enthusiast.
With two graduates from Woonsocket High School’s Class of 1985 serving as the driving force, radio station WOON (1240 AM) is staking a claim to become the destination for all gridiron-related matters. Starting with this Friday’s non-league game between Shea and Lincoln, WOON has lined up a 14-game slate – an increase from nine a season ago – featuring the voice talents of Lou Mandeville, now in his 15th season calling the action.
In addition to live broadcasts, the Park Avenue-based locale plans to keep additional tabs on the scene with the first-ever weekly high school football-specific program that will piggyback Bryant University football on Saturday afternoons. The hour-long show debuts this Saturday and is appropriately titled “High School Football Weekly.”
“It’s a floating time slot that some would say is tough, but at least you know your audience is there,” explained Mandeville. “They may be strictly for Bryant, but they may stumble upon this and say ‘Hey, this is pretty good and something I might be interested in.’”
Joining Mandeville in the trenches is fellow WHS classmate Mike Watters, a veteran football coach who presently is the defensive coordinator at North Smithfield High. Given the conflicting nature between WOON’s game lineup and his coaching responsibilities, it’s even money that Watters’ contribution to this leave-no-stone-unturned production will take place during “High School Football Weekly.”
With that in mind, expect a steady stream of rotating voices to join forces with Mandeville inside the booth.
“It’s about the rapport you have with the person off the air,” said Mandeville about making sure his sidekick is placed in a comfortable position that allows him to flourish and enhance the broadcast. “If you can have a decent enough conversation with them, usually it translates to good radio.”
Upon closer inspection of the broadcast lineup, WOON cannot be accused of being biased toward one particular school. Woonsocket and Lincoln lead the way with four appearances each followed by Cumberland and North Smithfield with three airings apiece. Burrillville has two dates in the offing.
“We started off doing exclusively Woonsocket games because they were the local team in the city,” explained Mandeville. “Eventually we realized that there were a lot of other good teams in the broadcast area and let’s give them their due diligence.”
It’s been standard procedure that once the schedule is finalized, Mandeville distributes the info via e-mail to the athletic directors in an effort to give the schools a heads-up when to expect WOON’s presence. When Burrillville A.D. John Abbate received word that the Oct. 27 game at Alumni Field against Lincoln was on the broadcast itinerary, he shot a reply back to Mandeville with a tip to arrive well ahead of the 10:30 a.m. kickoff due to homecoming festivities.
Ironically, Oct. 27 is doubleheader day with that afternoon’s 1:30 Chariho-at-Woonsocket contest completing what figures to be a hectic caseload for Mandeville & Co. You won’t, however, here Mandeville complain about performing a public service that is backed by a great deal of passion and energy.
“It’s good to give the youth some positive publicity, so if I can shed some light on what student-athletes are doing … that’s why I do this,” remarked Mandeville, also the host of the Sports Locker, an hour-long call-in show that airs every Sunday morning on WOON beginning at 11.
Speaking of the Sports Locker, the station’s ode to lively sports discussion served as the jumping-off point that led to the creation of “High School Football Weekly.” With Mandeville on vacation in early August, Watters asked his brother Doug to serve as a fill-in guest (Like Mike, Doug is also a member of head coach Wes Pennington’s staff at N.S.).
Following the Sports Locker, the Watters siblings began brainstorming about forming a show exclusively dedicated to high school football. With the dawn of a new season not that far away, the onus fell on those wishing to see this come to fruition to mobilize and to do so fast.
Judging by the number of sponsors WOON was able to procure for “High School Football Weekly,” it appears that palpable interest exists. Those already onboard include 1-800-GOT-JUNK, Tessier Lawn Care, Ciro’s Tavern on Cherry, and Olly’s Pizza.
As far as the menu for “High School Football Weekly,” the show will serve as a prime chance to review the past week’s games while looking ahead at what’s on tap. Sound bites from games will be played while it’s expected that area coaches will drop by the studio.
At times the show will have an interactive feel with poll rankings and the opportunity for fans to pass along their thoughts/observations via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . The program also has accounts set up on Facebook and Twitter (@HSGuys).
“It’s going to be positive show where we’re promoting the sport and the schools,” notes Mike Watters, who in his 20 years of coaching football has made stops as a defensive coach at Dean College and Nichols College along with three separate stints at Woonsocket High.
Added Mandeville, “If a kid runs for 100 yards, that’s great. If a kid runs for 100 yards, has a 3.9 GPA and works at the senior center, that’s even better. We want to promote the good things kids are doing.”
Given the seasonal concept, “High School Football Weekly” will remain a Saturday staple up until Super Bowl weekend in early December. All game broadcasts and radio show airings will be archived on WOON’s website, www.onworldwide.com .