IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) _ As owner of a small radio station, Steve Bridges believes he has an obligation to cover his town. Since football is big in Iowa, and the University of Iowa is in Iowa City, Bridges’ KCJJ is broadcasting Iowa Hawkeye games.
Not the games, exactly, but unauthorized descriptions of what they look like. And not from the stadium, but from in front of a TV set in a bar.
The problem is that other stations now own rights to broadcast Hawkeye games and the university is threatening to sue KCJJ.
``I’m licensed to serve the community of Iowa City,″ Bridges says. ``Well, what’s the biggest thing in the community? And they’re telling me I can’t cover it?″
That’s correct, according to Rick Klatt, an associate athletic director at Iowa.
``We have an exclusive broadcast agreement with Learfield Communications, and we expect to do what’s necessary to maintain that,″ he said.
KCJJ used to be an affiliate of Learfield, based in Jefferson, Mo., and had carried Hawkeye games for years.
But while Learfield has a new three-year, exclusive contract for radio broadcasts of Hawkeye games, paying $3.18 million for the privilege, Bridges’ station is no longer part of Learfield.
Bridges bought KCJJ in 1994 when it was still a Learfield affiliate, and he says he was led to believe that relationship would continue.
``It is a little personal,″ Bridges says. ``I bought the station, thinking I’ve got the Hawkeyes.″
What he got was out-bid, by KXIC-AM, which bought the Iowa City affiliation with Learfield. Bridges said he offered $10,000; KXIC general manager Steve Winkey didn’t return a call Sunday for details on his bid.
Learfield vice president Roger Gardner did not return phone calls seeking comment.
While KXIC broadcasts from the Hawkeyes’ stadium, the KCJJ on-air crew watches the games on a six-foot television set at Grizzly’s South Side Pub.
The sound on the bar’s TV sets is turned off, so listeners just get a play-by-play description of what the KCJJ announcers can see on the screen. On Saturday, that was ESPN2′s exclusive television coverage of Iowa’s 38-10 defeat of Illinois.
``We’re giving fans another interpretation of the game,″ said commentary announcer Terry Muhlenbruch.
The university looked the other way after the first week because KCJJ was just broadcasting locally, but now Bridges is providing free tapes to stations around the state for replay at night.
Klatt says KCJJ is infringing on the exclusive rights of Learfield and its affiliates and also is violating the Big Ten’s copyright of televised games.
Bridges maintains the airwaves are public domain and that his announcers are simply reporting on what they see, albeit on television.
One broadcast expert said KCJJ may not be doing anything illegal.
``You cannot copyright the fact that Iowa just made a touchdown,″ said Nicolas Johnson, a former member of the Federal Communications Commission and a visiting law professor at Iowa’s College of Law.
Humbug, says Winkey.
``Copyright is copyright,″ Winkey says. ``I think the university is going to squash him.″