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Play-by-players get mixed reviews

The Tribune interviewed 28 people, ages 15 to 89, who follow the Trail Blazers and are familiar with the team's broadcasts. Three-fourths were men. Two-thirds were interviewed before a game at the Rose Garden, the rest on the streets of Portland.

Even after nearly five seasons on the job, name recognition remains a problem for announcer Brian Wheeler. Many of those interviewed couldn't recall his name until prompted. Some confused him with Pete Pranica, the Blazers' television play-by-play man.

More than half of those interviewed consider Wheeler very good at what he does.

A sampling:

• 'He had a hard act to follow when (Bill) Schonely went away, but he has been great,' said a 57-year-old man. 'I like his enthusiasm.'

•Ê'I like his energy and sense of humor,' said a 56-year-old woman, who knew Wheeler's name. 'He and Rice are good together.'

• 'He makes it very exciting,' said a woman, 42. 'You are well-

informed with everything that goes on. The first year, it was hard to get used to him. Now it seems like a good fit.'

Those who don't like Wheeler's work were mostly concerned about his on-air prejudice toward the Blazers.

Some examples:

•Ê'A total homer,' said a man, 47. 'Listening to him, you don't hear the real game.'

•Ê'Everything seems overhyped and exaggerated,' said a man, 42. 'It is hard to differentiate between the commercials promoting the games and their broadcasts. He has a good voice, and you can make the argument you can follow the game better with him than Schonely. But wipe the mustard off everything.'

Some criticized other Blazer broadcasters, as well.

Typical of such thoughts:

•Ê'All the Blazer broadcasters seem intimidated by Blazer management,' said a man, 53. 'They are afraid to say anything negative, and they don't disguise it too well.'

•Ê'Other than Steve Jones, their entire broadcasting crew are homers,' said a man, 34. 'I just picture Bob Whitsitt's voice when those guys are talking. It is so refreshing to hear Jones make a critical comment now and then when it is deserved.'

A couple of those interviewed contend Wheeler's catchphrases sound contrived. One observation:

•Ê'They are all written down, and they don't work,' said a man, 47. 'Bemused, befuddled and bewildered Ñ come on, that is disrespectful to the opposing coach.'

ÑÊKerry Eggers