HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — College basketball fans are gearing up for March Madness, but there’s also plenty of stuff for high school basketball fans to be excited about.
Produced by Marshall University’s WMUL-FM, “Basketball Friday Night in West Virginia” has become one of its most successful programs.
The show began in 2013 as a collaboration between WMUL-FM and WFGH-FM in Fort Gay. Today, the radio program is carried over 20 affiliates throughout the state including WVOW AM and FM in Logan.
There is also a television broadcast that airs on Comcast Channel 25 in Huntington, Armstrong Digital Cable Channel 204 and Suddenlink’s Channel 2 Network West Virginia.
The program broadcasts from 9 p.m. until midnight every Friday. The show is co-hosted by Ryan Epling, Joe Linville, Bill Cornwell and Ric Morrone.
Epling is a sports broadcaster on WFGH-FM and also serves as the public address announcer for Wayne High School sports. He is a PA announcer for several sports at Marshall University.
Linville is a play-by-play announcer on WZAC-FM for Scott Skyhawks sports and a regular sports commentator on WVOW in Logan.
Cornwell, a veteran broadcaster for more than 30 years can be heard mornings on 93.7 The Dawg in Huntington. He is also the PA announcer for Marshall Thundering Herd football.
Morrone coaches the Tolsia Rebels girls’ basketball team. He and Epling have been with the show from its beginning.
“Our show is a celebration of high school basketball,” Epling said. “West Virginia has a rich history in the sport, and there is nothing that brings a community together today like a high school athletic team. With consolidation, we have lost a lot of the small schools and most consolidated schools aren’t built in towns. Despite this, we feel that bond between school and community is important, so we do our best to highlight it each week.”
Director Marcus Constantino has been with the show since its debut in 2013.
“Basically there was nothing like this anywhere else in the state,” Constantino said. “There is a similar program for high school football, but there was nothing like this for basketball. We wanted to create a program that celebrated high school basketball, a resource for all the players, fans and students that follow the sport, whether it be the boys or girls teams.”
Constantino is a 2013 graduate of Marshall University with a degree in online journalism.
Epling says that local support has been a key point to the show’s success.
“A lot of stations across this state took a chance on us early, and we wouldn’t be where we are without them,” Epling explained. “Now we are providing a more polished product, and before long, we think we can be on a radio or TV station available in every home in West Virginia, in addition to the radio. We hope folks tune us in out of habit after their game ends Friday night. There are some long drives in this state, and we hope we can help entertain and inform those folks. Perhaps it can make the drive a little quicker.”
The show has fans in high places. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice called in on the Feb. 10 show to talk about the progress of Greenbrier East High School. Despite his schedule, Justice coaches both the boys and girls basketball teams for the school.
“When he is on the show, he is Coach Justice, not Gov. Justice. We think it’s great that he takes time out of his busy schedule to talk to our show because he loves high school basketball as much as we do,” Constantino said. “He is a coach just like us. He wants good publicity for his kids and talks about the great things that they are doing.”
Behind the scenes Constantino maintains a busy schedule keeping the program on track.
“I call myself the air traffic controller of the show. I make sure that all the gears are running and that the show is looking good. It’s incredible how many moving parts the show has,” Constantino explained. “It’s a 100 percent volunteer-based show, so we have volunteers running the sound board, mixing the video, posting the scores to our website. Everything that you see is done by volunteers, and we enjoy doing it. We believe in the mission of celebrating high school basketball across the state. We have some Marshall students and some community volunteers as well. So it’s a little different from your typical WMUL production. We are trying to get more students involved because this is an incredible opportunity for students to get real experience on a live production.”
Morrone is positive about the response the program is receiving.
“I am excited that we can shine the light on the great sport of high school basketball with ‘Basketball Friday Night in West Virginia,’” Morrone said. “It is a labor of love for those of us that work on the show, and that love is what keeps the show on the upswing. People who are passionate about what they are doing attract others to be a part of it, and the show does that and then some. All across the state and a cross-section of individuals come together with the common goal of celebrating high school basketball in West Virginia, and it is very special.”
For more information on “Basketball Friday Night in West Virginia,” visit http://basketballnight.com/.