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Vitale takes over color analyst duty for the Blues

Blues radio analyst Joey Vitale (right) returns play-by-play announcer Chris Kerber's chair after he took it as a joke before an exhibition game on Sept. 21, 2018. They're back this season, with the broadcasts now on WXOS (101.1 FM).(Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com)

The St. Louis Blues are the reigning Stanley Cup champion for the first time in their 52 seasons of play. They won the Cup in June with a Game 7 victory in the Final, a contest shown on NBC that drew the best rating ever recorded in the U.S. for an NHL contest. It also shattered the record in St. Louis, and the series produced a viewership bonanza for local NBC affiliate KSDK (Channel 5).

But with the new season set to start in a week and a half, the Blues are not on the schedule of 12 games NBC will show nationally this season. The Boston Bruins, the team the Blues beat in the Final, are set for four appearances. That's second to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are to be on six times.

"Very disappointing for our team" at Channel 5, KSDK president and general manager Alicia Elsner said Thursday. "It was such a privilege to be a part of the Blues Stanley Cup coverage this summer. I’ve never experienced anything like it."

She is hoping that NBC adjusts the schedule.

"We typically carry two games per season in February-March," Elsner said. "We are still holding out hope for at least one regular-season game in 2020."

That seems unlikely. But St. Louis won't be totally shut out on NBC, which will show a contest from this city — just not one specifically involving the Blues. It televises the NHL All-Star Game, which is set for prime time on Jan. 25. That's a Saturday.

And the Blues will be predominantly featured on NBCSN, the cable arm of the NBC Sports Group on which they are to appear 15 times. They open the season on that outlet when they entertain Washington at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 in a contest that features the last two Cup winners. It's part of an opening-night doubleheader on NBCSN. San Jose-Vegas follows Blues-Capitals.

Sam Flood, executive producer and president of production for NBC Sports and NBCSN, is bullish on the combined lineup.

“This year’s schedule builds off the success we saw last year with increased diversity of teams and matchups highlighted by 'Wednesday Night Hockey' (on NBCSN)," he said in a statement. “From star-studded matchups like (Connor) McDavid vs. (Auston) Matthews, (Alexander) Ovechkin vs. (Sidney) Crosby and (Jack) Hughes vs. (Kaapo) Kakko, to the southernmost Winter Classic featuring Dallas and Nashville and classic original six matchups, our 2019-20 schedule features something for all hockey fans across the country.”

LOCAL LINE

The Blues' local broadcast coverage this season will be extensive — befitting a team that is the reigning Stanley Cup champion for the first time.

The biggest development is the team's switching radio stations, the fifth time it has done so. Each time KMOX (1120 AM) has been involved, this time with the broadcasts moving to WXOS (101.1 FM).

And that station plans to go all out with the Blues. It is carrying all their exhibition games, which is believed to be the first time the full slate has been on the radio. Chris Kerber (play-by-play) and Joey Vitale (analysis) are back for the calls. That schedule continues Sunday, when the Blues make their first home appearance (albeit in a practice game) as the Cup champion. They face Columbus at 2:30 p.m.

WXOS is running a one-hour preview show before each game, hosted by former KMOX sportscaster Alex Ferrario, and also will have a lot of ancillary programming.

Fox Sports Midwest, the Blues' exclusive local TV outlet for the past 10 seasons, again has all their games that aren't exclusively shown nationally by NBC/NBCSN —70 this time. John Kelly (play-by-play) and Darren Pang (analysis) return to handle those duties.

FSM won't be showing any Blues exhibition games on television, but for the third year it will stream some on Foxsportsgo.com and the Fox Sports go app. This year it will be the three home contests (Tuesday and next Friday, both at 7 p.m., after the Columbus game Sunday). These will be nuts-and-bolts productions, picking up what is shown on the video board in Enterprise Center and using the audio coming from the radio call. Access will be free, but is limited to those who subscribe to a service that carries FSM.

SEE IT AGAIN 

Of broader interest might be FSM acquiring the rights to replay NBC/NBCSN's telecasts of the four games the Blues won in the Stanley Cup Final. They will air in condensed, two-hour blocks.

The schedule begins Sept. 29, a Sunday, which figures to be a big day for Fox Sports Midwest. It has the Cardinals' regular-season finale, against the Cubs at 2:15 p.m. Then, after the postgame show, it is set to air a Blues season preview. That 30-minute program tentatively would start about 6 o'clock. Following that are Games 2 and 4 of the Final. Then on Sept. 30 it has Game 5 set for 6:30 p.m. and Game 7 scheduled for 8:30.

'HOCKEYVILLE' HOOPLA

NBCSN will televise the Blues' exhibition game next Thursday, when they face Detroit. It is the NHL's annual "Hockeyville" contest and will be played at the historic Calumet Colosseum in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The event, a centerpiece of the NHL's preseason, awards an exhibition game to a small town that is a hockey hotbed and helps fund growth of the sport there. In addition to having the game, $150,000 for rink upgrades have been awarded to the facility in which the contest will be played. The festivities are set to start at 6 p.m. (St. Louis time).

Brendan Burke will be on the play-by-play, with commentary from Pierre McGuire and Jeremy Roenick. Liam McHugh will host the coverage.