Section: SPORTS,  Page: C8

Date: Friday, February 19, 1999

The Boston Celtics are 1-1 on their West Coast trip, which finishes tonight in Portland. WVBG, using the Celtics as a vehicle to establish a Capital Region presence, is 0-2. In fact, the station, which has transmitters in Albany (Ch. 25), Greenwich (Ch. 39) and Manchester, Vt. (Ch. 49), isn't even in the ballgame.

How would you have liked to be a Celtics fan who stayed up to watch the team's games Tuesday night in Sacramento and Wednesday night in Vancouver? Consider this:

With seven seconds remaining and the score tied in Sacramento, the WVBG signal switched to a shopping network. Viewers were never returned to the game.

In the third quarter at Vancouver, WVBG cuts out for a half-hour infomercial, returning early in the fourth quarter.

With 1.4 seconds left in the third overtime and the Celtics leading by two Wednesday, the same shopping network intervened, causing viewers to miss the Grizzlies' attempt to tie.

As the reader who alerted us to this situation said, ``And that's just the worst part. The rest of the (Tuesday) broadcast was littered with mis-scheduled commercials and numerous interruptions -- to take a full screen of the Washington County five-day forecast for as long as seven minutes at a time while the game was being played.''

Station manager Dan Carbonara cited a timer -- a nasty word among sports fans who remember similar problems among area cable companies earlier this decade -- for the Tuesday error. ``We go unmanned after midnight,'' he said. ``We figured three hours would be plenty.''

He vowed Wednesday afternoon that the problem ``won't happen again'' and backed that up by setting the timer for four hours. Obviously, it wasn't enough for triple overtime.

``For us, we need to rely on automatic equipment so we can run a lean operation, at least until we're on cable,'' said Carbonara, who said he will set the timer for tonight's game for five hours. ``We've got to do everything we can to open the doors. It's tough. We want to bring in the programming and do the best job we can. On the other hand, the distribution is really hampered. It's just the waiting game.''

Carbonara, whose eight-employee station didn't become fully operational until September, said the unplanned informercial ``is absolutely unacceptable on our part.'' The seven-minute interruption for the five-day weather forecast, which all Celtics fans should now have memorized, was also a station error that has been corrected, he said.

The overriding concern, in light of these unconscionable errors, is whether WVBG can be considered a viable player for the package of 50 New York Yankees games currently being shopped. The Celtics' fan base in this market isn't a tenth of what it is for the Yankees.

``It may come to that,'' Carbonara said. ``I hope, if we do get them, that people appreciate the fact that we're bringing the Yankee games to the market. In the course of events, these (technical) situations will be rectified.''

Coming attractions: Time Warner cable will show the opening ceremonies for the New York Special Olympics Winter Games at 7 tonight. . . . HBO replays last Saturday's pay-per-view welterweight bout between Oscar de la Hoya and Ike Quartey at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

Behind the mikes: Marv Albert, after adding TNT play-by-play duties to his expanding work load, begins a yet-unnamed weekly NBA show with Bill Walton Feb. 26 on MSG. . . . After dumping Tim McCarver for Tom Seaver, WPIX (Ch. 11) retained Gary Thorne and Ralph Kiner for its New York Mets telecasts.

WNYW (Ch. 5, New York) did it half right. After quickly snagging McCarver for its 50 Yankees telecasts, the station hired cliche-master Bobby Murcer. Then again, if McCarver can do for Murcer what he did with Kiner, WNYW might be all right. Pete Dougherty's TV/Radio column is published Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached by calling 454-5416 or by e-mail at pdougherty@timesunion.com.