The biggest change in local electronic media coverage of the Patriots this season is probably already comfortable to those who reached a breaking point with the Don Criqui/Randy Cross gong show during the exhibition season.
Ratings were excellent for Channel 4’s preseason telecasts in advance of another highly anticipated regular season, but the semi-prepared, mistake-prone duo of Criqui and Cross surely had some discerning fans turning off their televisions and turning on their radios.
Those who did so heard two familiar voices, albeit with one of them in a new role.
Gil Santos, who had a health scare so dire over the winter he said he was read his last rites three times, made an extraordinary recovery from pneumonia and returns for his 36th season as the voice of the Patriots.
This is where the change comes in, for he is joined by former Patriots quarterback and current 98.5 The Sports Hub midday co-host Scott Zolak, who after thriving in an innovative sideline analyst role last year slides into the booth, where he replaces retired legend Gino Cappelletti as the color analyst.
It does take a moment of adjustment to get used to hearing Santos’s voice accompanied by someone else’s other than Cappelletti’s — the duo were paired on the broadcast for 28 years.
But the transition was handled superbly by CBS Radio and 98.5 The Sports Hub, with Zolak easing in as the third voice last year.
“If I hadn’t done the sideline last year, [the transition] would be awkward,’’ said Zolak, who said much of his approach is to offer the perspective of a quarterback and what he sees on the field. “But I feel like it’s been pretty smooth so far, and Gil is totally reenergized, which is a tribute to him after all he went through.’’
It’s a tribute to both Santos and Zolak that they’ve been in synch on the broadcast pretty much from the opening kickoff of the preseason. Santos does sound remarkably energetic considering all he endured.
“I’m learning Gil and he’s learning me, stuff like getting in and out quick and things like that, because I like to talk,’’ said Zolak. “Sometimes he’ll have to put a hand up to let me know it’s time to get back to the action, which is pretty funny. I’m just ecstatic to be doing it and to get the season going here.’’
There’s not much different regarding other Patriots programming on the flagship station The Sports Hub. The pregame show begins three hours before the game, with Gary Tanguay returning as the host of the pre- and postgame shows. He is joined by co-host Andy Gresh and a cast of reporters and guests who check in over the course of the pregame.
Down the dial at WEEI 93.7, the enjoyable longtime autumn staple “NFL Sunday’’ returns, hosted by Dale Arnold at 9 a.m. WEEI.com’s Christopher Price is another holdover, but there are changes in the other two slots. Former Patriots Matt Chatham and Kevin Faulk replace Troy Brown and Christian Fauria.
Brown, who was one of two winners of the NFL’s Broadcast Boot Camp for ex-players aiming for a second career in television over the summer, has become a superb analyst. He is continuing his work for Comcast SportsNet New England, and it would not be a surprise to see him on NBC Sports Network programming in the future.
WEEI’s Sunday coverage also includes the “Real Postgame Show’’ immediately after each game, with Butch Stearns hosting alongside Fred Smerlas. And Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will continue to appear on Patriots Monday, while various other players also appear throughout the week, including on what the station dubs Patriots Friday.
Fauria may no longer be on NFL Sunday, but he is replacing Steve DeOssie as a panelist on Channel 4’s Sunday night program “Sports Final” and “Sports Final OT.” “The Fifth Quarter” postgame show, featuring Steve Burton, Dan Roche, Zolak, and Mike Reiss, also returns, though it will air on Channel 38 several weeks, including the first two of the season. Channel 4 also will feature “Patriots GameDay” Sundays at 11:30 a.m. and “Patriots All Access” Friday nights at 7 p.m.
Of all the regional options, Comcast SportsNet New England is poised to offer the most extensive coverage. It has added an expanded two-hour pregame and 90-minute postgame show, both branded under the slogan “Football Day in New England,’’ which works as a savvy bit of synergy with corporate partner NBC’s national “Football Night in America.’’ Michael Felger, Brown, Ty Law, Tom Curran, Mike Giardi, Kevin Walsh, and Damon Amendolara are among the contributors and personalities.
CSNNE also features five weekly shows solely dedicated to the Patriots: Patriots Wednesday Live, Patriots Football Weekly, New England Tailgate, Patriots This Week, and the best of the lot, the Curran-hosted Quick Slants.
Other broadcast plans, notes, and highlights from local electronic media outlets:
Channel 5: Mike Lynch hosts “SportsCenter 5 OT” on Sunday nights, with Mike Dowling reporting from the game site and Globe columnist Christopher L. Gasper as a regular guest. Former Patriots tackle Max Lane joins the coverage this year. Channel 5 will carry one Patriots game this season, Dec. 10 vs. the Texans.
Channel 7: Sports director Joe Amorosino and this crew will have coverage on “Sports Xtra” after NBC’s “Football Night in America” on Sunday nights. Jermaine Wiggins, who has a knack for breaking down plays on an innovative touchscreen the program features, will be a weekly guest, as will Smerlas. Tim Fox and Ron Borges will make regular appearances. Channel 7 also plans pre- and postgame programming for all three Patriots games that will air on NBC, including Thanksgiving night.
NESN: There will be a Patriots report every day on NESN Daily. Faulk and Chatham will appear in studio twice a week, including Sunday nights. Globe reporter Shalise Manza Young and the Herald’s Jeff Howe will also contribute.