In everyone’s life there come various events that provide watershed moments, the kinds of things that lead to changes. Certainly one of those occured February 1, 2014, when my mother passed away. I had overseen her final seven years since she moved here from Omaha, a life mission that provided its share of ups and downs and memories galore. The six weeks which followed were spent taking care of her belongings and vacating her apartment, then hosting the state high school basketball tournament. At that point I could come up for air and start taking a look at my situation. I knew I was not happy for various reasons, and one conclusion I came to was that I no longer enjoyed my career and needed a change. With that, I now tell you that today was my final day as a full time employee at WIBW Radio, and also my final day as a professional sportscaster. (Well, not quite – more on that coming up.)
I won’t go into all the details of how I came to this, but one factor involved is my health. Generally I am in pretty good shape after losing some sixty pounds since 2008, but I still don’t sleep well – never have, actually – and getting up before 3 AM every morning was not helping that situation. The level of stress I was feeling was also increasing, and outside of work I also struggled to engage much socially, though I have managed to get out to a few things here and there. With these and other things surrounding me, the time was perfect to do something else. And so it is.
Of course it is not entirely easy to walk away from thirty six years in sports broadcasting. And I won’t do so without sharing a few memories from said career, which started at KKOY in Chanute in 1978. The guy who hired me there was Dave Armstrong, who left about a year later to pursue a TV sports career and went on to call numerous Royals and Big 12 basketball games. While there I was able to hone my play-by-play craft on occasion, usually during playoff times in high school football and basketball. A big memory while I was there was heading to then-Royals Stadium to sit in the press box for Royals games with their first bunch of playoff teams (which I could do because KKOY was a Royals affiliate). I did numerous post-game interviews with players like George Brett, Frank White and others too numerous to mention, as well as manager Whitey Herzog (and later Jim Frey) and most opposing managers. One of my favorites was legendary Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, a guy who was never at a loss for words – either with the media or the umpires. Another was George Bamberger of the Milwaukee Brewers, a guy who used to be Weaver’s pitching coach and who managed some great teams with the Brewers, a laregly power hitting bunch known as Bambi’s Bombers. He was an affable man and much quieter than his former boss. He was nice enough to tip me off to an announcement to be made in a few days of his impending retirement as their manager, a story I got to help break on a national basis. Another great memory was getting to chat for a couple of hours with Chanute native and legendary basketball coach Ralph Miller, a multi-sport star who went to KU, then coached at Wichita State, Iowa and Oregon State. He could tell stories with the best of them. The high school tournament there is named for him. We did the tournament the first year I was there, 1979, when Goddard High won the event. The star of that team was Wichita West transfer David Taliaferro, but their second banana was a 6’2″ forward named Stan Weber. Yes, the same Stan Weber who went on to quarterback Kansas State and is now the color analyst for Wildcat football and basketball (and is one of the best in the business, in my opinion).
After leaving there and working briefly in Pittsburg in a non-sports capacity, I went to KABI in Abilene as a full time sports guy. Lots of play-by-play work and being exposed to more athletes who went on to bigger and better places, the most notable of which was Todd Jadlow of Salina Sacred Heart, who went on to Barton County Community College and then became Bob Knight’s first ever junior college recruit to Indiana. I also got to do numerous games from the Bicentennial Center in Salina, where I first met a high school broadcaster named Mitch Holthus, then the voice of the Pratt Greenbacks. I think you know about Mitch, currently the voice of the Kansas City Chiefs and previously the voice of Kansas State football, basketball and baseball, and someone who would play a further role in my own career later. Also while working in Abilene, I got to call a regular season game between nearby Chapman taking on Hayden. It was the first of the back-to-back state championship teams featuring Tommy Meier, Mark Turgeon and Rob Reilly taking on a Chapman team which had started 1-8 but was in the middle of a 14-3 finish and a third place 4A state trophy. It might have been the best high school game I have ever seen even to this day, with Hayden winning by two points (neither team ever led by more than five). I wish I had taped it.
On then to KWBW in Hutchinson, where I actually was more involved in news but also helped out in sports, especially during the National Junior College Basketball Tournament. My main duty that week was to track down some of numerous college coaches and assistants who were in attendance looking to recruit players or watch those they had already signed. Among the many I got to meet and chat with included Georgetown’s John Thompson, Lou Carnececca of St. John’s and various Big Eight coaches (this was before conference consolidation). I also met assistants who went on to head coaching careers, including Dave Laitao (then of UConn, later went to DePaul), Dave Odum (then of Virginia, later to Wake Forest where he coached the college career of soon-to-be NBA Hall of Famer Tim Duncan) and Seth Greenberg – yes, the same guy who went on to become an ESPN studio analyst after coaching at Long Beach State and Virginia Tech. At the time he was an assistant for UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian. I met several of Tark’s assistants there over the years – he recruited the junior college ranks heavily – but Tark himself never showed up. He was too busy chewing on a towel while coaching NCAA tournament games. I also hooked up with a sports writer who went on to much larger recognition on a national level, Bob Ryan from Boston, who for a brief time was in between jobs and came to Hutchinson for the tournament just to take in the basketball and the small town ambience surrounding the entire week. He was kind enough to send me a copy of his article when it appeared in the Boston Globe. Ryan, of course, has gone on to television work with ESPN and elsewhere, and is considered one of the best basketball writers in the business. Also while in Hutchinson I called play-by-play for the Trinity Celtics, the local Catholic high school, including them winning the 2A state boys basketball title at Lee Arena, my first exposure to Washburn’s then-new basketball facility (and it wouldn’t be my last). The first couple of years at the Juco tourney, one fellow who helped me point out some of the coaches was local broadcasting legend Hod Humiston, who helped put together the network for the tournament where we would occasionally feed our broadcasts to team’s radio stations who couldn’t send their regular broadcasters. The Kansas Association of Broadcasters has an award named for him and even though I am not one to seek much attention, the Humiston Award is something I would love to have been honored with.
When I came to WIBW in 1989 one of the first people there to greet me was Holthus, who had become the Voice of the Wildcats. He made sure to take me under his wing and provide a template to use my skills in taking over play-by-play of Kansas State baseball so he could get a bit of a break. I did those games while WIBW had control of K-State play-by-play rights and it was eleven years of a lot of traveling, fun and exasperation, as the Cats would just barely miss qualifying for the Big 12 baseball tournament on several occasions. Of course there were many chances to do high school play-by-play in the regular season and I worked a lot with the late Ron Paradis and the wonderful Greg Sharpe, who went on to become the Voice of the Wildcats for a few years and is now the voice of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Lots of fun with those guys, as well as a continuing learning experience. Later I got to work a few K-State basketball games as an analyst with Greg. This was before the aforementioned Stan Weber started doing basketball on a regular basis. I was also involved in K-State football as the pre-game and post-game host, including the McElroy Scoreboard Show following every game. It was one of those traditional call-in college football scoreboard shows where callers could ask for scores from around the country. In the best tradition of those programs, someone would always call and ask for the score of Slippery Rock, a small school located in Pennsylvania. I was prepared for any such calls and almost always could find the score, even though this was also pre-internet when almost all information about anything came to us from the Associated Press. It makes you wonder how we did anything, even though it was just twenty years ago. People still mention the McElroy Scoreboard show to me, which shows you its lasting imprint. In recent years I have hosted the Kansas High School Scoreboard Show following football and basketball games, a program which has produced spin-off shows for several smaller market broadcasting groups elsewhere in the state. And of course, I can’t go further without addressing the recent annual phenomenon known as the Kansas State High School Basketball Tournament. I have worked directly with that event for 25 of the last 26 years either as its host or as a play-by-play announcer, mainly at 3A in Hutchinson but occasionally for 5A at the Expocentre. It has been an honor to be involved with such an event singularly unique in radio anywhere in the U.S.
Those are just a few of the many things from my day-to-day radio career that I will look back on and cherish. Along the way I have also learned to use digital audio on a recording and editing basis, and will be using those skills at my new position producing and eventually hosting financial radio programs for the Retirement HQ Network, a local entity owned by Advisors Excel. I mentioned at the start of this blog that am not quite done as a sportscaster – for a short time I will anchor morning sports on 580 WIBW and the Kansas Information Network until that part of my position is filled. And I will continue as a part-time weekend on air announcer for our sister FM, the Big 94.5 Country, and as further changes occur with new corporate ownership about to take over – the WIBW stations were just sold to growing radio company Alpha Media out of Portland, Oregon – my mission here could change yet again. It’s not out of the question that I may host the high school tournament in 2016, depending on how things work out here and with my new employer. I have been blessed to have been honored with three Best Large Market Sportscast awards by the KAB (as well as five second place honors) and being named Sportscaster of the Year by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association, as well as having my name included with so many greats who have passed through WIBW over the years – not only those already mentioned but also guys like Max Falkenstien, Gary Bender and the late Fred White. True professionals all. If I am to be remembered, I hope it can be for bringing you timely and relevant sports information in a unique and entertaining manner. It is truly the toy box of America, and though so much of it is ruled by money on both the college and pro levels, there are always the human stories of the games themselves. And I will still get to enjoy those – only now as a fan. That will be just one more of the many experiences I look forward to as I move on from here. Thank you for listening. If it weren’t for you, none of this would have ever happened.