To write this blog for the three or four of you, there has to be balance.
If I maintain balance, I can crank out a couple thousand words a day for you and broadcasting students 50 years from now.
There has to be balance and a purpose. I gotta remind myself why we do this blog. We are recording history. Radio is dying. This week proves it.
We shifted, in one week, media coverage of high school basketball,. There’s a movie about Milan High called “Hoosiers” that you have watched more than once. It’s part of being a Hoosier, like watching Breaking Away.
In “Hoosiers,” there’s scenes of the radio guy sitting courtside announcing Hickory’s games on the way to the state finals. Hickory walks into Butler fieldhouse. Gene Hackman measures the height of the rim. Muncie Central goes down to the small town on the Ohio border. It’s all captured on radio.
In real life, Bobby Plump led Hickory. It’s actually Milan High. I interviewed Bobby Plump a few weeks ago. He sent me a picture of him and four teammates from 60 years ago tossing a basketball by a barn. The players signed it. It’s my newest prized possession.
I accept that I am part of changing the direction of media coverage of Indiana high school basketball. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I own two radio stations, remember. They are stations that, for better or worse, define what it is like to be a Region Rat. We descend from steel mills. We accept corruption, pollution, fireworks, flooding, traffic and cigarettes as part of life. WJOB defines this.
I really do have the best listeners and callers in America. I do the show by myself, so it’s important to get feedback. Otherwise, it’s just me rambling on like I’m doing now. It’s okay to ramble in a blog. It’s a different story to do it on a morning radio show.
A morning radio show has to move fast. You have to give the weather, which changes on the dime. You have to give traffic, which is always bad around here. We’re at the bottom of Lake Michigan. There’s nowhere to go. You gotta go through the Region to get from Columbus, Ohio to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Cross-country travelers mix with locals going to work in the morning. I have a built-in audience of people who want to know where the latest crash is.
This is all beautiful. So is high school basketball. I spent the whole week at the Lake Central sectional. A team whose coach died in the middle of the season made it to the finals. That school, Morton, hasn’t won a sectional since the mid-1970s.
I interviewed the coach of that 76 team. He didn’t want to stop talking. Coach Marcinek listens to the show and wants to give me the what for about class basketball. I’m okay with it. Coach is obviously not. We will play this out on the air soon.
There is beauty in radio and there is beauty in high school sectionals. And from what we did this week, we’re breaking the bond. I’m breaking the bond. During the Reagan years, you could get in your car on a Friday night in February and listen to Gary Emerson take on East Chicago Roosevelt.
During Eisenhower’s time, it would have Hammond Tech vs. Catholic Central. When FDR was president, EC Washington played Gary Tolleston.
Local basketball history has played out on WJOB. You know this if you live around here. WJOB is as synonymous with high school basketball as it is with school closings.
I am conflicted, then, about what we did this week. I cut a last-minute deal with the IHSAA to Facebook Live in video local sectional games. We still ran them on the radio. For the time being, there are still way more people listening than watching. But you can feel the change. The future is here.
We broadcasted from four sites:
That’s a lot of games. My goal for the whole tournament was 100,000 views. We’re almost there now, and we still have Regionals and semi-states to do. I don’t know how I feel about this. Indiana high school sectionals are made to be listened to, not watched. Right?
Times change and here I am accelerating the change. It’s Sunday night after sectionals. On Friday night, I announced on the radio and for Facebook Live video two great high school games –
It doesn’t get any better than Friday night. Or all week for that matter. We had great games in video and on radio. Dozens of them with tons of views. People were coming up thanking us profusely.
And the students and young paid broadcasters got a ton of experience. All ten of my Purdue broadcasting students got to operate cameras, do halftime shows, announce a whole game and more. One student, Andrew Garcia, came down from DePaul University where he just won best play-by-play by a student. It’s for the whole country. Check out the IBS website and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
This is a time for triumph, not just for WJOB but for high school basketball players, coaches, students, fans and administrators. Why, then, am I feeling empty?
I can’t explain it. I started to feel it at our end-of-sectionals get together at Jedi’s restaurant last night. It’s a tradition when sectionals are over for the crews to wind down together. There I was at the head of the table. I created this moment. My wife was on one side, laughing. And one of my good friends who helps announce was on the other side - Dan Repay. Down each side of the very long table were young broadcasters - announcers, some camera people, a couple of producers.
There’s always good stories to tell about things that went wrong or something stupid one of us said on the air. We shared. We ate. We laughed. And through it all I felt an impending dread.
“Something has died,” I thought. “And I am more than partly responsible for that.”
This really is a moment of triumph. I am proud of all of the people who helped change the course of basketball coverage for this area. I love WJOB, as the three or four of you know. I love what it stands for. I love high school basketball also.
What I felt was grief. I’m feeling it now, too, for I am at the center of what is happening. I have helped separate high school basketball from radio. I have helped to break the bond between the two.
Going forward, you will watch your nephew play on your phone. It may take a few years, but Hickory on the radio will be a memory. That’s why I write this blog, to catch moments like this. Bittersweet moments in which technology gives us great opportunities but in the push forward, something dies And sitting there at the head of the table with 15 people or so, I felt the death of something. It was a slight breeze that all of the sudden brushed across my face.
… As far as what routine has to do with anything. Last night, I announced the Lake Central victory over Morton. It was a pretty easy victory for the Indians. Morton was flat out tired. It took everything they had to make it to the final game. They were toast. Give both teams a little rest and it would have been a lot closer.
I woke up this morning and Alexis and I went for a walk around Wicker Park. It’s 2.5 miles of trees, a golf course, benches, bikers, moms with strollers and a couple of rivers. There’s a sand pit for volleyball and a whole bunch of shelters for picnics. When the sun’s out, you can feel peace in your almost always-conflicted heart.
I needed that walk to help reset the routine. A walk around Wicker Park with my wife does that. I have been out of balance. During sectionals week, there are simply too many things to do. And with going to see the Bodeans on Thursday night and drinking way too much red wine, I spent much of the week in a semi-hungover state. There was also Johnny’s Tap and Spike’s Lakeside Inn mixed in there, too. Radio and sectionals go together. But so do sectionals and going to bars, at least for men of a certain age.
When I am out of balance, it is difficult to spend quality time with the three or four of you. The words don’t flow. They’re forced. The blogs this week reflect this.
Also, when I’m out of balance, I do stupid stuff.
As you know, I brought my students out to the sectional sites. During the week, they helped with stats and cameras and stuff like that. But on the weekend, they were supposed to announce a whole game into a digital recorder. That worked fine at Lake Central for Friday night. Jen Baker and Jay Coban announced the Morton-East Chicago Central game into a recorder. After the game, I took the little recorder with me to listen to.
I of course didn’t listen to it. But I had taken it out of my pocket and laid it on the kitchen counter. On Saturday, when Alexis and I were pulling out of the driveway, I abruptly yelled:
“Holy shit. I forgot something.”
So I ran into the house. With all of the lights turned off, it was a little dark. I saw the familiar shape of the digital recorder, grabbed it, and put it in my pocket. It’s really little so you can do that.
Fast forward to the Lake Central sectional. The producers and camera people arrive, and so do the students. I lay out the “dummy” broadcast booth for the students to do their midterm. There’s a mixer, a couple of mic stands, a bunch of wires, a headset, headphones. It’s all set up.
I reach into my pocket for the digital recorder. I feel it in my pocket. I pull it out and go to plug it into the mixer.
“Oh my god. I can’t believe this.”
The crew started laughing as they realized what had happened. I had brought not a digital recorder but the remote for my television.
So it goes. I just want you to know that I appreciate the three or four of you plodding through all of this with me. Shit’s changing. We gotta catch it. See ya.