It’s going to take a while to wrap my mind around the fact Jim Zabel has died, even though he was 91 years old.
Thursday night was an evening I did not want to happen. As it has been said, all good things must end, but as Mike Hlas wrote, we weren’t ready for this.
There isn’t enough words, superlatives, descriptions, anything that would put into words of truly how Jim Zabel was Iowa, through and through. Mind you, not just in a Hawkeye sense, but for a state, a region, and the medium we call broadcasting.
Zabel passed away Thursday evening at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, at age 91. It is hard to fathom that a part of what makes Iowa special is now silent.
I grew up in Waterloo. I didn’t know anything about WHO or Jim Zabel as a kid. I was a WMT fan. Frosty Mitchell and Ron Gonder were my guys. The only time I would hear Zabel’s name is when my best friend Matt Fischer would mention him.
As I got older, I listened to not only Zabel, Gonder, and Frosty, but also Bob Brooks, for whom I didn’t know about until high school.
This post is not going to be mostly about Zabel. You’ve read everything about how important and legendary Zabel is. I’m going in a slightly different direction.
This is about the appreciation and the beauty of broadcasting and radio.
I love listening to sports on live radio. When I turn on the radio, or pull out my phone and turn on the radio app, I’m “seeing” the game. Not physically, but mentally seeing it. It’s a lesson my dad taught me. Listen to how the announcer is describing what is going on and picture it in your mind as it comes to life.
In this age of technology, we have an obsession to “see everything”. If it’s not on YouTube, online, or a camera isn’t there capturing it live, we cruise the internet or channel hop to find it. Case in point, the Boston Marathon bombing. I was nowhere near a TV or a computer to see what was taking place. My first instinct was to pull out my phone, turned on my radio app and listened to WBZ radio out of Boston.
The details and description of where everyone was at near the finish line, the sound of the explosion, and the reaction of the responders was clear and concise. I could “see” it, without needing a television screen.
Radio is a valuable tool, and in the world of sports, as we remember Jim Zabel today, it’s presence continues to have significance, even if it’s not high on the priority list for many.
Zabel was beloved and deservedly so. But, we can not ignore the fact that Zabel was among a phenomenal class of broadcasters. Bob Brooks still continue to do sports, writing columns for Metro Sports Report and doing daily sports reports on KMRY. Brooksie has been in the business about as long as Z. To dismiss the legacy that Brooks have compiled would be foolish.
Keith Murphy made a comment about those who are under the age of 40 on how they do not realize how huge Jim Zabel was. I want to amend this. My Wartburg College classmates who currently work in the media know all too well about Zabel, Jack Shelley, Russ Van Dyke, Dr Max, and Mombo. Some of us are under the age of 40.
We can thank Grant Price and Jeff Stein for that.
Wartburg is the home of the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting. There are tapes, films, equipment, and various other things that were used over the years to keep the public informed and entertained. Price knew the importance to collecting these archives to tell the story of the rich history of Iowa broadcasting and the evolution of the medium and the profession.
Zabel’s passing should be a reminder that “now, more than ever” that these memories should be preserved and treasured.**
**- slogan used by KCCI-TV in the 1980’s, courtesy of KCCI-TV via YouTube.