The Voices Of An Era

Jim Zabel was more than the Voice of the Hawkeyes. He was Iowa. (Des Moines Register archives) Click on the picture to view a 1981 PM Magazine story on Zabel and his tenure as the Hawkeyes’ play-by-play announcer.

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.

Mike Hlas, Cedar Rapids Gazette

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.

Bob Brooks is still getting it done. With the passing of Jim Zabel, Brooks is the last of his kind when it comes to longevity in sports broadcasting.
Bob Brooks is still getting it done. With the passing of Jim Zabel, Brooks is the last of his kind when it comes to longevity in sports broadcasting.

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.

Jack Shelley, Grant Price, and Dr. Cliff Brockman. (Phil Roberts/

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.

Let us not forget those like Pete Taylor, Dic Youngs, Dick Petrik, Tait Cummins, and others who are legends and voices we listened to over the airwaves in the annuals of Iowa broadcasting history.

Zabel had many partners through the years calling the Hawkeyes. Bill Reichardt, Randy Duncan, Forest Evashevski, Ed Podolak and Bobby Hansen. (WHO TV)
Zabel had many partners through the years calling the Hawkeyes. Bill Reichardt, Randy Duncan, Forest Evashevski, Ed Podolak and Bobby Hansen. (WHO TV)


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.


Sports and News Links – May 12, 2011

Jay Mariotti's fall from grace gets worst.

We’ve had some news popping up in the sports world over the past 2 days.  Let’s get to the business at hand.

  • The downfall of national sportswriter and provocateur Jay Mariotti has taken another sad and sorry turn.  Mariotti was charged with three felonies, including felony stalking, after he confronted his ex-girlfriend on the same day a court ordered him to stay away from her.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Mariotti was also charged with two misdemeanor counts of disobeying a court order.  He confronted his former girlfriend on two recent occasions, last September and this past April 15th. 
  • The L.A. Times also has this gem of a story.  Facebook disabled the account of Mark Zuckerberg.  No, not that Mark Zuckerberg, but Mark S. Zuckerberg, a bankruptcy attorney in Indianapolis. Facebook thought that the lawyer was pulling a joke on them with his name.  He wasn’t.  Mr. Mark S. Zuckerberg should sue the other Mark Zuckerberg, if you asked me.
  • Steve Wieberg of USA Today writes about the NCAA paying sports and entertainment marketer Intersport to “cease and desist” using the term “March Madness”.  How much did it cost the NCAA to scratch a check to Intersport?  Well, there are ($) 17.2 million reasons why the NCAA was willing to go to great depths to keep “March Madness” in their pockets.  Cha-ching!
Regardless how the Lakers lost to Dallas and your opinion of the guy, Phil Jackson was more than a coach. He knew how to manage people and press buttons to win 10 NBA titles.
  • Ed Sherman of Crain’s Chicago Business puts Phil Jackson’s legacy in a fair and balanced perspective.  But does it mean that the Zenmaster is done coaching?  Well, for all intenstive purposes, he is calling it a career as the Lakers’ head coach.  Noticed I said “Lakers”.  Golfing has never been Phil’s forte.
  • NHL’s bad boy enforcer Sean Avery of the New York Rangers did a TV ad in support of gay and lesbian rights.  No big deal, right?  Well, not for an obscure sports agent by the name of Todd Reynolds of Uptown Sports Management, who represent other NHL players.  Reynolds felt the need to tweet his “sadness” towards Avery for his misguided support for gays and lesbians.  When pressed to answer why he would tweet that comment, Reynolds tweeted that he wasn’t “intolerant of gays and lesbians” (which is translation for “I don’t mean to offend anyone, but…I’m going to offend anyway) and then a Canadian sportscaster, Damien Goddard, jumped in the fray with his tweet defending Reynolds comments.  Goddard was canned on Wednesday afternoon by his employer, Rogers Sportsnet.

As my fellow Wartburg alum Tom Buchheim have said, athletes need to be careful what they tweet.  The same goes for agents and media personnel.  I’m glad to know that Emily Carlson of WHO-TV will not have that problem!

And I didn’t mention my man Gus Johnson.  Mr. Rise and Fire will be taking his talents to Fox Sports.   That was not cold-blooded.  It’s called business.

That’s it for now.

It’s Only Disappointing When You Make It So

WHO-TV‘s sports reporter and comedic talent Chris Hassel tweeted something that struck a nerve that bothered me Saturday night.

I’ve only been following Hawkeye football since 1990, but this is definitely the most disappointing season I can remember.

-Chris Hassel, Twitter

Personally, the next person, or Hawkeye fan, who says or writes that, need to look at themselves in the mirror.  That includes college football pundits and “couch coaches”.

The Iowa Hawkeyes are not a disappointment to you.  In fact, you made yourselves disappointed by having too high of expectations of the Hawkeyes to succeed, in order to satisfy you.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Let me explain.  Let’s say there is a movie you want to see.  From what you have heard from friends, movie critics, and others, this movie is a big hit.  You head to the theatre, with huge expectations for this movie to “wow” you.  When the movie ends, you walk out and say to yourself “I thought it would an awesome movie.  It wasn’t what I thought it was.  I’m so disappointed.”

"Good grief! Why do I keep having such high expectations that Lucy will hold the ball and not pull it at the last minute?" (Peanuts/Charles Schulz)

Who’s fault is that?  The movie, because it let you down?  Or is it you because you put too much expectations in the movie to blow you away?

The higher your expectations, the higher the chance that you will be crestfallen when it doesn’t meet your “expectations.”

Let me offer some unsolicited advice:  lower your expectations and expect meager results.  By doing that, you have a better perspective on the situation.  If things doesn’t go well, you will know, without overreacting, what went wrong.  If things go well and exceed what you thought it would be, not only it would be a surprise to you, but you appreciate it in the moment.

Fallout – Part 2 of “The Decision”

LeBron James is doing what is right for him, not for Cleveland or Dan Gilbert.

When an event happens, people have an immediate reaction to that event.  After a few days, people start to have a better perspective of the news and form a better opinion of what they saw.

Thursday night was one of those moments.  “The Decision” as ESPN called the one-hour prime-time special was the opportunity for LeBron James to announce what team he would be signing with.  Here are my impressions about it.

The telecast. What did you expect was going to happen? As someone who wants to expand his “brand”, LeBron and his “team” approached ESPN about airing this special.  ESPN, of course, force fed this coverage like building a buffet line for a hog.  But don’t mistake the idea that everyone at ESPN was willing to go along with the program.  Unless your name was Jim Gray.  He got paid for the entire shebang.  ESPN didn’t receive a penny.  Nice job of whoring yourself Jimmy boy.

Nevertheless, it was a trainwreck, ego trip, a kiss-the-ring ceremony, whatever you want to call it.

LeBron was better off cutting a check to the Boys & Girls Club of America rather than making ESPN sell ad space to the University of Phoenix and bing, and for those sponsors in turn give proceeds to the BGCA.  It was a poorly attempted effort to put a humanitarian face to the one-hour program.

WHO-TV's Keith Murphy. Comparing LeBron to Harrison Barnes is apples to oranges.

Apples to oranges. WHO-TV sports director Keith Murphy echoed a sentiment that I disagree with vehemently.  Comparing LeBron’s “announcement” to what Harrison Barnes did when he announced in November that he would play for North Carolina.  Pardon my french when I write the following:

It’s apples and oranges, Murph.

There are over 1500 highly-recruited prep athletes across the country who conducted their college declaration the same way that Barnes did.  He had to share Signing Day with those student-athletes.  Barnes conducted his announcement professionally, in contrast to the knuckleheads who basically threw a “Sweet 16” party for themselves.  When you are the #1 high school basketball recruit in America, you are held at a higher standard and you have to conduct yourself as a professional.

The difference with LeBron James and his announcement is that he is a paid professional athlete, not a teenager.  You never saw Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Dwayne Wade, or Amare Stoudamire get an one-hour show, not a press conference, to announce where they are going, unless they were retiring or being traded.  Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant “tweeted” that he was going to sign an extension with the Thunder.

I love Murph, but I disagree comparing a teenager to a pro athlete in respects to how they handled a press conference.  There is no comparison.

Loyalty be damned. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is a hypocrite when he espoused about loyalty and ripped LeBron in his letter to the fans last night.  If Gilbert was about loyalty, then why fire Mike Brown and GM Danny Ferry?  The Cavs have made the playoffs every year under this duo.  If it’s about loyalty, then why was Gilbert willing to overspend to get Tom Izzo to leave Michigan State to coach the Cavs, and yet not spend money to bring in another superstar to play alongside LeBron?  Gilbert has single-handedly undermined his team for the next several years. No agent or player will consider playing for Cleveland and Gilbert.  He damaged his “brand” by being childish and unprofessional.

Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert

James didn’t “quit” on the team or betray Cleveland fans.  He was a free agent.  He was free to sign with any team of his choosing.  He wasn’t under contract. In the business world, if you had an opportunity to get a better job, would you take it?  You damn right you would.  It’s about making the best decision for you, not for your employer.

LeBron is taking less money to join the Heat.  He came to the conclusion that winning a title is his priority.  The money, the royalties, and ad revenue will follow.

If employers, like Dan Gilbert, are not loyal to their employees, then how can they admonish the employee if he or she decides to leave for a new gig?  Gilbert threw James under the bus before Game 6 of the Cavs’ playoff series versus Boston.

If you don’t think James remember that slight while making his “Decision”, you would be wrong.

Old School Methods Still Work

"Is John Edwards my baby daddy?" Yes he is.

The fallout of the John Edwards paternity story was compelling to follow.  How does a esteemed Senator from North Carolina, and potential Presidential candidate fall so quickly into embarrassment and scorn?

Most national media outlets would point to the National Inquirer, a weekly tabloid, for digging their heels and staying in pursuit of the rumors that Edwards fathered a child with photographer Rielle Hunter.  For as much consternation and disdain that National Enquirer receives, they deserve some credit.

But, what goes into following a story that could have legs?  Are the sources reliable?  Is there an agenda that someone has if they offer information to a reporter?  Can a newspaper/tv/radio/online outlet go with a story if they have enough to run a story?

Dave Price, political reporter and weekend anchor from WHO-TV 13,  posted a link on his website “Price of Politics” about how a television station broke the news by using the basic foundations of gathering the information about Edwards and how they went about it.  The story link is originally from Poynter Online, which is run by The Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, future journalists, and teachers of journalism.

Dave Price, Central Iowa's TV authority on politics

Julie Moos interviews Rick Gall, news director at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, about how his station worked on the Edwards story and was the first television station in the nation to break the story.

With the addition of social media tools to help find and report stories, along with the internet, reporters continue to still use the phones, go on beats, and do the “old-school” work that continues to be successful in their efforts to get the story.