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.


Feeding Frenzy

Before she was convicted of 1st degree murder, I didn’t know anything about Jodi Arias. It’s probably why I don’t watch cable television. I haven’t had had cable in two years. (National Enquirer)

Former college classmate Chris Thomas penned an entry on his blog last month on the heels of the Boston Marathon bombing. Chris wrote about how the zeal of “being the first” with a story causes the media to make too many mistakes and trip over themselves.

He points out that viewers, and society in general, are also to blame for the “gimme gimme gimme” culture of immediate information. We have become so impatient for information right away, that if a media outlet doesn’t crank out the story first, we’ll find someone who will give it to us first.

I felt his post deserves to be mentioned on the heels of two major stories over the last couple of weeks.

I didn’t follow the Jodi Arias murder trial. I don’t know anything about Arias. All I know is this (after I read the back story): her boyfriend was stabbed and shot multiple times, she changed her story several times, and some weird sex stuff was mentioned.

The next thing you know, Nancy Grace, Jane Velez-Mitchell, and Ashleigh Banfield were all over this trial like vultures on a dead body (seriously, vultures were all over a dead body).

The media is giving us what we want to see and hear: murder, sex, and lies. We love stuff like this.

Is that the media’s fault?  Nope. It’s us, the viewers.

Charles Ramsey, the unlikely hero who freed and alerted Cleveland police of three missing women held captive in a Cleveland home for nearly a decade, is not only a household name and YouTube sensation, but his past history is now part of the story.  Ramsey has had a history of physical abuse.

Ramsey isn’t perfect. Many of us has had past transgressions that are shameful. With that said, all of us wanted to know so much about Charles, that his past, eventually, was going to be brought up.

Some are quick to blame the media, but as Chris pointed out, we the viewers and consumers of information have to share the blame as well. In our obsessive quench for immediate information, we don’t think about making sure the information is vetted properly, until an outlet like CNN makes a mistake and we take them to task.

So, the next time a breaking story comes across Twitter, Facebook, or on television, show some restraint and patience. If we expect the media to “get it right” than to “be the first”, then we have to adopt that principle as well.

“Let Them Own It”

Recently, I’ve noticed how people are obsessed with getting revenge or demanding their recourse over things that have happened to them, or something that was said to them.  They feel the urge to respond to everything angrily and emotionally. 

No wonder why we’re on a one-way trip to a nervous breakdown. 

This week, a 2 minute video clip has made re-think how I feel about reacting to everything that is being said of me negatively, also how I was treated or had something done to me.  I would listen to it a few times, in order to fully understand the point. 

Let them “own it.” 

You don’t have to reply to everything that’s being said, demand something, or expect anything.  Let them “own it.”  Why?  As ESPN’s Colin Cowherd explains in the video clip below, they’ll feel guilty about it (mentally, and do what they can to hide it).  Secondly, on that same psychological line, you will get your own satisfaction and peace. 

Once you have discovered that, you have moved on.  No need to ask for recourse or compensation.  What’s done is done. 

Mentally, by walking away and letting them “own it”, you break free from obsessing about it, ruminating and being angry about it. 

Initially, you want to react, reply, and attack everything in your path, but eventually you have to free yourself mentally.  We’re big boys and girls.  You know how to move on with your life.  You should move on with your life. 

If you don’t walk away, that’s a you problem, and you’ll never move on. 

“Not Necessarily the (Radio) News”




In the fall of 1998, NPR ran a year-long series called “Lost and Found”.  Every Friday, NPR would feature a story about a certain type of recording.  It could be one of the first sounds that was recorded by a phonograph, a recording of the wilderness, or an audio clip from an old-time radio program.  As an avid radio listener, I love wasting free time reading up on the history of radio and television from its infancy to where it is at today.

One particular segment that fall was a piece done by Don Gonyea about A.M. radio in the 60’s and 70’s, namely CKLW radio in Windsor, Ontario.  Gonyea, a Michigan native, grew up listening to CKLW.

In 1967, CKLW changed their radio format and what came out of it was unlike anything that Windsor and their neighbors in Detroit have ever heard.  The “Boss” radio (or commonly known as the “Drake format” because Bill Drake and Gene Chenault developed it) format was put in place.  The Drake format shorten the time that disc jockeys spoke between songs, added more songs to be played within the hour and if a song was popular, it would be played numerous times during the week.

KIOA still uses the popular and now updated version of the CKLW news intro. Click on the logo to hear it.

Within six weeks after changing its format, CKLW (aka “The Big 8”) became the most listened to station not only in Detroit, Windsor, and Michigan, but it’s 50,000 kilowatt blow torch reached across the nation.

One of the most memorable things about “The Big 8” was their news department.  They didn’t do the news at the top of the hour, but at 20 minutes before and 20 minutes after the hour. “20/20 News” didn’t do the news like everyone else did.  Former CKLW newsman Lee Marshall coined it “disc jockeys without music.”

He wasn’t kidding.

Today, no one in radio would get away with the fast-paced tabloid news updates the CKLW News team pulled off.

So, for all of you current radio guys and gals, and those who used to work behind the microphone, sit back and watch this great clip, courtesy of YouTube about The Big 8’s infamous and yet wildly popular news team!

Just for fun, let’s hear some airchecks that will bring back some memories for older listeners.

Did you hear a certain singer playing guest DJ?  Who was it?

The “Power” of Gus


Over the past week, Coldplay and Nickelback provided lessons in creating and cultivating your brands in social media.  The main idea is, by combining what Michael Wagner and the Ad Mavericks gang have written, that if you continue to create and cultivate your brand, the more people will gravitate towards it, via traditional or social media. 

I don’t listen to Nickelback or Coldplay.  The only facts I know about both groups is that Tiger Woods listen to Nickelback, and actress Gwyneth Paltrow is married to Chris Martin, Coldplay’s lead singer. 

While I don’t know much about these two muscial groups, I do know about sports.  And in the world of sports, there is one person who comes awfully close to what Coldplay and Nickelback are doing to stay creative, getting their brand out, and using social media to gain traction. 

Mr. "Rise and Fire!" has become popular with a soundboard named after him. Click and see the power of Gus.

And that man is Gus Johnson

Johnson is a sports announcer for CBS, the Big Ten Network, and Showtime.  If you haven’t seen or heard his work, I call attention to this clip…

…and this one…

What does Gus Johnson have to do with Coldplay, Nickelback, branding, marketing, and social media? 

  • Presence:  Gus is blowing up virally and on social media.  When someone finds out what game Johnson is calling next, everyone on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms will know it within minutes. 
  • Popularity:  though he isn’t in the elite class of announcers like Jim Nantz, Al Michaels, or Joe Buck, Gus is the one announcer fans want doing the Final Four, the Super Bowl, or all of the big games. 
  • Marketing:  Johnson is taking advantage of his notoriety in a big way.  The Big Ten Network has made him their #1 guy for their marquee conference games.  He has his own clothing line, appropriately titled “Rise and Fire”, and he’s the voiceover for the Buffalo Wild Wings commercials. Also, he will be the voice of the new EA Sports‘ Madden ’11 NFL video games.

 Johnson, for all intensive purposes, has become a phenomenon, as well as a trending topic in sports, as it relates to social media.

The Mad Scientist Never Takes a Holiday


"This won't work. Maybe if I tweak this..."


If you start seeing some strange things and themes being changed on the blog, all you have to do is point the finger at me.

I’m to blame.

As I’m approaching the 1st year of this blog, I’m trying out a couple of new themes as a way to change up and “freshen” up.  Thanksgiving seems to be the best time to stop procrastinating and start tinkering around.  Will it disrupt the SEO of the internet world?  Probably not.

What I would like to do is to find a few tools to add to my arsenal to enhance the blog.  Like a flip camera or how to use my “old” digital camera to upload videos, utilize YouTube and embed what I upload, and finally know what is the new thing out there that bloggers are using.

As Ric Flair brilliantly said “To be the man, you got to beat the man.”  I’m not going to physically whip anyone, but I need to “step my game up” if I want to stay a player in social media and the blogosphere.

I’ve never been a guy to ask for help, but I’m asking for some tips on what is the best flip cam, ways to use and download videos, and how to effectively use videos and or audio files to keep my readers entertained and attract new readers.

Any help will be great and especially from the Des Moines Social Media professionals.

Gobble gobble kids!!

The lost art of television themes

"Lost" and "24" had their endings. Read about "L&O" ending, courtesy of the NY Times.

I have an eccentric passion that I enjoy listening to and with the help of YouTube, I can watch. I’m a big fan of television show themes.  Not the short 5 second opening that shows the title and fades out to a commercial.  There are iconic themes that link us to the shows that has kept us entertained through the years.  “Law and Order” ended it’s long 20-year run Monday night, but that popular theme by Mike Post will remain ingrained in our minds.

Ever wonder what the full version sounds like?

With the inspiration from Andrew Clark (aka The Brand Chef) with his “Groove of the Day” and the website Fang Bites who is currently listing the best sports themes, by sport, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of my favorite t.v. show themes from across the spectrum.  Today, I have a few from England I want to share.

“Coronation Street” is a prime-time soap opera on ITV.  “Corrie” for short is one of the longest running series in world television history that will mark it’s 50th anniversary on television this winter.  The instrumental is very smooth and slow, like a warm summer day, though the show is depicted in a tough, worn down neighborhood in London.

“Danger Man” is considered to be one of the best television spy shows made.  In America, it was called “Secret Agent” with the wildly popular U.S. theme (and song) done by Johnny Rivers.  This is the original theme version by Edward Astley titled “Highwire.”

Here is the American version:

“The Prisoner”, the series I referenced to on Monday about “Lost”, stars Patrick McGoohan, who also starred in “Danger Man.”  McGoohan played an agent who decides to resign, only to be sent to an undisclosed island, where he poked and prodded to give the “real” reason he’s quitting.

The next one is the theme from “The Sweeney” starring John Thaw, who later became universally known as Inspector Morse on PBS series “Mystery.” Thaw and Dennis Waterman played two cops in a special unit charged in tackling armed robbery and violent crimes.

The final one for now is the beautiful moving theme from the Inspector Morse series.