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Broadcasting Memories with Derek Jeter, Steven Jackson and Joe Tait

Something I wanted to use the extra time during shelter in place due to COVID19 was to dabble in the podcasting arena. Surprisingly, I really have not had much interest in podcasting despite sports broadcasting being my career for more than a decade.

I didn’t want to do a baseball card podcast, but thought of doing interviews with former Chicago Cubs baseball players. I bought a Blue Yeti microphone about a month ago to use when I do interviews about the One Million Cubs Project, and thought about dabbling in audio work again. I played around with it, and it just didn’t feel right. I have plenty to keep me busy with selling on eBay, keeping up with trades, and organizing the Cubs collection.

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Additionally, the focus on this website will start to show off the Cubs collection and I’ll be using the extra time on that project. Needless to say, the podcast idea just didn’t do it for me, but as I thought back on my radio days, I wanted to share some of my favorite moments during my sports broadcasting career.

Sharing the Microphone with an NBA Hall of Famer
My radio career spanned about 12 years in a couple small markets in western Illinois. One radio group was based in Monmouth, Illinois where I was sports director and called play-by-play for Monmouth College football. Monmouth College is a Division-III program and may be best known as the alma mater of former NFL quarterback and “trick shot QB” Alex Tanney.

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It was during Tanney’s time at Monmouth that I was broadcasting Fighting Scots football games. During one of the seasons I was there, Cleveland Cavaliers play-by-play announcer Joe Tait was in town for Homecoming. Tait graduated from Monmouth in 1959.

Cleveland Cavaliers Announcer (1970-2011) Joe Tait

Joe Tait won the basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award in 2010, and broadcast the Cavaliers from the franchise’s inception in 1970 through the 2010-11 season before retiring.

For the first half of the broadcast, Tait joined me in the booth as my color commentator. It was a wonderful experience as both of us treated it like a regular football broadcast with me calling the action, and Tait providing analysis. Of course, I asked some questions and we bantered back and forth during a lapse in action.

Beau Spencer Thompson (One Million Cubs) in action

It’s something that I feel I took for granted at the time. Just another day at the office for me. Looking back, it was a very special moment that I will always treasure sharing a booth with such a legendary broadcaster.

A Few Old Cubs
During my time as sports director at various radio stations, I always wanted to create new content. Much of that content was localized, but during the summer months that was tough with school on break. One summer I decided to air a short two-minute program during the noon hour highlighting stories from former Chicago Cubs players and current minor leaguers.

The list of players included a young Josh Donaldson who was playing for the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League. I also interviewed Darold Knowles, Jeff Pico, Eric Patterson, and Richie Hebner.

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One former Cubs player that was really special was Cal McLish. His given name was Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish. He told me he was the seventh of eight children and his mother let his father name Cal. “He had a little too much fire water that day,” McLish told me.

Cal McLish

Our conversation lasted about one hour and it was absolutely fascinating. McLish was in the clubhouse with the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson made his debut in 1947. Unfortunately, I later lost the audio from that interview.

Two other Cubs I interviewed during this time were Andy Pafko and Lennie Merullo. At the time they were the last two living players to have appeared in a Cubs World Series (1945). Merullo was sharp as a tack and very funny. He was 93 when I interviewed him in 2010 and he lived to the age of 98 before passing in 2015.

How I Landed a One-on-One Interview With Steven Jackson
Macomb, Illinois was my home base for more than a decade. I worked in radio there from 2003 to 2008, and the first two years the St. Louis Rams held their summer training camp on the campus of Western Illinois University.

This was a dream of mine, and you can only imagine a 21-year old kid from a podunk small town rubbing shoulders with NFL players and staff on a daily basis. Steven Jackson was the Rams’ first round draft pick in 2004 out of Oregon State. Jackson was extremely timid his rookie year, and hated talking to the media. He offered almost zero interviews, so being a young kid from a small radio station in cornfield country did me no favors in trying to land a few sound bytes from the highly touted running back.

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That summer I befriended a trio of media interns the Rams had hired. We were all the same age, so that helped. I worked them each day to try and help me land a quick interview with Jackson. I was denied each time.

Change of Pace was a popular nighttime establishment in Macomb, and that’s where everyone seemed to congregate on weekends…and during training camp you would even find Rams football players at this bar. Lines to get in were long. As I walked up to the line one Saturday night, I found the three Rams media interns near the back of the line.

While being a radio guy in rural Illinois did me no favors landing interviews, it was very easy to find people in line at “The Pace” that I knew and could do a little cutting to the front. I told the interns I can get them to the front of the line and sure enough there were some acquaintances near the door. Seconds later we were in, and one remarked: “I owe you.” I responded, “Jackson?” He said that’s probably unlikely and out of his hands, but he’ll try.

That Monday the intern came over to me and said, “I got you Jackson.” Excellent! The only condition was that it be exclusive one-on-one, and we have to do it in the locker room away from the other media. Absolutely! Jackson was an awesome interview and gave me more time than I anticipated. Steven Jackson was a class act. Fun fact: one of three interns that summer was the daugher of a Rams assistant coach, Joe Vitt, and Jen is now the wife of Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase.

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Act Like You’ve Been Here Before
Between careers I had a stint working at Western Illinois University as the Director of the Leatherneck Sports Network broadcasting play-by-play for football and men’s basketball. My first season was 2011-12 and the basketball campaign started with three straight road games: Dayton, North Dakota, and…Michigan. The Wolverines. Ann Arbor.

I missed the Dayton game because we had a home football game that day, but made the flight to Grand Fork, North Dakota. It’s way up there! We then traveled to Michigan to take on a top-25 ranked Wolverines squad led by Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

This was my second game as a college basketball broadcaster. As I’m preparing my notes in my booth at Crisler Arena I notice Tim Hardaway walk by. Senior was sitting right behind me. A guy I collected basketball cards during his Golden State Warriors days. “Act like you’ve been here before,” I kept repeating in my head.

Now was time to get my pregame interview done with head coach John Beilein. Michigan’s media relations director took me and the other broadcasters down into the Wolverines locker room. One of the other broadcasters: Tim McCormick…another former NBA player that was covering the game for ESPN.

We walked into the locker room. There’s Hardaway Jr. There’s Burke. Is this a dream? Broadcasting college basketball was always a dream, and now here I am. Crisler Arena. Big Ten basketball. Top 25 program. And now I’m walking into coach Beilein’s office for an interview. It was a typical interview, but it’s something I will never forget. Even thought I hadn’t been there before, I tried my best to act like I did, and I think that was accomplished.

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Jerek Deter…Derek Jeter
Who’s the most famous person I’ve interviewed? That probably depends on the crowd, but in any crowd Derek Jeter will be at the top of the list.

How did a small market radio guy land an interview with Jeter? I had developed a working relationship with a publicist. Most of the interview subjects were sports book authors from what I recall. One day an email from the publicist pops up with Derek Jeter in the subject line. This was just ahead of the first World Baseball Classic, and Jeter was promoting it.

The email said it was only available to the first five respondents in order, and that was a strict cutoff. I quickly replied, and was disappointed when I received a message that I was number six and would be offered an alternative player. The alternative was Reggie Jackson. Hey, not a bad consolation.

So, I had begun doing homework on conducting a Reggie Jackson interview, and the next day the publicist emailed me back saying I can get Jeter after all. Five minutes and that’s it. Done!

Beau Spencer Thompson (One Million Cubs)

It was a swift process as Jeter’s agent or manager or whoever called in and said Derek was ready. We have five minutes and the timer starts now. I may have been a bit thrown off by the sudden urgency, so I started the recorded interview introducing my guest as “Jerek…Derek Jeter.” That was my only flub during the five-minute interview and it was smooth sailing afterward.

Do I miss sports broadcasting? I do. Do I miss the paychecks? I don’t! It was a perfect position for a sports-loving guy living life in his 20’s.

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