Friday, January 13, 2012

Before Pen Touches Paper

UPDATED FEB. 8, 5:20 p.m.

Although most of our work involves the day-to-day operations of staff events, writing up press releases and recaps, maintaining the website, etc., a small part of the UC Davis athletics communications slate is dedicated to penning an article in each issue of the the alumni magazine.

Mike Robles composes the majority of athletics-related material in the magazine, but the remainder of our staff has taken a turn at writing up a story. If I may allow myself a shameless plug, here are a few articles I've submitted to the magazine in years past. Unfortunately, I can't locate my previous articles (Jamey Wright, the Med School Five) on the UC Davis Magazine website, so I only can go back a few years:

Kelly Albin: NCAA Woman of the Year (Winter 2005)
UC Davis Breeds Coaching Success (Fall 2007)
Daniel Descalso feature (Winter 2011)
Sig Mejdal: A Numbers Game (Winter 2011)
Jennifer Gross sidebar (Summer 2011)

In all honesty, writing for the UC Davis Magazine should come as a snap. The articles generally clock in at about 1,200 words. A typical event recap on our website ranges from 400 to 700 words, depending on the sport and the amount of available information (a five-match volleyball marathon takes longer to summarize than a 7-0 road win in tennis). A season preview can push 2,000 words. At face value, one would think this article should take me an hour and a pot of coffee.

But here's the rub:
a) the deadlines seem to fall during inconvenient times: in the thick of fall season, right as basketball starts; right as our teams report in August; or during the "crossover" from winter to spring when UC Davis has had as many as 17 active teams.

b) we tend to write about alumni, who are not as readily available for interviews as our current student-athletes or coaches.

c) Brevity is not my strong suit, as is evident from my blog posts. With the magazine editors looking for broader stories, the challenge is cutting down to 1,200 words. (This is a far cry from a scene in the Carl Reiner comedy Summer School, when a student reached the minimum size of an essay by writing "that why I liked this movie very, very, very, very, very, very, very much.")

For the purposes of Thinking Outside The Boxscore, I thought it might be interesting to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of putting together these articles. In the interest of disclosure, some of the initial entries of the timeline have been written retroactively. But for the most part, I'll attempt to make this a "live" blog of the process.

Friday, Jan. 6 - Met with Jan Conroy (executive director), Kathleen Holder (managing editor) and Clifton Parker (associate editor) of University Communication. We do these meetings on a quarterly basis, mostly to drum up story ideas. The Bob Biggs retirement and the new athletics director will wait. A feature on KDVS Sports will serve as the sports story for the Spring 2012 issue. The idea was spurred by an unusual coincidence -- former Aggie baseball player Rich Waltz, now an announcer for Fox Sports Florida and the MLB Network, called Descalso's first major league homer -- but also by my desire to get more students to take an interest in broadcasting Aggie sports.

Note: at this point, I was under the incorrect understanding that Waltz never broadcasted for KDVS but rather got into the business after graduation. I wasn't sure how I would incorporate him into the feature, but I knew he had to be mentioned. Waltz has arguably gone the farthest in the industry -- so much so that he would make a fine candidate for the Aggie Legacy Award.

So that's it. A total of 1,000 words on KDVS Sports, discussing the opportunities available on this campus and the radio and TV careers that have come about even though UC Davis does not have a true broadcast journalism major.

Monday, Jan. 9 - Begin creating a short list of some possible interviews. Much of the focus of this story will be the current guys, namely sports director Steve Vote and former sports director Ben Taylor. But this is an alumni magazine, so I need to line up KDVS Sports Alumni. Among the possibilities: Eric Hasseltine (Memphis Grizzlies play-by-play and Memphis sports talk show host), Jason Ross (sports director for Sacramento's own KHTK 1140 AM and the radio voice of -- oh yes -- Sacramento State football), Scott Marsh (radio voice for UC Davis football and men's basketball).

Other possibilities are Matias Godinez, who served more behind the scenes for KDVS but now offers Spanish color commentary for the 49ers; and Michael McGauley, who does news and traffic for various entities in California. Yet another is Scott Moak, who is not a broadcaster but whose voice is probably heard as much as anyone: he does P.A. for the Kings, Hornets and nearly every other Sacramento-area sports entity.

Wednesday, Jan. 11 - Talk informally with Waltz, who calls on his way to College Park, Maryland (he also does ACC basketball for Fox Sports). Oddly, he is about to meet with my former boss, Doug Dull, now the associate A.D. for the Terps.

Turns out, Waltz did serve as sports director for KDVS and, he adds, his broadcast partner was Andy Reichwald. I abashedly admit I don't know Andy. Waltz gives me the short version of his old friend's CV: ESPN Major League Baseball and Monday Night Football. Another ESPN producer, Tim Sullivan, followed Waltz and Reichwald. Pretty good roots right there. I also get a pretty good overview of Waltz' career, ranging from calling Aggie basketball games to landing his first job in minor league hockey to his current role with the Marlins.

Broadcasting at that level is effectively a form of show business, I think. These guys get to this level with a combination of talent and perseverance, plus an ability to recognize and seize opportunities (which some people scornfully call "luck"). My call to Rich is about 15 minutes long, but it's clear he has all of these qualities.

After getting off the phone, I look up Reichwald's name in Google. Among the search results are a few sports Emmys. Yeah, add him to the list.

Thursday, Jan. 12 - Prior to the women's basketball game, I brief former KDVS sports director Ben Taylor (who still does the call for Aggie football and women's basketball) on the magazine story. Naturally, he's pretty excited to get some awareness on his operation. While this is happening, Waltz sends me a bunch of photos of himself on the job: one in the Marlins booth, another with Tommy Hutton out at Wrigley Field, plus a head shot. He also answers a few additional questions for the story and provides an action photo from his playing days, and some contact info for Reichwald.

I also make arrangements to interview Steve Vote, the current sports director. It will be Steve's job to recruit future KDVS Sports talent, so I hope the magazine article will help him in that cause.

Friday, Jan. 13 - Reichwald responds via email. His vacation schedule is such that I can reach him that day or wait until the 23rd. Hoping to have my story done by the latter date, I get on the horn before I can finish the email. One hour of pure gold: memories of Lower Freeborn, calling Aggie games with Waltz, the Hamilton Towel Brigade, selling ads to Longs Drugs, his first job working Dodger games, and many, many familiar names. This will take twice as long to transcribe, but it will be worth every moment.

One cool nugget won't make the article so I'll put it here: during Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, his son turned to him and asked, "Dad, can I stay up to watch this?"

"Ethan," Reichwald replied, "not only can you stay up, but you have to stay up... this is awesome." The younger Reichwald rooted for the Cardinals because of his favorite player, Albert Pujols. The older Reichwald rooted for the Cardinals because of UC Davis grad Descalso, who Andy met prior to a game earlier in the season. Sharing a thrilling baseball game with his son at home was among his fondest sports moments, and this is coming from a guy who produced the game in which Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's record and who once interviewed Don Newcombe on KDVS' own airwaves.

Friday, Jan. 13 - Received some nice art from Reichwald: two shots of him in the Monday Night Baseball trucks, plus photos taken under the monster video board at Cowboys Stadium and another at Target Field's opening day.

Here are samples of Waltz (with Hutton at left) and Reichwald (right). Sure makes my office seem very, very small.

* * * * *


Tuesday, Jan. 17 & Thursday, Jan. 19 - Spent several hours transcribing the recordings from my conversations with Waltz and Reichwald, the latter of which was much longer. This isn't quite as simple as writing down everything said, like a court stenographer does. (I'd love to learn how to do that, by the way.) As I listen, I begin the early stages of putting certain elements of the story into prose, not knowing whether or not I'll use it. Other parts of the conversation must be transcribed verbatim, as I want to use it as an actual quote.

That's one of the beautiful parts of interviewing broadcasters (or in Andy's case, a former broadcaster) -- they know how to articulate their thoughts better than most subjects.

Friday, Jan. 20 (a.m.) - Lined up interviews with current KDVS sports director Steve Vote and previous sports director Ben Taylor, both of whom call the action for the UC Davis women's basketball team. I fear my article has shifted focus to Waltz/Reichwald, which isn't a bad thing given that it IS an alumni magazine.

I'm curious to hear from these two, about how they got into broadcasting and what experiences they've had early on. Ben is already working on launching his career, having created a website with an online reel. Does Steve plan on doing the same? I won't know until I sit down with them.

Friday, Jan. 20 (p.m.) - Interviewed both Ben and Steve, one after the other. As I said before, Ben has already taken steps toward advancing his broadcasting career. Steve is headed to law school, but he provided me with an interesting note: he credits his experience at KDVS for making him a better candidate for law school.

A photo from my own camera of Ben and Steve doing a postgame wrap-up at Santa Clara earlier this year:

Both of these guys had a fair amount of common ground with their predecessors Waltz and Reichwald. I suspect if I were to interview other past KDVS sports directors - Hasseltine, JRoss, Rick Heron, Jason Belzer, et al. - I would find continued agreement: serving that post provided as good an education as anything they received in the classroom.

A thousand words? I'll never make it.

Sunday, Jan. 22 - Gymnastics ended in time for people to get to their nearest TV screen for the 49er game. The water polo results arrived around 6 p.m., which freed up the evening to...

Nope, decided to sift through my recordings of Ben and Steve. This article will run in the early spring which times itself well for some things (e.g. the annual KDVS fundraiser) but misses out on others. In particular, Steve spoke about recruiting new volunteers. It simply won't be timely in March/April, so I'll quote it here:

"If people want to get involved, this is the best time to do it. This is the heart of our year. We have a little bit of women's basketball conference left. We have the Big West tournament and possibly the NCAA tournament. Then we have baseball and softball which are the best. It's a lot of experience and, to me, it's the hardest. The action isn't thrust into your face. It's an art form that's different than football or basketball because there is a rhythm to your speech that you have to master. You can't speed through everything or you'll end up with dead air of you'll be searching for things to say."

So there. If any interested students read this, get in touch with KDVS Sports in January and February. The volume of games combined with the six- and nine-inning formats of the diamond sports make for numerous on-air opportunities for those hoping to learn the trade.

Up next: a visit to Tuesday's Aggie Talk show (7 p.m.) to get some photos and to soak in the environment. Plus, I'm guessing a certain football game will be a hot topic...

Tuesday, Jan. 24 (afternoon) - Started writing portions of the article, mostly summarizing the careers of alumni Waltz and Reichwald. The more of this stuff that I can get down, the less I have to worry about later. I refuse to write to fit, instead putting words and thoughts together with a plan to tighten and cut later.

No mention of Ben or Steve, no lead, no mentions of the other alumni who have come through yet. What I have right now is barely more than a Cliffs of Waltz' and Reichwald's resumes. The InDesign word count read 867.


Tuesday, Jan. 24 (evening) - Attended tonight's episode of Aggie Talk, partially to shoot some photos of the current KDVS Sports crew but also to soak up a bit of the culture. I also wanted to meet Joey Kistler, a grad student who worked at the Georgia Tech student station. Word has it that he didn't have an opportunity to broadcast sports for the Ramblin' Wreck. I thought it might provide an extra footnote to my story but my intel was inaccurate: Kistler said he did some baseball at GT. Oh well. Not that I can fit much more.

I'd been to 14 Lower Freeborn before, but only for the 15 minutes or so when my student-athletes are interview guests. The sneakily expansive maze of rooms is exactly what one would expect of a student station. Wall-to-wall records and CDs from every genre. The couch in the lounge is old enough that Andy might have taken a nap on there at some point.

Aggie Talk was slightly delayed because the lead-in show -- a radio theater that ran a melodrama -- was running slightly over time.

Steve and his crew discussed subjects ranging from the recent Aggie games to the best overweight athletes in history. Meanwhile, various characters walked right through the studio during the show, most of whom looked more interested in the exploits of Mike Shinoda than Blair Shinoda. I looked at the schedule: the next two Tuesday night shows are called "Esotericism and the Occult in the Western World" and "The Chicken Years," the latter of which is hosted by a local legend and pizza delivery man known as Mick Mucus.

It occurs to me that this may be the strangest place to produce so many significant figures in the sports broadcasting business.

And now I have my lead. Time to get to work.

Thursday, Jan. 26 (afternoon) - Unable to touch this project on Wednesday, I decided to reserve Thursday to finish up the story. I've written up a lead (teased above) that almost works like a cold open on a TV show. Once I had a way to introduce the Waltz story, I was off and running: Waltz flows well into Reichwald's portion, which allows me to segue to Tim Sullivan, Hasseltine, Marsh and JRoss. It actually makes sense to bring up Marsh and Ross together since a) they were part of the same KDVS crew, b) they call opposite sides of the Causeway Classic rivalry and c) they continue to co-host a weekly show. I also can't leave out Godinez although I'll need to get some better clarification of his path to the airwaves.

Unfortunately, it's about 4 p.m. and I have to head to the Pavilion to set up for basketball. I've written the following notes to myself to help me pick up the train of thought when I return tonight:


The story checks in at 1,214 words (including those notes), so I'll have to do some trimming. But I think I've got something, I promised the editor I'd have it by the end of the day Thursday, and technically Thursday ends at midnight tonight. Bring it on.

Talk to you soon.

Thursday, Jan. 26 (evening) - Back from basketball. I've decided to finish this thing tonight, no matter how late I go. Ben Taylor's section bumped me up to 1,596 words and I haven't really gone into the detail I would have liked. Before I move on, I think I'll need to go back and scale back the previous parts, painful as it may be to do so.

The Waltz/Reichwald section could be an article on its own and probably deserves to be, given what those guys have accomplished. But I'll have little choice but to condense their careers into a few paragraphs. I will also have to shorten all of the mentions of Sullivan, Hasseltine, Marsh, Ross and Godinez into little more than a list. I HATE to do this: the only reason I don't have more about them is that I went to Waltz and Reichwald first. E-Dog's story is so amazing that it deserves its own piece. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that a student webzine at Virginia Tech has given him such an article, but I wish I could share that story with a UC Davis crowd.

Thus, although I haven't wrapped up this up, I'll start advance-editing. I should keep the trimmed parts for a potential "director's cut."

Friday, Jan. 27 (early morning) - All right, we're nearing 12:45 and this is starting to shape up. I'm down to about 1,300 words. It breaks my heart to shorten the passages on our various alums as much as I did but that's the way it goes unless the editors expand the sports section of UC Davis magazine. (I would love that but I can imagine my co-workers putting a contract on my life if that ever happened.)

As I work on this, I imagine some UC Davis alum who has now lives in the South, perhaps a Tar Heels fan or a Terps enthusiast. Waltz does ACC football and both ACC and SEC basketball for Fox Sports, so he has quite a reach. I like to think they'll read this article and realize they've been listening to a fellow Aggie all these years. Does Waltz namedrop his UC Davis roots as often as Madden mentions his Cal Poly days? I should find out.

Home stretch.

Friday, Jan. 27 (wee hours) -  It's 3 a.m. and I've done all the damage I'm willing to do. The story checks in at 1,522 words, more than 500 longer than was originally assigned but down by about 400 from what it could have been. Then again, when we met with the editors, I was under the impression that Waltz was NOT a KDVS alum. We thought we would have a sidebar for his story. Instead, he is the largest part of the main story. That changes the way the story will run and (hopefully) increases my allotment.

I've read this thing out loud six times over, including once in as close to a Morgan Freeman impression as I can muster. That's not a good sign (nor is it a good impression).

If I lose the battle for more space, I foresee two elements that will have to go. One is a short examination of why UC Davis has produced quality broadcasters despite not having a broadcast journalism major. I first conceived the story around that idea, thinking it might attract prospective broadcasters to this university. But I've discovered that none of my subjects came to campus with such aspirations in mind. So this odd "recruitment" angle has become an afterthought.

The other part is my choice to structure the piece with a prologue/epilogue or, in TV parlance, a cold open and tag. The article begins in present day (and uses present tense), to describe the scene of Tuesday's Aggie Talk. It then shifts to past tense when introducing our alums, which is the meat of the article. Then I pick up where I left off, returning to present-day Aggie Talk. I admit it's an odd choice and it accounts for 370 words. If I lopped off the two bookends, the article would still be self-contained. Seriously -- I've read it without and the middle section stands up quite well.

However, cutting it all but removes Steve Vote as a character. I hate to do that because he has been extremely helpful throughout this process.

Enough. It's now 3:20 and I'm prepared to send this in as is. If the editors insist on truncating my article, I've essentially written perforations into the story. As for Steve, well, he'll know I meant well.

Stay tuned. No pun intended.

Wednesday, Feb. 7 (3:30 p.m.) -  Yeeeesh.

I received feedback from both Mike Robles and Jan Conroy that they liked the article, but had yet to hear anything from Kathleen Holder. Until now. The page designer requested that it be trimmed to 650-700 words. That's less than half its submitted size. Fortunately, Holder lobbied for some space and got it to 1,000. Furthermore, she said, the section in which I list the other alums can become a sidebar list. I feel bad enough that I gave them so little mention as is, but I suppose those are the breaks. Reichwald and Walsh were the first I reached, so their contributions -- abridged as it may be -- will be the focal points.

Knocking out the "alumni list" into a sidebar helped trim the main story, and axing the section about the communication department reduced the story to less than 1,200 words. Trim a quote? There's a dozen words. Summarize Waltz' long career? That was sad, since I wanted the name Dave Niehaus in there to provide some gravity for what he's done. But keeping Bob Costas' name in there should be sufficiently impressive to serve that end.

Same cuts from Reichwald's section. Again, I hate to do this. Part of giving credit to both careers is showing just how long and winding the roads were. Waltz and Reichwald each worked extremely hard to get where they are. Shortening their career summaries into a couple 'graphs does not do it justice.

Wednesday, Feb. 7 (5:10 p.m.) - I recently listened to Marc Maron's interview of late-night titan Jimmy Kimmel. In 1997, Kimmel landed his first TV gig co-hosting the Comedy Central game show Win Ben Stein's Money. From my seat on my couch, that was his start. So I was intrigued to learn how long Kimmel had been working in radio leading up to that point. He started out as a high school kid in Las Vegas then had stops in Phoenix, Tucson, Seattle and Tampa before truly establishing his name in Southern California. Kimmel's recollections from each stop were entertaining for sure, but truly illustrated how hard he worked and how many dues he had to pay before he reached what I had perceived as his "first break."

In turn, Kimmel's interview got me to imagine Waltz, broadcasting minor league hockey in Spokane, Wash. in his first year out of college. He probably felt a long way from the big time. That was 1987. Waltz made his version of a major league debut in Seattle in 1994. The total driving distance from Spokane to Seattle is only about 280 miles. Yet the entire terms of George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev are contained by the years spanning Waltz' gigs in Spokane and his first time in Mariners' press box. And that Seattle debut is a decade before Waltz landed his current role with the Marlins.

It also made me think of Eric Hasseltine, still plugging away in the Sacramento area, doing sidelines for our football games. At the time, he probably wondered where his next break would come from. E-Dog had succeeded both Jason Ross and Scott Marsh at KDVS, and now seemed to wait in a queue behind both at KHTK. Years after graduation, he was still on the KDVS airwaves calling Aggie basketball with then sports director Ryan Richmond. He just kept working for little to nothing; in part because it is part and parcel of the industry, but also because it's part of his character.

In a follow-up to my first phone call to Waltz, he gave me the following:

"In the minors I heard a lot of other guys complain about the impossible odds or lament how you had to be the son of a famous announcer to get to the Show. My attitude was completely different. I wasn't worried about the odds, I was just worried about getting better. I still do that today. I still go into each telecast trying to improve on some part of my game."

Hasseltine was described as having the same qualities, according to Gaither Jones' story on Planet Blacksburg in 2006. Said John Paul Stevenson, the Grizzlies' P.A. announcer, "Eric also is constantly looking to hone his skills to make him a better broadcaster. He knows that you can never know everything there is to know, so he strives to constantly learn as much as he can."

Bottom line: one thousand words in the UC Davis Magazine cannot possibly convey my admiration for what they've accomplished, so I'm glad I had the opportunity to voice it here. As I follow Ben Taylor's career, I hope he exercises the same diligence that brought Waltz, Reichwald, E-Dog and the others to their current career places.

But why wouldn't he? He's an Aggie.

Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director at UC Davis, will spend more time editing the story than he did writing it, so don't be surprised if you see him at a Starbucks on the way back to the office after the game.

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