Since we are still under a mandated lockdown in regard to sports, there have been plenty of archived games, classic broadcasts and much more being showcased on TV and the internet. Even yours truly has been forced to dig deep into my mental archive to fill these pages each week with a story, life lesson or happening that helped shape my career.
This week I continue that trend. As we await the fate of high school sports, football specifically, this fall, I have to tell the story of my first radio broadcast of the Friday night game. It was 2003, I was recently out of college the year prior and working at KERN and KGEO in Bakersfield. My program director was well aware of my college sports broadcast resume, which included basketball and baseball. At the time they were not in need of talent in the booth.
That changed one summer morning, right around this time of year, as I was wrapping up my morning shift, which required me to be at the station at o’-dark-thirty. He came into my studio and posed a loaded question. “You’ve done football before, right?”
Now, here is what was at stake with that question. KERN had long been the home of a highly successful “High School Football Game of the Week” broadcast, which sold very well to sponsors and allowed the station to travel around to different high schools each week throughout the season. I knew the talent who had been doing those games had moved on to other markets, so I knew he was looking for new broadcasters in house — and I was looking for a supplement to my meager paycheck.
Had I technically ever called a football game before? No. But I played in countless games, watched more than my fair share, and always paid attention to the announcers. Couple that with my ability to host, call and produce other sports like basketball and baseball, I knew what the answer had to be.
“Sure, that won’t be a problem.” Was my simple answer. Did I lie? Not really. Did I answer his question specifically? Not really, but my answer assured him that things would be fine. So, a few months later, after handling broadcast rights negotiations, learning equipment setup and much more, I embarked on my first game, Bakersfield High vs. Stockdale at famed Griffith Field. I remember showing up to the office that evening to load up the gear in the van wearing shirt and tie. One of the promotions managers laughed and gave me a high-five for the effort. My intent was simple; in order to play the part of the professional, you had to look the part, even though it was a 100-degree August evening in Bakersfield. Small sacrifices had to be made.
After getting set up at the old “visitor press box,” which was recently razed at Bakersfield High, I set out to call the actual game, my first-ever, although that secret was still just mine. I kept it simple, didn’t talk too much, conversed with my partner who was also new — an assistant arena football coach from the now-defunct Bakersfield Blitz. I’ll be honest, it was probably one of the greatest broadcasts of my life. I guess when you know you have one chance to make it work, pushing all the chips in on the table is your only play. I’ll be honest; I’m a gambler that way.
I got a call at halftime from the boss ,who was naturally listening at home. Although he sounded a few adult beverages deep, he could not stop complimenting me on the quality of the game. He would be informed later that it was my first — after the game naturally so he couldn’t fire me.
That one night in 2003 brought on by a less-than-truthful answer to a loaded question laid a lot of groundwork for my on-air career. It helped me become the Voice of the Roadrunners at Cal State Bakersfield later that fall, a title I held for 14 years. It was also the first of eight seasons calling high school games in Bakersfield — plus one additional season four years later when The Bakersfield Californian attempted a multi-cast of various games.
It’s one of the reasons today I give back to high school football. You don’t understand the opportunities that game has provided me. Thus, as a result, I continue to cover it, promote it and defend it as one of the greatest character builders of young men, and in cases like mine, once-young professional pushing it all in for one big gamble on a hot Bakersfield night.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are his own.