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Writing beat out talking in pursuit of professional career
By Bob Frisk | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/14/2008 12:02 AM

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It's time to confess.

The clock is ticking on my career at this newspaper, and I should come clean now on a false story I have promoted for the past 50 years.

I have been telling people I knew what I wanted to do with my life as far back as junior high school.

That's not true. It just makes for a good story about how somebody is living out his lifelong dream.

I'll admit I gave some thought to sports writing when I was 12 or 13 because I would write stories about the baseball board game I played with a passion.

However, I actually wanted to become a sports announcer. That was the ambition I listed in my eighth-grade yearbook. That was my goal.

I'm not talking about sports announcing on television. That obviously wasn't such a big deal in the 1940s and early 1950s and certainly not my career choice.

I'm also not talking about sports-talk shows on radio. Mercifully, that format didn't even exist when I was growing up. That kind of daily cynicism and overanalyzing of teams probably would have turned me off sports forever.

As a youngster, the sports-announcing gig I had in mind was play-by-play on radio, preferably baseball. That seemed like the ultimate way to make a living.

In my sleepy, sheltered childhood, the radio voices were a part of me. They formed as much the web of baseball as did my first glove, a catcher's model I treasured that was signed by Mickey Livingston of the Cubs.

Radio was my gateway to the land of myth and magic. It was the way we were, captured in an enchanting theater of sound.

I couldn't get enough of the Chicago radio sounds of Bob "The Commander" Elson or Bert Wilson or the national voices of Mel Allen or Red Barber.

Allen was everywhere, truly my hero. He was a staple.

The Voice did the World Series, the All-Star Game, the Rose Bowl, heavyweight fights. He also served as the sports impresario of Movie-tone Newsreels.

Allen moved people with his distinctive style. The microphone was his magic wand.

As a kid, I loved play-by-play baseball on radio, but my career goal finally did change because of high school journalism and a teacher named R. Fleet Combs, and I ended up in the newspaper business.

Fifty years later, I am just a few columns away from writing for the final time.

I have absolutely no regrets, but there always was the hope that some day I could take a real shot, however brief, at sports announcing on radio.

I finally got that chance in the 1970s on the Arlington Heights FM station, which was making a strong commitment to local sports coverage.

I spent six years as an analyst (with some emergency play-by-play duties) for high school football and basketball games and DePaul basketball from Alumni Hall.

I worked with people such as Dick Thomas, Bob Houghton, Bruce Blair, Bud Kelly and Howard Balson - and assorted members of the Daily Herald sports department who were "forced" to help me when my partner couldn't make it.

Great memories.

There was the time an administrator actually pulled the plug on our broadcast in the press box because he thought we were "favoring" the other school with our comments.

There was the time I filled the airwaves with total silence at the dramatic end of a Mid-Suburban League championship basketball game because I had no clue if a last-second basket counted that would have determined the champion.

I think my first words after all that dead air were something like, "They're bringing the microphone out to center court. I guess it's over."

There was the time Jim Cook of the Herald, who was working with me, and I were given a tip before kickoff that Schaumburg was going to surprise and come out with the "Houston Veer" offense. We had no idea what that was and didn't have time for some quick research.

During Schaumburg's first sequence of plays, I said, "Jim, it looks like the Saxons have come out in the Houston Veer."

Fortunately, Jim didn't ask me, "What's the Houston Veer?"

I learned something early during my six years of radio work. The announcers are bigger celebrities than the sports writers.

One night, in particular, stands out in my radio career.

I had just finished doing a basketball game at Hersey and was helping put the radio equipment away.

I glanced up and this small boy was standing by our table, just looking at me. He didn't say anything at first.

The boy then sheepishly held out a piece of paper, his hand shaking. He looked down at the floor as he spoke.

"Mr. Frisk, can I - I mean - can I have your - well - your autograph?"

In 50 years at this job, that's the only time I have ever been asked for my autograph, and it wasn't because I was a sports writer.

Is this the kind of attention I missed by not pursuing a career as a sports announcer?