Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dear Grandmother

I have been honored to deliver eulogies at the funerals for several close relatives, including my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother.  My dad's father passed away several years before I was born, and for reasons I won't get into, I did not speak at my Grandmother Canupp's funeral. 

I have regretted it ever since.  I am sorry these words are eight years late.

Dear Grandmother,

I miss you so much every day, but I miss you most at Christmas time.  Especially Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve was always our day.  Our entire family gathered at your house for our annual celebration.  But luckily I grew up within walking distance of your house, so I was always the first to arrive (and the last to leave.)  I just loved every part of that day with you and granddaddy, and I wanted it to last as long as possible.

I loved helping granddaddy bring in wood for the fire we would build, or serving as your unofficial food taster, or as I got older, driving to the store for last minute purchases.  I treasure the memories of the planning of those days as much as the actual parties.

There was one unplanned tradition that dominated my childhood.  I would get so excited about Christmas and food and presents, that I would literally throw up at some point during our Christmas Eve party.  This happened every year.  Until I was 11 or 12 (In an effort to stop the embarrassment, I finally decided to avoid food for 24 hours before the party.  I wound up passing out and falling down a flight of stairs.  But, next play, as they say.  Keep pounding.)

The rest of the family would always make sure I was OK and then (rightfully) enjoy a few laughs at my expense.  But grandmother, you always knew the right thing to say to make me feel better: "Santa Claus is coming. I don't know why everybody isn't throwing up."

Christmas was and remains my favorite time of year, but the truth is, every day was special with you grandmother.  I was lucky that I got to see you almost every day growing up.  I don't know how I was able to stay so skinny as a child, because a lot of days I had two dinners- at our house and yours.

In fact, everyone who knew you grandmother, will remember just hard it was to leave your house without eating or at the very least taking a plate for the road. It was next to impossible, whether you were hungry or not.  It almost became like a battle of wills.  But grandmother, you were going to win. Actually, everybody won.

Everybody thinks their grandmother is the best cook in the world.  But they are wrong.  Because you were, grandmother.  From the dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas, to the biscuits that were made from scratch virtually every day and so much more.  And it was all delicious.  (I have to admit that fried squash was not my favorite, but yours was better than any other I've ever had.)

And grandmother, you were responsible for the single best meal I ever had: country fried steak after my high school graduation.  I can still remember being in your kitchen that night, thinking this was as good as it gets.

But grandmother, any time spent with you was automatically more special.  Our family vacations at the beach were always fun, but were off the charts when and you and granddaddy were there.  My favorite little league games were when I saw you in the crowd.  And I am so, so thankful that you and "Ma" Griffin were both able to be in Boone when I received my college diploma.

Everybody who knew you knew how much you loved the Lord.  It was powerful, and it was genuine.  And I have never known a better example of what a true Christian should be than you and granddaddy.

My favorite days in church were when I sat beside you and granddaddy.  (Actually, my very favorite days were when I sat beside you while granddaddy delivered a sermon.)  I remember you always had the little peppermint hard candies in your purse.  We would try to unwrap them as quietly as possible, then try not to laugh when we would inadvertently make too much noise.

I worked for nearly 20 years as a sports broadcaster and, whether you realize it or not, you and granddaddy had a profound influence on my career path.  Granddaddy was the biggest baseball fan I ever knew and I loved to watch games with him.  I spent nearly every Monday night of the summer at your house watching "Monday Night Baseball" (back when baseball on TV was a true event).  I also read the sports page at your house nearly every day, and you gave me my first subscription to "Sports Illustrated".

I'm sure you thought that, if anything, I could possibly write about sports some day.  I am certain that the thought of that quiet, shy kid talking about sports for a living never entered your mind.  But I loved seeing the videos of you "watching" me on the radio.  I always knew that you were proud of me.  I hope you know how much you inspired me.

There are so many more memories that spring to mind when I think of you, grandmother.  All good.  All special.  Just like you.

But you gave me my most special Christmas memory of all time, at your last Christmas on this Earth in 2007.  Alzheimer's had ravaged your memory, and I wasn't sure if you had recognized me for quite some time.  But when I walked into the nursing home to see you that day, you lit up and said "Shea Boy", the name you called me as a child.  It's a moment that still give me chills.

This Christmas Eve, as has been the case for the last few years, finds Kim and me 3,000 miles away from most of our friends and family.  I really wish you could have known Kim, grandmother.  I think the two of you would have been thick as thieves.  She had this photo of you and granddaddy printed on a canvas and framed and gave it to me for Christmas several years ago.

I just hope you knew how much I truly loved you.  And still love you.  Always.  Merry Christmas.

Actually, Merry Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Making A List

 I likes lists.  Lists are awesome.

5 Random Facts About Me
1- I graduated college in 1992, but I still remember the combination to my campus mailbox.
2- I've only been to one Disneyland.  In Tokyo.
3- I walked two miles to the store when they brought back Classic Coke.  I drank a bottle while in the checkout line. 
4- As a child, I threw up from the excitement on Christmas Eve every year.
5- I ran more than 1,500 miles in 2008 and more than 1,600 miles in 2009.

5 Movies I Could Watch Today, Then Watch Again Tomorrow
1- Die Hard
2- Sling Blade
3- Major League
4- Christmas Vacation
5- The Silence of the Lambs

5 Movies I Don't Like As Much As Everybody Else
1- Caddyshack
2- The Godfather
3- Hoosiers
4- The Blues Brothers
5- Titanic

5 Movies I Like More Than Anybody Else
1- License to Drive
2- Wayne's World
3- Black Swan
4- Shallow Hal
5- Tower Heist

5 TV Series I'm Not Ashamed to Say I Love, But I Probably Should Be
1- Sex and the City
2- Perfect Strangers
3- Silver Spoons
4- The Love Boast
5- Simon & Simon

5 Weird Injuries I've Had
1- cut finger opening loaf of bread
2- sprained ankle delivering a high five
3- got stung by more than 20 yellow jackets while mowing the yard (this happened twice)
4- sprained wrist after falling off a trampoline
5- Bee sting in the eye while playing basketball

5 Favorite Candy Bars
1- Butterfinger
2- Zero
3- Baby Ruth
4- Milky Way
5- Twix

5 Favorite Country Songs
1- "Janie Baker's Love Slave", Shenandoah
2- "Here's a Quarter", Travis Tritt
3- "Goodbye Says It All", Blackhawk
4- "Love in the First Degree", Alabama
5- "The Walk", Sawyer Brown

5 Favorite Forgotten 80's Songs
1- "I Don't Mind At All", Bourgeois Tagg
2- "Better Be Home Soon", Crowded House
3- "Love Changes Everything", Climie Fisher
4- "Walking on a Thin Line", Huey Lewis & The News
5- "No Myth", Michael Penn

5 Favorite Recurring Seinfeld Characters
1- Frank Costanza
2- Kenny Bania
3- Morty Seinfeld
4- Babu
5- Mulva

5 Celebrities/Fictional Characters I Have Been Told I Look Like
1- Woody Harrelson
2- Andre Agassi
3- Michael Stipe
4- Scott Van Pelt
5- Cameron from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"

Friday, August 31, 2012

It Was 20 Years Ago Today...

Today is a special day for me.  You see, on August 31, 1992 the radio landscape in Charlotte changed  forever.  And I was lucky enough to be part of it.

That was the day sportstalk radio debuted in the Queen City.  And the first local voice to be heard on Sports 610 WAQS was mine.

I had spent my first summer in the real world working for 95QQ (now Kiss 95.1).  I started as an intern, even though I had already graduated from Appalachian State.  They were kind enough to start paying me within a couple of weeks.  By mid-summer, I had so many hours of overtime each week they decided to just make me a full-time employee.

But my goal was to work in sports, and I had scheduled an interview with a station in Roanoke Rapids, NC in August.  It was a small market, but I would have been a one-man sports department and could begin my climb up the ladder in earnest.  I really didn't want to go though.

Then one day in early August, a new guy who had been hanging out in the AM station (which was then satellite oldies except for the Channel 9 news and Charlotte Knights baseball) asked me to meet with him.  His name was John Woodstock.

"Woody" had been brought in to jumpstart 610, and it was his idea to go all sports.  Our meeting basically went like this:  He asked if I was interested in sports.  I said yes.  He said good.  I need you. 

He told me I would anchor and run the board from 6 AM to 2PM and would also serve as his assistant program director.  Cool.  Woody had hired Gerry Vaillancourt, the Hornets broadcaster, to host an afternoon show which would start two weeks after we signed on.  A lady named Barbara, who also worked at 95QQ, would anchor and run the board in the evenings.  Woody would produce and run Gerry's show, with Bill McChain anchoring.   That was the extent of our opening day roster- five people. 

So August 31st came, and I was there bright and early to get things started.  We carried Sports Entertainment Network (which after numerous changes is now known as Yahoo Sports Radio) programming all day.  ESPN was still weekends only at that point, so were stuck with the gambler-friendly programming out of Vegas.

I had never been so nervous when the clock struck 6 and I delivered my first live "professional"sportscast and weather update.  I don't remember any specifics, other than it was truly awful.  I was honestly nowhere near good enough to be on the air in Charlotte (or probably Roanoke Rapids) at that point.  I was very fortunate to be allowed to grow into the position.  As Woody said repeatedly, "No one is listening yet.  Have fun, find your groove and just get better."  Which I eventually did over time.

But holy cow was that a fun day.  I was hooked, and I knew that this was going to be one fun ride.

It was probably to my benefit that I was a naive kid, because the "grown ups" involved were concerned with building an audience, selling ads and whatnot.  Plus our ownership situation was not exactly stable (the owners eventually went bankrupt and we went into receivership.)  None of those things mattered to me.  I was just doing sports in Charlotte and having the time of my life.

I have so many great memories from that first year.  Working with Gerry V was a daily riot.  Woody eventually left the station in '93 and I started producing V's show (and also became the program director.)  Gerry was (and is) a gifted talk host.  He makes it seem effortless, but he truly works hard.  Later we added Michele Tafoya (aka Mickey Conley) to the mix and that show really took off.

That was also the year the Hornets made their first playoff appearance, stunning the Celtics in the first round.  The love affair between the city and that team was just unbelievable.  It still boggles my mind how it all deteriorated less than a decade later.

It was also the early stages of the development of the Carolina Panthers.  I remember Mark Richardson and Mike McCormack stopping by the station often with updates on "Carolinas NFL Stadium" and Max Muhleman explaining the concept of PSLs. 

There were a lot of silly moments, such as when an opposum accidentally fried himself in some wires and knocked us off the air for six hours.  There were too many Duke-Carolina debates, especially when they took over our five hour show on a random day in June.

There were also definitely some days when we were all on pins and needles.  I can recall at least five or six days when I was certain they were just going to shut us down and go dark.  Thankfully, for whatever reason, that never happened.

There were also two or three days when I was fairly sure they were going to slide us over and put sports on 95.1.  I remember hanging out with our engineer Mike one afternoon and he said he would put money on that happening that day.  But that also never took place, and that would have been a gamechanger for a lot of folks.

But Sports 610 kept chugging along, even through receivership, and we were eventually sold to a group that owned WRFX in early 1994.  The station changed to Fox 610 sports radio and continued to add talent such as Matt Pinto, Sam Smith and more.  The best part of that experience for me was that it led to me being hired by the John Boy and Billy Big Show.  Our studio also doubled as John Boy's dressing room and many times he would be in there changing t-shirts during one of my updates.  John Boy liked my announcing, and when they needed a new sports voice I got the call.  I'm still most grateful for that.

Fox 610 Sports Radio eventually became WFNZ, which it is still known as today.

I wound up being a part of WFNZ (either directly or indirectly via Metro Networks) for 15 years.  The place still means a great deal to me, and I will always hope for its success.  And I am very happy to see that Charlotte now has a second sports station as well.  I promise you, no one would have predicted that when we signed on.

I wish had more mementos from the old station.  I used to have the sign from our front lobby, and I lost a bunch of tapes when my car was stolen several years ago.  I do still have this long-sleeve t-shirt.

And I will always treasure the memories of the days when a kid, without knowing any better, was a small part of the beginning of something that is still going strong today. 

Happy anniversary.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Kerry Wood pitched arguably the best game in Major League history on May 6, 1998.  It's arguable only because a real major league third baseman, Kevin Orie, whiffed on a grounder most little leaguers would snag in their sleep (stunningly ruled a hit by the Wrigley scorekeeper).  And Craig Biggio got plunked too (I had forgotten that.)

Otherwise, Wood made Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and the rest of the Astros look foolish in just his fifth major league start.  The 20-year old had a record-tying 20 strikeouts in the most dominating performance I have ever seen.  It was riveting television, enough so that even Chip Caray's presence in the booth could not ruin it.

With news that Wood is retiring, I've been thinking a lot about Wood and the Cubs today.  Sadly, the pain of the 2003 postseason is as strong a memory as '98.  Kerry lost Game 7 of the NLCS against the Marlins (yes, there was a game AFTER Bartman), getting shelled for seven runs in 5 2/3 innings.

That rollercoaster game was more nerve-wracking for me than the Bartman-attributed collapse in Game 6.  Kerry Wood on the mound in a Game 7 with a World Series berth on the line?  I would have taken it every time. 

Wood went out and surrendered three runs in the first inning.  He then settled down, even helping his own cause with a two-run homer, and the Cubs grabbed a 5-3 lead.  But the Marlins got to Wood for three runs in the fifth and another in the sixth and ruined the Cubbies' best (last?) chance at the Fall Classic in my lifetime.

Injuries marred much of the rest of Wood's career, and instead of a Hall of Fame bust Wood will be enshrined in the What Might Have Been club.  86 wins, 63 saves, more than $70 million. (OK it's hard to feel too bad for the guy.)

But "the Kerry game" will live forever.  No thanks to you, Kevin Orie. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

This is our dog Bear.  Bear wishes you all a Happy Halloween!

We call him Super Bear. He earned this nickname because we think that he dreams he is flying. Don't believe me?

Bear is also a diehard Washington Redskins fan.  And a better QB than Jon Beck or Rex Grossman.  You listening Shanahan?

Also, Kim and I made some new friends while we were waiting for the Great Pumpkin tonight.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My House

Today I want to talk about two of my favorite pastimes- "The A-Team" and putting jabronies in their place.  And when the two intersect, well that's just awesome.  I love it when a plan comes together.

I was working as the public address announcer for the Kannapolis Intimidators in the summer of 2009.  That was a cool side gig- decent bucks, close to home and we had non-stop fun in the press box.

One of the between inning contests that season was the "Time Warner Cable Name That TV Theme Song" promotion.  We'd pick a TV theme, blare it throughout the stadium and fans would run to the info booth and turn in their answers.  We'd pick a winner from the right answers.  Pretty simple.

Someone loaded "The A-Team" theme into the computer, so of course I have music man/press box sidekick Drake play it immediately.  We look into the next booth and see the team's play-by-play announcer, a likeable if somewhat aloof lad, giving us a thumbs down and sticking his finger down his throat.  Bad move.

The announcer even came into our booth and requested "The A-Team" theme be stricken from the playlist.  I obliged by asking Drake to play it during EVERY contest until further notice.

So we did.  The contest basically became the "Name the A-Team Theme" every night.  We probably played it 15 straight games.  Fans would rush to turn in their answers before the contest started.  We would see team officials chuckling on the concourse.  But best of all, it genuinely annoyed the announcer.  And that was most excellent.

But one night, we arrived at the press box to find the announcer sitting smugly in our booth.  Junior informed us that he deleted the "A-Team" theme from the computer and that "I win!"  He proudly put his feet up on the console and leaned back in the chair, taking in his apparent victory.

However, much like the villains in many an episode of  "The A-Team", Corky made one mistake.  He left us  time to think. 

I asked Drake to go online and google "A-Team lyrics".  Within seconds, we had the rundown of the narration that introduced each episode of Hannibal and crew.  Drake got me a copy, and we waited.

So the time came for the contest, and Little Bob Costas looked over with glee as he wondered what we could come up with as a replacement.  He even patted himself on the back in a display of arrogance, another common trait of nefarious delinquents.

I shrugged my head, looked defeated and started the contest.  This time, I announced, report to the info booth if you could identfiy the TV show by these lyrics:

"In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. They promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team"

I then turned to the announcer's booth and smiled.  He then stood up and bowed down to admit defeat.  During the break, I (probably somewhat loudly) proclaimed that the press box was "My House!" and I always win.

In the end, he provided with me a perfect way to end the "A-Team" celebration.  The gag had run its course, and it was time to pull the plug.  But the announcer set me up with the chance to deliver one final knockout.  Perfect.  Almost as if I planned it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I Remember

My friends Alex and Jess (War Eagle!) got engaged one year ago today.  Both are in grad school, and they have yet to set a wedding date.  But it's not too early to pass along the best advice I received leading up to my wedding.  Simply put, slow down and remember the moments.

We (especially Kim) were frantic in the days and weeks leading up to our November wedding.  Unforeseen circumstances led to several major changes just prior to our big day.  We wondered if we would be able to pull off a wedding at all, much less provide a happy experience to friends and family who were making the trek to the beach to celebrate with us.

But Kim had several friends tell her they got so caught up in the details that their actual wedding ceremony was just a blur.  They remembered so very little about what was the most special time of their lives.

So Kim and I decided we would not allow that to happen to us.  We made a point to slow down, take it all in and remember moments both big and small.  And I will always remember: much fun it was setting up at the church the day before the wedding and the last minute barbecue dinner we threw together the wacky minister wanted to have four or five counseling sessions with Kim and me- and how that turned into one 10-minute meeting before the rehearsal

...the look of pure outrage on Kim's face when the wacky minister, in that 10-minute session, told her I was the boss of the relationship red Kim's face got when I told the wacky minister, "Good point." lonely it was to spend the night before our wedding without Kim, how much I genuinely missed her, and how happy I was to know I would not have to be without her again it had been unusually cold in the days before the wedding, but it was 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky on our wedding day

...going with my best friend and best man Lee to pick up the wedding cake, which was made by my Aunt Marlene.  Mainly because so many people had told us to be careful with the cake, we were convinced we were going to destroy it. (We didn't.)

...making sure I honored the tradition of not seeing the bride before the wedding.  It made for a long stay in the bathroom for Kim, who patiently waited while we brought in the cake

...preparing to take family pictures before the wedding, only to turn around and see my cousin Toni wearing her Redskins jersey over her dress.

...spending time with Lee and his son (and my Godson) Drake in the final moments before the wedding

...the realization that after 40 years, suddenly I would no longer be a single man

...the wacky minister using the word "fornication" during the early stages of the ceremony

...walking out in the church and seeing all the friends and family, some of whom I hadn't seen in several years, who made long drives to be with us

...seeing Kim's matron of honor (also named Kim) walk down the aisle, remembering how I took her to prom, and realizing how instrumental she was in Kim and I getting together

...watching the flower girl, Kim's two-year-old niece, dropping petals and saying "Uh-oh" as she came up the aisle

...seeing my Kim enter the church and gasping at how amazingly beautiful she looked I cried going over our vows at the rehearsal, but kept my composure during the ceremony.  I told Kim it was the broadcaster in me.

...kissing my wife for the first time great-uncle Hoot, who is in his mid-to-late 80's, meeting Kim for the first time and LOUDLY telling her " your uncle...Hoot!" friend Lisa proudly updating the Wisconsin-Indiana football score in the receiving line.  Her beloved Badgers won 83-20

...bacon-wrapped shrimp!

...going to "The Point" at Cherry Grove and taking pictures on the beach

...playing a game of "Tag", while still in my tux, with some of the children who were there

...being at the church at the end of the day, after everyone else had left, and just holding Kim, despite everything that had happened leading up to the wedding, I would not change a single thing about that day.  Because, at the end of the day, this picture is what our wedding day was all about.

And that, I promise, I will always remember.