Celebrating 10 years of SoundOFF.

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One of my loyal readers has threatened me with bodily harm if I don’t write about something other than Iowa and Iowa State football, so… here’s to my health!

SoundOFF 500: As first revealed here, we’re throwing a party Saturday night (10/14) at the original Legends in West Des Moines (60th & Ashworth); you’re invited. We’re giving away a lot of cool door prizes including the limited edition SoundOFF T-shirts from Tailgate. We’ve had to assign a security guard to these at work, but so far not one has walked away. Admission to the party is free. It runs from 6 to close. Arrive early for a good seat. Chris from Green Bay will not be attending.

Ten years ago, when SoundOFF started, it seemed like such a novel idea. The hosts giving strong opinions and viewers having a voice. There were skeptics from the start but the ratings (number of people watching) far exceeded all expectations right away and the audience is now bigger than ever. I sincerely thank you for that (I’m hoping you watch. If not, just pass that “thank you” to someone who does). SoundOFF seemed somewhat unique a decade ago, but now ESPN, FSN, Mediacom and many others do similar shows.

The biggest change we ever had was Andy Fales taking over as co-host for Round Guy. Andy used to work behind the scenes on SoundOFF, but all night long he would complain about whatever was bugging him. He never smiled, but he sure made us laugh. That’s how “What’s Bugging Andy?” came about. I just said to Andy, “Save some of your material for the viewers. We’re putting you on each week for two minutes. We’ll call it ‘What’s Bugging Andy?’.” It was a huge hit from the start. Some loved it, some hated it, but no one ignored it. The reason What’s Bugging Andy is so good, I think, is that Andy’s not trying to be anyone else. He might dial it up a little, but that’s him. If you’ve been around Andy, you know that’s him. I’ve been accused of overdoing my laugh, providing Andy with his own Ed McMahon, but I’m not acting. Some of what he says is flat out hilarious. He’s also poignant and insightful at times. I don’t agree with all of what comes out of Andy’s piehole, but we’re lucky to have someone in this market telling it like he thinks it is. It’s appointment television for a lot of people.

After Andy hit big, my boss, Mark Ginther, decided we needed to make Andy the co-host. Good for Andy, good for the station, and good for the viewers. But what would Round Guy think after playing a big part in a successful show for seven years? I dreaded having to tell him because he’s always been so good to me and everyone else at channel 13, not to mention the fact he had to put up with countless callers over the years coming up with schoolyard bully gems like, “Hey Round Guy, you’re fat”. The news of no longer hosting each week disappointed RG, but he understood, and he handled it with grace and class. In fact, Round Guy (Steve Pilchen) went out of his way to make Andy feel okay about it, as well as the audience. I’m indebted to him for that. I’ll make sure he drinks and eats from Saturday night. I’m lucky to have Steve as a friend.

Looking back over 500 shows, I think the comment I hear most frequently from people is, “You do a good job of putting up with those crazy callers”… or some variation. Yes, many of the calls are wacky, but that’s part of what makes for a good show. And those people are our friends, neighbors and rivals. Most of our viewers are intelligent, but if they call in, they’re quickly forgotten. It’s the nutjobs we all remember most. Just like Ed gets the forecast right most of the time, but we dwell on the misses.

SoundOFF is such a blessing for our sports department because we have immediate feedback whenever anything happens. Iowa State wasn’t even off the field Saturday night when e-mails started coming in about the need for a coaching change. We’re well aware that people who are angry, disillusioned or disappointed are more likely to write or call than people feeling blissful, and we take that into account. For instance, ISU loses to Nebraska while Iowa pummels Purdue and the Cyclone e-mailers and callers outnumber the Hawkeyes 10 to 1.

We have a big microphone on that show, and I’ve always tried to use it fairly. I never shy away from giving my opinion, but I try to never make it personal. Sometimes we realize we’re being critical of people who try very hard and care very much about what they’re doing. If you lose the SoundOFF audience, you’re in trouble.

We’ve had many guests and substitute co-hosts over the years. Here are my impressions on a few:

Tim Dwight: One of my favorite guys. Never gives you the tired answers or dull opinions. TD will tell you just what he thinks. He’s an adrenaline junkie who’s trying to squeeze every ounce of fun out of life. We should all be more like that. Great guy. Loves the movie Zoolander. He can quote every line and hit you with Blue Steel or Magnum.

Kirk Ferentz: Called in every time we’ve ever asked. Just as willing to do it during the great seasons as he was when losing in the early years. Kirk is the real deal. I’ve written about my high opinion of him many times, so I won’t get carried away, but Hawkeye fans should hope this guy never leaves, and not just because he’s winning.

Governor Tom Vilsack: Loves sports. He doesn’t come by to campaign, he just really wants to talk about his Steelers (and woeful Pirates). He’s also up for poking fun at himself, and makes no demands or requests whatsoever. Smarter people than me can decide what kind of Governor he’s been, but as a regular guy talking sports, I really like him.

Jamie Pollard: Down to earth, and very smart. He’s the kind of guy you immediately feel comfortable talking to, something that was always a problem for his predecessor Bruce Van De Velde.

Pollard has created endless excitement and buzz since he took over at ISU. I’m not sure he’ll find all the money he needs in Cyclone country, but I think he’s right to Think Big.

When he was on SoundOFF, I got overly protective and talked too much. Anytime a caller said something slightly rude or asked a sarcastic question, I jumped in. Pollard can speak for himself; he doesn’t need me to do it. My heart was in the right place. I always want our guests to have a pleasant experience, but people watching wanted to hear more from him, and less from me.

Kurt Warner: Never felt like I knew Kurt very well, though he was always friendly. He went from asking to come by to talk about his try-out with the Packers to being unreachable after winning back-to-back MVPs, but that was just the fame comet Kurt was on. I doubt his people ever even let him know little ol’ Des Moines was trying to get in touch. To this day, anytime we see Kurt, he’s always nice.

Reggie Roby: What a good guy. I was so sad when he died young. Reggie brought us Cookies that he was selling nationwide, and Round Guy ate up all the profits. I used to love watching Reggie punt. He somehow had his kicking foot way over his head, but the other foot would stay grounded. And man could he boom a football. Wore a wristwatch in games.

Mike Nurse: Came in right after ISU lost to Michigan State in the Elite 8. Nurse was always a good interview and he didn’t disappoint on SoundOFF. Funny stories all night. Nurse said everyone knew whoever won that game with MSU would win the national championship. He was right.

Steve Deace: Filled in many times. Steve is so smart it’s hard to believe he didn’t finish college. He has a memory for details like Jim Zabel. I often disagree with Steve, especially on religion and politics, but I always appreciate and respect a person not afraid to give his opinions. Steve doesn’t fake it. He speaks from the heart. He’s not ranting for ratings. Well, he is, but only because he believes what he’s saying.

Marc Hansen: Marc wrote a nice column about his appearance on SoundOFF. It’s been years, but I remember he couldn’t believe how people were more concerned with his appearance than what he actually said. Welcome to television. Talk to Erin Kiernan about some of the e-mails and calls she receives. “Comb your hair” was one of the comments Marc heard on the air. “You look like you need sleep” was another. What can I say, it’s a shallow, cosmetic business at times, but anyone who looks like Luke Skywalker shouldn’t worry about that.

I think Sean Keeler is really coming into his own at the Register. I always read Sean; he’s doing a good job, but like many people, I miss Marc’s sports columns. He was appointment reading for all Iowa and Iowa State sports fans. And Marc said he always got the same thing I do: Cyclone fans accused him of being a Hawkeye and Hawkeye fans accused him of being a Cyclone.

Marty Tirrell: Very entertaining. I always stop what I’m doing to listen to Marty (and Miller) because you just never know what Marty will say next. He asked if he could be on SoundOFF before he moved back East, and he did not disappoint. Some of his takes were off, “Kirk Ferentz will never be accepted at Iowa because he won’t escape Bob Stoops’ shadow”, but some were dead-on, “Kurt Warner is like a tire with no tread left. He’s worn out and won’t come close to another MVP”. (Warner has since been benched by three teams). And don’t let this out, but Marty is actually a nice guy. Not mean at all. He just knows listeners don’t like fence-sitting wafflers.

Dan McCarney: Called in when we asked him to after ISU finally beat Iowa. He agreed even though “The Dan McCarney Show” was on a different channel at the same time. For that reason, I’ve tried not to put him in that tough spot again. McCarney is well aware of what’s being said on SoundOFF—it’s like a townhall meeting, so it makes sense to keep up on it.

I like Dan and think he’s done more for ISU football than any person ever. However, all those players who would run through a wall for him and all those assistant coaches who want to pay him back for his loyalty better step up and stop underachieving or Dan’s in trouble. True, the team is 3-3, just what I expected, but the Cyclones are 3 plays from 0-6 and they’ve looked sloppy, predictable and, at times, overmatched. At ISU, you must overachieve. So far, these Cyclones look like underachievers. Not good with record crowds watching. And no more silly spin (Last week’s “One of only 54 teams undefeated at home”, etc. Needed that ten years ago. Now many fans find it insulting.)

Sorry. This is supposed to be about SoundOFF.

Ross Verba: Funny guy with a lot of good stories from Green Bay. I thought Ross would be a Hall-of-Famer. Didn’t work out that way, but he could be good on TV if he ever wanted to try something else.

Chris from Green Bay: We don’t hear from Chris much anymore, but boy could he rile people up. He actually only called every month or so, but his putdowns were so memorable, it seemed everybody thought he was on all the time. I’d constanly hear comments like, “How come Chris can get in every week when I’ve been calling for months and all I ever hear is a busy signal?”. Here’s a secret: we eventually gave Chris a backdoor number. When your calls are that lively, you need to be heard.

I knew Chris when he lived in Des Moines. He’s actually one of the most thoughtful people I know, but he always wanted to be a WWF villain, and SoundOFF gave him a chance to come close. Man, was he good. Or bad. Depending how you look at it.

Holden Kushner: Do you remember this guy? He was on local sports radio. Very talented. Only co-hosted once but he was the favorite of our crew. Why? Because they get really tired of lame calls, and Holden said things like, “That’s a really stupid call. What are you, an idiot?”. He left Des Moines and I always expect to hear him on a national show.

Rob Borsellino: He also asked to come on the show before he and his family moved to Florida. Rob told me his sons would think it’s pretty cool if he were on SoundOFF. Rob told great stories about growing up in New York City and living for the Yankees.

I miss Rob. And I know I’m not alone.

Jon Miller: Multi-media star of the 21st century. Jon’s doing a little bit of everything and doing it all well. The Des Moines market improved when Jon came to town.

Jim Zabel: Z wore a headset so he’d feel more comfortable. Actually, it was a gag we set up, but Jim will go along with anything for a laugh. Jim is a giant in broadcasting. I mean that. Poke fun at his Hawkeye homerism and self-promoting tendencies all you want, he’s interviewed more legends than anyone in Iowa sports history (and worked alongside Ronald Reagan). Z has also taught me a lot about energy. He just loves working and he never takes it personally when someone yells a putdown at him. He’s just glad they’re paying attention. I’ve also seen him pick up the check! Yes, I’m the one.

That’s a long enough trip down memory lane. I doubt many people make it this far, but I got on a roll. Lot of memories in ten years.

I’m humbled by the hundreds of people who come up to me each year and tell me they love SoundOFF. My favorite comment that I get a lot is from people who say they don’t really like sports, but they’re hooked on the show. I can think of no bigger compliment. Thank you.

And a special thank you to all the people behind the scenes who work just as hard as Andy and I, but get none of the credit. B.Ross, Chad, Jen, J.T., Angry Intern,—to name a few—Thank you.

Hope to see you Saturday.


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