This September, WEIS Radio will be celebrating its 60th year of broadcasting. It will also be the station’s 38th year of broadcasting football games.
As part of the station’s diamond anniversary celebration, Sports Director Shannon Fagan will have a series of Q&A features on some of the personalities who have called or been behind the scenes of sporting events around the station’s coverage area in years past.
This week’s installment of “Behind the Mic” is Mike and Tony Hathcock.
Q: How special is it for both of you to have been a part of WEIS’s 60-year broadcast history?
Mike: “It was special to me because it was my first full-time job (in 1977). I was working weekends at the other station here in Centre (WAGC). I was doing their weekend show and (then station manager) Jim (Davis) called me and asked ‘Can you work mornings?’ I said ‘Yeah, I think I can do that.’ I was still working mornings at WGAD at the time, going to school at Gadsden State, working at their radio station. I was up and down (Highway) 411. I kept that road hot all the time.”
“Jim called me. I was working with Ralph Meade over there on the highway (411). I did Saturday morning and Sunday morning shows when all the preachers of the churches came in, one right after the other, for six hours. Jim said ‘You want to work full-time?’ I came and talked to him and said ‘Yeah.’ So that’s how I came to work at WEIS. I was here for four or five years, then GAD offered me a full-time job doing mornings there. That’s when I left here to go do mornings on GAD in Gadsden.”
Tony: “It’s neat 43 years later to be at the same station daddy started at. It’s even more special because Drew Hall called me. They were going to do a show together. When he called me, I was actually thinking about getting out. It took up so much time, and my girls were young, but when Drew called and said it was going to be here and for Mr. Baker, with that history, there was absolutely no way I could turn that down. Now we’re five years strong.”
Q: Tony, I’m sure your dad has been a major influence on you, but who else was some of your radio influences?
Tony: “Everybody talks about he’s unbiased, the best around at what he did with play-by-play and stuff. There are pictures of me literally in a pumpkin seat in the press box. It was way before I started doing it. I guess I was 13 the first time I got a check, but I’d been in the press box with him that whole entire time.
“I had guys like Keith Pitts, Harry Dennis, Jon Holder, some of the best ever to work with. One day, he (Mike) told me ‘Go start shadowing Jon.’ I followed him around on the sidelines. I got to move up in the booth with him and do games with him for years until he retired from the broadcasting side. To be able to have that kind of upbringing, to be sitting there your whole life watching the best and learning, it’s something not many get an opportunity for.”
Q: How about your influences, Mike?
Mike: “I used to listen to radio all the time, to the big stations when you used to could pick them up at night, like Chicago, Nashville, Cincinnati and all those stations, when AM was really, really big. It’s all I ever really wanted to do. I started when I was still in high school. I started working at GAD. They had an explorer’s club. It was the boy scouts. It was one of those things where somehow they had gotten word through the high school that was something I wanted to do. That’s how I got started at GAD, that explorer club. They hired me to work weekends when I was still in high school. I’ve been at GAD since 1975, in one way or the other, pretty much consistently been on the air since 1975. I’ve been doing the Sunday morning show for 29 years now.
Tony: “It’s actually the longest continuous running show in the state of Alabama.”
Mike: “It started in 1959.”
Tony: “It’s had what, three different hosts?”
Mike: “There’s been more. A few people didn’t stay very long. I’ve been there 29 years and that’s longer than anybody has in that 62-year period.”
(Back to Mike’s influences): “Jon Holder is the best football mind I’ve ever seen. I was at my office at JSU, and Jon just walked into the office. I really didn’t know who he was then, but he came in and introduced himself. He said ‘I’d like to work with you on your GAD broadcast. I said ‘Well, we don’t make much money.’ He said ‘I don’t want any money. You don’t have to pay me.’ He started doing sidelines and I guess the rest is history. He could do anything he wants to do, anywhere in the country, if he wanted to do it. He has a mind that never forgets anything.”
Tony: “It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a true photographic memory. The scoreboard show you did, it was one of the first anywhere. It was before scoreboard shows were a thing. They used to do a thing called “Stump Jon.” They’d have people call in and ask them a question. Nobody could. It was amazing.
Mike: “They never stumped him. About Alabama football or high school football, you can’t stump him.
“I worked with some really good people. Tony mentioned Harry Dennis and Keith Pitts. They’ve both passed away now, but I’ll tell you what, those two guys were the best I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
Q: I know you both know Jerry Baker very well. Could you give me some of your impressions on how innovative he’s been here?
Mike: “Obviously, he knows what he’s doing. He’s had a lot of success. Even before he got the FM, he was one of the few owners in the state that had a full-time radio station with announcers all the time. Most stations went automation way before he did. He always wanted it to be a local station, always have the local news and the local sports. Nobody else was doing that. Now, nobody does that. He’s probably the only station that still does local news. I’m not kidding about that.”
Tony: “That’s what’s amazing, to do it for so long, and he still stays ahead of it, no matter how the technology changes. He pushes us to do social media. He understands what drives it, but especially on the AM side. AM radio is struggling everywhere. He’s blown it out of the water here. It’s not just people here in Cherokee County. People in Gadsden all the time listen to the best news coverage anywhere. He’s on top of it. He’s expanded to sports and has been willing to try something new. Everybody is doing the other side. They want to downsize, how few people can I pay to put in a chair and have it run out of Birmingham. He’s doing the opposite. He knows people here still want that. To see how the markets change year after year after year, for him to come in here and just give you a little guidance, just point and say ‘Here’s what I want to do. As long as I don’t get any complaints, do it your way.’ To see it succeed like it has, I don’t know of anybody that’s survived in the radio business as long as he has. He’s still thriving at it.”
Mike: “His website is very, very good. That’s where my wife gets hers. When something happens, when she wants local news, that’s where she goes. She knows that’s the only place you can get it around here. I even do that a lot.”
Q: Tony, what’s it been like for you to host The Scoreboard Show with Joey Weaver and Drew Hall?
Tony: “It’s so much fun. We have an absolute blast. Me and Drew have done this for years on a couch. Just to be able to continue that and get with Joey, not only have the show clicking so well, but make so many good friends through coming here. It’s building friendships. We’re watching games on Saturdays together. We all have our own little strength and our own style that comes together. It’s just so much fun. You come in here and say ‘I can’t believe we’re actually getting paid to do this.’ We’d do it anyway. To see it take off and hear people talk about it, all the coaches around say ‘We listen to you every Friday night.’ It’s fun to see how much it’s taken off. I know it’s something Joey wanted for a long time. Nolen and them do such a good job, and Shane has for so long. We listen to them, but just to fill in that last gap, they wanted us to be part of that. It was kind of the last missing piece. The wall-to-wall coverage has been outstanding.”
Q: Did Jerry approach you about coming on board for The Scoreboard Show?
Tony: “Drew Hall actually called me. Somehow through him and Joey, they got together with Jerry. Drew had been working at a station out of Huntsville, where he actually won a radio competition to get your own show. He had to move back here for coaching, and it came about. I had taken one year off and wasn’t going to come back, but then it was Drew calling, and it was here with Mr. Baker, and it was with WEIS where dad started. I was like ‘There’s no way I could turn it down.’ It’s not even work. You look forward all week just to come and hang out with the guys and have fun. We just happen to do it on the air. I think everybody else has a good time with it.”
Q: So Mike, do you listen to Tony?
Mike: “Every Friday night. It doesn’t matter where we are. Debbie and I listen to it. Sometimes I’ll forget if I’m busy on something, but she’ll say ‘Tony’s going to be coming on in about 15 minutes.’ We get it set so we can listen to it. Those guys do a great job. Sometimes I think he talks a little too much, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Tony: “It’s funny. I told you earlier I always look for a critique. If I want it, I’ll call him because I’m going to get it. I’ll always get an honest answer (laughter).”
Q: What kind of critiques has Mike given you, Tony?
Tony: “It’s just tweak this here, do a little more this or that. I remember the first time we went on the air for the very first show, we were building it up, it was new, so we were telling everybody what’s going on, and the first thing I hear is ‘It’s a scoreboard show. Open with the scores.’ Since that day, we’ve come directly in with the scores every single time.”
Q: Mike, how proud does it make you that Tony followed in your footsteps so-to-speak?
Mike: “I’m really, really proud of him. He hasn’t done it full-time, which is probably a good thing. He’s got a real job and just does that on the side.
“I remember 9-11. He was going to Afghanistan. He did the last game with me and Keith (with Emma Sansom at Murphree Stadium in Gadsden). That was a tough game for me. You guys went to New York on Sept. 12, 2002. On the way to Afghanistan, they stopped at Ground Zero. I had a picture of him and all his Army guys on my wall at my desk at JSU.
Tony: “We signed off that night and I was on a plane the next day.”
Mike: “I remember him being in the press box when he was almost a baby. He wasn’t very old at all. Eric, my other son, his brother, never really got into it that much, but he was always into sports.”
Tony: “He’s got a picture somewhere of me, probably about eight months old, with a headset on.”
Q: Do you remember the first game you went to together?
Tony: “It was probably a Jim Glover game at Etowah. That’s where we did a lot of them. A lot of Friday nights I sat there for years and years and years just watching and listening. Then I’d start having to do something like go guard the antenna. I was eight, 10 years old telling grown men ‘Move over, you’re blocking the signal.’
Mike: “We didn’t have cell phones then, so we had to have a phone line or a “marty.” Most of the time we could get back to the station, but a lot of times when we would go to Fort Payne or some stations that were too far away, I would knock on doors at houses around the football stadium. I said ‘I’ll give you $50 if we can use your phone for three hours.’ First of all, they thought you were crazy, but I’d be like ‘I’m not kidding. I’ll give you $50 if we borrow your phone.’ We would shoot it to that house. The old dial-up phones, you could take the receiver off with alligator clips. You could clip on to the two terminals, and that’s how we did it. There’s no telling how many games we did like that.”
Tony: “We’d piggyback off other stations on occasion.”
Q: Mike, I know you’re somewhat retired, but still involved with radio. What are some of the things you do now?
Mike: “I’ve still got two radio stations in Oxford I engineer for. I still do my Sunday morning show. That’s basically all I do. People call me and say ‘I need an engineer.’ I tell them ‘I’m retired. I don’t do that anymore.’ I’m still doing the WVOK AM and FM there in Oxford. They’re really good people to work with. Then there’s the show on Sunday morning. I have to get up at 4:30 every Sunday morning to get to Gadsden to do that radio show.”
Q: Tony, how excited are you for the upcoming football season?
Tony: “It’s getting to the point now where I’m going to have to crack down getting my notebook ready. They make fun of my notebook, I guess from doing it so old school. I don’t trust computers completely. We’ve had issues where the web has gone done. If we only need hour of material, I’ll have four in my notebook. Everything I do, I do by hand in my notebook. If something goes down, it’s good to have. Jay Holland made fun of me. Me and Jay did a scoreboard show for a while. He had his Mac book there and he still cracked on my notebook until the internet went down and we were on the air one time. He’s like ‘OK, I see now.’
“I’m so ready. It’s going to be real exciting. Cherokee County is getting a new field. Coach (Jacob) Kelley has his guys in incredible shape. Ernie Willingham is coming back (to Collinsville). When we went to the (Matt and Todd Show) media day, that’s when I really started getting fired up, sitting there listening to the coaches talk. I can’t wait for it to get back. As soon we get off the air for the last time during the playoffs, I’m champing at the bit for it to get back around, just to come hang out with the guys and talk football.”
Q: What are some of the behind-the-scenes things you did to get ready for a broadcast?
Mike: “Let me tell you what I did. I actually hired a girl, Cindy Turley, who worked at a bookstore in downtown Gadsden. I had the big block poster board, and I still have a lot of that stuff. Every single year, she would make me a sheet. It started 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A. Every single game, it had who they were playing, who their coach was, what their record was at that time. By the end of the season, that thing had everything you wanted. I kept those all the years when I was doing a scoreboard show. I had all that information in front of me. It was all color-coded.”
Tony: “I remember him putting the stickers on it. At the time, you were waiting for the scores to come off the AP wire, off the printer. You literally had somebody ripping the sheets off and filling that thing in.”
Mike: “Cindy would come get it after that Friday night and fill it out with all the scores, who won and all that stuff. She did such a fantastic job. I don’t know how much time she put into that, but it was a lot of time. I’ve got those things going back to the early 80s, those big poster boards.”
Tony: “It’s kind of like with Ty (Storey) now, with the graphics and all the stuff he does. He fills it in. If you need something, you just tell him and it’s there. To have him is invaluable behind the scenes.”
Mike: “When Jon (Holder) got a job as the manager of the Anniston City Meeting Center, we would meet at Arby’s in Lenlock on Wednesday or Thursday every week. He would bring all his stuff and I would bring all my stuff. We’d have that stuff spread out on all those tables in there, and we’d spend two or three hours in there. I’d just ask Jon a question and he’d talk about records and coaches and all that stuff and I was writing that stuff down. I would spend three or four hours every week getting ready for our game and the scoreboard after our game. You have to. You have to keep up with all that stuff.”
Tony: “To me, that’s some of the fun. I enjoy that part. I like doing the research, saving the records, digging through the Alabama High School Football Historical Society website. That’s such a good resource. Still to this day, the old notebook is the way to go for me. I just like having that.”
Q: Have any advice for up-and-coming broadcasters?
Mike: “Volunteer somewhere. That’s how you’re going to get started. If people realize you’re real serious about it, they’ll eventually hire you or recommend you to somebody else who will hire you. There’s not that many jobs out there like there used to be in radio. Most of the people have to be really good to get a job, in radio or TV, either one.”
Tony: “A lot of it now is go out and start your own podcast. That’s kind of how Drew came about. We’ve run into other guys doing that. I had this very conversation with a friend recently that started one, who was like ‘Hey I want to do this. What do you do?’ I just said keep doing what you’re doing. Hang out at a station. Find somebody who will let you tag along. Carry equipment. Start from that point there, just get to where they can trust you. Eventually you’re going to move up or they’re going to need to feel a hole. Most everybody I know, that’s kind of how they got their first (position). You take advantage of that opportunity, then more of those come about and you get your name out there where you can do it.”
Mike: “WEIS Radio really helped me in my career. When you get that first full-time job working mornings, that’s how I ended up getting my job in Gadsden working the morning show at GAD. They got me going. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that if I hadn’t worked here. When I was working here, they did a block format. It was country music in the morning, Southern Gospel midday, and top 40 in the afternoon. Most stations did that back then, all the AM stations. I did the country music in the morning. Back then it was a lot different than it is now.”