This September, WEIS Radio will be celebrating its 60th year of broadcasting. It will also be the station’s 38th year of broadcasting high school 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 have been associated with sporting events around the station’s coverage area in years past.
The second installment of “Behind the Mic” is Nolen Sanford.
Q: How special is it for you to be a part of WEIS’s 60-year broadcast history?
A: “I think being involved and associated with WEIS Radio has been awesome for me because of the dedication Jerry and the staff has had to serving the community for so long. Not only that, but the fact that they stay up to date with modern technology, even being in such a small area where they might could get away with not doing that. He still stays on the cutting edge of always wanting to advance. I think you see that in our broadcasts. We try to get more technologically advanced in our broadcasts on football games. I think it’s been fantastic to be part of a station and ownership that wants to always be out in front of the curve.
“I feel really blessed to be part of it and the people there. When you look at what Jerry has built, and I know WEIS was a station before Jerry was there, but he really did so much work to make things even better here. I think that’s what makes it so great for me to work somewhere like WEIS. I know I am working for a station that is trying to do great things and has done great things and has not rested on its laurels and said ‘We’ve been pretty good for 60 years. No, we were pretty good and we can be even better.’ To me, that is what I would like to say about the station.”
Q: What’s it been like to work with someone as innovative as Jerry Baker?
A: “I think working for Jerry has been beneficial to me in the fact he has put trust in me over the years. He has given me parameters to work within, but I think he’s put a lot of trust in me and wants me to blaze a path for the radio station in certain areas. The fact he gives me freedom and also supports me so much and calls me out when I need to be, which is important. Everybody needs that reality check every once in a while, and he’s done that for me, but he always does it in a positive manner. I think it just goes to who he is as an owner and manager and, really, as a person.”
Q: Who were some of your influences?
A: “Paul Kennedy, when he did Alabama football in the 1980s. I really enjoyed Paul Kennedy on the radio. I felt like listening to Keith Jackson on the ABC broadcasts for years was a big deal, but I believe honestly anyone who grew up in the time frame we did that has been able to listen to a lot of the great broadcasters from around the country but even the Southeast it might be John Ward at Tennessee or Larry Munson at Georgia, even Jim Fyffe at Auburn.
“A lot of people don’t know the name and might not even think about, but look at the job Mike Parris has done at Jacksonville State for so many years. Mike, I think, is important to look at. In a lot of ways we’re similar. We’re not touting 6A or 7A football programs. He’s not touting SEC football programs. He is genuinely excited and has a love for an FCS program that at one time was Division II. He’s been there and has a love and excitement for it. I think that parallels what I do in a lot of ways in that it’s smaller communities and it’s a family love for that community that I get a chance to be a part of on Friday nights. I wouldn’t point to one person. I think you just see a lot of different styles.”
Q: How was it that you came to work with WEIS?
A: “Out of college, I got a job in the area and the radio station happened to be a customer of mine. Jerry and I struck up a conversation and I just mentioned the fact I had been in radio through high school. He said ‘You never know. We might have something for you.’ It just kind of developed from there. Lucky for me, the first year I did football, Sand Rock went to the state championship game that year. I came in at a great time.”
Q: What was the first football game for WEIS that you called on the air?
A: “I kind of came in a few weeks in helping out, but I’ll tell you the first game I remember doing. It might have been the first game I did, but the first one I remember doing was Cedar Bluff and Sand Rock. That was Sand Rock’s one loss that season in the regular season. It was to a Cedar Bluff team that went undefeated and had that loss in the second round to Parrish. Tyrone Moore was just a phenomenal running back for Cedar Bluff. Cedar Bluff won that game 28-21. That was one of the first games I remember doing. I think that was Sand Rock’s only loss that season before they lost to Luverne in the finals in 1997.”
Q: What are some of the other memorable games you recall while working at WEIS?
A: “The Springville game in the Class 2A state semifinals (in 1997), which if I remember correctly, Tripp Curry was the coach at Springville that year. Of course, Russell Jacoway was the coach at Sand Rock. Sand Rock won it 14-7. It was a nail biter. It had followed up a game I didn’t get to do because for some reason I couldn’t make the trip over to Millport, where Sand Rock came from way behind to beat South Lamar 34-28 in overtime. That was a phenomenal game. I didn’t get to do it, but that Springville game in 1997 with Sand Rock was huge.
“Another game that just stands out to me was in 2015, and it was Cedar Bluff at Wadley. It was in the quarterfinals. I’ll never forget that game. I’ll never forget the play at the end. I’ve still got an audio clip saved of Shane McElwee and I talking about that final play. What a phenomenal win that was at Wadley. It propelled Cedar Bluff into a state semifinal win over Decatur Heritage, and then they lost to Maplesville in Tuscaloosa, but that game at Wadley stands out.
“In 2013, Gaylesville defeated Cedar Bluff 40-39. I think that was a huge game. It was obviously a big one for Gaylesville because they had not beaten them in so many years. It was the first game out of the gate for Kyle Garmon. He gets that win. My takeaway was Cole Murphy was the senior quarterback for Gaylesville that year. Every time Cedar Bluff answered a Gaylesville score, I would look down at the sideline and Cole Murphy would be in front of his guys letting them know ‘We’re not going to lose this game. We’re going to win this game.’ I just remember the leadership he brought to that team. He got dinged up pretty good that year. I think he got hurt in that game. Just watching him and the way he was leading those guys on the sideline was so impressive to me. That was a fun game to do.
“In 2003, Cedar Bluff 68, Westbrook Christian 63. That game was crazy. That was a game where you knew if you were Cedar Bluff you had to keep scoring, and they did. That was a heck of a game. That was a fun game to watch and broadcast because of the fireworks.
“I think you can talk about Spring Garden in recent years. The Collinsville game in 2012 (a 45-41 loss) announced Spring Garden had arrived. I think it was kind of a coming-out party in my mind for Jason Howard as a coach. I think that was when you saw Spring Garden arrive on the scene. I think that game from Spring Garden, Forrest Livingston just carried them on his back. It was just a heck of an effort by him. Even though Spring Garden had won some games and shown some things before that, I think that was when you looked at them and said ‘This school is poised to really move forward.’ Of course it has since then. That was an exciting one for me to do.
“Cherokee County has had a lot of fun games to do, but I think the one I enjoyed calling the most for them was in 2009 in the state semifinals before they went on to win the state championship. They defeated Deshler 37-20.”
Q: You already mentioned a few, but who are some other memorable players you’ve covered through the years?
A: “Coty (Blanchard) headlines that group when you look at success on the next level. There’s no doubt about Coty. I thought Maurice Dupree was obviously a good player. I think Tyrone Moore will always have a soft spot for me because it was my first year and he was so good. I think Lucas McMichen will always have a soft spot for me because that was his sophomore year that same year and he was so good. I think Herschel Houston was such a fun player to watch. I enjoyed the way he conducted himself and what role he played on the team. I feel like Cole Murphy, who I’ve already mentioned, was fun to watch. Randy Peace, the running back from Gaylesville was a player who was fun to watch. You knew he was getting the ball and he was still hard to stop. Forrest Livingston at Spring Garden stands out. Spring Garden has had some really good players, even right now with Luke Welsh and Cooper Austin. I mentioned Tyrone Moore at Cedar Bluff. I feel like guys like Isaiha Jones, Tyric Scales was a lot of fun to watch. Jeremy Bryant did a fantastic job. He was fun to watch. Those were guys I enjoyed watching. You knew they could take a game over.”
Q: I know you’ve been fortunate to work with several broadcast partners throughout your career. How have they influenced you?
A: “I started out with Bill Mobbs, and Bill was already well-known in the area. Bill could recite all of these scores to you from the 60s and 70s of games out of memory. He knew so much about the history of the area and knew so many people. He made things so simple for me.
“Kurt Duryea was a lot of fun to broadcast with. He basically said ‘I’m going to find out as much information as I can. I’m going to talk to as many people in the community as I can and I’m going to make it as easy for you as possible. I’m going to give you all this information. You pick out what you need from that and I will fill in the gaps with pertinent facts.’ Kurt did a great job with that. He knew so many people that he just made the broadcasts easy to do. Kurt came to me and said ‘I want you to critique me on how I’m doing. I’m a little new at some of this.’ He was open to what I said and I thought that was awesome. I really had a lot of fun doing games with Kurt. We would talk a lot after games. We’d be driving home and talk about things we saw, or he would clue me in to other games going on another broadcast and say ‘You might want to listen to this right quick.’
“When Shane (McElwee) came on board, I was a little bit nervous. He didn’t have the broadcasting background, however, what he did have was a great knowledge of the county and a knowledge of playing in a more recent era. He knew a lot of guys whose kids were just starting to play or be known. He had good information and a lot of good contacts just like Bill.
“With Logan (Maddox), I got a little nervous about things. He was not a local guy so to speak, even though his dad was from Spring Garden. I think they thing with Logan is he has an enthusiasm you expect out of a 21-year-old. He loves broadcasting. He loves delving into the history. He might not have known as much about the history when he came on board, but he immersed himself in everything he could to find out more and more. I think watching his enthusiasm and his energy level for broadcasting really helped rejuvenate me a little bit.
“I think everyone I’ve broadcasted with really had a positive effect on me. I think they were all good in their own ways. I can only say good things about all of them.”
Q: In recent years, the station has grown its football coverage with the addition of “The End Zone Show” and “The Scoreboard Show.” How proud are you to see those spinoffs?
A: “I think “The End Zone Show” was something Kurt wanted to do. We did it together and I think we had a lot of fun with it. I think we got a great reaction from the community on it. We were able to kind of keep it going. I think now it’s evolved into a group of guys who sit around and talk sports. That’s what people want to be able to do. In our area, guys want to be able to sit around and talk about sports together. I think that’s what it does. It represents what every guy wants to do. It’s fun to do when you bring in the different personalities. I think that’s what makes it great, the different personalities.
“You’ve got a Hall of Fame and state championship coach in Coach (Russell) Jacoway who actually gives us how it really is. You’ve got Scott (Wright) who’s good with his wit. He brings kind of the average guy ‘I know about sports. I might not be detail-oriented, but I’m bringing the average guy’s take.’ Guys like Shannon (Fagan) do the research and know all about the players and do the predictions. I think that’s a lot of fun. I think the personalities really make that show so much fun.
“When you look at “The Scoreboard Show,” the electricity that comes out of that show is so much fun. I think when you get to do a broadcast on Friday night, and you know there’s a scoreboard show afterward and those guys are involved and listening to you and feeding you information about scores, you can go to them at halftime. There is an excitement about that that really rubs off on our broadcast. I think it makes our broadcast better. We know those guys are there. We get to go see them sometimes and sit in the studio for a few minutes. They do such a fantastic job. If you think about it, these are guys who this is not their primary job.
“Obviously with Joey (Weaver) it is, but you’ve got guys like Tony Hathcock and Drew (Hall), these are guys who are working all week, and then on Friday night, they take their time to come in late when you know they’re tired and bring that much energy. It kind of gives you a little bit of an extra push and some juice when you see them doing that. It’s really a fun thing to me.”
Q: Any advice you’d give an up-and-coming sports broadcaster?
A: “I think to really understand the area you’re in, meaning these are families who have invested in these communities for generations. Remember that it’s still a sport, but at the same time it means so much to the pride of these communities in a rural area, an area where pride is sometimes all you have left at times. Remember that when you’re broadcasting. Remember that when you call someone’s name. Remember that when you talk about their family and their accomplishments over the years. Remember those things because it really means a lot to the community. It’s not just about what you’re doing. It’s about how you represent the community you’re broadcasting about. If you really love those communities and the people and the youngsters playing the sport, it will show them what you do and how you do it.
“I think for most of the time that has shown in everything I’ve done and what the guys around me have done. I know I’ve hit lulls and I know I’ve hit times where I didn’t seem as interested, or maybe I was getting tired and I let it show, but I think if you really focus on the community and the people, the love for what you’re wanting to do or what you’re trying to do will show through.”