By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 11:45 AM
Pete Medhurst's grandfather hardly could have known that his gift of a Panasonic tape recorder to his first-grader grandson in the mid-1970s eventually would lead to the lad's chosen profession as a multi-tasking broadcaster so many years later.
Oh how young Pete loved that recorder, spending hours talking into the machine trying to do primitive play-by-play of televised sports events. One Thanksgiving Day, he had to be dragged to the table by his grandfather under protest, mostly because the Dallas Cowboys game was still on, and there were still plays to be called, commentary to provide, even if he was only six years old.
Medhurst was one of the lucky ones. At an early age, he knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up. And now, more than 30 years later, he is just about where he'd like to be, handling the play-by-play on Navy football games telecast by CSTV, a relatively new national cable network dedicated entirely to televising college sports.
In the mornings, Medhurst also does traffic reports for WMAL Radio (AM 630) and most evenings he's at Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County, working as the track announcer. In his spare time, he has spent most of the last ten years helping coach his two sons, Ryan, 15, and Cody, 14, in various youth sports. Both now play basketball at Southern High in Anne Arundel County, the same school their father attended back in the '80s when his classmates voted him "most talkative senior" in the school yearbook.
Back then, Medhurst actually became a professional broadcaster even before he'd earned his high school diploma in 1987. While still in high school, he took a part-time job working about 20 hours a week at WNAV Radio in Annapolis, where Dave Johnson, now the radio voice of the Washington Wizards, was working as the station's sports director. He did pre-game reporting before Navy games and covered local high school sports, as well.
Medhurst enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College after graduating from Southern, specifically to take speech and English courses, with no intention of spending a full four years in college.
"I had a great high school speech teacher," Medhurst recalled. "He was the one who encouraged me, always told me I could do it. When we had a public speaking assignment in class, he would always say I sounded authoritative. He would tell me most people stand up there and mumble or stammer. He said 'you can talk.'"
Medhurst got what he wanted out of a semester at community college, and then decided to further his broadcasting education by heading to a real job in the business. In the fall of 1988, he moved to the Maryland Eastern Shore, enticed by an offer to become a writer for a start-up weekly newspaper devoted exclusively to high school sports.
The paper only lasted for six months, but Medhurst soon landed a job on a radio station in Pocomoke City. He hosted a morning talk show, handled news and sports and did play-by-play for Pocomoke High's basketball team, his first on-air opportunity after so many years of talking into that tape recorder.
Two years later, at the age of 20, he made a pitch to a radio station in Salisbury to switch to an all-sports format. The station owner agreed and it became affiliated with ESPN Radio. Medhurst once again was on the air seemingly morning, noon and night, doing sportscasts, a nightly sports talk show and play-by-play for Salisbury State football, basketball and lacrosse.
In the early 1990s, he was working part-time at Washington's new sports talk station, WTEM, then took a full time job as the sports director of an all-sports station in Norfolk before deciding to head back home to Anne Arundel County. Once again he began working at WNAV, serving as the back-up to Bob Socci, the lead radio voice for Navy football and basketball, and also doing play-by-play for Navy lacrosse.
His biggest break came two years ago with the start of CSTV, also owned by CBS. Medhurst was asked to do Navy football, and clearly, there was no need to ask twice. For a kid from Southern High School, it was obviously a dream assignment, and he'd like to think it may also lead to more opportunities on a network that now reaches about 21 million households.
"I just want to do as many games as I can," Medhurst said. "I'm grateful they've given me this opportunity on a worldwide stage, when you think about it. There are Navy people all around the world, and it's a great feeling to know people are watching you. And for me to be doing this and still living in the area where I grew up, I'm really very lucky."
Medhurst also knows that he's dealing with a particularly special breed at the Naval Academy, where scholar-athletes are the norm, not the hope.
"I'm just so impressed by those kids," he said. "You get to know them over the four years they're there. There have been kids I've covered who have been killed in battle, and it just gives you goose bumps to think about it. They're here to serve the country, and their commitment to what they're doing is so special. I admire them so much. They're well-spoken, totally dedicated to what they do. Just very special kids."
Medhurst said he'd welcome the opportunity to do more sports work on Washington area radio, and he's also hoping CSTV eventually will add to his list of events.
"I'd really like to grow with them," he said. "I'm a very loyal person, and they've given me the first real opportunity to do this on a national level."
Is it possible CBS might be in his future, as well?
"I haven't really looked at it like it's going to be a feeder system or anything like that," he said. "One of my producers this year also works events for CBS, and I suppose you feel like if you do a good enough job, maybe he'll recommend you to the network. If that happens, great, but it's not my main focus. I just want to do the best job I possibly can, and everything will take care of itself."
Growing up in the Washington area, Medhurst said he was always a huge fan of Frank Herzog, the former long-time play-by-play voice for the Washington Redskins, as well as legendary University of Maryland broadcaster Johnny Holliday. He's always admired the style of another versatile veteran network broadcaster, Vern Lundquist, equally proficient whether he's doing figure skating, golf, basketball and a full schedule of NFL games for CBS.
"I met him back in the 1990s at an NCAA regional (basketball game)," Medhurst said. "When I listen to the way he does his job, you just appreciate how simple he keeps it and lets the action speak for itself. I remember when he was the voice of the Dallas Cowboys. He never tries to put himself ahead of the game, and I think that's the best compliment you can ever give someone in our business."
And the best gift? Clearly, a Panasonic tape recorder, presented at the age of six.
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Badgerlenhotmail.com or Badgerlen@aol.com