I’m not alone. There are thousands like me in the Washington area. We listen to ESPN 980, 106.7 The Fan, or, probably in most cases, both.
But whether we’re fans of Andy Pollin, Steve Czaban, Chad Dukes or the Sports Junkies, we all started with the same person – Ken Beatrice on WMAL 630.
For sports fans of the late 1970s and into the ’80s, Ken — who died Sunday — was all there was. There was no 24-hour sports talk radio. No Internet. No Twitter. He was just about the only place to get information and analysis outside of the morning newspaper and the three editions of “SportsCenter” on ESPN.
Before even WFAN in New York, there was Beatrice, who had done his show in Boston before joining WMAL. Before the intricate postgame analysis and player grades we get today, there was Beatrice. Before the meticulous college football scouting before the NFL draft by the likes of Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, there was Beatrice.
It didn’t take long to realize that Beatrice’s show would be appointment listening. Who could possibly know this much? Who could possibly show so much concern for his listeners that he would a) talk to all who were on hold after the show reached its end time and b) give out his daytime office number and, unless he was up against going on the air for a sportscast, would cheerfully take your call and answer your questions? I called and it made me feel like he cared about my questions.
You know, if I go through my storage boxes, I can probably find that promotional Arby’s coffee mug they sold with Beatrice’s studio and office phone numbers on it. Yup, still have it.
And speaking of Arby’s, Beatrice is remembered as much for his off-script commercials for the roast beef restaurants owned by Bernie Streeter. Ken liked the Beef ‘n Cheddar sandwich — beef, cheese and BBQ sauce on an onion roll — and his once-a-month Jamocha shake. And he told you so. Being one who watched what he ate, he also said he avoided fried foods, which meant no curly fries from Arby’s. His line was “I don’t like french fries, I don’t eat french fries. I’m told they’re very good.”
My best Ken Beatrice memory is one that’s probably unique. I had taken a couple of days off to go to Redskins training camp in Carlisle, Pa. After going to the well-known Gingerbread Man for dinner and before heading to my hotel, I came back to the Dickinson campus. I walked by the players’ dorm and saw Beatrice in the lobby setting up a small desk with his radio equipment to do his two-hour “SportsCall” show. There was no one else there. No technical assistant, no producer, just Beatrice.
I stopped in for an introduction and a handshake but he was rushed to get on the air at 7. He said the show needed his full attention but, if I wanted to come back at 9, he’d take some time to talk. I had nothing to do, so I sat on a bench and watched him do his whole show. And you know what? I didn’t even mind that I couldn’t hear the callers’ end of the conversations. And, I can vouch for the fact he had little-to-no information at the ready, for all of those who insisted he had index cards or a computer of some sort to help him.
I was a D.C. sports fan growing up in a time when we lost a baseball team for the second time, gained basketball and hockey teams and saw the football team take its first steps into a 20-year run that included five Super Bowl trips and three championships. Beatrice was there to help nurture my appreciation for all sports and the players that play them, which, no doubt, influenced my decision to pursue some sort of sports journalism as my career path.
Many have come and gone in the D.C. sports talk arena since but none have quite measured up to Ken Beatrice.
Steve Repsher is a lifelong resident of Prince George’s County. He has contributed to local sports and news coverage since 1985 for The Prince George’s Journal, The Washington Times and The Maryland Independent.