(Yes, another one.)
A few things have struck me while reading and listening to everything I could about Ken Beatrice in recent days; among them, how many of his biggest fans were just kids during his heyday, and how many of them later went on to media careers of their own.
I’ve always wanted to do a long piece on the absurd number of sports media members — both local and national — who grew up in the D.C. area. When I’ve talked to some of them about this in the past, they usually mention reading The Post’s legendary Sports section of the 1980s, and watching magnetic anchors on local television like Warner Wolf and Glenn Brenner and George Michael, and listening to groundbreaking radio hosts like Beatrice. (If I’m being honest, probably 75 percent of these people grew up in Montgomery County. I have no explanation for that one.)
I didn’t grow up here, but the Beatrice stories this week make it sound like he had something of a children’s army on his side, with pre-pubescent boys listening to his show while doing homework, and nervously jamming his phone lines, and calling him up in his office to chat. ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt added his own name to that roster this week, while reminiscing with Kevin Sheehan on ESPN 980.
“He called my house,” Van Pelt said, wonder still in his tone 30 years later. “Ken Beatrice after the show, I didn’t make it on, but he called me up. And it was the craziest thing. You picked up the phone and there’s this incredibly distinctive voice on the other end, and you just can’t believe that he would do that. There’s a lot to him, a lot of complicated this, that, and the other thing, but he was a giant. And it becomes real easy — because you and I both got into this business — to say we were inspired or whatever. I don’t think we ever dreamed we’d be this lucky, but anybody that does it and grew up in D.C. — just like Glenn Brenner influenced us, George Michael, Warner Wolf — he was A Guy, and an amazingly important guy to the sports talk landscape in the city. And so to acknowledge that only seems appropriate.”
Van Pelt’s memory was inspired by a similar one Sheehan discussed with my pal Matt Terl over at City Paper.
“As a kid listening to him, if you called in and you were on hold when the show ended, he would actually call you at your house when the show was over,” Sheehan said. “You’re sitting at the house after the show and the phone rings and it’s Ken Beatrice on the line saying, ‘Hey, Kev! Sorry you didn’t get on, but I just wanted to call.’ And he would sit there and talk to you forever.”
These are hardly isolated memories. Here are just a few of the messages I’ve seen in recent days, all from people who went on to media careers.
As a kid I once called Ken Beatrice in his office to ask how Austin Carr was suddenly on the Bullets. Chatted me up for like 45 minutes.
— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) December 6, 2015
Remember being on hold for 2 hrs, rehearsing question over&over. Ken, hearing I was a kid, was as kind as can be. https://t.co/uWOl9jlCdc
— Chris Chase (@ChrisChaseFTW) December 6, 2015
If Your A DC Sports Radio guy, we all wanted to be Ken Beatrice. 432-WMAL your next. #RIP Called him when I was 8, ate at Arby's too.
— Pete Medhurst (@PeteMedhurst) December 6, 2015
RIP to DC sports radio legend Ken Beatrice – night of ‘93 NBA Draft, I waited on hold for an hour to talk about the Bullets pick with him.
— Dan Shanoff (@danshanoff) December 6, 2015
I was 12 when I first called Ken Beatrice's show on WMAL. I was so nervous, I hung up without speaking. Dead air. https://t.co/oXxHRMzSA7
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) December 7, 2015
— Tom Roussey (@tomrousseyABC7) December 9, 2015
I used to listen to Ken in my bedroom as a kid.. Was fortunate to work with him on a few occasions. RIP https://t.co/BjIKMJkeKM
— Bram Weinstein (@RealBramW) December 6, 2015
RIP Ken Beatrice. One of the few people my dad and I could agree upon to listen to in the car. A super legend for me growing up. Respect.
— Clinton Yates (@clintonyates) December 6, 2015
Anyhow, after reading and listening to all of this, I happened to watch a video interview Beatrice did back in 2012, and wouldn’t you know it, the subject of his children’s army came up. He was asked whether he had a lot of kids who would call into his shows.
“I did, I did,” he said. “They’re people. They’re our future. When I’m old, they’re going to be running the country.”
Beatrice said that “everybody that was on the line, I talked to,” and said he always thought “that was my job.” And how did he deal with these kids?
“I dealt with them like I would deal with you,” Beatrice said. “Youngsters, they would be a little nervous doing that kind of thing, and I treated them as I would treat an adult: with respect. You’ve got a question: ask your question. …
“You know, what gets me is, some shows are based on being nasty to callers,” he said a few moments later. “That’s like if I invite you to my house for dinner. You show up with a bottle of wine under your arm, and I slam the door in your face. Next time I invite you to dinner, are you going to come? You’re certainly not going to bring any wine. And that’s all. Everybody deserves dignity and respect, even youngsters. And the more they’re treated that way, the more self confidence they’ll have, the harder they’ll work at what they end up doing.”
Which, if you look at the list of his admirers, seems to have happened.