The last days when radio was king

These days, we sports fans are spoiled rotten brats. I remember this past football season, when it was announced that the Arizona State game wasn't going to be televised. The howls of protest and anguish expressed on the radio and message boards were loud and legion.

I know that I was whining a bit myself. For a Pac-10 game of some significance like this, it struck many fans as almost demeaning that the powers that be would relegate us to hovering around a radio. The idea of having to find out how our beloved Dawgs were faring in the desert in such a manner, struck us as awkward.

At the time, it sent my mind jettisoning back twenty years, to when Washington had a team that was 8-1 and had been ranked #1 in the nation for seven weeks earlier that season. The Huskies traveled into Tempe to face the Arizona State Sun Devils, who were 9-0 and ranked #3 in the polls. This was to be one of the great powerhouse confrontations in Husky football history. And would you like to know something?

It wasn't televised. Well, it was, sort of, but more on that later.

These days, if situations like this occurred, the outcry would be nothing short of primal purple anguish. Husky fans would perhaps resort to marching onto I-5 and block traffic for miles in order to be heard. Or perhaps a cross would be burned on the front lawn of Fox Sports Northwest in Eastgate. Or perhaps enraged season ticket holders would storm the offices of KOMO TV, which the same ferocity as was the Bastille during the French Revolution.

Let's not go there. The guillotine was an ugly thing, folks.

Twenty years ago, there was a whole different climate and expectation for following football games, especially road games. Looking back, it did create fantastic memories in a different way. For when a game is being played out upon the radio, it calls upon the imagination to be used. You must paint the picture, with the help of the radio play-by-play description. It is a whole different experience to be sitting with your Dad listening to a game on the radio, as opposed to being at the stadium or flopped in front of the TV.

There really is nothing else like it.

When I was a kid, all Husky football games wracked me with tension, but it seemed like those radio broadcasts were even more excruciating, at least while being played out in the theatre of my over-active imagination. The enemy seemed bigger and faster, the opposing stadiums seemed more expansive and intimidating.

It can be likened to that dining room scene from the end of Godfather II, when Michael Corleone had just announced that he had enlisted in the military and his brother Sonny was subsequently furious at him. It was the Godfather's birthday, and amid all the tension, the family hears Don Corleone entering the house, and they all rush around the corner to the front door to greet him. The camera meanwhile stays with Michael, who remains seated at the table and brooding. The surprise birthday greeting therefore is only audible to us, not visible. From the foyer in the other room, we hear the large front door open, and an explosive chorus of "Happy Birthday!" sounds out. By not seeing the Godfather, it forced us viewers to imagine what the scene was like and how Don Corleone must be reacting. The way this scene was done created a sense of the Godfather's presence as being larger than life and almost mythic. It was much more potent an effect this way, as opposed to having the whole thing played out before our eyes.

For me at least, it was the same thing with some of those Husky football radio broadcasts.

So now back to that 1982 Washington-Arizona State game that was one for the ages.

Closed circuit TV was set up in Hec Edmundson Pavilion so those that paid their money could see the game on a giant screen in the north end. The band was there as well, playing during timeouts.

Hec-Ed filled up so quickly that they set up an extra screen inside Husky Stadium on the south sidelines, where an additional 3,000 fans sat in the November darkness to watch history unfold. They went nuts when the band came roaring out of the tunnel unannounced and surprised them with a private concert at halftime. It was surreal as the band played "Tequila!" for their final number before marching back up the tunnel to return to Hec-Ed for the second half.

My Dad and I weren't there, but rather were at home.

The image and sentiment of that game is still seared into my mind's eye and nervous system. We were in his den, my Dad seated at his desk, but with the chair turned to face the center of the room. I recall the odor of pipe smoke wafting in the air. I was opposite him, seated anxiously upon the edge of the couch; my sweaty hands clenched together or furiously clapping with each play description emanating forth from the radio.

Bob Rondeau was giving the play-by-play like only he can. Radio gave that game a whole different dimension.

- To hear the roar of the Sun Devil crowd; to be told that the fans were handed roses at the beginning of the game
- To be acutely aware that ASU hadn't lost once all year
- To hear Rondeau's screaming voice when Aaron Williams made the gravity-defying one-handed touchdown catch
- To high five my Dad after another Mark Stewart quarterback sack.
- And to finally exalt when the final seconds were counting down and the game was ours.

The Johnson house was a happy place to be that Saturday. Washington had held on and won that game 17-13. Those 3,000 fans that were ushered into Husky Stadium promptly tore down the goal posts. With the rest of Husky Stadium dark and deserted, what a sight that must have been!

Down in Tempe, Husky QB Tim Cowan was one of the remaining players in the locker room, and Don James congratulated him on a job well done.

Of course, the following week the Huskies promptly lost to the 2-7-1 Cougars, but let's gloss over that, shall we?
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories