The last sportscast (for now?)

I am, I must say, opposed to Jay Wilson’s retirement from WISC-TV in Madison.

I’m opposed because I remember when WKOW-TV in Madison hired Wilson to do weekend sports. Then he left for WISN-TV in Milwaukee, and then he came back as WKOW’s sports director when I was a sports intern there, working mostly with Paul Rudy, now found in San Diego.

One of my highlights was when he sent me (and my then-girlfriend) to Green Bay to pick up videotape from the Packers–Chicago Bears game:

I also interviewed then-New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora and UW hockey players after their 1988 WCHA Final Four title (where I played for the UW Band).

I went into print instead of TV largely because I got my first job offer from a weekly newspaper instead of a radio or TV station. But working at 27 was an interesting experience, including answering the phone and hearing someone say “somebody’s going to blow up your fucking TV station” because the station chose to run informercials instead of Formula 1 racing that Sunday.

He has always presented himself as someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously and has fun doing what he’s doing, but is always informative and insightful. The first piece of advice in broadcasting is to “be yourself,” but if I were showing a college student how to be a TV sportscaster, I’d show him Jay Wilson video. The reason he was called the dean of Madison sportscasters was not just because of his longevity, but because his work was good enough for much larger markets.

My favorite work of his was in 1993, when Wisconsin needed Michigan to beat Ohio State to give the Badgers a chance at the Rose Bowl. All Wilson did was show highlights of the game with no narration, but the Michigan fight song, “The Victors,” which the Wolverines were that day. That came a few weeks after the Camp Randall Stampede, when the Badgers’ win over Michigan was concluded by students’ trying to rush the field and getting crushed against a nonmovable fence, resulting in 70 injuries. Wilson demonstarted that he could report news as well that day.

One perk of being WKOW’s sports director is getting to announce the state basketball tournaments on TV. That is one thing I’ve wanted to do and have never been able to do since I’m not on the air for one of  WKOW’s owner’s stations. (That, though, comes with its own challenges due to the WIAA, from what announcers have told me.) Wilson got to announce state games, and I was always impressed at how well he did on play-by-play for someone who didn’t do play-by-play on a regular basis. Most people get good at it only by seasons’ worth of games.

For a few years Jay and I would run into each other at the WIAA state football championships, where he called games for Fox Sports North. I have been privileged to announce a state game for four years in a row on the radio. (Including, this year, the game that had the first two replays in WIAA history.) Since WISC’s parent company also owns the stations where I broadcast, I guess that made us coworkers of a sort.

Wilson calls his departure a “resignation, not a retirement.” Let’s hope we see him on the air around us.

 

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