This September, WEIS Radio will be celebrating its 60th year of broadcasting. It will also be the station’s 38th year of broadcasting football games.
As part of the station’s diamond anniversary celebration, Sports Director Shannon Fagan will have a series of Q&A features on some of the personalities who have called or been behind the scenes of sporting events around the station’s coverage area in years past.
This week’s installment of “Behind the Mic” is former Sand Rock football coach Russell Jacoway.
Q: How special is it for you to have been a part of WEIS’s 60-year broadcast history?
A: “I go way back. I can remember sitting at the old station with Coach (Roy) Knapp doing a roundtable on Saturday mornings. Jerry would bring us all sausage and biscuits, and we would sit in there and discuss games from the Friday night before. That was really my beginnings of dealing with WEIS Radio.”
Q: What’s it been like for you to work with someone as innovative as Jerry Baker?
A: “For us to be a small, rural county, I think the coverage our athletic programs have gotten is on par with a lot of bigger counties – on par with Etowah and those kind of counties – because of the interest he’s had in local sports. Like with us having The End Zone Show on Thursday nights, we sit and talk about our local athletes, our local programs, and the buildup of what game was going to be the WEIS game of the week on Friday night. In caring enough about local athletics and athletics in general, he brought you (Shannon Fagan) in to a small radio station to be a sports guy. How many radio stations are going to do that? Not a lot of them. That’s a credit to Jerry and your expertise also.
“I’ll say this about Jerry also. Way back in that day, before the days of cell phones and everybody had weather radar, we’d be getting ready for a ball game and there would be storms coming up on Friday afternoon. I would be calling Jerry. At that time, he was about the only one who had access to radar. I’d ask him ‘Hey is the storm going to hit here?’ Jerry was always real good about helping us out that way.”
Q: You’ve been part of a coaches show with WEIS in the past. How did that come about? Who were some of the guys you worked with?
A: “I think that was Jerry wanting to step things up and cover athletics in this county. I think that was the beginning. WEIS covered the state championship game we played in all the way in South Alabama (at Repton) that year (1985). They’ve made a lot of long trips through the years, even some since I’ve been involved with WEIS to cover ball games. That was a neat deal. I can still remember sitting in there and on the radio, the first guy who predicted we would win the state championship that year was (former Cherokee County High School coach) Bobby Joe Johnson. We were sitting there on a Saturday morning, on the radio, and we were playing West End in game 10. They were a very good 2A school. He said ‘I’m going to tell you right now. If Sand Rock beats West End, they’ll win the 1A state championship.’ We beat West End and of course went on to win the state championship. Coach Johnson reminded me of that several times. He said ‘I predicted you to win it.’
“Those guys were neat back in the day. Coach Johnson and Coach (Roy) Knapp, who had been the coach at Sand Rock, I talked to those guys a lot off the air. I was a young coach. We were winning a lot of games, but I was still wanting to learn. I got a lot things from Coach Knapp just about coaching, not necessarily the Xs and Os. I got a lot of run game stuff from Coach Johnson. Me and him would sit down and have pure coaching clinics sometimes. He’d say ‘Draw up some of those pass routes.’ I said ‘Coach, I’ll draw them up, but you won’t ever run them.’ I got a lot more from him than he ever got from me.
“I walked in with a good mood every Saturday morning (in 1985). We went 15-0 that year. You had some who were not having great seasons who sucked it up and come on in anyway. There were a lot of different moods in here on Saturday mornings when we were discussing our ball games. Jimmy Mitchell, the best I can remember, was the coach at Spring Garden at that time. David Bedwell was at Gaylesville. Danny Brown was at Cedar Bluff. We were all good friends. It was fun on Saturday mornings. That was back in the days before the online Huddle film swap. It was almost like a stress relief in the morning. You could just sit down with the other coaches and Coach Knapp would start asking about your game from the night before.”
Q: Since you retired from coaching, you’ve been part of The End Zone Show crew. How fun has that been for you?
A: “I still work in the school system and I get to talk to coaches during the week. Sometimes I’ll come on and have some things that I’ve talked to the coaches during the week, and sometimes I’ll talk to some coaches that have some things I can’t talk about on the air. They know when they tell me something, if it’s not supposed to be made public, I’m not going to make it public. It’s a little stress relief for me on Thursday nights. I just enjoy talking with you, Scott (Wright) and everybody we’ve had. We just sit and talk ball on Thursday night. I don’t have a game to worry about on Friday nights now. I can relax. I just really enjoy sitting and talking. You’re the ones who do the research. I just fly in here on the seat of my pants. I don’t know who gained 500 yards the week before. It’s just really enjoyable sitting and talking. When I get out in the schools then next week, I have a lot of teachers and people say ‘I listen to your show on Thursday night.’ We know there are people listening to us.”
Q: WEIS has had all sorts of personalities with its sports programming. What’s it been like for you to work with some of those personalities?
A: “They’re all a little bit different. When I started, Shane McElwee was doing the show. I knew of Shane from the radio and I knew of his playing career at Spring Garden. I didn’t really know him. Then Nolen came in, and we’re having another change this year. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the guys. From that, we end up texting each other on Saturdays when we’re watching ball games. That keeps growing because Shane, when he left the show, he’s didn’t leave the group texts. When Logan (Maddox) left, the first thing he said was ‘Keep me in the group texts’, and we will. We may come back the next week and talk about what our observations the week before that we discussed on Saturday texting each other back and forth.”
Q: Is there some similarities between coaching and broadcasting?
A: “A little bit I guess in that what you deliver has to appeal to people. Nowadays in coaching, what you say needs to appeal to those kids or they’re not going to play. Back in the old days, sometimes when I told them something to do, I didn’t have to justify it. Why are we doing this? Because I said so. With kids now, it’s a little bit different. They’re smarter. They watch stuff and you have to give them more reasons. It’s the same thing now with my job with the school system. When I talk to a teacher and say we need to do this, I have to make them understand why. It’s the same thing with the radio station. What we say needs to appeal to people. It needs to be information they want to hear. I think that’s a big thing. If we don’t watch ourselves, sometimes we get to talking on air what we want to talk about. I think in a way that’s the folksy appeal of the show. I get that a lot. I get people saying ‘I just enjoy listening to ya’ll talk football. I know most of the coaches tune in. I get comments from coaches. I think for them it’s a little bit of relaxation the night before a game. It kind of adds to the buildup. I know I keep (Piedmont coach) Steve Smith motivated all the time, because I always declare Piedmont the state champion game one.”
Q: How excited are you to begin this football season?
A: “I was already excited, but after we had our get-together with everybody (at Easy Street in Centre on Wednesday), that really got the blood flowing. I think it’s a great lineup. Jerry has put some time into that during the offseason. I think it’s going to be a great lineup of people, little tweaks here and there. That’s a big thing with WEIS radio. It has never stayed exactly the same from year to year. There’s always been a little tweak here and a little tweak there to try and expand the broadcast. I think that’s been a big thing with the history of the sports coverage at WEIS. It gets tweaked a little bit every year. It evolves.
“I’m sitting here (in Fagan’s office) looking at that (WEIS College Pick’em Champion) trophy and that’s mine (this year).”