They’re so familiar that, when you hear them, you know exactly what is happening. There are sports radio broadcast individuals or teams scattered all across the state. Dave South at Texas A&M. The legendary Frank Fallon at Baylor. Brian Jensen at Texas Tech, and Craig Way at Texas. Add to that list names like Brad Sham, who has done both baseball and football at the professional level in Dallas, along with Eric Nadel and the late Mark Holtz. Milo Hamilton was a fixture in the Houston Astros booth for years. They all are like an old friend that visits from time to time, and while the person is the same, the stories never are.
Radio broadcasters, unlike television, have a much tougher job, although, I’m assured these guys would tell you it’s anything but tough. Having to keep up with the flow of the game, coaching strategy, players moving in and out, injuries, and just the general feel of things without having a picture to cover for what otherwise might be a mediocre broadcast.
Charlie Chitwood and Brock Callaway have been the voices of Lion Football for a while now, and there wasn’t a better team in the old Lone Star Conference, and as our brethren in the Southland are about to find out what we as Lion fans have known all along. They’re simply the best at what they do.
Brock and Charlie are unabashed homers. You pick up very quickly who they’re pulling for. However, unlike other broadcast outlets (and I’m comparing this to the LSC), they’re realists. They make no apologies for what they might see as a Lion team struggling, or a questionable official’s call (and believe me, we’ve seen our share of those), they don’t assign blame, and they don’t make excuses. What you see is what you get. And what we get in Commerce is the best radio team out there.
We’ve done a few of these “Five Thoughts” interviews here at The Wire, and much to the dismay of Brian and I, we realized we’ve never tapped the wealth of stories that are in the archives of Brock and Charlie. Well, we’re going to remedy that today. Gentlemen……
What’s the worst setup you’ve ever had for a broadcast?
Charlie: If overall discomfort is the determining factor, then it would have to be the booth-within-a-booth in Kingsville. Prior to that, we were shoved in a corner with plywood wall to keep Brock caged in – WITHOUT a chair. I do remember a half-hearted “hey” from behind him when he grabbed one but nobody tried to take it away.
Runner-up is Thunder Bowl at CSU-Pueblo. It’s an odd space and our near constant connection woes pre-game made for frustrating trips. We ALWAYS had problems getting on the air in that house. Worst Ever goes to the third flight scaffolding we climbed to achieve our broadcast position at the 2002 Aztec Bowl in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. Wasn’t so bad at our level but then the o-lineman sized camera crew started climbing our wall up to the deck above us. Hold on!
Brock: This one is easy, and somewhere right now Charlie is laughing at this question because it’s the only time in over a decade together he’s seen me angry. Texas A&M-Kingsville. A few years ago, a hurricane tore the press box off of their home side, so everyone is packed onto one side. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am probably the most laid-back person you know, it takes a lot to get me upset. But I nearly lost my mind when they wanted us to stand up the entire 4 hours of broadcast and refused to let us use one of the chairs set up for the student helpers. We had what I will call a “discussion”, and let’s just say I got the chair. Then I proceeded back over to our “broadcast booth” which consisted of a tiny corner of their crowded media box that included a big piece of plywood leaned up against my shoulder as our “wall” and stared into the sun in 104 degrees with no air conditioner. I better stop answering this one, it’s making me mad again. I remember Charlie wanting a photo immediately after to document the moment.
Other than the National Championship game, what was the most exciting game you’ve ever done? the strangest one?
Central Washington, on the way to the Natty, by far the most exciting game we’ve called. Loads of drama, big 2nd-half rally to tie it in closing seconds, then win in OT. Only game I called like it before was 2003 ETBU Tigers’ win in OT at Mary Hardin-Baylor. End zone pick vaulted Tigers to first and only D-III playoff appearance. It is STILL Tigers’ only win in program history versus Crusaders.
Strangest game? The two-day tussle with Midwestern that started Saturday in Wichita Falls and finished in an odd, near-vacant Apogee Stadium at UNT. Pretty fitting the game was decided by a missed field goal – thankfully, Maskill’s guys came up that one play short. What amazing games we had against those Mustangs.
Most exciting game was definitely at Central Washington during the 2017 playoffs. One thing no one really knows about this game is just how injured Luis Perez was. Luis hurt his knee really bad the prior week in Minnesota in a game he looked surprisingly mobile in until his last carry when he got up a little slow. Coach Carthel came over to Charlie and I before the Central Washington game and said “I don’t know if Luis is going to be able to play today. His knee is hanging on by a string”. By halftime we were down 28-7 and it really wasn’t even that close. Luis struggled big time, with 4 INT’s but he just kept battling through it somehow. We couldn’t talk about the injury on the air or explain why he was struggling so much and that was really frustrating because that second half is why he’s the best to ever play in Commerce. Lions obviously come roaring back and tie it up with seconds to play, and Kristov Martinez kicks a field goal in double OT and the rest is history. Not to mention that Charlie’s presentation of the final moments of that game are still the best I’ve ever heard. We still had two more wins before we won that National Championship, but I think we all knew behind the scenes that after that game, it just felt like it was going to happen no matter what.
Strangest game has to be the 2018 game against Midwestern State. We started the game on Saturday, and due to weather had to pause it tied 10-10 with 5 minutes to go in the first half. We stayed in the box for hours trying to get the game back up and running. We obviously couldn’t say it on the air at the time, but behind the scenes Midwestern was trying to do everything they could to cancel this game. We left the stadium and went back to our hotel thinking it was over and would end in a tie. From 10 pm until about 2 am, Charlie and I started getting texts from different people saying the game would pick up on Sunday, then it wouldn’t, then they said they were trying to move it somewhere else, then finally in the middle of the night they found a stadium they could play at……UNT. So, we woke up early Sunday morning and drove from Wichita Falls back to Denton, hooked up all of our equipment and tried to remember what happened during the game the night before so we’d be prepared to re-start the broadcast from midway through the 2nd quarter, in a different location and stadium. The Lions looked like they were going to lose the game until a missed 30-yard field goal in the waning moments gave the Lions the strangest win I’ve ever been a part of.
Honorable mention – vs Southwestern Oklahoma in 2010
Believe it or not that Midwestern game wasn’t the only one that I’ve been a part of that took 2 days to finish. Back in 2010 the same thing happened in Commerce for Homecoming against SWOK. That game started at 4 pm on Saturday, and had nonstop weather delays the entire day until close to 11 pm or so if I remember right. So, they ended up picking the game up where it left off the following day, and the weather was still awful. On Sunday, it took most of that day to finish the game due to repeated weather delays. If I remember right, my former partner JP Heath and myself sat in the broadcast booth for nearly 20 hours over those 2 days trying to finish that game, which included a massive hailstorm and a moment I’ll never forget, seeing the entire field covered in hail, while “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” played over the in-stadium speakers in the middle of October.
There have been rumors of you two riding off into the proverbial sunset. What drew you back?
Charlie: Going D-I. Brock staying in co-pilot’s chair. Such fresh horizons. We’ll see some of our old friends from LSC days near and far too. Unending buffets of Cajun and Creole cooking. Beignets. Shorter trips. Eventually, the opportunity to qualify for FCS football post-season and WBB/MBB Tournaments and NCAA Championships. Four years will pass quickly, just not quickly enough for fans.
For the last few years, the travel has really taken a toll on me. For probably 5 years now, at the end of every season I tell my wife Schauna that I’m done, I just get so worn out from the travel. I work a stressful job all week, we have 4 kids, life is crazy busy through the week and the travel to the same uninteresting places over and over every year was getting old. I’d work all week, leave my office Friday afternoon and go to the airport, fly wherever, do the game saturday, wake up Sunday and fly back home only to wake up Monday morning and do it all over again. And as the Lions became more successful, what used to be 10 game seasons that ended in early November became 15 game seasons that ended the week before Christmas, and the last month and a half of playoff football had us travelling all over the country. We had already been to the mountaintop in 2017 and pretty much experienced everything there was to experience. I just kept trying to find something that made it all worth it and was coming up empty.
Then D1 happened. Literally a couple of weeks after we told KETR that we would be done after this season, we started hearing whispers about us moving up to D1. Instead of travelling to Portales, NM, Silver City, NM, Wichita Falls, San Angelo, Amarillo, etc, now we will be going to Nashville, New Orleans multiple times a year, San Antonio, Houston, etc. So the locales have all changed and drastically improved, and the travel will also be much easier than it was in the LSC. Many of those LSC locations are long flights with long drives after that. In the Southland, everything is much closer to larger, interesting areas that we can fly into easily. I’m also fascinated in the transition to D1. We’ve been so close to everything for so long now and seen such drastic improvements across the board in Lion athletics, seeing the D1 transition from the inside is going to be awesome.
Not to mention Charlie and I LOVE finding good food on our trips. New Orleans, the Riverwalk, Nashville….are you kidding me?! Charlie introduced me to the world of beignets a couple years ago and I haven’t been the same since. Between that and the cajun food, New Orleans is in trouble.
What is the biggest challenge the Lions face this season, outside of the move to Division 1?
Building depth. And not just with numbers. Colby was three years in building the kind of team needed to win in D2’s rugged Super Region IV (remember his famous “asses and ankles” story). David Bailiff is right back in his depth at D-I and eager to throw higher-grade fuel onto an already hot flame.
I think the biggest challenge will be transition in the roster. And I don’t mean finding talent, they’ve obviously done a great job at that. I can’t imagine the amount of work Coach Baliff and his staff are having to put into the complexities of shifting a roster from D2 talent to D1 talent. Because of the change I’m sure there is a TON of turnover, which causes a lot of headaches in a lot of different areas for different reasons. No one likes change, and being in the middle of a change this big has to be really, really difficult. But I don’t have any doubts that they will pull it off. Our coaches are great at what they do and have been working their tails off making it happen. It’ll be exciting to see how it all shakes out.
If that’s the macro view of things, I think the micro challenge is at quarterback. Leadership throughout change is vital, and I think whoever ends up winning the QB battle with have a big job on their hands to steady the ship and move things forward off the field as much as on the field. I’ve heard really good things about the players they’ve brought in as well as the guys that remained from last season that we know.
Which Lion coaches, past or present, would you like to take a recruiting road trip with?
Charlie: So, if we’re in a six-passenger van, or maybe even in Hulsey’s Battle Wagon, I think my football posse would be The Hawk, Colby Carthel, David Bailiff, Eddie Vowel, M.A. Smith (30-2-1 in 3 seasons, featuring Marvelous Marvin Brown) and Bob Berry (coached Lions before AND after WWII). Strict time limits enforced so everyone gets a chance to talk by the time we stop in Big Spring.
Brock: Coach Carthel and Coach Bailiff are both fantastic recruiters and I couldn’t pick one over the other, so I’ll take the easy route and pick an assistant. I have always been a big fan of Justin Deason, who was Defensive Coordinator for Coach Carthel. I remember talking to Colby at a Lions basketball game when he was putting his staff together and him being so excited about getting Justin from ECU. At the time, ECU had kind of come out of nowhere and had some studs on defense, and I remembered thinking if he could do that in Ada, OK, he would be even better in Commerce, in such a hotbed of high school talent in East Texas and DFW. And boy did he. Charlie and I used to talk to Justin a LOT back in the day, he would take his pre-game naps in the floor of our broadcast booth, and we’d wake him up when we got there and start talking ball. By the time we were done talking every single time, he’d have us convinced they were on the verge of winning the national championship, and he was right. I’m also a big fan of what he “sells” to recruits to get them to come, with the obvious football aspects but he was also a huge believer in building the team into a family based on Love. About half of his tweets are finished with his “lovealwayswins” hashtag. He’s a great guy, someone I’d love for my boys to play for. He’s an easy sell to parents on a recruiting trip.
BONUS: Best Lion athlete you’ve ever seen, regardless of sport?
Charlie: Dominique Ramsey. Most dangerous man on the football field if the ball gets in the air. He’s got that Natty ring, as do most of the other guys under consideration for that honor. But “Best Lion Athlete” has to go to Florian Obst, the Men’s 2018 Outdoor Decathlon and Indoor Hepthlon. He was a head-turner his last year, a rare does-it-all extremely well, especially the javelin.
Brock: If we are talking pure athleticism, my man Dominque Ramsey. I was the unapologetic president of the Ramsey Fan Club for years. Every time the defense would need a big play, he had one waiting. And don’t get me started on his punt returns. He looked like a video game. By the time his senior year had rolled around, he became one of those players where you could tell the other team was terrified of him having the ball. They looked tentative approaching him to make a tackle because they had seen years of film of him absolutely abusing people with moves, they had never seen before. I’m going to miss him this year.
Like their broadcasts, Brock and Charlie, pack a lot of information and humor into a very small window. Thank you, gentlemen. See you September 1st.
Personal Note: Brock and Charlie were among our earliest supporters here at The Wire, and always had time for advice, suggestions, and some good information. Thanks, are never enough- Russell