Sunday, July 18, 1999

SPORTS ON TV-RADIO


Popovich celebrates 20 years at Channel 9

BY JOHN FAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Today is John Popovich's 20th anniversary at Channel 9. Twenty TV years is the equivalent to 40 human years. When Popovich came to WCPO from Davenport, Iowa, in 1979, he had no idea Cincinnati would become home.

        “There was a lot of turnover at 9 in those days,” he said. “A lot of people would get mad at (Al) Schottelkotte. It was hard to get on the air. I thought this was another stop.”

        But Popovich stayed. He was the third guy for two years behind Tim Melton and Jack Moran. Popovich became sports director when Melton left in 1980.

        He started Sports of All Sorts, then a 15-minute magazine show, that same year.

        Popovich kept the sports director title when Dennis Jansen came over to Channel 9 from 12 as the main anchor 15 years ago.

        Popovich ended up at Channel 9 by happenstance. A friend from Ohio University, Chuck Underwood, had expected the job. But before he started, he was offered the play-by-play job with Ohio State. Underwood suggested Popovich, who was from Youngstown. Popovich sent a tape and soon had the job.

        About the only thing that hasn't changed in Popovich's tenure is the set of Sports of All Sorts.

        “I think the biggest thing is there weren't all the national shows in those days,” Popovich said. “We had to show more national highlights. Now with ESPN and CNN, we have to concentrate much more on the local stories.”

        That plays right into Popovich's hands. He is an excellent writer and story teller. His feature stories are consistently among the best on local TV, sports or news.

        “John is great at doing those small stories and finding a nugget that no one else sees,” Jansen said. “He really has a gift for that.”

        Technology has changed things, too.

        Popovich, 48, remembers covering the 1981 baseball strike from New York. His reports were made by phone to Schottelkotte. Popovich never appeared on the air.

        “With satellites now, we can go live from almost anywhere,” he said.

        The arrangement that Channel 9 has — with Popovich the sports director and Jansen the main anchor — is unique in this market. But it works.

        “It does,” Jansen said. “Because John is very organized and he's very secure in what he does. John does a lot of thing well, but the one thing he doesn't do well is blow his own horn. He does less self-promotion than anyone in this business.”

        Popovich likes the setup too.

        “I'm in there at 9:30 or 10 every morning, planning the day,” Popovich said. “That means Denny can come in at 3 o'clock and not worry about dealing with the photographers and things like that. That lets him concentrate on writing. I leave at 7 and I know Denny is still there if anything happens.”

        Channel 9 probably has the best sports setup of any station in town, because it has two full-time sports videographers. That assures the station of plenty of highlights to fill its sports reports each night.

        “The two photographers really helps,” he said. “And now all the games are on TV somewhere, so we can pick up highlights off the satellite. We used to have someone rush down there in the eighth inning. A lot of times nothing would happen. We were showing groundouts.”

        Many stations, not just 9, have de-emphasized sports. WCPO, for instance, no longer runs Popovich's features during the 5:30p.m. news. Popovich doesn't like the trend.

        “But I'm as busy as ever,” he said. “We put a lot of those features in at 6:20. The difference is they run a minute, 15 (seconds) instead of two minutes.”

        So Popovich won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

        “I never felt like an outsider,” he said. “But this is home now.”

       



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