KLAC Celebrates 30 Years of Lakers Basketball
KLAC Celebrates 30 Years of Lakers Basketball
by Chris Brewster
Time flies when you’re having fun. The upcoming 2006-2007 NBA season marks the 30th anniversary of AM 570 KLAC as the flagship station for your Los Angeles Lakers. For 30 years, Laker games have been brought to you live over the KLAC airwaves. That’s 1,560 weeks or 10,950 days. By any account that’s a long time, but in broadcasting it’s almost unheard of, and in Hollywood, it’s an eternity. The scientific community has long endorsed that all Hollywood marriages be calculated in “dog years” (one year equals seven). Therefore, the upcoming 2006-2007 season actually marks the 210 year anniversary between the Lakers and KLAC. Regardless of whether time is measured in scientific or layman terms, a heck of a lot has changed since 1976.
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Thirty years ago bell-bottoms were not a “retro” look, Tiger Woods would have meant a very scary forest and Fifty Cent was the price of a gallon of gas, not a rap superstar. Barry Manilow topped the charts, a Coke was a quarter and there was no Poet Laureate of the United States. Jack Tripper was just about to introduce the world to the Regal Beagle and the world anxiously awaited Potsie to “sit on it”. The L.A. Lakers had just recently acquired a center from the Milwaukee Bucks named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and AM 570 KLAC was a top country music station.
Changing from a top country music station to a top sports talk station didn’t happen overnight for AM 570 KLAC. In 1993, after 23 years of being a beacon for country music fans in L.A., KLAC switched its format to Big Band. The Big Band format eventually gave way to talk radio which, thanks in large part to such popular sports personalities as Jim Rome, Steve Hartman, Mychal Thompson, Matt “Money” Smith, Wayne Cook, Joe Grande, Joe McDonnell, Fred Roggin, T.J. Simers and local icon, Vic “the Brick” Jacobs, evolved into L.A’s best sports radio station. Regardless of era, regardless of Conway Twitty or Big Bad Voo Doo Daddy or Phil Hendrie, there was always one common dominator on AM 570 KLAC…the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers, too, have come a long way baby. In 1979, a real estate mogul named Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the Lakers for $68 million. Little did Laker fans know that Dr. Buss would become one of the most successful owners in the history of all team sports. That same year, a fortunate flip of the coin would change the Lakers and the NBA forever. The winner of a coin toss would get the first pick in that year’s draft. The coin was tossed in New York, with Lakers and Bulls officials listening in on a conference call. Chicago’s then-general manager Rod Thorn called heads. When it came up tails, Hearn, who at the time was also the Lakers assistant general manager, quipped “That’s the first thing we’ve won in a week.” That toss of fate brought Earvin “Magic” Johnson to the Lakers (we’ll address Magic’s rookie game 6 performance in a few paragraphs). A year after that, a surprised assistant coach named Pat Riley was promoted to coach after Paul Westhead was fired 11 games into the season. “Riles” was the final piece of the “Showtime Lakers” that would define 80s basketball and Laker fans’ standards for years to come.
The ‘92-‘95 Laker teams were somewhat like a drunken sniper; they were largely hit or miss. But in 1996, just like twenty years before, the NBA’s best big man headed west as the Lakers signed Shaquille O’Neal to be the future of the franchise. The same year,
General Manager Jerry West stopped a workout after 10 minutes when then 17 year old Kobe Bryant destroyed a NBA veteran free agent. The Lakers would acquire Bryant in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets for Vlade Divac. A few years later legendary coach Phil Jackson would be brought in to captain the Lakers ship and the pieces for the Three-peat were put into place.
Recent years saw the Lakers experience more drama than a Julliard rehearsal space. When the dust finally settled, only two legends remained…Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson.
For the first 25 years on AM 570 KLAC, Laker fans were treated to the extraordinary, timeless commentary of Hall-of-Famer Chick Hearn. When Chick passed away in 2002, the entire Laker nation mourned. Chick was one of the most beloved people to ever be associated with the purple and gold, and his unique style transcended his radio/television broadcasts. Standard phrases like “air ball,” no harm, no foul” and “slam dunk” were just a few of the many coined by the famed broadcaster. Chick coined more than the U.S. mint.
“The best part about this job was the opportunity to work with Chick Hearn,” AM 570 KLAC Laker radio producer Sheron Bellio told me. “He was the original.” Today Laker broadcasts have been placed in the very capable hands of Spero Dedes and former Laker standout, Mychal Thompson. They’re insightful, candid and a charismatic duo that both look very good in suits.
But as diehard Laker fan Chris Schlerf put it, “I love listening to the Laker games, Spero and M.T. are all over it but…Chick…Chick was the bomb.” Touché’, profoundly put, Chick Hearn was the bomb.
Thanks for the Memories
You don’t win 8 World Championships, 13 Conference Championships and 14 Division Titles without leaving an impression. For many Laker fans their most indelible memory was Magic Johnson’s 42 point, 15 rebound, 7 assist outburst playing at center for an injured Kareem in Game 6 of the 1980 Championship series his rookie year. That’s just sick. I couldn’t do that if I were playing on my 9 year old nephew’s recreation league team.
For other Laker fans it was finally beating the dreaded Celtics in the 1985 Championship at the Boston Garden, no less. That was awesome. I remember watching my best friend cry as I danced around the room laughing at him. Ah yes, my first delicious taste of schadenfreude. Other Laker fans told me winning back-to-back Championships under Pat Riley was their favorite memory. That’s not really a single memory, but I get their point.
Others said watching Kareem’s final home game meant the most. Many expressed watching the Lakers return to glory with Shaq and Kobe and Phil in winning their first championship together in 2000. That was a lot of fun. The Celtics went 35-47 that year. The only thing that could have made that year better is if the IRS lost my tax return (which they didn’t, forcing me to give plasma for six months to raise the money I owed).
Lots of fans said the third Lakers title in a row in 2002 was the sweetest because of 9-11. This is my personal favorite, as well. Three in a row, along with Robert Horry’s unbelievable last second shot to beat the Kings, showcased everything that’s great about the ol’ U.S. of A.
Still other fans said that Kobe’s 81 point barrage against the Toronto Raptors last season was their favorite. I can see that, too. 81 is a lot of points. It’s higher than the collective IQ of the entire Sacramento King fan-base.
Lean On Me
Los Angeles is world renowned for its sunny days, swimming pools and movie stars (we personify the postcard that reads, “Weather is here, Wish you were beautiful”). The only people wearing gloves in L.A. are plastic surgeons. If you see white flakes falling to the ground, you’ve got dandruff. But in the great cosmic yin and yang of things, that’s the price we pay for being beautiful. Earthquakes, mudslides, wild fires, road rage, riots, traffic and telemarketers are just a handful of the traumas that come with living in L.A.
On January 17th, 1994 when the Northridge Earthquake crippled L.A., Laker games brought some sense of calm and normalcy to many. As Bethany Brown put it, “I didn’t’ have cable, my work was closed, everybody was completely on edge…it was awful. But I remember the night after the earthquake my roommate was listening to the Laker game on the radio and it just made me feel normal again, even if it was only for a little while.”
But nothing over the last thirty years would even come close to September 11th, 2001. With an entire nation still recovering from the devastating effects, the Lakers brought joy to their fans by winning their third straight NBA Championship in dominating fashion and any reason to cheer was a valuable commodity. My best friend since we were five years old is a die-hard Celtic fan and he even rooted for the Kobe/Shaq/Phil machine to roll over the New Jersey Nets. I told him that was more indicative of how “bandwagon” the Celtic fans are, but who could blame him? If I were a Boston fan I’d be scouring Craiglists all across the country for the nearest and cheapest bandwagon to jump on.
Your L.A. Lakers
For the last 30 years AM 570 KLAC has brought the Los Angeles Lakers into our homes, our offices, our cars, our underground bunkers…well, anywhere airwaves can actually travel in L.A. They’ve been like a favorite neighborhood restaurant serving the country’s best dish whenever Laker fans care to order. And even though Los Angeles has changed dramatically since 1976, Laker fans can smile as they reflect upon the past and look forward to what the next thirty years hold in store. With Dr. Buss, Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant in the fold, Laker fans are in good hands. The Celtics have Danny Ainge and Paul Pierce. I get to discuss this with my best friend today over 9 holes of golf as soon as I can get off the phone with this telemarketer.
Time sure flies when you’re having fun.
Log onto am570radio.com – For your chance to win “30 years of prizes” including tickets to an upcoming Lakers game.
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