Sports writing much safer than rock and roll or spinning records
Before morphing into the Old Sports Dude, or even a relatively young one, I was Steve Saxon.
That, of course, begs for an explanation.
While sports journalism has been a part of my life since a couple of weeks after my 17th birthday, there was a time or two when I dabbled in other areas. When it was obvious that playing professional baseball wasn’t in the cards for me — basically because I couldn’t hit a fastball, curveball or slider and you can’t spend your entire career looking for the changeup — I toyed with the idea of being a rock and roll star.
I even had my name picked out — Cooper West. My plans were to be lead singer as well as play lead guitar in the style of the Steve Miller Band, Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc. The truth be known I played air guitar to “Free Bird” so often that my fingers bled.
But alas, you can’t be a rock star playing air guitar and since my singing sounded like a cat with his tail caught in a blender and I had no ability whatsoever to play a musical instrument, that dream was also doomed to rest in an early grave.
However, I am not a man easily deterred. So option C was the obvious route for me.
During my freshman, and only for that matter, year at the University of Southern Mississippi I ran across a pair of upperclassmen, Roger Smith of Columbus and Benjie Coats of Philadelphia, who became some of my closest friends. Both of those guys were in the RTF (Radio, Television, and Film) program, so 10 weeks into my college career I changed majors.
My dream was to be a rock and roll disc jockey. Oh I know, DJs are supposed to be referred to as on-air personalities, but for me, being a disc jockey was just fine.
So not long after Cooper West was buried in all of his rock and roll glory Steve Saxon was born.
After dropping out of school following my freshman year I landed my first paying radio gig at WLSM radio in my hometown of Louisville, Mississippi.
Fred Vice was the general manager and David Childs was the morning guy on the AM station, which back in the day was by far the best radio gig in town. Ford and Cathy Hayes, a pair of local legends, more or less ran the show on the FM side, which was mostly Top 40 type of music.
In my new role as Steve Saxon I began as the weekend guy and eventually worked myself into the morning slot on the FM station. To say it was a blast would be an understatement.
That gig only lasted four or five months before I felt the call back into sports journalism, but it had a big effect on me.
While a print journalist is at the core of who I am, I have always dabbled in radio. After becoming sports editor at The Meridian Star in 1984 a found myself still being drawn by radio, especially the sports side of it. I was blessed to able to do high school football play by play on and off through career, as well as sign the voice of the Meridian Community College baseball team, making multiple trips to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado. I eventually hosted a three-hour-long sports talk show on a Meridian radio station.
But what I really want to share is a couple of stories that occurred during my handful of months spinning records at WLSM.
Both of these incidents could have very well landed me in the hospital, for very different reasons.
Tornadoes have always been fond of Winston County, even in the 1970s and ‘80s. While being the only person manning the radio station on the weekend, severe weather would pop up from time to time and the radio station would be where everyone turned for the latest information.
On this very stormy Sunday afternoon things were a little different, the power went out, including that at the radio station. No power, no radio.
People started calling me at the station to tell me that we had gone off the air. I was gracious, for a while, saying I certainly understood since I was sitting there in the pitch black all by myself.
One guy kept calling me asking what time it was. Remember, this was way before cellphones and I wasn’t the owner of a watch. It didn’t help that I was 19, a tad arrogant, and a way too quick-witted for my own health.
The man called again asking what time it was and I finally said “I have no clue, my power is off just like yours, can’t you understand that.” To which he responded, well maybe I will just call your boss. My response: “Go ahead, but he ain’t going to know what time it is either because his power is out just like mine and yours.”
I’m a little surprised I didn’t get a bloody nose for that one.
The second story also involves a weekend radio gig. When you are by yourself at a radio station it pays to be a little creative, especially when you have to go to the restroom. This was about the time when “Saturday Night Fever” was all the craze and the Bee Gees had three top 10 hits off the same album.
So, when I felt the urge to run to the restroom, I would just put that album on and announce we were about to hear those songs back-to-back-to-back, then I would go and take care of business.
Well, I also had a habit that, on that day, turned out to be a bad one. I had just starting growing toward my then 6-foot-4 frame and I was forever jumping and trying to touch the ceiling everywhere I went.
On the way to the restroom, I decided to see how high I could jump … at the same time I was walking through a doorway.
All I remember hearing is a thunderous “crack.” I have no idea how long I laid unconscious on the floor of the radio station, but when I came to the only sound I could hear was the unmistakable sound of the needle of a turntable scratching against the center of an album. The ENTIRE side of the album had played.
Luckily I was uninjured, but very stiff and a whole lot embarrassed.
There are many reasons why I left the life of a disc jockey to return to that of a sports writer. But maybe the biggest one was that I figured it was a whole lot safer.
“Until next time, this is Steeeeeeeeeevvveeee Saxon saying, I”m out of here!”
Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He will be retiring from the journalism business at the conclusion of 2021. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia, Miss. He may be contacted by email at email@example.com.