“JB” James Brown on one of the most important lessons he learned from being cut by the Atlanta Hawks ~
“. . .when I looked back on it, there’s a verse in the Bible that says, “Why be concerned about the speck in your brother’s eye when there’s a plank in your own eye?” And if you point a finger and blame at somebody, there are three pointing right back at you. It was on me. I didn’t work as hard as them, and I vowed in the game of life I would never let an opportunity pass me by, that I didn’t work hard to capitalize on the opportunity.”
A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town and I have a distinct pleasure to introduce our next guest. My wife feels that he is tall, dark and handsome. We know about the dark. And he is talented and he is homegrown right here in Our Town. There are certain people in this world that I grew up with and you could say their name like Sonny, like Tiger. You know who they’re talking about. Frank, the Singer and then there’s JB. There’s only one JB in my life and I’ve been around a long time.
JB graduated from Harvard. I want to find out how he get in Harvard. You worked at Xerox. I didn’t know you work for Eastman Kodak, a two great American corporation. He got his start in broadcasting right here in Washington D.C. Bullets. He had the best job at sports hosting NFL Today, Thursday Night Football, NFL Pre-game, this network CBS and Fox. He was a standout on the basketball court as well as on the TV set and that’s a great line. My friend, James Brown.
“JB” James Brown: Andy.
A Ockershausen: JB.
“JB” James Brown: Since your wife has accurately described me as being dark as well, too dark to blush as I listened to all of that, but-
A Ockershausen: But you’re handsome, JB especially the beard.
“JB” James Brown: Oh, please. Are you kidding me? Hey, my grand kids must have told you to say that. So right … And I’ve got four of them now, but I will get to that point.
A Ockershausen: Wow.
“JB” James Brown: Yes.
A Ockershausen: But your family is from Washington.
“JB” James Brown: Native Washingtonians.
A Ockershausen: Your Mom and Dad were born here. They grew up here?
The Early Years – Education and Sports
“JB” James Brown: Dad grew up in Georgetown.
A Ockershausen: Wow.
“JB” James Brown: Was very good, knew Petey Greene. Of course we know that venerable name in Washington Circles. So Petey Greene was the one who actually got me involved in television.
A Ockershausen: Is that right?
“JB” James Brown: And I’ll get to that. Mom actually was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and went to Chicago and then came to Washington were she and my dad met. Hey, Andy, talk about dusting off cobwebs, I looked at my birth certificate which of course had me described back in the day as they did “Colored” and I was born at Gallagher Hospital and didn’t even know-
A Ockershausen: Gallinger.
“JB” James Brown: Gallinger. Thank you. Thank you very much. Gallinger. Was that the forerunner to the Women’s Hospital?
A Ockershausen: D.C. Jail. You know where the jail is? Gallinger was over there.
“JB” James Brown: I’m sorry I asked you about that. I’m sorry I asked you about that.
Janice Ockershausen: That’s his neighborhood.
A Ockershausen: JB, Eastern High School and the D.C. Jail and Gallinger all together.
“JB” James Brown: Somehow I know I can’t ask to this part of the conversation to be cut out but . . .
Janice Ockershausen: JB, that was Andy’s neighborhood.
“JB” James Brown: Was it really?
Janice Ockershausen: Yes.
“JB” James Brown: See, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that.
A Ockershausen: Yes, absolutely.
“JB” James Brown: So native Washingtonian. So I grew up in Southeast D.C. over near the old Washington Star building right in the shadows of the Navy Yard. I went to elementary school for the first couple of years there at Van Ness Elementary, and then when my parents, God bless them, moved over to Northeast D.C. in the North Michigan Park area, that’s where I grew up the majority of my life. I went to Bunker Hill Elementary back as Junior High School.
A Ockershausen: Very fine school.
DeMatha High School – Baseball and Coach Morgan Wootten
“JB” James Brown: You better believe it. It was in the McKinley Technical Zone to go to high school there when some coach by the name of Morgan Wootten actually asked me to come play baseball at DeMatha.
A Ockershausen: Is that right? I didn’t even know DeMatha had a baseball.
“JB” James Brown: They did. He actually was interested of me coming over to play baseball from one of my most favorite teachers of all time, Buck Offutt, who was our English teacher. So anyway, that’s-
A Ockershausen: But your experience with DeMatha of course made you one way or the other. DeMatha did so much for you, JB. But Morgan saw something and he enlisted you to the school and help his program, correct?
“JB” James Brown: He did. And just prior to that, where I probably got as good a foundation and footing as any was at the Bertie Backus as junior high school, which was a new school at that time and a gentleman just asked me the other day, he was talking to myself and my co-worker, Elizabeth Calhoun about my favorite teacher. And I stopped to think about it and I actually rolled back to middle school, junior high school, and it was a teacher by the name Mrs. Frinch who really had me believing in myself because she believed in me. Because back them, you remember there was a track system. So let me tell you one down part of my experience in the D.C. public schools, elementary school. I always wanted to be a doctor. I remember getting a book out of the library. It was entitled, So You Want To Be A Doctor, because I believe in helping people. I had the real … And I still do.
A Ockershausen: Was there ever a doctor in your family? Your Mom or Dad?
DC Public School Education
Elementary School Teacher Crushing Words
“JB” James Brown: None. I just wanted to be. Mom and Dad always stressed academic excellent. They saw that is the key to success in the game of life. They were the ones who established that foundation. So I said, “You know what? I can be anything I want. I want to be a doctor.” But there was a teacher, and it was a sign of that time, as you well know-
A Ockershausen: They were rough times.
“JB” James Brown: They were. And she happened to be a Caucasian lady who did not have much experience in dealing with children of color and she said, “You know what? Kids like you don’t really do well in the math and sciences. You probably ought to consider another profession.” And it crushed me. And talk about poor self-esteem. And back then, you remember that we had track systems in school. We went to middle, junior high school. So seventh grade, 7-1 was the honors track, 7-2 and so forth. I was in 7-7.
A Ockershausen: You’re down.
Middle School Teachers Words of Encouragement
“JB” James Brown: The last track, 7-7. But this lady, Mrs. Frinch, and the number of the teachers there really did encourage me, Mr. Shackelford and all. They encouraged me strongly such that when Morgan expressed an interest in me coming to DeMatha, my self-esteem was built up a bit more to think that I could do the job there and that Mom and Dad had really stressed that foundation of success and Morgan just built upon that.
DeMatha High School and Coach Morgan Wootten – Education
A Ockershausen: Well, Morgan also, he was so involved. He was still teaching then, right?
“JB” James Brown: Yes, he was. History. World History.
A Ockershausen: He’s a teacher.
“JB” James Brown: Absolutely, and an excellent one at that.
A Ockershausen: Everything about that man, you know I knew him real well through Joey Gallagher and all that.
“JB” James Brown: Talk about the relationship. Boy.
A Ockershausen: They grew up together as you know and you were part of Morgan’s success, obviously. But you had a long line of great players before you. Sid Catlett.
“JB” James Brown: Heavens, yes. DeMatha probably was put on the map, and actually back in the mid 50s maybe, Andy, early 50s there was … Oh, what was his name? Oh my gosh, was it Ernie Cage?
A Ockershausen: There was an Ernie Cage.
“JB” James Brown: Ernie Cage who was one of Morgan’s early great ball players, but that, which put high school basketball on the map. 1965, DeMatha played Power Memorial from Cole Field House -packed em in- Lew Alcindor was the big star for Power Memorial. 12,500 packed into that stadium on a snowy night. And I know DeMatha. The old Cole Field House. DeMatha lost to Power Memorial the first year in that match up. They set the second match up for the following year. Jampacked and it was Mr. John Moylan, our principal, who was telling Morgan making a suggestion as to how to prepare for the 7-foot 1-inch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor with a tennis racket because Mr. Moylan was a big tennis player. Put your center in the middle with a tennis racket so the guys can get accustomed to shooting over a tennis racket. They did. DeMatha goes on to beat Power Memorial by one point-
A Ockershausen: Incredible story.
“JB” James Brown: Biggest high school game in the country, put high school basketball on the map.
A Ockershausen: It started and then after that, I think Morgan now has the record of the most high school wins, correct, as a coach?
“JB” James Brown: He certainly did a number of years ago because he is the first coach at the high school level to go into the basketball, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame expressly solely for what he did at the high school level. So Morgan-
A Ockershausen: He never went … He could have gone beyond that.
“JB” James Brown: Absolutely. He had a couple of offers as you well know.
Well Rounded Education is Key
A Ockershausen: He was dedicated to them. He said, “My life is DeMatha.” And he proved it. One of the things, JB, I talked to young people about and Morgan was a living example, when you go to school, don’t study broadcasting, don’t study … Get history. Find out about history, find about geography, find out about the world. Young people get into broadcasting but no history. Morgan-
“JB” James Brown: Andy, I have found that out to be the truth because broadcasting is all about being as well-rounded as possible, to have conversations in as many different circles as possible. So if you got that broad breath of understanding in education, it makes you that much more valuable. Heavens, who would have thought that I would also be engaged in doing news for CBS News? But that’s the point of just being curious and having that education which is what a good collegiate education will give you, a good dictionary degree to be as broad-based as possible. Does that make sense, Andy?
A Ockershausen: Absolutely. Well, you know, you were great in high school, but why Harvard? I mean, I heard about that at that time I was an observer of the high school basketball scene and I said, why would this great … Why wouldn’t he go to Notre Dame or Georgetown? Why go to Harvard?
The Road to Harvard
“JB” James Brown: And those were schools on the docket-
A Ockershausen: Oh, I know that.
“JB” James Brown: The first school I went to visit was St. Bonaventure. Big Bob Lanier.
A Ockershausen: Cold weather.
“JB” James Brown: Talk about cold weather. Big Bob Lanier was up there. Bob Lanier was like 6’11”.
A Ockershausen: And yet he’s a size 18 shoes-
“JB” James Brown: Hey, Andy and Mrs. Ockershausen, I need to go measure his feet because people were saying he wore a size 19. Look, I maybe wrong but I went to his dormitory. I saw the shoe. Now, I wasn’t necessarily the best student in physics, but I understand a little bit. If you put that much weight in some leather, when you take your feet out, the ends are going to buckle up and that’s what happened to his shoes. He wore a size 22.
A Ockershausen: Enormous feet.
“JB” James Brown: And the standard joke on campus is that when he went over to the gymnasium, his feet would arrive a half hour before his body did. So that was big Bob Lanier.
A Ockershausen: That’s a great Lanier story.
“JB” James Brown: My second visit was to Notre Dame. Sid Catlett was there, the great DeMatha player.
A Ockershausen: Was he on the staff there?
“JB” James Brown: Sid Catlett was actually playing because-
A Ockershausen: He was?
“JB” James Brown: Yes. They were, I guess … They graduated the year I came in as a freshmen at DeMatha.
A Ockershausen: Right, I knew that.
“JB” James Brown: So Sid Catlett was there at Notre Dame. Austin Carr, the outstanding phenomenal shooter from Mackin High School, and Collis Jones from St. John’s High School, and Bob Whitmore from DeMatha. So you had four D.C. guys that Mr. Collins. See, that’s why I can’t call your wife first name. When I grew up in that era, you called everybody by their last name. I don’t even know what Mr. Collins’ first name was. He was a big alum from St. John’s and Notre Dame and worked really hard and I really was very interested in Notre Dame, but mom and dad always drove home, if the academic foundation that is going to be the precursor for the success in the game of life. So look, Bill Bradley was the gentleman I saw play on TV for Princeton and I said to myself, “Now, if he could do it with Princeton and we had Chris Thomforde and the Hummer brothers from on of the Hummer twins from Virginia . . . Thank you, thank you very much.
So they were there and I’m thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. It can be done to marry academics and athletics.” And I was hoping I would get a letter from Princeton.
A Ockershausen: They didn’t write you?
“JB” James Brown: First letter, I saw on Morgan Wootten’s desk was from Harvard. And I said, “If I can get in there, that’s where I’m going.” And it worked out. And even though there was a big to do made in papers
A Ockershausen: They did recruit you then?
“JB” James Brown: Well, they did. And while there was a big to-do made about Senator Ted Kennedy, God bless him, and understandably so, talking to me, having a visit up on Capitol Hill and people thought that’s what suede me from the other final choice that I had which was North Carolina Chapel Hill where Dean Smith was the coach. It was really two Washington alums who had the most influence on me going to school there. Clifford Alexander, former Secretary of the Army-
A Ockershausen: My pal.
“JB” James Brown: In the Carter administration and EEOC chairman, a White House fellow, the whole nine yards.
A Ockershausen: He’s everything.
“JB” James Brown: Worked with President Lyndon Johnson. And Barrett Linde, a very successful developer builder in town-
A Ockershausen: Great guy.
“JB” James Brown: Who helped me to understand. They took the education and applied it successfully and the game of life ended well. I was more impressed with those two alums. An African-American and Jewish developer-
A Ockershausen: Jewish builder.
“JB” James Brown: Builder. Very good friends. That’s why I went to school there.
A Ockershausen: You know, Cliff did a TV show. I was . . . Channel 7.
“JB” James Brown: Of course you knew that Black on White was his program.
A Ockershausen: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
“JB” James Brown: Absolutely.
A Ockershausen: And his wife-
“JB” James Brown: Adele.
A Ockershausen: Or his secretary or somebody is … What’s a great-
“JB” James Brown: Oh, Janet Hill?
A Ockershausen: Yes.
“JB” James Brown: His partner with Alexander, Grant Hill, the wife of Calvin Hill, the former great Dallas Cowboy.
A Ockershausen: All these dots come together. That’s great. Because of Washington D.C and your position in the community. So you go to Harvard. You study, you graduate as an all Ivy league, as three years captain of the team. Why in the world would you go to Xerox? Did they recruit you?
“JB” James Brown: So here’s the backstory to that. Having played for Morgan Wootten, one of the finest coaches per Red Auerbach, God bless him, and per John Wooden of UCLA fame, God bless him as well. They said, Morgan Wootten was the finest coach on any level. Morgan was a master motivator. He never uttered a profanity in trying to motivate his players. Much like my good friend coach Tony Dungy, who won the Super Bowl to the Indianapolis coach.
A Ockershausen: Never raised his voice even.
On Getting Cut by Atlanta Hawks
“JB” James Brown: Never engaged in profanity, laced tirades to encourage the players. Morgan modeled it by example.
When I went to Harvard, I lost track of what one of Morgan’s great lessons were. There’s no such thing as standing still. You’re either getting better as a player and in the game of life or you’re regressing. There’s no neutral. Andy and Mrs. Ockershausen, I did not work as hard to stay on top as I did to get to the top. I was still drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Pete Maravich, God bless him, we were great friends when I was at Atlanta and he said, “Man, you got what it takes. You’re going to make this team.” Two, three days later, the coach Cotton Fitzsimmons called me to his room, the proverbial, you’re cut from the team. I was crushed.
A Ockershausen: You got to be crushed.
“JB” James Brown: Crushed. Because I knew I had the talent to do it. But, Andy, when I looked back on it, there’s a verse in the Bible that says, “Why be concerned about the speck in your brother’s eye when there’s a plank in your own eye?” And if you point a finger and blame at somebody, there are three pointing right back at you. It was on me. I didn’t work as hard as them, and I vowed in the game of life I would never let an opportunity pass me by, that I didn’t work hard to capitalize on the opportunity.
A Ockershausen: You got to camp
“JB” James Brown: It was one of the last cut by the Hawks. The following year, Red Auerbach had me up at Boston and one of the last guys cut there and said, “JB, you’ve got the talent. You need to polish the skills. Why don’t you go overseas and play for a year and come back.” But I said, “What was the purpose of going to a great school to get ready for the game of life if I want to kind of hang around on the fringes?” And that’s what I did. So Xerox was the closest thing to plain athletics because you’re success was predicated upon what you did and you can get immediate gratification.
A Ockershausen: Great teaching, right?
“JB” James Brown: The best training in corporate America at that time.
A Ockershausen: The school that they had.
“JB” James Brown: Better believe it. The Xerox training center, the old professional selling skills that they taught us which essentially underscore the importance of being a good listener to what a customer is saying and then structuring your presentation and proposal with the right product matched to what their needs are as opposed to talking up a storm like I’m doing right now.
A Ockershausen: That’s how you learn it, baby. Nothing better than Xerox. Everybody who when to that school is now successful. This is Our Town, Andy Ockershausen. We’re talking to JB.
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Broadcasting – The Early Years
A Ockershausen: This is Our Town, Andy Ockershausen talking to JB that I recall saying to him when he was working for Xerox, “JB, you have a great voice. Do you ever consider being in radio?” I should have said you have a face for radio, but I didn’t.
“JB” James Brown: Don’t worry. I still get told that today.
A Ockershausen: But we had a disc jockey here named, Felix Grant, who had a wonderful, wonderful voice. I used him as a model. I said, “JB, you could do jazz as well as anybody I’ve ever heard.” But he didn’t want it. He wanted to be in television. And then he went over to Channel 9.
The Petey Greene Influence
“JB” James Brown: Interesting when you bring that up to, Andy, because it was Petey Greene who had of course a radio show and I believe a TV show, both by the same name, Petey Greene’s Washington. When I got cut by the Atlanta Hawks, I came home. Petey had me on the show to talk about making the adjustment from loving basketball and doing well at the high school level, but now orienting your focus to be successful in the game of life. What a great show. And then he said, “You know what, there’s an opening for the Washington Bullets broadcast team. Mike Riordan who was a guard opened up a restaurant in Annapolis and so there’s a vacancy.” I said, “I’ve never done TV before.” And Petey Greene and his usual inevitable style said, “Wait a minute. Didn’t you go to college?” I said, “Well, yes. What does that mean?” He said, “I mean, you got a good dictionary degree. Put your butt on over there. Put your name on the list. Go interview for the job.”
A Ockershausen: It sounds like Petey.
WDCA TV – First Job Interview
“JB” James Brown: And that was Petey. So I went and auditioned for the job, but then this is were the Xerox training came in to play. They said, “We want you to simulate a half-time interview for one of the games and just kind of do a mock half-time interview and discussion, the whole nine yards. They figured I knew basketball.” Well, the star on the team at that time was Phil Chenier, who I had played against in college. I said, “Hey, Phil. It’s on a Tuesday. It’s your day off. Come with me over to WDCA TV and let’s do the audition.” Well, they were shock the first while I brought the team star in and we simulated a half-time interview and I got the job. But believe me, I had to learn on the job but folks really bore with me, and Andy, again, learning from models like you, I was hungry. I said I would never let an opportunity pass me by [. . .
A Ockershausen: You learned that from your Hawks experience.
“JB” James Brown: I worked hard to understand the mechanics of being a good broadcaster, to play off with a play by play guy, to understand and do your homework because I wanted . . .
A Ockershausen: Sensational.
BET – Black Entertainment Television and USA Network
“JB” James Brown: And the rest, you know was … Because the second job was with Black Entertainment Television when Bob Johnson created BET and I did black college sports for them doing a basketball and later on football as well with them. So that’s how it started. Abe Pollin, God bless him, gave me my first job in television with the Washington Bullets and then Black Entertainment Television. I did some work for Eddie Einhorn in USA Network and just continued to stair step my way up.
A Ockershausen: He was a big man in Navy at one time, you know.
“JB” James Brown: Absolutely.
A Ockershausen: He used to do Navy broadcast on WMAL and Eddie was helpful with that. But you’re talking about the transition. You did Channel 9. Channel 9 was a big part of your life, too, correct?
“JB” James Brown: You know everything. Wow.
A Ockershausen: Because I was there. You and Sonny used to do sports. “Well, Sonny doesn’t know anything about broadcasting.”
“JB” James Brown: But Sonny … Sonny was America’s guest. You know that.
A Ockershausen: He was. Like I said, all he had to say was Sonny – oooh, right?. And you have that reputation now. You grew with it, JB.
CBS and Channel 9
“JB” James Brown: Marty Aronoff was the producer who was instrumental in getting me an opportunity to meet with the then news director a Mrs. Betty Endicott and then she moved over to Channel 9. Sandra Butler-Jones was another key player in my career. Two strong women who had a hand and Sandra Butler-Jones wound up telling another woman by the name of Samara Martin Ewing now who still is at Channel 9. She said, “You know what, we got this kid, James Brown. We think he’s got some talent. Make him a broadcaster.” Boy, did I call Samara to pull her hair out because I mean, I was too detailed on things going logging high school football games on a Saturday in the rain. I came back with nine pages of transcript for a one minute report on a public affairs program. But she pulled her hair out showing me how to thin that down to do the most salient points and you know what, I owe a lot to those folks, to the family over at Channel 9, WUSA TV here in Washington because they gave me my opportunity. Ron Townson was a general manager then.
A Ockershausen: I know him very well.
Channel 9 – Cast of Characters
“JB” James Brown: But you know, the group that was over there, they really bore with me, it was Gordon Peterson, it was Frank Herzog, Maureen Bunyan, it was Glenn Brenner, it was Maureen Bunyan, it was-
A Ockershausen: The weatherman.
“JB” James Brown: The weatherman, Gordon. It was Gordon Barns and then Gordon Peterson of course was the anchor. It was a wonderful … Talk about-
A Ockershausen: What a cast of characters, huh?
“JB” James Brown: Oh my gosh, they were.
A Ockershausen: All those talented people left. They’re talented females, too, they had, right?
“JB” James Brown: Absolutely. Early on in the day. And who was the guy who really, oversaw that-
Janice Ockershausen: Ernie Baur?
“JB” James Brown: Ernie work for our big boss-
A Ockershausen: Snyder
“JB” James Brown: Snyder. Thank you. Look at you. I told you before I came in here, “Andy, your memory is far better than mine.”
A Ockershausen: I lived it with you. Jim Snyder was a great news director.
“JB” James Brown: He hired all of these great people. He had a roster to Channel 9.
A Ockershausen: Davey Marlin-Jones.
“JB” James Brown: Davey Marlin-Jones. Are you kidding me?
A Ockershausen: Characters.
“JB” James Brown: Just some great names. So I learned under and with the best there and they really bore with me. So it was wonderful … I’ve learned off a lot about Glenn Brenner who never ever took a broadcast lightly. He always work to make certain that he was on top of things and it was fresh. And he and George Michael as you would recall, talk about a one two choice here in Washington D.C. or a one one A if you will. George gave him the meat and potatoes. He had all the satellites bringing in video from around the world.
A Ockershausen: Before anybody.
“JB” James Brown: Glenn Brenner was like the every man, every woman’s broadcaster because he would make it fun. I remember when the 7-foot 7-inch Dinka tribesman played for the Washington Bullets. Manute Bol. And Glenn, when he came to town, Glenn says, “You know, he’s like a human windshield washer, you know. A windshield wiper, you know, who’s coming to town.” He brought everybody in-
A Ockershausen: Sensational.
“JB” James Brown: Because of his humor.
A Ockershausen: I mentioned Siegel to you. Give you a quick Siegel story. I was having lunch with him and Duke Zieberts and Duke wasn’t there, but Duke came in and said, “Abe Pollin’s coming in for lunch. He’s bring Manute Bol with him.” Siegel said, “Point him out to me. I’ like to meet-
“JB” James Brown: Point him out to me. Please.
A Ockershausen: 7’7″.
“JB” James Brown: Did he duck so he his head didn’t hit the ceiling? Are you kidding me?
Washington DC Baseball – Family Owned Business
A Ockershausen: Siegel also told me if Washington ever gets a baseball team, Bowie Kuhn says it’s going to be the Lerners and they love families taking teams, and he was right. People know things.
“JB” James Brown: Doesn’t that speak back to the way things were back in the day family-owned in that regard? And that’s how we got involved because I was basically an adviser on the advisory council or team if you will to the Lerners, but I met them through another developer family, Mike and Harolyn Cardozo, part of the Landow family, Nate Landow, yes indeed and also the other neighbors, Sonny and Tina Small part of Renaissance Developer. So all these folks that introduced me to the Lerners and they asked me to become involve. So, Andy, when they said, “You had to shell out some money”, so the extent to my investment was probably akin to per diem for them, you know, but hey, low six figures was still pretty stiff for me. But-
A Ockershausen: Oh, baby, it’s great to have you.
“JB” James Brown: It’s been wonderful to be involved because I grew up about five blocks away from where the stadium is now.
A Ockershausen: Wow.
“JB” James Brown: Certainly, this is hometown for me and I wanted to see it be if you will be an attraction for all of the city and the DMV. So I’m thrilled to be a part of this. And this, and the Lerners bought a consistent winner to town.
A Ockershausen: They’ve done a great job. We’re going to be right back and talk about our favorite town and then Our Town and James Brown and JB. And this is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen. Brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
On CBS Sports
A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, Our Town and talking to JB about his career at Channel 9, which I think launched it along with Fox, JB. Because that’s where I used to watch you and heard about you and listen to games and so forth. I knew all the guys you work. You were bound to be a star. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind, and then you went to CBS Sports. That was quite an accomplishment CBS was the crown jewel of broadcasting at one time.
“JB” James Brown: First of all before I answer that and speak to that, can I just say I talked about how you have been such a role model modeling excellence for all of us. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about your right now is that you got your boss sitting on your right side. Janice Ockershausen. Hey, as I’ve learned, you know, I’m involved in the ministry and hey, there is a scripture. Elizabeth has heard it, my co-worker, 250 times. My wife actually prefers that I not reference it because she didn’t want people thinking that was her. In the Bible in the book of Proverbs Chapter 21. The subtitle, Andy, is “Instructions for Life”. There are two of the 21, I believe, verses in there that say it is better for a man to occupy the corner of her rooftop than to be in a house with an angry woman. 21:19 says, “It’s better for a man to be in the wilderness than in a wide house with a brawling and contentious woman.” The translation, if momma ain’t happy-
A Ockershausen: Ain’t nobody happy. It’s so true, baby.
“JB” James Brown: So to have Janice here is awesome. Okay. So CBS came about as a result of doing some weekend games with Frank Herzog basketball.
A Ockershausen: With Frank?
On Frank Herzog and the Washington Bullets
“JB” James Brown: With Frank. When the Washington Bullets experience gave me the comfort level that I could articulate the game because I was passionate about it anyway having played it, and when CBS got the NCAA tournament contract in 1982, the first round when they got like a zillion games and needed extra announcers. Frank Herzog, of course, was the voice of the Washington Football Team here for sure.
A Ockershausen: Before that, he was a great basketball announcer.
“JB” James Brown: Yes. Matter of fact, I love this. I had to say this carefully. I will say this carefully. I was the color commentator for the Washington Bullets. I never forget one guy introduced me at a banquet. He says, “And we like to introduce James Brown, the colored commentator from the Washington Bullets.” And he was so embarrassed and the people were laughing. So I got up and tried to take it at a little levity. I said, “Well, you know, technically you’re correct.” You know, so it’s all good. So I was Frank’s analyst with the Washington Bullets for a year or two. I learned a lot from Frank Herzog, Jim Karvelis
A Ockershausen: He did as good basketball than anybody I have ever heard. And he did the championship series when we hired him to do Redskins football because it was so good. He really was good. He didn’t want to leave, you know.
“JB” James Brown: I know. I know.
A Ockershausen: But he’s very happy now. He lives down Carolina. He was our first guest on Our Town because he was here for-
“JB” James Brown: Good for you. Andy, that speaks volumes about you. That speaks volumes about your. Herzog. I mean, he’s an icon here. He’s part … He’s a natural resource here.
A Ockershausen: We grew with Frank Herzog, correct?
On Glenn Brenner – A Debt of Gratitude
“JB” James Brown: Understood. And I imitated him when I got to do play by play for football with CBS, Frank Herzog imprint on me was indelible. I need to give credit to another Washingtonian who was very helpful because we both were competing for the job for Play by Play with the Washington Bullets when that vacancy came because I did it for a short period of time with Glenn Harris. And Glenn Harris was a fixture here in Washington D.C. Nobody knows more about Washington sports than Glenn Harris.
A Ockershausen: Anacostia boy, too.
“JB” James Brown: Anacostia. And when I got the job, clearly disappointed was Glenn for sure, but to show you what kind of guy he was, Andy, he took out his player board, he called me over to Anacostia. We set out there in the back porch of the school and he walked me through all of the mechanics on what I need to understand about being an excellent play by play guy. I am indebted to Glenn Harris, shows you how big a man. So I’m so happy to see recently, Joe Yasharoff, one of my former producers at Channel 5. We endorsed him to get the Silver Circle Award, I think it was called.
A Ockershausen: Glenn just got it, too. We were there. Janice and I were there. Ernie Baur got the Gold Award.
On Basketball – Steet Player v Streak Player – Calling Play by Play
“JB” James Brown: And Glenn deserved it. But anyway, CBS. That’s what happened. I got my opportunity to do that. So when CBS saw me do a Big East Game that was televised in New York, St. John’s and Georgetown and I was so excited about that game because this represented a big opportunity for me, and I was working with a big time announcer. She’s heard this story a zillion times before as well. And the announcer who’s still in the business, big name, I was well-prepared for the game and Georgetown was trailing St. John’s. They were down by six with about 30 seconds left in the game. And I said, “Hey, Georgetown. Just put in player X. And I’d done my homework. What a great player he is. As a matter of fact, he’s a great street player.” The announcer says, “JB, did you say street or streak?” And I’m thinking, “Why is he going to embarrass me?” Now, I could have reacted stereotypically and pulled out my switchblade, but I didn’t do that because I’ve done my homework. And I said, well, you know what, either one of those adjectives are appropriate for this player because he honed his skills on the streets of Washington D.C. playing pick up basketball, but he’s also a great streak shooter. His nickname is Microwave and he can come in and put Georgetown back in the game in a New York Minute. And a New York minute, by the way, is 32 seconds.
So I said, he got in the game and he did exactly that. So-
A Ockershausen: Put him back in the game?
On Being Broadly Prepared in Broadcasting
“JB” James Brown: Put him back in the game. I mean, they went on to win the game. So CBS saw that broadcast and asked me if I would be one of their extra announcers during the NCAA tournament paired with Frank Herzog. And as a result of doing that game, one of the four executive producers at CBS said, “Wow. Let’s have him do some NBA games, which of course I have been doing anyway.” So that’s how I got my foot in the door. And then what he said, “If you’re looking to make a career out of this, you need to make sure that you are broadly prepared to be a studio host, as an anchor, to do play by play, to be street reporter. Make sure you understand all of what’s necessary so that you’ve got the skills to weather the storm because any big name player who retires, they’re going to go after him to be the analyst.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely. After your job.
“JB” James Brown: Ted Shaker was the executive producer who gave me that excellent lesson. So I learned that. And my first-
A Ockershausen: He was a legend in the business.
On Calling NFL Games – JB’s First Game – Tampa Bay v Atlanta – 1987
“JB” James Brown: Yes, he was. My first football game that he had me do, I didn’t play football despite the size and girth that everybody sees on the air. Okay. You know me as a skinny kid.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely.
“JB” James Brown: My first football game. It was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Atlanta Falcons. And my produces said, “James, just call a clean game. Don’t get fancy. Just stay straight. It’s all good.” I go through the first half. I’m thinking, man, football is not that difficult. I can, I got complacent. So come up to second half, I said, “Okay. Steve DeBerg’s quarterback. He takes the snap, drops back, delayed hand off to James Wilder, the running back. He’s at the 40. He’s got daylight. He’s at the 45. He’s at the 50. Folks, he’s heading for pay dirt. He’s at the 55. He’s finally tackled at the 60 yard line.” My producer gets in my ear. He says, “JB. There’s no such thing as a 60-yard line. Go to commercial.” Now, I’m all shook up because he told me don’t ever look at the stadium time clock because it could be wrong. Look at the TV clock. We’ll have it right. I was shook up. I looked to the stadium clock. I said, “Well, with 8 minutes and 99 seconds left in the third period of play, we’ll be right back.” 8:99.
So, we come back. Thank goodness,I was working with a Harvard alum who played football named, Dan Jiggetts, who played briefly with the Chicago Bears, he covered for me nicely. He said, “Well, for those of you who heard JB say, ‘Hey, man, it’s a 99 seconds as he went to commercial break’, he was just trying to test you math skills so you can make the conversion to realized that was 9 minutes and 39 seconds left in the third period of play.” But even having made those mistakes, thank God, the game was only being televised to the TV truck and the local Piggly Wiggly on the corner down the street. So I weathered that storm.
A Ockershausen: It wasn’t America’s game.
Everything Hockey and “the Color of the Puck”
“JB” James Brown: Hey, but not nearly as bad as when at Fox, the boss there, after a successful first season of being a co-host with Terry Bradshaw for the Fox NFL Sunday show, they were looking to acquire more inventory and they said, “Well, shall we get hockey or shall we get NASCAR?” Well, they wind up getting hockey at first and our boss, David Hill, brilliant Aussie, who have done all the study and he said, “You know what, hockey has a tremendous upside, why don’t we get that?” And he said, “And in our looking to try to make it more diverse, JB, why don’t you host hockey?” I’m like, “Excuse me?” He said, “Why don’t you host hockey?” I know nothing about hockey. He says, “You got time to study.” So all summer long, I’m studying these names and make sure I don’t butcher up the names.
So, not only am I introduced to the national press and the folks who kind of looking at me with a raised eyebrow and then asking questions, “JB, you now what icing is?” So I explained what icing is. And then, “JB, excuse me sir. Do you know what a two-line pass is?” I explained what a two-line pass is. Third guy, “JB, do you know how they substitute in hockey?” I said, “Yes, line shift.” I said, “Fellows, look. Why don’t we just take the veneer off the questions. I know what you’re asking. So let me just be clear. No hockey wasn’t big in my neighborhood. And I understand the only thing I have in common with the sport is the color of the puck. But I promise you, I’ll be an excellent addition because I will be passionate about it.
Fast forward to the Stanley Cup Final in New Jersey. In the stands, there are bunch of like a pre-teen white kids standing there and they’ve got this big sign up. They’re saying, “James Brown, Godfather of Gold.” I knew I had made it. I’ve got that sign in my office on the wall now. Godfather of Gold.
A Ockershausen: JB, what a career.
“JB” James Brown: It’s been interesting.
A Ockershausen: So you’re so much more than people know about you. That’s the whole idea of Our Town. I found so many things about you that I had known but you bring him back to me. That’s the reason we’re doing Our Town.
“JB” James Brown: But to the point that you make … I want it to be … When you talk about the kid about in school, you know, history and english and social studies, the producer said, “JB, become as versatile as possible.” So I did water polo. I did mountain climbing. I cover the Tour de France. I did all those things so I wouldn’t be colonize, if you will, just in one area so that I could do anything and have a comfort level with it. Hey, I’m sitting up here and interviewing Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Here I am like 6″5′. I got this two diminutive ladies and if stares could cut… I mean, the stares at each other was so thick it was palpable, you know. But that was fascinating,
A Ockershausen: There was blood in the water with those two. We saw Nancy on Dancing with the Stars. She married Solomon who worked for Donald Dell.
“JB” James Brown: That’s right the agent. How about that?
A Ockershausen: You could see it all come together, JB, because of you. Now what is … They send you in the road anymore other than your weekends? Are you doing anything during the week?
On Passion for Broadcasting and in Life
“JB” James Brown: You know what, and Andy, I’m sure you can relate to this as well, too. I am truly thankful that the good Lord has blessed me. I talked about you and sustained excellence to have been at this because I’ve always aimed going back to when I was cut by the Hawks to never ever get complacent again. And I could rightfully be accused of being a workaholic. But I wanted to … And I was talking with one of your colleagues here. I mean, I’m having a blast at it. It’s fun and I think the passion is showing through. So I try to be as widely varied in what I do. And to be doing news as well contributing to 60 minutes in CBS this morning and the evening news or substitute anchoring whenever they call. It’s been a blast. So the excitement is still there and I go back to the lesson learned from Glenn Brenner who said, “Always make it fun.” Sonny Jurgensen said, as a relate to football players in retiring, “Let them drag you off the field.” So just having a good time and I hope as look as that enthusiasm is there.
And clearly, I’m preparing for the next phase in terms of the things that I do or the production company that’s … A fledgling production company, again, broadening the horizons in the world of news because there is that interest as well. All of that is fun. But also trying to pour into young people as well like you do.
A Ockershausen: Just your background and Harvard and all the things that you have done, it’s incredible, JB. You still have … You get up everyday looking forward to it, don’t you, baby?
“JB” James Brown: I am extremely excited about each and everyday to be thankful about it. I mean, you were eluding to the fact that even what I’m doing now, who would have “thunk” it I mean, “JB, you’re involved in clergy matters at your church.” But you know what, I thoroughly enjoy because as opposed to just always going around giving motivational speeches to corporation and the like, there are things that are far more important that our eternal in nature, if you will, that I enjoy trying to pour into people that way. And I’ve operated by those same principles. So I’m not articulating something that I don’t know. I’m articulating what I do know.
A Ockershausen: And you believe in it?
Robert Kraft Israel Trip as Correspondent
“JB” James Brown: No, no. Absolutely actively engaged. Bob Kraft, Robert Kraft. The owner of the New England Patriots. When they sponsored a trip, he and Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, went over two years ago to take a group of Hall of Famers. Ambassador Dermer had visited Canton The Hall of Fame. Wow, you know what? Sports has always be used as a method of advancing things in society. Why not have these athletes and their wives go over to Israel to see for themselves what Israel is all about and have them be ambassadors as opposed to the news only being filtered though the news media. And I was humbled that Robert Kraft asked me to be the sole correspondent to go over the cover it. So my wife and I went there with the group, two Junes ago. So Robert Kraft said, “My plane is not big enough to carry a crew of 60 people.” So he calls Sheldon Adelson the mogul and-
A Ockershausen: In Las Vegas?
“JB” James Brown: In Las Vegas. And borrows one of his 22 747 double-decker customized planes. Talk about traveling. An awesome experience. And Robert Kraft and I have talked so much because he’s very engaged in activities that stress togetherness and the fellowship of Christians and Jews. It was a fascinating trip.
A Ockershausen: Isn’t that a wonderful thing. . .
“JB” James Brown: Yes, indeed. It was wonderful and I’m so thankful to have done it and put together a nice piece that was shown on CBS Sports Network detailing what that trip was all about and how spiritually moving it was to folks. But Andy, you talked about applying those things in the game of life. When I got release by CBS the first time around, when CBS loss a lot of inventory, loss the NFL contract, the NFC contract to Fox, and CBS was trying to get the AFC contract.
A Ockershausen: That was a blow when it went to Fox.
CBS Sports – Big Losses
“JB” James Brown: Big blow. 1994. Absolutely. And NBC had the AFC deal. My boss had me on the phone calling everybody that I knew to try to see if we could get the other contract. The AFC contract didn’t happen. Effectively, I’m out of a job because I was going to be doing the NBA show inside stuff which Ahmad Rashād got, but that went to NBC. When we lost NFL, big blow. We had baseball. Lost that. So not much inventory. New president comes in. I’m not necessarily the flavor of the day. So what do I do? But that’s were my faith came in to play when I stood on the faith foundation which said that promotion come at neither from the east, the west nor the south, but God is a judge. He put out one and he sets up another. So I had to trust in him that all things will work out well.
Andy, I was trying to get a job as an announcer on the fifth broadcast team at Fox. And as it turns out is they’re going through the audition process because the boss, David Hill, wanted to have a radically different show with Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson, kind of three guys just sitting around and kicking it. But the strength that I brought to the table that they didn’t have there after they went through a series of interviews and auditions, they wanted Mike Tirico who ultimately now you know is the Thursday night person, and he’s going to be the face of a lot of their inventory quite a bit, and he’s a terrific announcer, I get the opportunity come over to co-host the show. I’m looking to become the fifth team announcer, and he asked me to come co-host with Tiri.
A Ockershausen: And now you’re in the prime spot.
“JB” James Brown: And what an absolute blessing. So again, I go at it with the same vim and vigor to do it excellently as onto the Lord and everything that I do. If I do it well that way, they can’t help but be pleased.
ESPN Big Losses
A Ockershausen: Well, it’s proven to be the number one show on … No matter what CBS has done, they have never competed with you. ABC is out of the box. And now, you probably read what’s happened with this downsizing of ESPN. They are letting a lot of people go. You know what happened, JB? They spend too much money for rights and they can’t pay for it. The advertising is not there.
“JB” James Brown: As a businessman, I’m sure you saw the handwriting on the wall.
A Ockershausen: Had to be. You can’t keep paying those rights figures. There’s only so many advertising dollars and there ain’t going to be anymore.
“JB” James Brown: So, again, coat tailing and capitalizing on your business experience, I would truly hope unless ownership of these teams or looking at another medium is going to be able to payout these continually rising rights fees that a partnership arrangement really has to be in place if you want to keep them on over the air TV where you still get the largest audiences. Because as you said, ESPN before was getting it on bother ends. They were getting subscription and advertising dollars and it’s just not there anymore.
A Ockershausen: The subscription is drying up because of new technology, and they’re scared to death of the cable business which is their backbone, but it’s going to change. And doesn’t everything change, JB?
“JB” James Brown: Yes, sir.
A Ockershausen: Don’t we live in a great country? I’d keep saying that.
“JB” James Brown: We do. And I know I’ve overworked this expression-
A Ockershausen: No you don’t.
Stay Abreast of Change and Deliver Excellence
“JB” James Brown: But the point is as long as we stay abreast of the changes or ahead and deliver excellence of what you do and hopefully this is encouraging to some of the young folks out there. Just as you gave the dispense, the valuable piece of advise, be an excellent student in your core curriculum and it’s going to serve you well in the game of life.
A Ockershausen: No matter what you do.
“JB” James Brown: Then just be excellent at it and there’s always going to be room for access. As a matter of fact, my wife probably wouldn’t mind me saying this one, it is in the Bible. It says, “Your gift will make room for you. Your talent will make room for you.”
A Ockershausen: Always. Talent rules out, JB. Like all the names and the people that you have talked about all are in our lives, and like bringing up Joe Yasharoff and his daughter. You know whose big at University of Maryland. All these guys that you know and you and I grew up with, they’re still around. Isn’t that great? And they still get together you know.
“JB” James Brown: Awesome.
A Ockershausen: There’s a group like we’re all involved with the Hall of Fame that Lerners underwrite for us. But there’s a lot of fun all these guys and be involved. And it is great. This is our town, JB.
“JB” James Brown: You know what? And I’ll let you wrap up. . .
A Ockershausen: You mentioned Macken High School.
“JB” James Brown: Macken High school, that’s right.
A Ockershausen: I’ve never heard that name in 20 years.
“JB” James Brown: But you know what? At the end of the day, what I see humbly through this and all of those venerable names that you mentioned and that kind of eras that we cross in this conversation, it’s about family.
A Ockershausen: Always.
“JB” James Brown: At the end of the day, it is still family, and I hope that message resonates across a number of different circles. I mean, we can talk about political divisiveness and are you left, right or centered? You know what? It’s family because we’re all shooting for the same goal and we’re all part of the same family. Let’s do what’s right.
A Ockershausen: You’re a brilliant man, JB. We’re all part of the great family. That’s important. You’re still number one in Our Town, because who else that we have that works for CBS? Your new compatriot is going to be big and part of CBS, correct?
On Tony Romo
“JB” James Brown: Tony Romo. Yes, he is.
A Ockershausen: He might be very good incidentally.
“JB” James Brown: You know what? He’s got a challenge in front of him but given what his success has been in the world of football and that is a tough sport. John Madden was famous for saying, “Those guys who step across those white lines to play that game, those are tough, tough competitors out there.”
A Ockershausen: There ain’t no minors in that league.
“JB” James Brown: No questions about it. That’s just serious game. So I have big respect and I try to show that in the way I present the game as well, too. So he’s got a golden opportunity. Those position are very coveted. Not many of them there, but he’s going to have to put the work in. . .
A Ockershausen: It’s called work, right?
“JB” James Brown: There’s no ifs and or buts about it. But Andy, let me close just by saying thank you. You and your wife, I thank God for you guys. You guys are wonderful. You’re a smart man because you’ve got her right there with you. The words ” when a man finds a wife, he finds a good thing.” You found a great thing, Andy.
A Ockershausen: We’ve gotten 55 done. We’re doing 40 at least more. We’re going to present this to the local schools to say, let your students live in some of this. Let them listen to some of this Our Town what it used to be. You want to hear Frank Herzog, here he is. You want to hear JB, here he is. You know, you can punch it up and you hear it in the car. You can hear it at home.
On Reverence and Respect for That and Those Gone Before
“JB” James Brown: But do you know why that one of the reasons why that’s so important, in eastern cultures, there is a reverence and respect for that and those who’ve gone before you. We are such a microwave-oriented society now. We skew in terms of … And nothing wrong with it but understand that there’s some seasoning that needs to be there, too. We skew so much toward things that are young, but that also can connote inexperience. Here’s a concept that I think applies. In a world of sports, any coach, manager, GM owner in looking to build a team that is a consistent winner, you have to have a good cadre of young folks coming in, good talent. Get it. But they are most successful when you got a seasoned still producing veteran to show them how it’s done. What a professional is all about, the good work habits and the like. That’s what’s important. And what you’re doing with this treasure here, that speaks to that.
A Ockershausen: Thank you, JB. We feel that way, too. This has been Our Town. Andy Ockershausen and JB, and how much we owe to him for me and part of Our Town.
“JB” James Brown: Mutual.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town Season 2. Presented by GEICO, our home town favorite with your host, Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions. See us on Facebook or visit our website at ourtowndc.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director and WMAL Radio in Washington D.C. for hosting our podcast. And thanks to GEICO, 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.