Steve Buckhantz on one of the biggest scoops in Washington football history~
“I broke it and it was before it was supposed to come out. But it did and it was a fabulous day for us, for all of us because it was just so filled with adrenaline.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, and this is Our Town. Janice said to me one day, “Andy, you’re a has been, but maybe you could get back into action by doing a podcast.” And I said to her, “What is a podcast?” That was it, seriously Steve. Two years ago, and she put me on the road to recovery. Janice is a-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: So do you want to introduce Steve so people know who you’re talking to?
Andy Ockershausen: I’m sorry. Buckhantz needs no introduction. I thought everybody knew he was here. I told everybody he was.
Steve Buckhantz: If it were TV they’d know, but radio has no pictures.
Andy Ockershausen: Steve Buckhantz is such a absolute icon, and that’s a terrible say for a man this young, but it was a time there was Glen Brenner, and there was Gordon Peterson, and there were names everywhere. They’re all gone now. Thank God we still have Buckhantz, and we have Buckhantz and the world champion, I hope, Wizards some day.
Steve Buckhantz: That’s nice of you. That’s nice of you, Andy. I go back in DC to 1984 is when I came back here, but I’m born and raised here as you know.
Steve Buckhantz: Washington-Lee High School Alumnus
Andy Ockershausen: Washington-Lee High School.
Steve Buckhantz: Washington-Lee High School. Born at Columbia Hospital for Women, which is no longer.
Andy Ockershausen: Aha, so was I.
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah. A lot of people were. It’s incredible isn’t it?
Andy Ockershausen: Had one of my sons born at Columbia.
Steve Buckhantz: Yup, they-
Andy Ockershausen: It was for women at one time, but then it turned into general.
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah, that’s what they called it, and they tore that down after I was born I think. I don’t think they wanted to make the same mistake twice.
Andy Ockershausen: The weather department bought that building and tore it down and built a new one. But Steve-
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah. Raised in Arlington and W&L High School, a very famous high school, which they’re getting ready to change the name of, but a very famous high school that-
Andy Ockershausen: They’re dropping Lee?
Other Well-Known Washington-Lee High School Alumni
Steve Buckhantz: Well, they’re not dropping it. They’re getting rid of the whole Washington-Lee, and I don’t know what the new name will be, but at any rate you had Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine grew up in Arlington and went to that high school. Sandra Bullock was nine years after me.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Ken Hunter.
Steve Buckhantz: Ken Hunter, yes. Forrest Tucker from F Troop, great sports athletes like Jake Scott who was a super bowl MVP went to W&L. Eric Sievers, John Lippold was a kicker. Reggie Harrison was great running back.
Andy Ockershausen: God, Steve, you’ve got them all.
Steve Buckhantz: John Hummer who was a great basketball player here, he and his brother Ed at Princeton, and John went on to play for the Buffalo Braves.
Andy Ockershausen: I’m gonna one up you with a guy that you don’t know, but his name was Myron Gerber. His father was, they started Drug Fair. How about that?
Steve Buckhantz: Oh really? How about that?
Andy Ockershausen: He was Washington-Lee, he went to Naval Academy.
Steve Buckhantz: Stanley McChrystal.
Andy Ockershausen: A Jew in the navy. He was the first one, I’m serious.
Steve Buckhantz: I was gonna say. Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Myron Gerber. His father owned it.
Steve Buckhantz: Yup. We had Stanley McChrystal, who was a General in the 19th Regime.
Andy Ockershausen: Four stars.
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah. He was at W & L, in fact, same years as me. So, very famous high school in Arlington, along with Yorktown and Wakefield, at the time. Yup.
The Old Oaken Bucket
Andy Ockershausen: As I told you, Steve, in my early days, it was George Washington and Alexandria, and Washington-Lee and Arlington.
Steve Buckhantz: Yup.
Andy Ockershausen: A big football rivalry.
Steve Buckhantz: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: Thanksgiving Day
Steve Buckhantz: The Old Oaken Bucket.
Andy Ockershausen: Oaken Bucket. We even televised it. I hate to bring that up Steve but we televised it channel, with Nat Allbright.
Steve Buckhantz: Nat Allbright. Nat Allbright for Dillys.
Andy Ockershausen: Thank you very much.
Steve Buckhantz: I’ll never forget, oh, he was great.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Fantastic.
Steve Buckhantz: He was great.
Andy Ockershausen: But Steve, you got such a story career ’cause you did one the smart things that people do and I hope they do it now, you left town to get your nails, you left town to become a broadcaster.
The Road Back to Our Town – University of Miami and Madison College (now JMU)
Steve Buckhantz: Right, which doesn’t happen very often anymore. Back in the day, if you were gonna get a job at Channel 5 or Channel 4 or 9 or 7 or whatever it may be, you had to go to a small market first. You didn’t just jump into it from college, that was unheard of. So, we all had to go away first and I cut my teeth in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where I went to college, at James Madison. Back then it was Madison College. And there was one TV station there, WHSV.
But even before I got on TV, I wasn’t even thinking about TV. I actually went to the University of Miami for a semester.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow. Coral Gables?
Steve Buckhantz: In 1973, Coral Gables. And was hoping to get into broadcasting there. I applied to three schools locally, Madison, AU and Miami. I got accepted at all three, which again, would never happen in this day and age. And, went to Miami because I think it was kind of glorious and thought it would be really cool. But I had no chance to get on the air, there were 25,000 kids at the school and I had no chance at the local radio station or the campus station. So, after one semester I transferred to Madison College, my High School football coach, the late Ellis Whistler, at Washington-Lee, was at Madison College coaching as an assistant coach and I played football in High School and I punted and place kicked.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
Steve Buckhantz: And was pretty good.
Andy Ockershausen: You didn’t find that out, at least it’s not in his notes here.
Steve Buckhantz: Got off a 66 yarder once, which was my claim to fame, and took a good roll.
Andy Ockershausen: And then after you left they became a football power.
Steve Buckhantz: Well, yeah. No, you’re right. They were a pretty good football team But anyway, Ellis, at Madison, helped me transfer from Miami to Madison, I was gonna punt for Madison Football Team. But when I got to Madison College, which at the time was 7,500 kids, now it’s 22,000, I wanted to get involved in broadcasting, I went to the first meeting of the radio station and there were eight people there. Unlike Miami, where there was –
Andy Ockershausen: 25?
Steve Buckhantz’s First Radio Job at Madison College – WMRA
Steve Buckhantz: No, there was probably 500 kids there. So eight people at the radio station and I was the only one interested in sports. Which was great, because the following semester I was the sports director at this 10 watt radio station, WMRA, you could yell farther than the signal. I’m serious, it was
Andy Ockershausen: Well, it was on campus.
Steve Buckhantz: On campus. 10 watts. But that’s where you learned to make your mistakes. I used to play records, I’d pick out the prettiest album cover and just play the record. But, what I did was, I came up to the Capital Centre, I got a press pass, there was a job opening at Madison for the color commentator for the basketball team.
They wouldn’t let a student do play by play, they had a professional do that but the color commentator, and this is who I got my first job. I took a tape recorder, which I still have in my basement, a reel to reel tape recorder, big thing, brought it up to the Capital Centre, got press pass, called up the PR guy, Mark Splaver, got a press pass. Sat at the press table with this reel to reel recorder under the press table with a microphone in my face and did the play by play of a Bullets game. Took it back to Madison College to our sports information director, a guy named, Rich Murray, got the job doing the color on the Madison College basketball broadcasts in 1974 and did that for four years and that’s how I learned and started to learn how to do play by play. And started to learn how to do broadcasting in front of a microphone, doing games, live games.
Transition to TV – 1977 Harrisonburg, VA – Sports and Weather
Steve Buckhantz:And I did women’s games and men’s games. And that’s when I then made the transition into television in Harrisonburg in 1977 doing weekend sports.
Andy Ockershausen: Steve Buckhantz, you have got such a great background. I don’t know how many people know these things, I had no idea. I knew you’d gone to James Madison but I had no idea about you doing your broadcast. I had no idea you was fighting for it.
Steve Buckhantz: But you were right. That’s how you had to do it. You had to come up through the ranks and –
Andy Ockershausen: Have to pay your dues.
Steve Buckhantz: That was the first of five TV jobs. I was in Harrisonburg doing the sports and the weather. I’ve got my pilot’s license so they let me do the weather at 11 because I knew something about meteorology. Not much.
Actually, I’ll tell you the truth, what I used to do. I had one of the very first VCR. It wasn’t even a VHS, it was made by Quasar. It was an old tape. And I had one of the very first ones. And I used to tape Gordon Barnes’ weather on Channel 9, and I’m in Harrisonburg but we had it on the cable. And I used to tape his weather forecast at 6, come home after the news, watch it, have a little map and draw what he had on his map, take it back to the TV station and basically reproduce that for the weather at 11, in Harrisonburg. I figured it’s close enough to D.C.
Andy Ockershausen: Smart guy.
Steve Buckhantz: Nobody’s gonna know the difference. Besides, there’s only eight people watching, anyway.
Andy Ockershausen: They couldn’t afford a weather wire, obviously.
From Harrisonburg, VA to Chattanooga, TN and Sports
Steve Buckhantz: No they didn’t. So, I did the sports and the weather. But that was my first job. And then from Harrisonburg I went to Chattanooga, Tennessee. So I went from Harrisonburg, was 196th market out of about 210 in the country, went to Chattanooga, which was the 71st. Did the sports there. Was there a year and a half. Went to Nashville after that, which was a great a market. State capital.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s an upgrade.
From Chattanooga to Nashville
Steve Buckhantz: Big upgrade. They had a beautiful minor league baseball team there, The Nashville Sounds.
Andy Ockershausen: And then they got the Predators, right? Later.
Steve Buckhantz: Much later. They had no pro sports when I was in Nashville. They had Vanderbilt and Tennessee State and some stock car racing. And that was it.
Andy Ockershausen: And you moved there, Houston.
Steve Buckhantz: Much later. Way after I was gone.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
From Nashville, TN to Atlanta, GA WSB-TV
Steve Buckhantz: This was in 1980. So, I did sports there in Nashville, did weekend sports. And then went to Atlanta from there to the best station in the whole south, WSB-TV.
Andy Ockershausen: Powerhouse.
Steve Buckhantz: Powerhouse. Worked in Atlanta. Worked with some great people. Ernie Johnson who does TNT games, he’s one of my closest friends. We worked together at WSB. And I was there for 3 1/2 years doing weekend sports with a guy named John Buren, who was up in Baltimore forever, a very close friend of mine.
From Atlanta, GA to Washington DC Channel 5
Steve Buckhantz: And then came to Washington in 1984. So, Channel 5 was my 5th station.
Andy Ockershausen: But they were all upgrades.
Steve Buckhantz: You climbed the ladder, is what you did.
Andy Ockershausen: They were not lateral moves.
Steve Buckhantz: You climbed the ladder.
Andy Ockershausen: Right. WSB is a powerhouse.
Steve Buckhantz: Huge station. Huge. And back then, that’s what you had to do to get back to Washington. You didn’t go to work for a year in Paducah, Kentucky and come to D.C.. You had to make the move from Paducah to the next market, to the next market, to the next market. That’s one of the ways this business has changed. We had some interns at Channel 5 who actually became talent on the air. Now, they’re good. Jackie Bensen’s over at Channel 4 and she’s very, very good. But that’s pretty much how she started, as a newsroom person.
Andy Ockershausen: She’s a great street reporter.
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah. That’s probably the best way you can get yourself in to some of these stations, is to intern at them.
Andy Ockershausen: I’m sure you get a lot of young people because of your prominence. Steve Buckhantz is the most prominent sports guy in Washington and I know and we all know it, Steve. But you worked it. You worked your way up to that. So many young people come in and talk to us or talk to Janice. They want to get into broadcasting. And I’d say to them, “There’s no easy route. Get out of town.”
Steve Buckhantz: Right.
One Way to Get a Job in Broadcasting Today
Andy Ockershausen: Go to any place that’ll give you a job.
Steve Buckhantz: Exactly. That’s absolutely correct. The bad news for young people trying to get in to the business is, it’s more competitive now than it ever has been. Everybody wants in. The good news, the great news is, there are thousands of jobs in this business.
Andy Ockershausen: There’s 600 TV stations.
Steve Buckhantz: Thousands of jobs. Not just TV but –
Andy Ockershausen: Everywhere.
Steve Buckhantz: Look at social media.
Andy Ockershausen: Everywhere.
What It Was Like to Get a Job in Broadcasting in Late 70s and 80s
Steve Buckhantz: Everything. When we came up in the business, there were two, if you wanted to get into TV, to be a news anchor or a sportscaster, what we did, there were two jobs at each TV station and that’s it. There was no ESPN. There was no Fox Sports. There was no CNN. CNN just got started in 1978. There was none of that. There was two jobs at each TV station in each market. In Washington there happened to be four stations but in most markets there were three.
Andy Ockershausen: Two. Or Three.
Steve Buckhantz: ABC, NBC, CBS. Two jobs, the weekday sports guy and the weekend sports guy. That was it. There weren’t anymore. So, when you sent your resume out, you sent it to a TV station hoping to get one of those two jobs and you probably weren’t gonna get the weekday job, ’cause that was like a veteran guy who had been there forever. You were hopefully gonna get the weekend job. And again, there were no cellphones, there was no internet, you gotta remember this. The staple –
Andy Ockershausen: I grew up with nothing. And now…
Broadcasting Magazine Only Jobs Source for Steve Buckhantz in Early Years – Interesting Story
Steve Buckhantz: You grew up in it. The staple in the business was Broadcasting Magazine, printed on DeSales Street.. That was it. That was the God publication in the business.
So when you went to get a job in broadcasting, you looked in the back of Broadcasting Magazine, that’s it. Right, Ken, that was it.
Andy Ockershausen: Situations.
Steve Buckhantz: You had no other way to get a job unless somebody maybe saw you on the air but your station wasn’t going anywhere past the market. So you looked in the back of Broadcasting, which is how I got my job in Chattanooga. I’m in Harrisonburg and me and my buddy who did the news, he did the news, I did the sports, we open up the back of Broadcasting Magazine.
Andy Ockershausen: There it is.
Steve Buckhantz: They’re looking for news, weather and sports. It says a Sunbelt Station, so we’re thinking it’s Florida. Well, we call up. It’s Chattanooga, Tennessee but we sent a team resume. We said, if you’re looking for news, weather and sports you need to hire us ’cause we’ve done this together. And they did. They bit. They hired us both. They hired him to news, me to do sports. But that’s how you got your job, was Broadcasting Magazine. There was no other way. I can’t tell you how many 3/4 inch tapes I sent out and never got back. In fact, you were at the point where –
Andy Ockershausen: They were reel to reel.
Steve Buckhantz: 3/4″ tape. You were ecstatic if you got a rejection letter back. Just some communication from the news director was, you were thrilled, just to say we don’t have any place for you. ‘Cause most of my tapes were gone and I never heard from anybody. But when I did and I got those jobs, you were pretty excited.
Andy Ockershausen: You did something very special to me, and obviously to you. We’re gonna take a break here, Steve, and come back and talk about it because you spent some time in my favorite, radio. This is Andy Ockershausen and this is a podcast, which is radio without a transmitter.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town and we’ve had a very, very fine discussion which we listened to, Steve, of your career, which has been outstanding. And then you end up in Washington D.C., your home town, even though you were born in Arlington, this is Our Town and your town.
Metromedia – Channel 5 – Sports Reporter
Steve Buckhantz: Yup.
Andy Ockershausen: This led you to get involved with local television. On the air, before you became the play by play guy, you were a Sports Reporter, correct.
Steve Buckhantz: Yes. Sports anchor at Channel 5. So, I came from Atlanta in ’84 to Channel 5 –
Andy Ockershausen: Big market.
Steve Buckhantz: Big market. Washington was bigger, obviously.
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
Steve Buckhantz: And back then Channel 5 was not a Fox station. Fox Television didn’t exist in 1984. It was called Metromedia, as you know. It was owned by a man named John Kluge, who was one of the richest men in the country. Lived in Charlottesville.
Andy Ockershausen: Who was a food broker too, did you know that?
Steve Buckhantz: I did not know that.
Andy Ockershausen: Kluge-Finkelstein was their brokerage company.
Steve Buckhantz: Wow. He owned our station.
Andy Ockershausen: I think he owned Charlottesville too.
Steve Buckhantz: He probably did. I mean, he was huge rich. Metromedia was a big TV, broadcasting, paging all those things based up in Secaucus.
Andy Ockershausen: Billboards. They did everything.
Betty Endicott, New Director
Steve Buckhantz: So, he was huge. Very rich and owned six of the biggest TV stations in the country. Channel 5 in Washington, New York, San Francisco, L.A.. Big, major markets, major markets. So, my first day at Channel 5, I was hired by a woman named Betty Endicott who’s a legend in this business. Very well respected. Obviously she’s passed on but she, very well respected and just a great lady.
Andy Ockershausen: A bright, bright news director.
Maury Povich, Brian Williams, Mary Norton and Bernie Smilovitz
Steve Buckhantz: Absolutely. And just knew people and just was fabulous. She hired me and my first day walking into Channel 5, I walk in and Maury Povich was our news anchor. So I see him and I say to him, “Oh, I’ve been watching you since I was a kid.” Of course he didn’t like that, let him know how old he was which at the time wasn’t very old. This is 1984. And then the next room was Brian Williams and Mary Norton and some other reporters locally. So, I’m there with all these people and I’m fairly young but I got the job to do weekends. The weekday guy was Bernie Smilovitz, who had interned for Glenn Brenner at Channel 9. So Bernie was a weekday guy and I was a weekend guy, and –
Andy Ockershausen: Was Chick your substitute on the weekends?
Channel 5 – Joe Fowler Before Informercials
Steve Buckhantz: He was our weekend guy but that came later because we brought him up from Augusta, Georgia. In the meantime, I had some other weekend people. I was the weekend guy first and then I became elevated to the weekday guy in 1988. They brought in a guy named Joe Fowler for one year, who if you watch infomercials, you see him. He does like the ‘Suck ‘N Seal’ and whatever that’s called. I mean he wears the plaid shirts. I mean, he’s very, very good at these infomercials.
Andy Ockershausen: I bet he’s a rich man.
Steve Buckhantz: He probably is. He did Sports for one year. But he looked a lot like Joe Theismann. And at the time that wasn’t exactly a positive.
Andy Ockershausen: I know what you’re saying.
Steve Buckhantz: You know Joe back then. Nothing against Joe. I love Joe, he’s a good friend and he’s great at what he does. But back then, people looked at that and it was a strike against Joe Fowler. Plus he was kind of a, I wouldn’t say a caricature of a sportscaster but he was an, he’s an actor. And he was portraying a sportscaster and in this market, with George Michael and Glenn Brenner, you can’t come on like gangbusters. You have to create a niche for yourself and move in.
Andy Ockershausen: Work, work.
Steve Buckhantz: You can’t just come in and try to take over.
Andy Ockershausen: Don’t forget, he wasn’t Bill and he wasn’t Sonny. That hurt him.
Radio WWDC, DC101, Goff Lebhar Hired Buckhantz for Georgetown Basketball Play by Play
Steve Buckhantz: That hurt him. So, he left after a year and that’s when they gave me the job. So, I had that sports director job from, for about, almost 10 years. And worked with some great people. But that’s when I started to hone some of my play by play skills doing Georgetown basketball.
Andy Ockershausen: Separate career.
Steve Buckhantz: Right. Separate stuff. Radio at WWDC, DC101, hired by a guy named Goff Lebhar, who was the GM.
Andy Ockershausen: His son is here.
Greaseman and Howard Stern
Steve Buckhantz: His son’s here, yeah. Goff was the general manager for the Greaseman, for Howard Stern, if you’ve seen the ‘Private Parts’ movie with Howard Stern, the guy in the movie that portrays Goff is named Griff in the movie. But that’s Goff Lebhar.
Andy Ockershausen: Goff Lebhar.
Steve Buckhantz: And so, he hired, obviously, Grease and Howard and all those –
Andy Ockershausen: A very good broadcaster, I’d say.
Broadcast Legends: Paul Harris, Eddie Gallaher, Ed Walker and Willard Scott
Steve Buckhantz: And he gave me that opportunity to do sports in the morning with, not only Paul Harris, who was the DJ at the time, but Eddie Gallaher on the AM side. And Eddie was a legend and just the nicest man in the world-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, my God.
Steve Buckhantz: What a great broadcaster and a great guy.
Andy Ockershausen: Eddie’s not going near his, Ed Walker.
Steve Buckhantz: Oh, all those guys were phenomenal and legendary. Willard Scott, obviously and all those guys.
Andy Ockershausen: Willard’s still alive. He’s in good shape.
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah. Willard’s alive.
Navy Football was Big Time for Buckhantz
Andy Ockershausen: But Steve, well, one of the things you did for my station and did for WMAL, you did Navy Football. And that to me was big time. I used to-
Steve Buckhantz: It was great.
Andy Ockershausen: We had Maryland for years but we lost Maryland. But Navy Football was so important. I says, you know, half of the United States Navy lives in the Greater Washington Area.
Steve Buckhantz: That’s a good point. Plus the games are broadcast all over the world and everything like that. That was one of the highlights of my career. If I could go back and do that again, I would. Doing Navy Football was fabulous. First of all, I was there, I got to work with people like Jack Cloud. Steve Belichick was there when I was there.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah. Sure.
Steve Buckhantz: You know, this is Belichick’s father.
Andy Ockershausen: Dad.
Steve Buckhantz: They were all there. And so I worked –
Andy Ockershausen: Well, John worked, Feinstein did some color.
Steve Buckhantz: Eventually John came on to do color with me. And that was fabulous because he knows everything there is to know about the military academy, so, it was just like listening to a –
Andy Ockershausen: Civil War.
Steve Buckhantz: A Civil War great book. But doing the Navy games was so awesome because these kids first of all, they’re all rocket scientists, okay, they’re all, these aren’t your average kids. These guys they do football as a sidelight, there, they go to school. I traveled with the team and I would sit on the team plane and hear the tutors behind me tutoring these kids as we’d fly to the Air Force Academy, or whatever, and I learned more in doing Navy Football then I did at four years at Madison College, I can tell you that. You know, I know all about the Thevenin and Norton Theory of relativity, I can tell you that, I learned it on a plane.
But doing Army/ Navy games, Andy was just such a highlight. I mean, the emotion and the passion that these kids have. They beat the crap out of each other for three hours and then they stand next to each other and sing fight songs and then they go to battle with each other for their country –
Andy Ockershausen: And then at the end, no matter what happens, they’re together.
Steve Buckhantz: They’re together. Those games are so emotional and I was fortunate to do, I wanna say seven of them. There’s nothing like an Army/Navy game. The whole military, I used to love to go to Annapolis for a weekend for the game. They’d put me up in a hotel, Friday night, go to a great dinner in Annapolis, broadcast the game on Saturday, come back and then do Channel 5 on Sunday. It was a great thing. And then I’d travel with the team to all these great Navy places that they played football.
Andy Ockershausen: It was worldwide broadcast at the time.
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: There was no other worldwide thing like the Navy.
Steve Buckhantz: You had soldiers listening all over the world.
Andy Ockershausen: Isn’t that great.
Steve Buckhantz: It was good stuff.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, Steve, you really made an impression and I know you did it, you did some things for Channel 50 when I was there. Before that it was WMAL. But now I wanna talk to you about your career in later, in later life-
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: You were old when you got there.
Steve Buckhantz: It seems like it.
Andy Ockershausen: But Steve Buckhantz is the voice of the Washington Wizards, used to be the Washington Bullets, for those of you who don’t know. And we’re gonna come back, we’re gonna take a break now and finish up our long conversation with Steve about his career with the Wizards.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town, with Andy Ockershausen. Brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town for a local legend. I’d say he’s an icon but he’s not, he’s too young. And he’s a very, very, very accomplished communicator. Which I think, Steve, one of the things you do and I compliment you, you sell the game. You’ve been doing the Wizards for a long time. Did you ever do the Bullets?
Steve Buckhantz: They were the Bullets when I started, in ’97.
Andy Ockershausen: You sell the game.
Steve Buckhantz: You have to, Andy.
Andy Ockershausen: Even though it’s a TV screen, you’re selling the game.
After Mel Proctor Buckhantz Lands Washington Wizards Play by Play
Steve Buckhantz: You know this business better than anybody in this market and I appreciate the opportunities you’ve given me. It’s been great knowing you because you’re an old-school guy. We go back so far and I can’t believe that I’ve been in this market that long, since ’84.
But, you’ve been doing this for seemingly your whole life. One door opens another and the door to do the Bullets, and then Wizards, opened because of Channel 5. I did the sports there at Channel 5, weekday sports for almost 14 years and did a lot of Georgetown basketball which was on Channel 5, Big East Basketball, and other stuff. Maryland games and what have you. And the Navy Football and all of that stuff, to the point where when Mel Proctor, who left Washington to go do San Diego Padres’ baseball, he was doing the Bullets and he was also doing the Orioles’, great broadcaster.
Andy Ockershausen: On Comcast SportsNet
Steve Buckhantz: Well, it was HTS. Home Team Sports.
Andy Ockershausen: What a wonderful name.
Steve Buckhantz: Yup. Home Team Sports. And he was one of the best broadcasters I’ve ever seen. I think back to guys like him and Tony Roberts and Frank Herzog, and obviously Jim Karvellas was, you know –
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, great guy.
Steve Buckhantz: Greatest guy I’ve ever seen or heard. All of those guys. Mel left with about 20 games to go in the Bullets season in ’96. Susan O’Malley, who was the president of the Bullets at the time, working for Abe Pollin, asked me and Dave Johnson to finish out the season. At the time, the people at Channel 5 were gracious enough to let me do that.
And then, I went to Susan at the end of that stint and said, “Look, I know you’re gonna be looking for a play by play guy next year, I’d like to do the games.” And she said to me, “Well, that’s fine except you can’t come to me in November, during the biggest rating month of the year in TV, you can’t come to me in November and say, “Well, I can’t do some of the games because Channel 5 won’t let me. And also in May.” And I said, well, and fortunately I did not have a contract at the time at Channel 5. I was working without one. Which enabled me to have this conversation with her. And I said, “If I have to leave Channel 5 to do the Bullets, I will.”
Do What You Love – For Buckhantz It’s Play by Play
Steve Buckhantz: Because, I’ll tell you this Andy, if you asked 100 sportscasters what they really love to do, 99 of them will tell you play by play. Not only is it the best job you could have in this business but now it’s the most secure job you could have in this business. Guys are dropping like flies.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, we all notice that.
Steve Buckhantz: And it’s sickening and it’s tragic and it’s unfortunate and I have very, very close friends that don’t have jobs now or they’re looking for jobs, that are very talented people that should be working but because of the way-
Andy Ockershausen: They’re all in their 60’s and 70’s. It’s not easy to find a job for guys.
Steve Buckhantz: You’re right.
Andy Ockershausen: Youth.
Steve Buckhantz: So, the play by play, I mean, people say to me, do you miss being, I had lunch last week, just a few days ago with Dexter Manley, he was another one of our guys, you know.
Andy Ockershausen: He’s a hoot.
Steve Buckhantz: Just a fabulous guy, I love him to death. And he said to me, “Do you miss being a sportscaster on the news?” And I said, “No, I don’t.” I did it for 20 years, which was great but my passion, like a lot of guys, is to be able to do play by play. And I’ve said this before, I think I’ve got the best job in Washington. Now, you’ll probably get an argument from Joe Beninati at this point, who does the Capitals. But he’s my colleague, my counterpart and we have what I think is the best job. It’s a local, play by play job for a local NBA/NHL team, where you travel with the team. You stay in the team hotels. You travel on the team plane.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re part of the organization, Steve.
Steve Buckhantz: You make a nice living. You work for six months and then you’re off. It’s a fabulous thing. Now look, I don’t take anything for granted.
Andy Ockershausen: You can do other things.
On Losing Phil Chenier and Job Security
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah, oh absolutely. But that’s what I’m doing now. This is my 22nd year coming up, which is hard to believe. And we have what I think is the greatest job because it’s secure to the point where, if you create a niche for yourself and people like you, you can do it for a long time. Now, having said that, I lost my partner a year ago, Phil Chenier,-
Andy Ockershausen: Because of management. Not because of anything about him. Somebody in management.
Steve Buckhantz: No, no, somebody in management wanted to replace him, which they did. And obviously Kara Lawson is fabulous, who I work with now. She’s very talented, knows the game. A local person, went to West Springfield High School. But Phil was very good and still very good at what he does. And he did that for 33 years.
Andy Ockershausen: Tell me about it.
Steve Buckhantz: Hard to believe.
Andy Ockershausen: I couldn’t believe it when I heard that.
Steve Buckhantz: It’s unbelievable.
Andy Ockershausen: That was as bad as hearing that Chick Hernandez got fired. I couldn’t believe what they do.
Steve Buckhantz: Right. Very close friends. So, it’s a tough business.
Andy Ockershausen: But Steve, you do it so well.
Steve Buckhantz: Well, thank you, Andy, it’s nice.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re part of the team. You live with them 24/7.
Steve Buckhantz: Somebody could come along in a few months and say, “You’re done.” and if that’s the case, I did it for 22 years. That’s all you can do, Andy.
Andy Ockershausen: You did great.
Steve Buckhantz: You do the best you can do until somebody comes-
Andy Ockershausen: You’ve had a great career. You’re gonna have a winner before you stop.
Steve Buckhantz: Well, we’ve been to the play-offs.
Andy Ockershausen: Beninati’s sweated it out. He finally got one.
Steve Buckhantz: He got one, man. He got a Championship. That was so fabulous. It was incredible.
Andy Ockershausen: Great for you and for everybody. And great for Our Town and that’s why the Wizards eventually are gonna do it. Steve, do you know, back before there was Wizard’s, that Channel 5 broadcasted the Bullets?
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah, I remember watching, Andy when I was little –
Andy Ockershausen: The Baltimore Bullets.
Steve Buckhantz on Growing Up Watching the Baltimore Bullets on TV
Steve Buckhantz: I would take my chair and put it up to three feet from the TV so that I could watch the Bullets. The game was, it came on and the guys, I’m losing my thought here, who did this.
Andy Ockershausen: We all do, Steve. It gets worse, Steve, as you get older.
Steve Buckhantz: Who did the pre-game and it was Carling Black Label was the sponsor. They called it the TV beer. Anyway, they did the games and they were on Channel 5 and Channel 20. And I watched them all. But back then I loved the business long before I ever got in it. I knew who every news anchor was in Washington. Who every sports anchor was. I grew up watching Warner Wolf who started everything you see today in television. He and probably Vince Bagli, are responsible for everything in some way, shape or form, everything that you see on ESPN, everyone, Chris Berman is a Warner Wolf clone, okay.
Andy Ockershausen: I think you’re right.
Warner Wolf “started it all”
Steve Buckhantz: He grew up watching Warner when Warner went up to New York after he left Washington, before he came back here the second time. Warner started it all, the “bang, boom, stop it, get out of here, boo”, you know
Andy Ockershausen: Boo of the week.
Steve Buckhantz: That’s Warner Wolf. And he started that and everything you see-
Andy Ockershausen: They’re all doing it now.
Steve Buckhantz: Guys do now, it’s because of Warner Wolf. He deserves credit for all of that.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, then, you deserve credit for staying so long. Who could remember . . .
Steve Buckhantz: That’s tough to do
Andy Ockershausen: Can you believe, sitting here, that Michael Jordan played for this team.
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah, in 2000.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s hard to believe that.
Steve Buckhantz: That’ll be an asterisk on his legacy.
Andy Ockershausen: But for the city, what a great time it was.
The Impact of Michael Jordan – Anywhere! – An Anecdote
Steve Buckhantz: It was incredible. It was unbelievable. And he made a lot of money from Mr. Pollin too. Millions of dollars because –
Andy Ockershausen: They sold out everywhere.
Steve Buckhantz: Everywhere we went, Andy, they came out to see Michael Jordan. And it was like, if you saw Michael Jordan, like, we’d walk through the bowels of Madison Square Garden, where just the workers were. It was like you saw the Beatles. People flipped out when they saw Michael, they flipped out. And it was unbelievable.
We were in Nashville once, we used to stay at the Peabody Hotel, I’m sorry, Memphis, and we used to stay at the Peabody Hotel. And they have a tradition at this hotel, I’m sure you’ve heard about it. They have these ducks that are world famous. And they bring the ducks down from the roof every day and they have a procession that takes them to this pond. The ducks have been to the White House and everywhere else. They’re very, very, very famous. And we are staying at the Peabody Hotel and the people from the Peabody came to Michael Jordan and they said, “You know what would be unbelievable? If you got off of that elevator with these ducks and led the procession to the pond. How incredible would that be?” And Jordan’s handlers at the time looked at the GM and they said, “Let me ask you a question.” They said, “Do you like your ducks?” And he said, “Yeah.” He said, “Because if Michael Jordan gets off that elevator you’re gonna have a lot of dead ducks.” He says, “People are gonna trample those ducks to get to Michael Jordan like you can’t believe.”
So, Jimmy Carter was staying at the hotel and they had Jimmy Carter lead the ducks to the procession. In the meantime, when we all left to go to the game, I’ve never seen so many people in any city, lined up to see this guy. They were in the hotel, out the street, up the block to the bus. Hundreds of people lined up to get a glimpse of Michael Jordan. It was an amazing time to have in Washington, to have him play for the team.
Andy Ockershausen: For two years.
Steve Buckhantz: He played for two years
Andy Ockershausen: It was incredible.
Steve Buckhantz: We only won 34 games each year. And then he lost his job. Talk about an icon getting fired. He lost his job.
Andy Ockershausen: It was a terrible time.
Steve Buckhantz: It was not good. It was not good PR. But it turned out to be the right move because he wasn’t a good manager.
Andy Ockershausen: Nope. He proved that when he was managing his own team. He couldn’t do it.
Steve Buckhantz: Well, right but now he owns his own team and they’re not a bad team, so he’s learning. And he’s got good people around him
Andy Ockershausen: That’s it.
Washington Football – Coach Joe Gibbs Retirement Scoop
Steve Buckhantz: But that was amazing time. Covering the Redskins. I was blessed to cover the Redskins in the glory years, Andy.
Andy Ockershausen: And you’ve had one of the scoops of all time at the Washington Redskins.
Steve Buckhantz: It was a good one. It was when Joe Gibbs retired the first time. And nobody knew about it. I mean, it caught everybody off-guard. I was in the right place at the right time. I was in a bar in Fairfax, Virginia – Champions. After the news, so it was midnight and I happened to be talking to some friends. One of them was a guy named Jim Speros, who’s well-known in this area.
Andy Ockershausen: The Golden Greek.
Steve Buckhantz: Stretch Williams, Edward Bennett Williams’ son, and a bunch of guys that know the Redskins. And Jimmy said to me, “Hey listen, I heard something last night that I’m stunned by.” He said, ” I heard Joe Gibbs was gonna resign, retire.” And I said, “What? I just came from the TV station. I just did the news. I haven’t heard anything.” He said, “Well, we have some very close friends and they said Joe is not feeling well and he’s gonna retire.”
Well, when you hear something like that you gotta check it out.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, boy.
Steve Buckhantz: Now, unlike today when you can blurt our anything you want on any podcast –
Andy Ockershausen: You’re so right.
Steve Buckhantz: Or any TV show. And you don’t have to have sources and there are no repercussions. Back then, you had to have sources and there were repercussions if you weren’t right. So, I went home and I thought about it night long. I stayed up, I couldn’t go to sleep. I thought somebody else was gonna beat me to the story. And at 6:00 in the morning I called the one source that I knew was reliable. And for years I didn’t reveal the source because we had an agreement. But the statute of limitations –
Andy Ockershausen: And liberty.
The Source: Charley Casserly said “Go with the story.”
Steve Buckhantz: And liberty, is up on that. And it was Charley Casserly, who I had a relationship with. He was the general manager of the team. So, under Jack Kent Cooke he was the next guy. And Charley came in and did a show with us at Channel 5, so we had a really good relationship. And I phoned him at 6:00 in the morning, the next morning. I actually got his wife, who said, “Charley isn’t here.” I said, “What?” She said, “He’s out swimming.” He used to swim in the morning, that early. And I said, ” Okay.” She said, “Call back in about a half hour.” So, at 6:40 I called him back and I said, “Charley, I heard something last night that stunned me. I heard that Joe was gonna retire.” And he said, “Well, what did you hear?” I said, “Well, I heard he wasn’t feeling well and he was gonna retire.” There was a pause of about five seconds and then he said to me, “Go with the story.”
When he said that, my heart started to race, Andy, I can’t tell you. I was sitting in my bed, in my underwear, on the phone and nearly soiled myself. And he said, “Go with the story.” And I said, “Okay.” He said, “Here’s what you can say.” He said, “You can say that Joe is going to retire because of health issues, none of which are life threatening. And Richie Petitbon will take over immediately as head coach.” And I was floored. I was floored because the news was shocking and because I knew that I was gonna break this story and turn the city upside-down, which it did.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s amazing. Oh, my God.
Breaking the Story – Fox Morning News
Steve Buckhantz: I went on the air. First I went on the Fox Morning News, with Brian Wilson, who was our anchor. And he asked me and I said, “Channel 5 Sports has learned that Joe Gibbs is going to retire as head coach of the Redskins.” and for all those reasons. And then my phone started to ring off the hook. It was ESPN 980, it was DC101, who I was working for. It was all of these stations. A station in Chicago got wind of it, they called. Channel 5 said to me, “Get out to Redskin Park, finish up the Fox Morning News out there.
They had to call Joe Gibbs back from Richmond. He was on his way to Richmond to do a speaking engagement and the cat was out of the bag. And we came back and that afternoon at 2:00 they held a press conference at Redskin Park. And they made the announcement. Joe wasn’t all that happy with me because I broke it and it was before it was supposed to come out. But it did and it was a fabulous day for us, for all of us because it was just so filled with adrenaline –
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my God. The scoop of the century.
“When the day was done, it was a great feeling of adrenaline.”
Steve Buckhantz: We were there from 9:00 in the morning to midnight. Doing TV shows, the news, an hour special. And when the day was done, it was a great feeling of adrenaline.
Andy Ockershausen: We used to call that ‘wall to wall’.
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: There was one story all day.
Steve Buckhantz: And that’s how news was. That’s how news was made, that’s how you did it. And you had sources. And you had interviews. And you had people. It was fabulous and it was one of the great days of my career. I got lucky. I heard about it in a bar. And then I researched it.
Andy Ockershausen: A lot of stories.
Steve Buckhantz: You know.
Andy Ockershausen: But the bar happened to be the place. You weren’t in the bar for any particular reason, you was just there.
Steve Buckhantz: Yeah. I was having a beer and looking for girls. I mean, that’s what you did back then.
Andy Ockershausen: A nice Arlington boy. Steve, I can’t tell you how much pleasure this has been for me. You bring back so many-
Appreciation for Andy O
Steve Buckhantz: Well you are a pioneer, Andy. Anybody, first of all, in the business in Washington D.C. knows your name. And if they don’t know your name they haven’t been in the business long enough. You did it all. You were GM at all these station, these great TV stations. You know as much about the business, if not more, than anybody I know. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, my friend.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, let me tell you. What you have done for Our Town and for what you’ve done for the, I’ll say this for the Bullets and for the Wizards, it’s just been a fabulous thing what you’ve done. And your reporting is instrumental. And you cheer people up, Steve. As I said, You sell the game. It’s more than just describing, you sell the game.
On Developing a Love and Passion for the Washington Wizards
Steve Buckhantz: Well, you know, I’m doing it in my home town for the team I grew up rooting for. My parents used to take me to the Baltimore Civic Center to see Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson and Kevin Loughery and Wes Unseld and Jack Marin. And that’s where I developed my love and my passion for this team. So for me to be able to do –
Andy Ockershausen: How about Buddy Jeannette? Does that
Steve Buckhantz: Well, that’s a little further back.
Andy Ockershausen: But you remember his name.
Steve Buckhantz: Oh, absolutely. Dono, Waxy Dono. All these guys. And then Phil Chenier became my idol. And all of that stuff. And to be able to work with him after watching him, I can’t tell you what a blessing-
Andy Ockershausen: 33 years.
On Gratitude for the Wizards Opportunity
Steve Buckhantz: What a blessing that I worked with for 20. Yea. And to be able to call those games in the town where you grew up, at the highest level, an NBA team , I’m blessed by that. I’m thankful to Abe Pollin and Susan O’Malley. I’m thankful to Ted Leonsis and Zach and the people that keep me on with the Wizards. And all of the people at Home Team Sports, Jody Shapiro and all of those –
Andy Ockershausen: You’re on because the audience likes you. They not only like you, they love you. Those people aren’t stupid. They got a good product. They got a good play by play man that everybody loves. And I mean that, Steve.
Steve Buckhantz: Well, that’s nice of you, Andy. I appreciate that.
Andy Ockershausen: So, you’re one of us. And you’re such a big part of Our Town. I thank you so much.
Steve Buckhantz: Thank you.
Andy Ockershausen: We tried to do this last year but we’re in 4th season now. Janice won’t let me up. She’s already planning the 5th season.
Steve Buckhantz: And my mother, God bless her, who will be 90 on September 17th. I told her I was gonna be on a podcast. She said, “Well, I’ll put on the radio.” I said, “Mom, it doesn’t work like that now. We’re gonna have to get your iPad out and figure out how to find this podcast but she’ll be listening. And obviously I love her to death. And my new wife of seven years, Shelley, and –
Andy Ockershausen: Shelley we love.
Steve Buckhantz: My family, all my nieces and nephews and my sisters, we’re all here.
Andy Ockershausen: Tell them all how to get it. It’s so easy now.
Steve Buckhantz: I have to.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s a lot easier than radio because if you get it, you can get it on your phone, you can get it in the car, you can get it at home. But Steve, thank you so much again.
Steve Buckhantz: Thank you, Andy.
Andy Ockershausen: I will be on the street with you when you win the Championship, I promise.
Steve Buckhantz: I know you will. Janice, thank you very much for having me. And Andy, thank you.
Andy Ockershausen: We thank you, Steve. This has been Our Town with Andy Ockershausen and Steve Buckhantz.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town Season 4, presented by GEICO, our hometown 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 DC, and thanks to GEICO. 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.