The Prelude: Best of the Old School
A few weeks back I was asked, along with other writers in the area, to tackle the subject of the best and worst Denver media personalities.
I couldn’t help but think about the days of old when I couldn’t wait to see the next sports cast, read the sports page, or listen to the radio.
I’d revel in the video clips from the Broncos training camp in the heat of a late Colorado summer.
I always cherished the numerous game reports and highlights. It’s that spark, that vital flame of fire and passion that made the local reports something special in those days.
Bob Martin is a legend in the Rocky Mountains for his game calls on AM 850 KOA radio in Denver for the Broncos games.
Many communities have endearing relationships with their announcers, but there were truly few better at calling games than Bob Martin was. Bob worked for the radio station and called Broncos games for nearly 25 years.
Bob Martin was the radio voice of the Broncos since 1964. In 1965, he started Denver’s first sports talk program at KTLN where his relationship with the Denver Broncos began.
His greatest call was the 1977 AFC Championship game that saw the Denver Broncos play host to the defending World Champion Oakland Raiders.
It was a game that saw Craig Morton and Haven Moses connect on two touchdowns to propel the Broncos to their first championship game. Bob Martin put the stamp of approval on the game, simply stating “The Broncos are going to the Super Bowl!”
While he did not officially work for the team, he was honored within the confines of the entrance to the press box of INVESCO Field at Mile High.
It is there where one can find a bronze tribute to him that shows his facial profile. In many ways Bob was a Colorado icon known for his professionalism and enthusiasm for the orange, white, and blue.
The week prior to Super Bowl XXIV, a game best remembered as a 49ers blowout of the Denver Broncos in New Orleans, Bob Martin had an adverse reaction to chemotherapy treatments and was in a weakened state.
Martin had been receiving extensive chemotherapy to battle recurring bone cancer; he was first diagnosed in 1987. He later died in February 1990.
Bob was nominated to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
Bob Martin’s side-kick all those years in the booth was another talented radio personality, Larry Zimmer.
Larry still has the distinction of being the voice of the Colorado Buffaloes and was a key part of the Broncos radio network with Bob Martin.
Larry could be the lead voice if need be or the perfect complement to the play by play. It takes strength, character, talent, patience, and humility to balance a load like that, and he truly is a Colorado institution in the sports world.
Checkout the following link to learn more about “Zimm.”
In Denver through the late 1970’s and the entire decade of the 1980’s, you could not follow the Denver Broncos without seeing the likes of Ron Zappolo, Mike Nolan, or Gary Cruz.
All three were staples on the Denver sports scene.
Mike Nolan and Gary Cruz worked for Channel 9 at the time. Cruz later moved on, but his time in Denver is memorable for his getting up close with the team and his Broncos highlights and news.
Mike Nolan was the senior sports reporter in Denver, but he had a distinct way of warming up the audience for the sports report, he’d simply say “Broncos” then follow it up with “today…” or whatever the latest news was.
In a Broncos town, that’s all you needed to say to capture the attention of the viewers.
Ron Zappolo sort of won the lotto and came into his own when KOA Channel 4 TV became the official home of the Denver Broncos. Ron was always professional and found some of the best story nuggets prior to that time.
As the then NBC affiliate, the majority of Broncos home games were telecast then promptly followed by Ron Zappolo or Les Shapiro in the Broncos locker room getting the pulse of the team out to the masses.
Ron had a number of great on-air moments over the years, but probably his best was reporting from the Broncos locker room immediately following “The Drive” game in Cleveland.
In fact, he first coined the phrase live following the outcome of the game. Ron interviewed John Elway and Dan Reeves among many others from one of the worst locker rooms known to professional sports.
He did it without missing a beat or a key question.
Ron was later paid to jump ship over to Channel 9 where he had another great interview session with multiple players from the Colorado Avalanche after they captured the Stanley Cup against the Florida Panthers.
The down to earth approach of hockey players sort of threw him for a loop, but a welcomed one at that with the likes of Mike Keane interviewing from the top of his locker with stogie and champagne in hand.
Ron later decided to try something new and challenge himself.
In 2000, he moved to FOX 31 to become the lead anchor. He recently signed his extension that will lead him into retirement.
You see, this is one area I always felt NFL films would be better by including post game interviews on some of their highlight reels.
Guys like Ron were overlooked but not forgotten for their contributions.
Al Albert was the offseason voice for the city of Denver sports, also known as the Denver Nuggets.
He held that post for 18 years. Al had an energy all his own and knew the game of basketball better than the back of his hand.
Listeners could frequently hear him say “Issel—Missel—YES!”
“David Thompson with the dunk has this crowd on it’s feet!”
Al had the bitter responsibility of reporting the implosion of the Denver Nuggets when David Thompson ran into a number of personal issues outside of basketball.
The lowest low was a game in New Orleans against the Jazz when DT was said to be still back at his hotel room. A devastating story that later led to Thompson being dealt to the Seattle Supersonics.
Al handled the situation with class and didn’t fail to communicate with the listeners about the state of the Nuggets.
Keep in mind, the Nuggets were a perennial playoff contender for years until this story broke live over the air.
Al had a style that was polished, exciting, and highly detailed; it was phenomenal to listen too.
Sandy Clough might not have been the first Denver radio sports talk host, but he certainly became the most recognizable over time.
Sandy had a demeanor that was not common among other reporters, because he was called to lead Broncos Talk. For the first few years of Broncosmania it was a fun, light-hearted show to listen to.
Then, the Broncos began to lose more and more games where the expectations were still high. It led to fan outrage at times with Sandy Clough as the judge and jury to weigh each opinion for validity.
Sandy is possibly the most brilliant, most respected, and most controversial media personality due to his stern logic and ability to challenge fan callers to think a little deeper about their submitted argumentative stance.
It’s crazy to think Sandy has been around since the Orange Crush era in Denver, but he has...and he really hasn’t missed a beat.
He continues to host local radio sports talk shows and really has remained on top of the changes with the Broncos, the Jay Cutler fiasco, as well as giving sound angels regarding the Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rockies, and the latest playoff run by the Denver Nuggets.
You can keep up to date with Sandy at:
Perhaps no other name in the Denver media is so distinct and yet provides such a vibe nationally.
For years, Woody was a gem and a central source for controversy for reader articles around Denver. In fact, it wasn’t until Denver lost Woody Paige that it recognized exactly what it had in Woody Paige.
Paige left the Denver Post in 2004 on a one year hiatus to pursue work with ESPN on the show called, Cold Pizza and the spinoff first and 10.
He later returned to the Denver Post in November of 2006.
To say Woody Paige is opinionated is an under-stated way of putting a tail on the donkey. It’s not just his boisterous opinions he’s known for, it’s his imaginative, creative genius that gives him credibility in the community and on the national scene.
Woody knows his sports Paige.
For a good laugh check out these ATH Woody Paige chalkboards:
Now you might better understand part of his genius.