Sunday, July 29, 2001
hopefuls can start
with Stadium Stars
Les Keiter's program teaches
and develops on-air reporting skills
By Dave Reardon
S many stars are born in the booth as on the field these days.
The explosion in popularity of broadcast sports has propelled microphone-minders into the kind of celebrity status previously reserved for the performers whose exploits they chronicle.
Guys like Al Michaels and Vin Scully draw more autograph hounds and speaking engagements than most professional athletes.
And you've really arrived when everybody knows you by your nickname.
That would be "The General," Les Keiter.
Keiter, the 82-year-old patriarch of Hawaii jock-talking heads, is long retired from the daily wars of local network sportscasts and the heady rush of prime play-by-play assignments.
But the man who made his mark decades ago calling heavyweight world championship fights and baseball recreates keeps busy as the media liaison for Aloha Stadium. Almost by accident, part of that job has become nurturer of dreams for those who want to follow him into sportscasting superstardom -- and babysitter for fantasy game-callers.
The vehicle is called "Stadium Stars." It is a unique program that gives fledgling sportscasters a big-league venue and a big-league mentor and all the high school sports action they can handle. The program, which was the idea of stadium manager Eddie Hayashi, doesn't only help broadcasters get their voices in the door -- it also provides videos of every high school football and soccer game played in the stadium. The program pays for itself as parents purchase the tapes as keepsakes and coaches buy them for recruiting and scouting.
"Stadium Stars" gets a big boost this fall from Leeward Community College's Office of Continuing Education and Training. Leeward has sent out 100,000 flyers promoting the program and is creating an official non-credit study program in conjunction with it.
"We're especially concerned about developing programs that help people find work or upgrade their job," said Lucy Gay of LCC. "It's work-force training, but it's very special because we have access to a real arena, with real-time training and a real setting that can translate into real jobs."
Says Keiter: "I'm excited about more community involvement, especially with the colleges. It gives us more credibility."
It's not often that reality and fantasy find such serendipity.
And it's pretty easy to get going.
With just a phone call and a meeting, you get a game assignment, the equipment and some advice from The General. Then you go for it -- yes, that's really you calling the St. Louis-Kamehameha game.
You don't have to aspire to be the next Jim Leahey or Bonnie Bernstein to participate. You can do it just for the fun of it.
That's what two friends and I did seven years ago, during the first year of the program. We are all sports-minded types -- actually, all sports professionals in some sense: a sports-writer, a coach and an official. But we quickly learned that knowing a lot about sports doesn't necessarily translate into a smooth broadcast.
"There's so much more involved in a play-by-play than calling the action," says Kevin Hashiro, a charter participant of "Stadium Stars" who is carving a niche in local sports radio as a jack-of-all-trades (including University of Hawaii women's basketball and volleyball play-by-play) at KCCN 1420-AM. "You have to be analytical, observant and think on your feet. There are guys who think they can come in and wing it."
We were those guys.
We had fun, but we also embarrassed ourselves. All the dead air, mangled pronunciations and incorrect information with which we littered the airwaves was not going to get us into the Columbia School of Broadcasting, much less a tryout at ESPN.
Getting started>> Call Leeward Community College at 455-0691 or Les Keiter at Aloha Stadium at 486-9305
>> Get your marching orders from The General, and pay attention to his after-action report
>> Do your homework: talk to the coaches the day before the game and make sure you know how to pronounce the players' names
>> Take advice from the guys who have done it before and work as a team
>> Check your ego at the stadium entrance
>> Most equipment is provided by Aloha Stadium, but you should bring a notebook and pen
But stick with it and you get better. (We had enough after the first try.)
The General -- with help from his top lieutenant, local broadcast veteran Al Morikami -- makes sure of it. He provides friendly but firm feedback.
"Even the people who are in it just for the recreational value want to do a good job," Hashiro said. "Who wants to sound idiotic during a broadcast?"
Darren Hernandez certainly doesn't. And if he does, no one's going to tell the 290-pound Kapolei High School head football coach with the look of a Hell's Angel and the vocabulary of a Rhodes Scholar.
But Hernandez, always driven to improve, humbly accepts critiques from The General.
"Les is the guy who brings it all together," Hernandez says. "We're lucky to have him."
Hernandez was an assistant coach for the now-defunct arena football Hawaii Hammerheads two years ago when "Stadium Star" Blaine Kauwe suggested he join the constellation.
"It was a fluke for me. (Kauwe) said, 'Coach, you've got a great voice. You could do TV or radio with that voice,' " says Hernandez. "I don't know where it will lead, but I enjoy it. I can't do as much of it as I want to because of coaching right now, but who knows?
"I'm a football fanatic in every sense of the word. Some coaches always watch it as a coach. I can still sit back and enjoy it as a fan. This is just another avenue for me to express my love of the game."
Hernandez teams up with his former Campbell High School football teammate, Steve Naeole. Naeole is a broadcast professional, a disc jockey at 98.5-FM.
The hobbyists, the aspirants, the pros and the goofy one-timers all get along, for the most part. In an endeavor known for egos and a tight job market, the "Stadium Stars" work as teammates, helping each other improve.
"I feed off the other guys and their (broadcast) experience, and I like to think they learn from me and my experience as a coach," Hernandez says.
Kauwe says "some doors have opened up" for him recently in local sportscasting circles, but he still sells real estate in the daytime. His smooth voice and seven years of "Stadium Stars" experience could get him bigger paid gigs.
"No matter what happens, I think I will always be involved with the program and give back to the guys coming in now," Kauwe says. "We help each other out. We all understand it's a competitive market, but you kind of bond.
"Sometimes, just for kicks, I play that first tape and say, 'Whoah, that was me?' "
For me and my buddies, that first and only tape has conveniently disappeared.