Dick Lobdell, known as the world's oldest living commentator, is signing off after 41 years in the radio business. His career will have started and stopped in Anchorage and covers a colorful span of Alaska broadcasting history.
Today a loyal audience wakes up to his Morning Magazine talk show on KENI 550 AM. He's been doing some version of a morning show since 1982 and has his finger on the pulse of local and state issues. His philosophy for a successful talk show is “to have a variety of subjects and to bring out the best in his guests and when there are callers to be able to challenge them.”
Mayor Tom Fink is one of the show's regulars.
“I like having him on the show, he's honest and gives short answers. A lot of people don't agree with him and sometimes I don't either, but he knows what he wants to say,” said Lobdell.
Just as his program never misses a beat, neither does Dick. It was during a change of ownership with the radio station that his sick leave was brought up.
“The bookkeeper told me I had worked 1,500 days without a sick day. I thought she was kidding. This was about the same time that Cal Ripken was doing his run on consecutive baseball runs, so I started referring to myself as the Cal Ripken of broadcasting history.”
In the end, he beat Ripken's record, he worked 3,025 shows before taking a sick day.
Lobdell always wanted to be a broadcaster. After graduating from Anchorage High School he left to get a degree in speech from Fresno State. While there he was surprised to be told that to get into the business he also needed a first-class radio license.
“I asked why since that was an engineers license. I was told that most stations broadcasting over 10,000 watts had to have all licensed people so that they could read the meters,” he said.
He went to Los Angeles to get the license and then returned to Anchorage and started knocking on doors looking for work.
His first job was pushing camera for Norma Goodman at KTVA channel 11. He stayed there a couple of years before taking a job in Fairbanks with Midnight Sun Broadcasting Co. in 1961.
“It was while I was in Fairbanks working for KFAR that I started doing sports – basketball and baseball.”
In 1965, he came back to Anchorage and took a position as program director for KENI where he stayed until 1969. He was general manager for KYAK until it sold in 1981.
From 1983 to 1987 he worked for and was stockholder in Pacific Rim Broadcasters (KYMG). They bought KENI and The FOX in 1987 and moved their offices from the Denali Towers to Westchester Lagoon. “We were just getting settled in, when there was a big economic downturn. The banks were pulling their notes and we were forced to go into Chapter 11. We operated under Chapter 11 for about two years with five people, a small budge and everyone took a 10 percent pay cut.”
“Then around this time, Tom Tierney came along. He had been general manager at channel 13 and a former banker. With the economy recovering, the bank gave him a great deal to take the radio station off of their hands and run it. ”
After this big merger, everything moved over to the Dimond Center. There have been a few more changes of ownership, but today KENI, KASH and The FOX are owned and operated by Clear Channel Communications.
It's hard to tell what Dick loves most, broadcasting or sports. He says he feels that one of the reasons he's been a successful broadcaster is because of his sports background.
“My voice has a sports pattern to it and is trained to come across with enthusiasm and excitement.”
The first year of the Shootout games, he broadcast all of the 12 games and remembers when UAA won against Penn State. He still broadcasts for UAA games – basketball and hockey—and does the public announcements at various events.
“Dick is a terrific, genuine, totally professional character with a great sense of humor and he always comes through when we need him,” says Tim McDiffett, UAA associate athletic director.
Lobdell's also the media director for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots and the Alaska Baseball League. He started announcing Pilot's games in 1969, on and off, and will be doing it again next summer.
Growing up, Lobdell's local heros were experienced broadcasters Ed Stevens and Rueben Gaines. Midnight Sun Broadcasting Co. brought them up from Los Angeles in the 1940s.
“My other two hero's are Vince Scully, who does the Dodgers, and Chick Hearn, who does the Lakers. I met Chick and talked to him for about 30 minutes. Baseball is a tough sport to do because you have a lot of fill time. When you hear Vince Sculley, he just kind of paints a picture with words, so you know everything that is going on in the ballpark. It's like it was written down on a piece of paper.”
A lot of people say the same about Lobdell. Jack O'Toole, long time coach for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots has known Lobdell since he was in high school.
“He's the best broadcaster in the state. Dick has the ability to translate what's happening in the game to the audience so effectively that you feel like you're there,” said O'Toole.
Lobdell was elected into the Alaska Broadcasters' Association's Hall of Fame in 1995. He can be heard on KENI 550 AM News Talk Radio, from 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., Monday through Friday. After Dec. 20, he gets to sleep in.
The good news is that he's not going anywhere and the voice of Anchorage sports will still be heard over the airwaves.