Interview with Brian Danner of KOZE radio, Lewiston, ID

Brian Danner and Mike Tatko of KOZE radio
Brian Danner and Mike Tatko of KOZE radio

Brian Danner does radio coverage of Lewis-Clark State baseball, and all games of the NAIA Baseball National Championsip, for KOZE, 950 AM in Lewiston, ID. All games are webcast by KOZE. Here’s an interview with Brian:

Bob Broughton: How long has Lewis-Clark State had radio coverage of their games?

Brian Danner: KOZE-AM has been following the Lewis-Clark State program for the better part of three decades. Gene Hamblin and Mike Ripley were and are the pioneers of the broadcasts. They saw early on the interest in L-C baseball and were able to convince sponsors that the product would be good business for them – it was, and in my opinion, still is. Lewiston has always been a baseball town. Very educated fans with a high baseball IQ. The late Dwight Church built a powerhouse legion program that still is among the best in the state on an annual basis. Kids become involved with the game at a very early age, and for the most part stick with it into adulthood, whether as fans or softball all-stars.

BB: When did you start doing it, and how did you get involved?

BD: I’ve had the enormous pleasure to work L-C games since 1994. At the time I was working for the company (4K Radio Inc.) at one of our other radio stations in Grangeville, Idaho which is located about 70 miles south of Lewiston. I’d been broadcasting high school football and basketball games there since the fall of 1991. In the fall of 1993, Mr. Ripley contacted me and asked if I would be interested in broadcasting the Lewis-Clark State basketball games. I jumped at the opportunity, and when the time came for baseball season, I just transitioned over to Harris Field. I’d never done a baseball game in my life, and I’ll admit, it was very intimidating. Frankly, I was scared to death. The first season, I might as well have paid at the gate.  I don’t think I offered much. And there are probably those out there that think I still don’t.

BB: And you do men’s and women’s basketball, too?

BD: Yes, as I said I’ve been working with the both men’s and women’s basketball teams since the 1993-94 season.  The college has two very successful programs. Most people across the country, or at least in the NAIA world, think of Lewis-Clark State and they immediately think baseball. But the basketball programs are very good. In fact the women’s program has won 20 or more games for 17 consecutive seasons. It’s nice when they do well, because that usually means I get to travel to national tournaments. I’ve been to Jackson, Tennessee to the women’s NAIA Division I National Tournament, I think it’s 8 times now. I’ve also been to the men’s tournament – once in Tulsa and twice in Kansas City. Loved every experience at all of them.

BB: Do you have a day job? Other radio projects?

BD: I do have a day job. I’m the radio news anchor for the 4K News Live At 5 newscast Monday through Friday.  We provide news to KOZE of course, as well as KORT AM FM in Grangeville and KLER AM FM in Orofino, Idaho which is about 50 miles east of Lewiston.  In fact, the sports part of my job is really the part-time part, though it does eat up a lot of my life, especially between January and June.

BB: Where did the idea come from that “we can send our radio coverage out on the internet, so people all over the world can listen to it”?

BD: We had been discussing the idea of broadcasting over the Internet for a while before we actually started it. Our Executive Producer and KOZE-AM Operations Manager Chris Ripley, along with his father Mike were the driving forces behind the move. We realized early on that there was an opportunity on the world wide web to reach more people. Initially, it was a way to reach the parents of some of the players, many of whom come from far away to play and get an education. I’m not sure of the exact year, but I know we’ve been doing it for the better part of a dozen years. 1997 or 1998 maybe. We were one of the first to be sure.

BB: What sort of feedback do you get from listeners to the NAIA Baseball National Championship coverage?

BD: I honestly can’t recall ever getting a bad response from Internet listeners. Most people, especially family members, are really appreciative. We know that most of the fans across the country will more than likely be unable to come out for the NAIA World Series.  Let’s face it, it’s an expensive proposition. When the series first returned to Lewiston in 2000, we were having a hard time accommodating everyone who wanted to tune it in. So, we partnered with the local cable company (Cable One) so we would be able to handle the traffic. That has been a great relationship since its inception. We’ve received emails during national tournament broadcasts from as far away as Australia to as close as Lewiston. We carry all the games online during the series, whether it’s 18 or 19. And the best part for listeners is its free.

BB: Can you tell us about some special things that you’ve seen over the years in the BNC? Outstanding games, teams, individual performances?

BD: I didn’t work a world series game until the tournament returned to Lewiston in 2000, so my experience is limited to those games I’ve seen since then.  But there are many, many moments that I’ll never forget. I remember Lewis-Clark State’s Beau Mills hitting three homeruns in the national championship game in 2007 – in the process he set a new NAIA record for homeruns in a season with 38.  That record by the way could fall as soon as Saturday. Oklahoma City’s Brent Weaver is one behind, and something tells me we will probably witness history in the next week or so.

I watched LSU-Shreveport turn a triple play against Oklahoma City in a world series game a few years ago. I saw Lewis-Clark State outfielder Joey Dyche become the first NAIA player to ever hit for the cycle in a world series game.

BB: I remember Dyche’s performance.

BD: And if I may refer back to your previous question with regard to feedback from the Internet.  My partner, Mike Tatko and I were calling a game a few years back at the national championship. Oklahoma City had a really good middle infielder named Dave Marlett. As he was coming to bat, we received an email from his grandparents who told us they were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and listening to the game that night in Binger, Oklahoma – which by the way is Johnny Bench’s hometown.  As we’re relaying the information over the air, Dave hit a home run almost on cue. It was magical!

But my favorite world series memory may be one that didn’t really come from the diamond. In 2006, before he passed away, the NAIA was able to bring Buck O’Neil to Lewiston to be the featured speaker at the Banquet of Champions event. Even in his 90′s Buck absolutely owned the crowd. He told stories about baseball and about life. He talked about his friendships with legends like Satchel Paige and Jesse Owens. Just amazing. By the time he was finished, he had everyone holding hands and singing with him. I just don’t think there will ever be another man like Buck O’Neil – and there won’t ever be another featured speaker that will ever hold a candle to him. At least that’s my opinion. I’m so glad I got to meet him.

BB: L-C State only played nearby Gonzaga once this year, and hasn’t played Washington State in a couple of years. What’s the problem?

BD: NCAA baseball, like football has RPI as I understand it. To be blunt about it, there is not really any benefit for the Division I programs to play Lewis-Clark State. (a) They’re supposed to win, so when they do, they don’t earn anything for it. And (b) if they lose, they get pounded for it by raters. Also, I believe Division I schools are only allowed to play a certain number of non-DI competition. The other problem is Lewis-Clark State itself and the success the program has achieved over the past three decades under Ed Cheff. It’s no picnic for these NCAA teams to play L-C. Let’s face it, the program is replete with Division I talent, or Division I transfers. When you play against L-C, you might as well be playing against another D-I school. That’s what the talent level is like here. It’s disappointing for fans in the region too, and not just the L-C State fans. I believe fans at Washington State and Gonzaga would love to see them play each other, but the reality of the situation is it’s just not going to ever happen again the way it used to be.  And I think that’s a little sad.

BB: I’ve heard that the new Seattle U. team is on the schedule for next year…

BD: You want to know the truth? I really don’t pay much attention to the baseball schedule until they post it on their website. I have no idea who might be on it next year. Good for Seattle University. I was hoping we might see Oregon on the schedule this year, but I guess they couldn’t work it out with the Ducks.

BB: This one’s for people who have been following college baseball for a long time. The last year of NorPac (a special arrangement the Pac-10 had for the Washington and Oregon schools, plus Gonzaga and U. of Portland) was 1998. L-C State competed in the NorPac for one season, 1997. Tell us about it.

BD: I remember that year well. At that time, Lewis-Clark State was a dual member of both the NAIA and NCAA.  The plan was for the baseball team to go Division I while the other sports would be classified as Division II. It was a time when LCSC was in the same conference as Western Washington, Central Washington, St. Martin’s, or what’s now known as the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.  Those teams used to be NAIA, but decided to make the D-II move. It left L-C with a decision to make. Two things then happened.  One, the L-C baseball program was finding it difficult to find a conference to play in, and at about the same time, the NAIA World Series began looking for interested host sites for the national championship. L-C then submitted a bid and abandoned the NCAA dream, the other programs joined with the mostly Montana-based Frontier Conference and here we are today. Just a note on that 1997 season. It was a great year to be a fan in this area. The University of Washington, Oregon State, Portland, Gonzaga, Washington State and many other Pacific Northwest NCAA D-I schools actually came to Lewiston to play. At one point L-C won 21 straight games and finished the season 46-10-1. Ironically, the Warriors failed to reach the NAIA World Series that year, losing twice to Cal Baptist in the Far West Regional.

BB: What do you have to say about the the NAIA’s new qualification arrangement for this tournament, and the much stronger field we’ve gotten this year?

BD: I’ve never been more excited about an NAIA World Series! Nine of the top 10 qualified. What more could you ask for.  I believe the new qualification plan accomplished exactly what it was designed to do. Are there some things to tweak? Probably, but overall I think it was an overwhelming success. Best field of teams ever.

BB: The only negative I’ve heard is about having five teams in each sectional, which means that the #4 and #5 seeds have to play each other for the right to play the #1 seed. How would you feel about having four teams per sectional instead of five, or 36 teams qualifying for the sectionals instead of 45?

BD: That would probably take away a lot of the advantage the #1 seeds currently enjoy under the new qualification plan. If you cut the opening round field to 36 it would probably balance things out, but you’d have a lot of teams who don’t make it in complaining. I don’t really have an answer for you. It’s like the NAIA World Series.  Why 10 teams instead of eight? An eight-team field certainly makes for an easier bracket to follow. Of course, I’ve even heard people say they should expand the World Series field to 12 instead of ten – that might be interesting.

BB: The NAIA should consider this. Then, they could have 11 sectionals with four teams in each sectional, with 44 teams qualifying for the sectionals.

Thanks, Brian, and I’ll see you the next time the Warriors visit British Columbia.