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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Radio Ways

The boys’ basketball shorts were significantly shorter in 1979, but the fans were just as rabid. A 23-year-old Dan Egierski sat in a packed gym in Tell City, Ind., as roaring home fans cheered on the Cannelton High School boys’ basketball team. Hundreds rooted good plays, they booed bad calls, and a few occasionally kneed the back of Egierski, who sat in front of the bleachers with a giant headset resting on his Polish-American head while his broadcasting equipment swayed on a wobbly folding table.

Yet, Egierski’s nerves for calling his first sports game were cooling. “I was scared to death. I knew how to put a headset on,” he recalls, “but to make sure the equipment is going to work — I didn’t really know what I was doing.” He had arrived two hours before game time to check the broadcast signal. He practiced his pronunciations and double-checked the players’ statistics. “It was a long night,” he says, but the game ended for Egierski without an embarrassing incident.

While that broadcast seems like any other sports game, the moment launched Egierski’s career. Over the next two decades, the voice of Egierski (pronounced “eh ger ski”) became synonymous with local sports. It has called the University of Southern Indiana national basketball championship games. It has earned him numerous state and regional broadcasting awards. “He is the ESPN of local sports,” says former Evansville radio broadcaster Sam Yates. But three years ago, Egierski was fired. He was a casualty of a changing radio market: Local sports weren’t carrying advertising like they once were. That was the explanation upon his firing, at least. Egierski had spent decades perfecting his voice, and as a friend had asked the then-49-year-old sportscaster: “Well, we know you can talk on the radio. What else can you do?”

As a student at LaSalle High School in South Bend, Ind., Egierski was a passionate football and baseball player. His Northern Indiana roots made him a Chicago sports fan. At 17, Egierski was watching a Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball game on TV when he noticed Cubs sportscaster Harry Caray in the broadcast booth with his shirt off. The half-naked middle-aged man inspired Egierski: “He’s just having a grand old time,” Egierski remembers. “If he’s getting paid to do that, then that’s something I want to do.”

He had the tools: a passion for sports and a good voice. “You got to do something with that voice,” his high school English teachers had told him. The deep voice spent a year in a South Bend junior college where an advisor recommended Egierski finish at the University of Evansville.

After graduating with a degree in interpersonal communication, he landed a job at WGBF 1280 AM, a local news talk station. He worked the early (3-7 a.m.) news beat. Three months later, Egierski was fired. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is nice. In my first job, I’m told I’m not good enough,’” he says, but “in hindsight, it was the best thing for me.” He wasn’t doing much: checking the police reports and writing a few stories. He wasn’t even on the air. Gain experience in a small town, he was told.

Welcome to Tell City, Ind., one hour east of Evansville along the Ohio River. With a population under 10,000, this was Egierski’s small town, and he worked here as a reporter at a radio station beginning in 1979. He also called high school football and basketball games. “That really propelled me,” Egierski says.

After five years, he used that experience to earn a job as a WGBF reporter and broadcaster in May. By August of that same year, Egierski became the sports director.[pagebreak]

Most overwhelming for him was covering all the Evansville high school football and basketball programs, but after one year, he found his comfort zone. “When people call you up and give you information,” that’s how you know listeners like your job performance, he says.

In 1987, Egierski met Sam Yates, a radio personality called a “morning maniac” by local newspapers. His WGBF show focused on Evansville news, and Yates brought a wacky charm to morning commutes. A master vocalist, Yates imitated the mayors. (To this day, he effortlessly impersonates former Evansville Mayor Frank McDonald II, who was a fan and frequent guest of the show.)

Egierski joined Yates with news and sports reports, but he quickly became Yates’ sidekick. “He had this big laugh,” Yates remembers, “an ‘Ed McMahon’ laugh. I knew I had to do everything I could to keep that laugh up.” The experience was slightly different from Egierski’s straight and narrow broadcasting. “I woke up in the morning and knew I had the chance to work with Sam Yates, the incredible talent, and basically laugh for four hours. He made it so much easier and enjoyable,” he says. The two put together numerous “audio cartoons,” zany bits involving impressions of local celebrities in oddball situations. After they found Harry Caray’s phone number in the Chicago directory, they called the Cubs broadcaster and Egierski’s longtime professional inspiration and woke “him up out of his Budweiser nap or whatever,” Yates remembers. “Caray’s hilarious, and Egierski is rolling on the floor.”

Yates left the show in 1991 for a North Carolina radio gig, and Egierski continued his career in Evansville. He called the football games of a future University of Notre Dame standout, Deke Cooper, who dazzled on the field as a North High School star. He called the high school career of future NBA player Calbert Cheaney when he was at Harrison High School. He called Memorial High School baseball games when future New York Yankees great Don Mattingly led the Tigers to 59 straight wins and a state title.

His most memorable game, though, is more personal. When Egierski’s son Ryan was a Castle High School senior, he played his last regular season football game in 1999, and in the broadcast booth was Ryan’s father and his grandfather, Jerry. In Ryan’s four years, Egierski only called one of his son’s games. “I thought about Harry Caray working with Skip, Jack Buck, and Joe Buck,” Egierski says. “Fathers and sons in the booth.” Three generations of Egierskis on one field.

This, more than anything else, shows why Egierski is such a loved radio figure, Yates says: “He’s an outstanding person. He’s an outstanding family man.” His family, including his wife Cindy and athletic daughter Lauren, kept Egierski in Evansville after WGBF managers eliminated his position to decrease expenses in 2005.

On the job hunt, Egierski decided Evansville is a market where family comes first. “I think it is important to have a home life,” he says. Egierski gravitated toward advertising and today is the vice president/sales of Evansville Sports Programming, Inc. Yet, he was drawn back to radio. He looked to the stations of neighboring counties to air local sports. He found Mark Lange, owner of The Original Company in Vincennes, Ind. Lange’s developed several stations in Southwest Indiana, and he bought the signal, WYFX 106.7 FM, to broadcast ESPN and local sports on the condition Egierski sold advertising for it. Soon, Egierski was behind the microphone again for an after-work radio show, “All About Sports.” With a strong following, he broadcasts from Roca Bar and Pizza in Newburgh. “Evansville is a very high-energy sports town,” he says, and that’s what still motivates him today. “When I listen to the radio, I like to know that someone is talking back to me,” he says. That’s his style, and it still works: “I haven’t had to change all that much.”

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