I was genuinely excited when I found out that my interviewee was going to be Dave “Buzz” Baker. Like most people that were born and raised in Central Kentucky, Dave has been a stable part of my UK and SEC media diet for over 20 years. He is a sideline reporter, a sportscaster for WKYT, a radio host, and a pitchman for beef jerky. I knew this would be a fun interview and looked forward to talking to a guy who has a passion for his work. I called Dave Friday right after his noon sportscast on channel 27. We spoke for almost forty minutes about various topics including his favorite moments in sports, the state of the media, and how he could turn around the struggling economy.
Quick personal aside: have you ever recorded yourself interviewing a professional? If you care about your self-confidence at all, I would suggest not attempting it. I had to listen to my interview roughly 25 times to transcribe everything and I sound like Gomer Pyle and Forrest Gump’s dumber, less articulate younger brother. I also had a nervous laugh throughout the whole thing that I’m sure made Dave want to jam a pencil into my aorta. Damn you Matt Jones. You can expect a bill from my psychiatrist. On to the interview!
Christopher Johns: You have a new pre-game show for CBS. How is it going?
Dave Baker: It’s good. CBS has the 3:30 pm game and the #1 pick of match-ups. Before the game we are doing a show called SEC Tailgate which is gonna air on their CBS College channel (CSTV). It will air on most Saturdays from 2:00 to 3:00 pm EST. Sometimes it will air from 11:00 until noon depending on the Army football coverage. I am excited about it. It is one of those deals where we are going to broadcast from the site of the SEC game. It is a great opportunity and hopefully I won’t screw it up. We don’t have our first one until September 19th because CBS doesn’t get going until after the US Open (tennis). That makes our first broadcast the Tennessee-Florida game.
CJ: On a show like SEC Tailgate, do you have a lot of creative control in terms of ideas and writing?
DB: Well, I’m not quite sure yet. This is the first time I have worked with this group, but they (CBS) have been great so far. They have asked about my expertise and my time in the SEC, so it will be a collaborative effort. I think it is going to be really nice.
CJ: You were born in Ohio and went to Georgetown College. What made you decide to come to Kentucky for school?
DB: Well, even though I grew up in southwestern Ohio, my roots are here. My folks are from Eastern Kentucky. My mom is from Owsley County and my dad is from Hazard. Like so many folks, when coal hit a little dip there in the late 50’s, they moved and dad got a job in one of the factories in southwest Ohio. I had been looking for a spot (to go to school) and some friends of mine were going to school in Georgetown and I went for a visit and it worked out just really well. It was a great place for me.
CJ: What was your major?
DB: Political Science with a minor in History. Originally, I thought that I was going to law school or teaching. It just kind of changed.
CJ: After school, did you get hired on at WKYT immediately?
DB: I actually had an internship here when I was in college. I was able to work here on the weekends. My last couple of years, I would work on tobacco farms or at a nursery in Georgetown during the day then go to WKYT at night. Even when school would start, we would work on a tobacco farm in the mornings before class then come back and pick it up after class. My last semester of school I interned in our Frankfort bureau during the 1982 legislative session and they had a job open up right around the time I graduated.
CJ: How did you get the nickname “Buzz”?
DB: You know, I wish there was some incredible story behind it. Simply, it was in the office one day shortly after I had started and Rob Bromley was typing. He stopped and said, “You need a nickname”, and then goes back to typing. “Buzz. Why don’t we call you Buzz?” And that is it. That is the entire story.
CJ: What is Rob Bromley’s nickname?
DB: *laughing* It is a nickname not for public consumption. Maybe when we write a book.
CJ: How tough is it for you to separate Dave Baker the fan from Dave Baker the reporter?
DB: Not nearly as tough as some people would like you to believe. I believe that you can still have passion, excitement, and enthusiasm for a particular group or a particular individual whether it be a team or a business or a cause and still be objective about it. There are some great friends I have made in this business and I want to see them succeed and do well. The question is: can you talk objectively about them? Sure you can. I think you can whether you are on the air or off the air. I really think you can.
CJ: You entered the media business in 1982. What is the single greatest change you have experienced in the media world since you started?
DB: The immediacy aspect. Whether or not TV stations can do something live or whether something happens and you guys have got it immediately up on a blog or whether it is somebody Twittering information immediately after a practice. Just the immediacy of it has made it so that you can really follow things 24×7. You are kinda to the point where you need to cover them 24×7 and if you are in this business I think what it has done has caused people to get sloppy. They get pressured by trying to get it first, but it is that whole Helen Thomas deal, “Get it first, but get it right”.
The rise of everything electronic has made it so that I don’t believe that newspapers in general, but in particular the big newspapers, wield nearly the clout that they used to in terms of moving the needle on sports discussion or coverage. I still think that the local, hometown papers are very important. The larger newspapers, who were often considered the drivers of the message, their significance just isn’t what it used to be.
CJ: Do you think that is a good thing or a bad thing?
DB: I think it is a good thing. I want to be clear about this: I think there are very good people that work in reporting in newspapers. I think in terms of columnists, there are some columnists I agree with and some with which I really have issues. My problem all along was the overall editorial position of newspapers and really how they just tried to bully people around. Whether it was in sports or politics or education or local government, I have just always found it to be very distasteful.
CJ: From my perspective, the biggest problem with newspapers in particular was they thought their business was printing papers rather than collecting and distributing news regardless of format.
DB: They were the 500lb gorilla. I think they were slow to adapt. First of all, I feel like they felt they were immune from having to adapt. Once they realized they needed to do something, they were slow on the uptick to do it.
CJ: How much personal technology do you employ?
DB: I do not have the iPhone yet. I still have a Samsung that is like the old Treo. I get email and text all on that device. I take an iPod with me. I am also on Twitter and Facebook.
CJ: You have a large family (4 children, 2 are twins). How do you find time to travel, perform your job, and still have time for your family?
DB: I have a great support system at home. Fortunately, my travel isn’t as bad as one might think. Even doing the games and this new show, you don’t leave until Friday and most of the time make it back Saturday night so you aren’t gone all that much. You try to make as much time as you absolutely can when you are here. My kids are involved in sports, nothing I have pushed them into, but they really love it and we take advantage of every minute we can and make the most out of the ones that we do have.
CJ: It helps having a good wife. That is my biggest accomplishment. I’m not even sure most times what she is doing with me.
DB: It is called out-kicking your coverage.
CJ: In terms of the SEC, what is the most memorable game you covered?
DB: Oh man. The SEC tournament final when Pitino was here, Rodrick Rhodes missed the free throws, and UK made the big comeback down in the Georgia Dome. That was pretty unbelievable.
CJ: That was an intense game. People forget how big a rival Arkansas was at that time.
DB: It was huge. Also, being part of the radio crew for the championships was awesome.
In football, I was on the field standing 3-4 feet away from Guy Morriss when he got the water dumped on him against LSU. As a sideline reporter, I had to sprint down to the other end of the field to get Nick Saban as he was running off. They still have footage of that. Raycom had 5-6 cameras when they did a game and there are guys in a truck rolling on each of those cameras. The boys at Raycom, one of their favorite clips on the funny reel is me running through all those people that had run out on the field down so I could reach Nick Saban.
CJ: Was it a Stanford band moment?
DB: It was. There were all kinds of people out on the field. If you remember, they had already jumped up on the goal posts and you saw the shots of people that had run out on the field to celebrate and then they realized what happened.
CJ: Favorite SEC coach? It doesn’t have to be UK.
DB: The one thing I have found is all the coaches have been incredibly accessible. They have been honest and open with us during our meetings which certainly helps us when trying to put on the best broadcast possible. They are all so very diverse and all different in how they go about things. Their one similarity is that they have incredible passion. I just love being a part of meetings and talking to people like Urban Meyer, like Saban, people like that. Seeing what they do and how they do it.
In basketball, it was kind of a golden era there for awhile. You had Pitino, Billy early in the league, Nolan Richardson at Arkansas, Dale Brown at LSU, Eddie Fogler at Vandy and South Carolina. There really were some guys that could do some great things. It was a star studded league in terms of coaches.
The interesting thing now, and a neat thing for me, is doing games for guys I actually covered. Obviously, I’ve known John Pelphrey since high school. Darrin Horn spent a lot of time out here. His brother was an intern here at the station. Obviously Travis Ford and other people like that. So, that is a neat deal.
CJ: One of my favorite guys is Kevin Stallings at Vandy. That recent story of him skipping a salary increase to pay for an Australian trip for his players was awesome. I don’t know why his name isn’t on more lists when coaching vacancies occur.
DB: I think it would be if he let people know he was interested. I think he just likes the situation he has got. I think he is very happy where he is.
CJ: What was the most fun UK team to follow?
DB: (He thinks about this one). The Unforgettables. I’d have to go with them. The shape the program was in. What those guys had been through. The fact that if the program was in decent shape, some of those guys wouldn’t have been here. That was something.
Also, seeing Tim Couch prove all the doubters wrong was just something. It was incredibly exciting. A lot of highs and lows, but incredibly exciting.
CJ: I have a feeling if I ask you that question in a year, Coach Cal’s first team might make that list.
DB: It could, but you know a championship team doesn’t always translate into a team that is really fun. Kyle Macy and those guys that won in 78, so much was expected of them and the pressure was so great they called that the “Season Without Celebration”.
CJ: What do you think about the ESPN contract with the SEC and how it affects UK?
DB: It is great in terms of the conference for exposure. The primary effect is not so much with the fans but it is a dollars and cents issue with the university and what they can do within the athletic department and the way the athletic departments from those SEC schools can actually help other areas at their institutions because of the incredible amount of money that they are getting. That is FAR AND AWAY the biggest benefit.
CJ: Where do you see UK going over the next few years with the direction of their athletics programs?
DB: I think it is going to be good. Mitch Barnhart has come in and done a great job with the ‘Olympic’ sports. The hiring of Rich Brooks worked out and thank goodness for everyone involved that it did. They knew that they had made a mistake with Billy, so they went ahead and fixed it. At least from the early results, it looks like they have hit a home run with this Calipari hire. I think there is going to be more and more success over the next several years from the athletics department as a whole.
CJ: What about Mitch Barnhart? Do you think he is happy here?
DB: I think he is. I just think it is an awfully tough job. Mitch came in here with a mandate to clean things up and I think he did that, but it is also a mandate to compete at a top level. Sometimes I think he is a bit misunderstood. Ultimately, all the decisions that take place regarding athletics, whether it be biggest (arenas and stadiums) to the smallest (like what the program is like during Football Fan Day) those all come back and are a reflection of him. I think it is something he has guided that is genuine. He wears his emotion on his sleeve and sometimes there are things he takes personally, but at the end of the day he can take a great deal of satisfaction out of what he is doing for folks as a whole.
CJ: Are you still friends with Lee Cruse?
DB: Oh yeah. I still see him frequently.
CJ: When can we expect Lee’s Dave Baker Alarm Clock to hit the market?
DB: You know, I’m surprised he hasn’t patented it yet. I keep telling him that by doing things like that he could turn the economy around by himself.
That is it. I want to thank Dave for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to me. It is much appreciated and I wish him luck with SEC Tailgate.