Making It Big
catching up with a sportscaster who went out west
Growing up in Eau Claire, the soundtrack to my sports memories often involved the voices of the local anchors and reporters who covered sports in the area. Wanted to see the Brewers? In the pre-Fox Sports Wisconsin/MLB.TV/SportsCenter-all-the-time era, one of the only ways was to turn on NewsCenter 13 at Ten and watch the likes of Rick Foy, Bob Brainerd, or Craig Coshun give you the highlights. These and other media personalities set the tone for how we viewed sports in the Chippewa Valley.
Where are they now?
This column begins an occasional series in Athletic Aesthetic that catches up with the western Wisconsin sports media folks we remember from years gone by, starting with a local guy who has been a longtime sports anchor in both Eau Claire and Sacramento, California: Jim Crandell.
Crandell was interested in sports and public speaking growing up. As Jim said, “I turned out to be a better speaker than athlete, so things have worked out well.” With help from legendary WAXX DJ Jim “The Old Schu” Schumacher, he got his start on WEAU-FM as a teenager in 1967, when the station (now WAXX 104.5) was in the same building at WEAU. This led to being in the newsroom a fair amount and starting some television weather duties. Jim told me this did not come from profound weather knowledge. “Did I know anything about weather? No!” he said. “When Barry Robinson decided he had enough TV and would concentrate full time on teaching, I lobbied for the sports announcer job, and got it.”
“I can’t tell you who Eau Claire Memorial plays this Friday, like I could when I was there, but I will find out if they make the playoffs!” – Jim Crandell, former Eau Claire sportscaster
Being Sports Director/anchor in the 70s and early 80s, Crandell said his most memorable events included covering the Ken Anderson/Mike Ratliff/Frank Schade-era Blugolds men’s basketball teams and their NAIA tournament runs to Kansas City; the 1982 World Series between the Brewers and Cardinals (and going to Arizona for Spring Training); and the Indianapolis 500 when John Menard sponsored a Herm Johnson-driven car. “I will never forget standing on the edge of the track as the cars started their engines,” Jim remembered.
In late 1984, a job offer beckoned from KTXL-TV in Sacramento. Crandell recalls the factors at play in leaving or staying. “The move to Sacramento took me from the 116th market to the 19th with a considerable increase in pay, so that helped me make the decision,” he said. “Leaving Eau Claire was tough. I grew up in Chippewa Falls. My family was there. My friends were there. Winter was also there, so California was very appealing.” So to California he went, and he’s been there ever since.
Crandell has primarily been Sports Director at what is now known as Fox 40, though he spent some years there as a news anchor, plus a little sports work for KRON-TV in San Francisco in the 90s. While Crandell says covering sports on TV is essentially the same as in Eau Claire, differences come from factors like the presence of professional teams (the NBA Kings, the proximity to numerous San Francisco/Oakland-area squads), along with high-profile events like Olympic track-and-field trials and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Working in that larger television market also makes a difference. As Jim noted, “The TV competition here is fierce. All four major network stations do a lot of news, and we compete, on the fringe of our DMA (Designated Market Area), with stations in San Francisco.”
Being a California resident for nearly three decades does not mean Crandell has lost touch with his home state sports action. He’s got folks – and the Web – to help him out. “I have friends who keep me up to date on what’s happening back there. I read the Milwaukee Journal online almost every day, and I check the Leader-Telegram and WEAU-TV websites if I am looking for something specific. I can’t tell you who Eau Claire Memorial plays this Friday, like I could when I was there, but I will find out if they make the playoffs!”
If you remember watching Jim on TV-13, you can keep up with him now as well, at fox40.com and twitter.com/jimcrandell. You may catch the occasional Wisconsin sports reference in his Twitter feed, which is a reminder that no matter how far our careers take us from home, that home is always part of us.