With ‘McKeachie-isms … you never know’: A dear, maddening friend to Sportstalk

An excerpt from Dan Russell’s memoir, which recounts the highs and lows of hosting a call-in radio sports show in Vancouver for three decades.

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In Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk, host Dan Russell recounts the highs and lows of hosting a call-in radio sports program in Vancouver for three decades. Here is an excerpt:

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Have you ever had a really dear friend who encompasses all the traits you would hope for — honest, loyal, caring, trustworthy, good listener, fun — yet can still drive you bonkers?

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Meet John McKeachie.

Like tens of thousands of others, I grew up listening to McKeachie thorough late-evening and weekend sportscasts on CKNW and then religiously watched his late-night highlights on BCTV.

Yet it was him who reached out to me during Sportstalk’s first year on CJOR. We kept in touch after that, and it wasn’t long before our acquaintanceship became a decades-long friendship. I loved his appreciation of the broadcast business, but what really jumped out to me was his huge heart. He genuinely cared about people, about me and about the welfare of Sportstalk.

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McKeach, though, was as impatient as he was persistent.

When we started dining together after our respective shifts, he was always anxious to confirm our rendezvous by calling at 12:07 a.m., one minute after he and Robert Malcom said goodnight on BCTV, eight minutes after the Sportstalk Orchestra ended our show. The problem at our end was that we were still in debrief mode, assessing what did and didn’t go right during our show, cleaning up our papers and, most importantly, planning the next day.

McKeach didn’t care.

Also, though I’m sure he was just trying to be friendly, John also had a regular habit of calling me mid-morning, often for no apparent reason, and starting with the dumbest question you can ask someone who just woke up to answer the phone.

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“Are you up?”

“I f—ing am now,” would be my usual groggy response, sometimes for real, usually for effect.

John McKeachie, a long-time popular BCTV sports anchor, circa 1995.
John McKeachie, a long-time popular BCTV sports anchor, circa 1995. Photo by PNG files

I thought the easiest way to put a stop to this would be to ask if he could please wait until 12:20 a.m. and p.m. before calling. My 12:20 rule. So easy to remember. So hard, as I would find out, to adhere to.

Is phone disease condition — a.k.a. PDC — even a thing? Because if ever anyone had it, it was McKeach. First of all, in terms of any phone ringing, he and I were polar opposites. I’m content to let a call go to voicemail knowing the person will leave a message if it was important, whereas John could trip and break a leg diving to answer it live. He told me it was not uncommon at BCTV for him to answer a call from a viewer just before he was supposed to be on the set, talk to the point of almost being late and be fiddling with his microphone and jacket with the red light already on. This frequently occurred and was part of his on-air charm.

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“Why do you answer every call?” I used to ask him.

“Because you never know,” he would say.

“You never know what?” I’d invariably respond.

Cover of Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk.
Cover of Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk. Photo by Tellwell

Not unlike those who collect rare stamps, coins, hockey cards, etc., McKeachie collected phone numbers. I never met anyone prouder of the list that he saved and constantly updated on his BCTV computer. He printed a new copy every few weeks and always kept it in a bulging back pocket. Because a great contact list is gold in our business, this meant John literally was sitting on a gold mine.

Remotes were usually rewarding but always stressful. Home base was my domain, with a daily routine that consisted of hours-long show prep and writing during the day, the show itself, and post-game eats with McKeach and my crew at Martini’s on Broadway. We usually went to Martini’s four times a week, though John boasted his record was 16 straight days, including weekends. Their food was great, their staff respectfully accommodating, and they were open until 2 a.m., often much later for us.

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We mostly shot the breeze about the day in sports and shared laughs about other things. The only time we would cringe would be when someone famous died, which invariably would go like this: A little reflection about the person, perhaps about a five-second pause and then McKeach cheekily asking, “Did you have him in your pool?”

Martini’s is where we memorized the “McKeachie-isms,” his go-to list of phrases. For example:

Any story he might tell often was a “good news-bad news scenario.”

The “car-accident syndrome” is how he described having to wait too long to learn something important because “the not knowing is the hardest part.”

McKeach was never out until the wee hours, it was always until “a hundred o’clock in the morning.” Nor was he out for drinks — always “cocktails” said with fervour.

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The over/under on the use of “vis-à-vis” could easily be placed each night at 5.5, and taking the over was always the safe bet.

If you shared particularly great news with him, perhaps a new contract or a great rating book, it was never “congratulations” but, regardless of month, “Happy New Year.”

Each year as Christmas approached, McKeach proudly proclaimed, “I never start buying gifts until the 24th because that way you can spend only one day shopping.”

During my bachelor years, I spent almost every Christmas Eve at his South Vancouver home where, besides consuming festive drinks, I was asked by John and his wife Sandi to write individual Santa notes for their three young daughters. Always the last to leave, I recall going into the cold night around 2 a.m. and heading back to my Kitsilano home where I would start wrapping gifts for my own family visit the next day. After all, if you wait until Dec. 24 to start wrapping, the most time you can spend on it is one day.

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It’s true, McKeach was infectious and I loved him.

But only after 12:20 — a.m. or p.m.

Read more excerpts from Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk:

• Excerpt 1: ‘Sportstalk, go ahead’: Starting a Vancouver radio talk show juggernaut
• Excerpt: 2: ‘Thanks for having me on, Dan’: Brian Burke as Sportstalk’s best guest ever
• Excerpt 3: With ‘McKeachie-isms … you never know’: A dear, maddening friend to Sportstalk
• Excerpt 4: ‘Critique so stinging, so biting, so brilliant’: ‘The Pauser’ called some shots on air, and off, at Sportstalk
• Excerpt 5: ‘We connected’: Recalling Sportstalk’s night in ’94 riven by Rangers and riots

For more information, visit danrussellsportstalk.com.

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