No New Pressbox

Bob Foster. (Image from MEandV.com)

One of the best lines ever left on my answering machine in college went something like this, “Sorry boys, I was wrong, no new press box, its, a dump. Pick you up at 9 in front of Grossmann Hall.”

Also in the running, “we’re taking money for the TuPac Memorial Fund.”

These are the only two Bob Foster lines I can share publicly. I can share more, but you’ll have to buy me a drink first.

Bob Foster is a name you may not know, unless you were listening to Wartburg College football in the mid-90s or Waverly-Shell Rock sports, or most recently Iowa State University Football’s pre-game show. Bob would set the stage of the game and produce the broadcast.

Bob was one of my first mentors in radio. He was the play-by-play man for the broadcast crew for Wartburg football. It was the first year of a partnership between KWAR, the campus radio station, and KWAY, the Waverly station what would be called The Knights Radio Network.

This was during the Bob Nielson and Steve Hagen eras. I did find an old aircheck of Bob interviewing then-coach Marty Simmons. Yes, that Marty that is now back at Evansville as the Ace’s head basketball coach.

This is where two students would get to be on the crew with a professional and help make the broadcast sound bigger and better. After all, radio is the theatre of the mind.

Scott Harves was the junior on the team, so he was sent to the sidelines. I was the sophomore, so I went down the press box to give scoring updates and stat updates as the game progressed. That means I got to see with Duane Schroeder’s bunch. Those stories are for another day.

We also had Al Dorenkamp on the crew as the color commentator. At the time, Al just had left his position as principal at WSR and was working in sales. We would later find out Al was an All-American football player at Central College in Pella. He served as captain on the 1975 NCAA Division III championship team, so he knew his football and was one hell of a great guy. He’s now the athletic director at Central.

Each week we’d get a new layer of Mr. Foster. Scott and I would hear about Mr. Foster’s days as a Wartburg student in the 1970s. Bob taught us the term “on the beach” meaning you were in between radio gigs. The reasons you were on the beach would vary from disagreements with management, playing the wrong records when being told not to, or maybe messing around with the boss’ wife, or doing lines in the production room during news updates. I’m not saying Bob did any of those things, he was just pointing out guys who did and would get bagged for it.

Scott and I just ate up those stories from Bob and would recant them later that night when we got back to campus.

I was the contact man for Scott and I from Bob. I’d usually get an answering machine message that updated that week’s activities.

One week we were headed to the University of Dubuque for a game with the Spartans. Bob thought the press box was new and the renovations would be complete for our game that Saturday.

Around Wednesday I get a call that says, “Yeager. Foster. Sorry boys, I messed up. No new press box, it’s a dump. Pick you up at Grossman Hall at 9.”

I learned about a program wheel, the importance of planning, segments, spotting, scoring, even engineering to fix equipment. Bob is a ham who would put those skills to good use most Saturdays as something would usually break during the broadcast.

A standard on-air Saturday commentary from Bob would go like this…

“Greetings to wherever you may be in eastern Iowa… Wartburg College football is on the air. The Knights, in their home all black uniforms with white numbers, orange trim and the bowling ball black helmets… and Central in their road uniforms, blood-red pants, fleece white uniforms with red numbers and a white helmet with a C on both sides and a red stripe down the middle.”

Do I even need to show you a picture of the jersey’s? You know what the uniforms look like. That was Bob’s talent, describing what he saw to help you the listener see what was happening.

I learned the importance of a great theme, to then play the hell out of it and then when people here your theme, they know you’re on the air, or about to tell them something about the broadcast.

We would hear about Thunder on the Ohio, the Indy 500 and many other great events. Scott and I were told an AJ Foyt story following a Knights loss when post-game interviews seemed inappropriate. We learned, even in a loss, you still have to put the mic in for the reaction.

His could be sharp with tone and direction, but it was straight forward. He had a staccato to his points he would make to Scott and I. He would rub some people the wrong way, but that was Bob.

“I’m a different man than I used to be fellas,” Bob would say, adding, “I’m sober, on the wagon and glad to be back in Waverly.”

Then Bob’s life changed again, after his diagnosis with leukemia. But, Bob, beat cancer and got out of broadcasting full-time. He took a job at a radio station in Carroll before my senior year. That opened the door for me and Tracey Williams to call Wartburg games along with Brian Vandenberg. Bob would come back to the Cedar Valley after a stop in Mason City to work for ME and V in Cedar Falls. He’s doing something he loves now and helping medical companies spread their message.

Bob returned the radio a few years ago as the producer of the Iowa State Football radio pregame show. Foster worked 12 years on the Cyclone Radio Network. Bob would be in the tower on the pregame, even allowing him a chance to go into news mode the afternoon a tornado went over Jack Trice Stadium. That story was recounted in this Courier article by Jim Sullivan.

Here’s another tribute done for The Paul Rhoades Show. Jeff Grummer produced the piece and you can see video of John Walters and Eric Heft.

Bob told me the travel was just too much. He’d spend all extra energy traveling around games. The late night returns to Des Moines International Airport following a game Texas would usually get him back to Waverly at 5 AM if he was lucky. Then he would get a plane to Florida or Connecticut or wherever his next medical client needed him.

So after 40 years, Bob will pot down his mic for what may be the time. But I’ve heard that one before. Best to Bob and Dianne on the next chapter.

Bob was one of two of my biggest broadcasting influences in college. Between he and Grant Price, I am forever grateful for the lessons.

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6 thoughts on “No New Pressbox

  1. One of my favorite Foster stories was when Wartburg knocked off Central in the playoffs our freshmen year. Dorenkamp was so excited to see Wartburg win a thrilling game, he (the Central grad) started whistling the Wartburg fight song all the way back in the car to Waverly, with Bob driving.

  2. When I first met Bob, he was a killer on WNAP 931. Indianapolis. “The Wrath of the Buzzard!” I was either in Boston or Philly with “Fairbanks Broadcasting”. In late 1979 I sat “on the bench” and moved back to Indy in Early 1980. He had morphed into “Captian Bobby, in the WIBC/10-70 Whirlybird”. He promised me a ride.

    Before he could deliver, he was moved to “Big Momma’s” afternoon drive slot, and I became the new “flyboy”. Being on the radio with Mr. Foster (a.k.a “Bob Richards” ) was one of the High Points in my twenty some years attempting to fill his seat (as opposed to “shoes” in the sky.

    Lost track of each other for a decade or so. Imagine my surprise when we reunited and discovered we both have the same Cancer… except mine is “smoldering” (not active yet).

    God blessed us to share some unique and remarkable experiences and lessons, he is now in my Prayers and always in my heart & soul!

  3. Bob Foster and Grant Price: Now that is a pair of aces. Except for the Iowa State stuff, Bob is one of the great storytellers of all time.

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