Of the countless observations Mike Gastineau made during his 21-year career as a sports radio talk-show host at KJR 950-AM, none proved more significant than his ill-informed argument with one caller.
This was in 1995, when the debate about taxpayers’ participation toward funding a new Mariners ballpark had become as verboten a dinner-table topic as politics and religion. But talk-radio listeners were free to expose themselves as fools, rushing in on one of those controversies where angels feared to tread.
“So I get this call from a guy who has a question,” Gastineau recalled Thursday. “He asks: ‘How can you defend using public money for a baseball stadium when elementary schools in Seattle can’t even afford books for their libraries?’ ”
Gastineau responded with a sigh, the radio equivalent of rolling his eyes. Another fool had rushed in.
“Schools without library books? I told him it wasn’t possible – that he was an idiot for saying stuff that had no basis in fact,” continued Gastineau. “I blathered on and on.”
But it was the “Gas Man,” as it turned out, who was full of hot air. He did some research and learned of the dearth of library books available to Seattle schoolchildren, and then he did something about it by spearheading an event now known as the KJR Kares-a-Thon. The annual memorabilia auction has raised $1.5 million for Seattle-area charities, among them Northwest Literacy – the folks who provide books for kids.
Gastineau shares the memory in a funny, self-effacing tone typical of his stories. Also typical is its conclusion: How sports are capable of generating goodwill in a community otherwise splintered by politics and religion and, oh, about a hundred other divisive issues.
KJR’s “Voice of Reason” signed off from the station with his final show Thursday. He’s not retiring. He’s just eager, at 52, to pursue other challenges.
“I’m giving myself enough time to try something new,” Gastineau said over the phone. “I might get into digital media, or podcasting. I can write. I’ve got experience at doing interviews, and I may even return to radio. I’m not sure. What I do know is around late August, when the football season begins, my rockets always fire up. That didn’t happen this year.
“But there’s nothing to be sad about. Exploring some other things will be fun. I’m in a great place.”
It’s a slightly better place than he was during the summer of 1991. Hired to work behind the scenes during KJR’s conversion to an all-sports format, Gastineau completed a cross-country trek from Virginia in a Dodge Daytona and $900 remaining from the $1,200 he pocketed from selling all of his baseball cards and half of his LP records.
While producing a show at a remote-location site for Dave Grosby, Gastineau got a break when a computer broke down.
“Dave used it to read the sports-news updates,” said Gastineau. “It was a clunky thing the size of a suitcase, and it worked about as often as it didn’t. Anyway, the computer is down, and Dave goes, ‘I’m not doing the update!’ I’d been a play-by-play announcer, and I figured I can handle an update.
“I lead off with a press release from the Sonics, who’d just announced they were scheduling four games for the coming season in the Kingdome. How I sounded is anybody’s guess, but it was the right decision: Barry Ackerley, who owned the Sonics, also owned our radio station. When it comes to news-judgment decisions on updates, the story involving your boss wins every time, don’t you think?”
Gastineau soon was on the air. A two-hour show on Saturdays led to a mid-morning weekday gig with Rick Dupree and, later, a collaboration in spontaneous combustion with Grosby. After Grosby took a left on the radio dial, from 950 to 710, Gastineau remained an afternoon drive-time fixture.
Full disclosure: I’m friends with Gastineau, a good friend, but it’s a quirky friendship. For two decades, once a week, we’ve had a 10-minute conversation on the radio. I’ve never set foot in his house, he’s never been to mine. We share few details about our personal lives, or our cultural tastes. I suspect he likes the sound of B.B. King’s blues more than I do, and I suspect I like Sinatra’s show-tune standards more than he does, but we never went there.
Gastineau always has dwelled on the common denominator, the one thing – the only thing, really – that draws all of us together.
Sports. The thrill of a September kickoff, an April first pitch, a Final Four tipoff, a Memorial Day Weekend cue for the gentlemen (and a lady) to start their engines.
Gas said his radio goodbye Thursday afternoon at 5, which enables me to command the last words in a discussion we began in 1991.
Thanks, my friend. Let the good times email@example.com