Saturday, April 26, 2008
UNM Unplugs Voice of Lobos
By Greg Archuleta
Journal Staff Writer
So long, everybody; Mike Roberts no longer is the voice of the Lobos.
After four decades of broadcasting University of New Mexico football and basketball games on the radio, Roberts learned Friday that he has been fired as UNM's play-by-announcer.
He has been offered a different role within the Lobo broadcasts. And much like his views on the officiating the Lobos faced, Roberts wasn't necessarily in agreement with the call.
"I'm in shock," Roberts said Friday. "You've got to feel that sometime something's got to end, but you would like to think it would be handled differently, I guess. I don't know."
Roberts, who signed off every Lobo broadcast with the phrase, "So long, everybody," met with UNM athletics director Paul Krebs, media relations director Greg Remington and Darren Dunn, general manager of Lobo Sports Properties.
Lobo Sports Properties is a subsidiary of Learfield Communications, which signed a contract for exclusive radio broadcast rights to UNM games beginning next fall, as well as all aspects of Lobo marketing and advertising.
KKOB-AM (770), owned by Citadel Broadcasting, will continue to air football and men's basketball games through the 2014-2015 school year.
Krebs said Learfield will bring in all new on-air talent for football and men's basketball Remington no longer will provide color commentary for football games and Joe O'Neill won't return as men's basketball analyst.
Learfield will begin a nationwide search immediately for play-by-play and color commentators for next season.
Krebs declined to discuss why Roberts wasn't retained.
"I'd rather not get into that," Krebs said. "It was a decision with Learfield that I support."
Tim Cline, a senior vice president for Learfield Communications, said his organization simply wanted to go in a different direction.
"I think we're going to do a lot of different things as it relates to UNM athletics on the radio. We're going to be revamping the play-by-play and the color for UNM and just decided this was the time to move forward."
Roberts, 74, said Learfield and UNM offered him a proposal to stay on air with the school in another capacity.
"I would do a pregame and a postgame show for football, and a postgame show for (men's) basketball," Roberts said. "I would do some daily Lobo show three minutes a day during the week. I would do some play-by-play streaming of baseball and softball on the Lobo Web site, and then I would be an emcee for UNM athletics, for banquets, luncheons, corporate gatherings.
"But I am no longer the voice of the Lobos."
Roberts said Learfield and UNM asked for his answer early next week.
"I think after all these years, you're not going to be doing what you've done, it's just hard for me right now to make any kind of decision," he said.
The reaction Friday from Lobo fans to the dismissal or reassignment if that is the case has been mostly pro-Roberts.
"I just don't understand why they want to get rid of Mike," says Dick Webb, a longtime Lobo fan who attends football practice as well as football and basketball games. "I think it's terrible. The interesting thing is I have an eye condition. To enjoy the game, I have to have the radio on and binoculars. And I'm telling you, Mike Roberts calls the game perfectly the nuances of the game."
Others say, with some reluctance, that Roberts' removal from the booth is necessary.
"It was a great, great career, but it was time," says Kurt Roth, a lawyer in Brooklyn who's both a UNM graduate and booster. He says he's listened to Lobo games via the Internet for more than a decade.
"I've listened to Mike since I went to school there in 1973 and have followed his career closely," Roth says. "He's a Lobo icon, but it was clear it was time to change direction."
Milt McConnell, general manager for Citadel Broadcasting, lauded Roberts for his longevity.
"Mike's 40-year association with the university and its sports success is an accomplishment for which the entire state is proud," McConnell said. "... Fortunately for 770 KKOB listeners, Mike will have the opportunity to continue to be part of the 770 KKOB broadcast family."
Roberts has been the play-by-play announcer of Lobo football games for 41 years and men's basketball games for 40.
He started in broadcasting in December 1951 in Atmore, Ala. He moved to Albuquerque in September 1966 after stops in Texas, Florida, Wyoming, Farmington and Washington.
Roberts was the Lobo broadcaster when Rocky Long was the football team's starting quarterback from 1969-1971.
Long, now entering his 11th season as football coach, didn't want to respond to Friday's news.
"I don't think now's an appropriate time to comment," he said.
"Mike has been a terrific Lobo for many years," first-year Lobo men's basketball coach Steve Alford said. "He's had an incredible career in broadcasting and demonstrated a tremendous loyalty to UNM athletics. ... I hope he stays involved in Lobo athletics."
Roberts admitted he wasn't caught completely off guard during Friday's meeting.
"I sort of had an inkling something might be happening because they kept saying, 'We want Mike to be part of the broadcast team,' but they wouldn't commit to what part I was going to do,'' he said. "But until you know for sure, it's just supposition."
Journal staff writer Mark Smith contributed to this report.