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Sunday, July 21, 2013
The year was 1975, an auspicious time for a 16-year-old sports addict in Roanoke. One still hoped for the survival of the Virginia Squires; the Roanoke Valley Rebels were clearing the benches nightly; I ran a fantasy baseball league in my neighborhood (APBA, anyone?), and high school football could still sell out Victory Stadium. At a time when ESPN was a glimmer in someone’s eye, the AM radio was the king of sports media, and Jim Carroll was the king of sports radio.
Of course, I knew this. Upon moving to Roanoke in 1969, one of my first memories was being glued to the radio for the miraculous state basketball title won by the Jefferson High Magicians (Dick Kepley, Mike Franklin, Ralph Boyd — my first hometown sports heroes). Little did I know that the mellifluous voice calling the game for WROV-AM would become a towering presence in my life.
My mother, a woman of action, seized upon my love for sports and statistics and hauled me down to the quonset huts that were the world headquarters for WROV. Suddenly, I was face-to-face with the voice I had lionized, and 10 minutes later, I was the station’s sports intern.
For six years, I accompanied Jim and his merry band across the breadth and width of the commonwealth, first handing over statistics (“48 yards on 10 carries for Jones”), then graduating to field reporting, and even calling a game or two. It was during these times that I started to understand how professionals take care of their business.
Jim was the mentor every intern should have. His commitment to excellence in every broadcast he led — I hear it was around 1,300 of them — taught me by example. No matter how important the game actually was, he treated it as if it were the biggest sports event in the country, memorizing the names of the players and the numbers, talking with coaches, and then delivering in the most professional way imaginable.
From being around Jim, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: Every project is as big as you make it. He knew people were listening, and he always treated that as a privilege — as something vital and important.
He told me once that he did the sports for the community. Understanding the economics of radio later in life, I agree. There’s no way he made much profit from the ads he sold for the games, after all the expenses (and certainly the time invested). Yet, he treated each one like the “high school game of the week,” whether we were in a packed house or a bandbox gym, greeting people warmly, giving the broadcast everything he had and loving every minute of it.
From him, I learned my first lessons about the joys of simply helping others, of bringing what you have to the community and making things a bit better.
I eventually graduated from Virginia Western Community College and went to James Madison University, then moved away from the Star City for good. My radio career didn’t last much longer, especially after starting a family. But the lessons I learned in our car trips down to Pulaski or out to Lynchburg have stayed with me for all of my adult life. Staying in the moment, doing your best in every situation, enthusiasm for your work and serving the community: all lessons that Jim Colston lived in front of me in his own quiet way. If my life has reflected the principles he taught me just by living them, I will count myself successful.
Forty years later, he’s still a voice I lionize.
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