Utah Jazz Locked in: New guy knows replacing Hundley will be difficult
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
For the first time in the franchise's 35-year history, the Jazz will play a season without having every on-the-court move described by the colorful character who turned "the ole cowhide globe hits home" and "Stockton-to-Malone!" into Utah household phrases.
The new era of Jazz broadcasting officially begins tonight at Denver.
You gotta love it, baby?
David Locke won't say it quite like that, but he sure hopes that's the case.
If you tune in, however, prepare to be a little weirded out.
Even the charismatic and confident Locke, who's taking over as the radio voice of the Jazz, expects it to be a bit bizarre on everybody's eardrums now that the retired Hot Rod Hundley has exchanged the play-by-play airwaves for warmer winter air in Arizona.
"I'm really aware," Locke said, "that it's going to be strange for people and hard for them."
Count the sports-talk-show host/broadcaster among those who will have to acquire a taste to the new sound accompanying Jerry Sloan's squad. Even with his Bay Area roots and a near-decade stay in Seattle, Locke has been listening to Hundley and rooting for the Jazz since his childhood — just like many Utahns.
For nostalgic people who will think, "I really miss Hot Rod," at some point this season, Locke has a simple message: "I do, too. I grew up a Jazz fan and that's the guy I'm used to. So, I miss him, too."
Locke credited his 1320 KFAN co-worker, Ben Bagley, for aptly capturing the feel of the switch-over situation with a comment made after he filled in for Hundley during a broadcast of the Utah-at-Toronto game last March.
"You're really good," Bagley told Locke afterward. "But, boy, was it weird."
To borrow something Locke might excitedly declare during a call, "Aaaah! That's it!"
"That sums it up. It's really weird," Locke admitted. "Nobody's ever heard anything other than this very distinctive, terrific announcer. It's very strange for people, so it will take some time."
Tell Craig Bolerjack about it.
If anyone can empathize, it's the Jazz's other voice (and face). In his TV career, Bolerjack has partially replaced two local broadcasting mammoths, including Hundley as the team's lead TV personality when the simulcast was split up four years ago and former Ch. 5 sportscaster/BYU voice Paul James upon his semi-retirement.
"My only advice, and I've talked to (Locke) about it," Bolerjack said, "is just go do the game, be yourself."
Bolerjack knows Hundley was "an icon," so he warns Locke to ignore the catcalls and use it as motivation to work harder — a formula that's worked for him. The following, he believes, will come.
"You can't take (criticism) personally. You just have to keep pushing through," he said. " ... I think he has to be patient and understand that Hot Rod's a Hall of Famer and it takes time to achieve those heights."
Because of his opinionated personality, Locke knows some will doubt and diss him, but he's trying to distance himself from non-productive negativity.
"Hopefully over 12, 24, 36 months," he said, "these people will understand the great announcer retired and the new guy is trying to do the best he can ..."
For what it's worth — and to Locke it's worth a whole lot — Hundley has given the replacement his blessing.
Locke has full support of his bosses at the Jazz, too, especially through the admittedly awkward-by-default transition.
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