By Jeff Hunter
For the Deseret News
LOGAN — Listening to him call a Utah State game, it doesn't take long to realize the passion Al Lewis has for broadcasting athletic events involving his alma mater.
Virtually every touchdown and 3-pointer are epic events, worthy of massive amounts of emotion and rock-band level volume. And then there are the questionable penalties and foul calls that may or may not be called in the Aggies' favor. Sometimes Lewis' reaction is loud and demonstrative enough during basketball games that KVNU radio listeners aren't the ones who immediately come to the conclusion that a referee likely made a poor decision.
Oftentimes, the officiating crew picks up on it, as well.
"He has gotten in trouble with the refs," admits Lewis' wife, Teresa. "Some of them have gotten so mad at him that they've told him, 'Sit down and shut up!' But, of course, it's almost his signature now, using the word 'horrible.' He'll say, 'That was a horrible call! A horrible call!'
"Aggie fans seem to love it. He's really not supposed to be partial, but they know that he's the Aggie announcer and that he just wants justice and to make sure everything is done right."
Now in his 24th year as the "Voice of the Aggies," the 62-year-old Lewis says those type of "horrible" moments are getting more and more rare.
"I tend to lose myself once in a while when I think something's a bad call," he admits. "And I tend to go on about them more than I should sometimes. But I am getting more mellow in my old days about them than I used to be."
Despite his tendency to unleash the occasional vocal barrage at a game official or opposing player, Lewis has always been mellow off of the air.
"Al's actually kind of shy," Teresa insists.
Kind and amicable, the Cache Valley native also co-hosts KVNU's morning show with longtime friend and broadcast partner Craig Hislop, and despite having to roll out of bed just after 4 a.m., Lewis always seems to be in a good mood — even when he's been up late the night before calling a USU basketball or football game.
And there have been a lot of those. During the Aggies' game against Weber State on Dec. 21, Lewis was honored during a media timeout in the first half for broadcasting his 1,000th Utah State athletic contest: 271 football and 729 men's basketball games. Lewis knew the night was a milestone, but it wasn't until USU athletic media relations director Doug Hoffman came up behind him at his courtside Spectrum seat that he knew he would was going to be taken on the court to receive a commemorative trophy from Aggie athletic director John Hartwell.
"All of sudden, Doug says, 'Come on. You're coming with me,'" Lewis recalls. "Fortunately, (color commentator) Rod (Tueller) was in on it, and he said, 'It's OK. I can take it from here' so we didn't end up with dead air.
"But it was a surprise. I really didn't expect to go out on the court and have people applaud for me. I'm not used to that. I'm used to just watching other people go out there on the court and applauding for them."
Lewis' journey to center court actually begin not far away from the Spectrum. He grew up in a home just east of there, near the Logan City Cemetery. A huge Aggie fan from the time he was a child, he says he benefitted from relationships with two former Utah State broadcasters: Karl Klages and Reid Andreason.
Klages and his wife were friends of Lewis' parents, Wendell and Ruth Ann Lewis, and knowing Al's love for the Aggies, would bring him back programs and media guides from road games.
"He was always kind of my idol," Lewis says of Klages. "When I was a kid, we would all listen to him and then try and then try and sound like Karl Klages, who had a very distinctive voice."
Fortunately for Lewis, the man who replaced Klages as USU announcer was Andreason, who was also his next-door neighbor. And although the Lewis family moved to Las Vegas just before Al started high school, that connection provided an opportunity later on when he returned to Cache Valley to attend Utah State.
While still in high school in Las Vegas, Lewis broadcast some high school games and had his own weekend sports show, making it easier for Andreason to hire him at the radio station in 1972, and Lewis has worked for KNVU ever since — a total of just under 45 years. His first stint as play-by-play announcer came from 1977 to ’79, but a mere two years after landing his "dream job" at the tender age of 23, KVNU lost its contract with Utah State.
"We got married in August 1979, and shortly afterwards, he found out he wasn't going to be doing the games anymore," Teresa Lewis says. "I guess he must have been so pleased with getting married that he didn't seem that agitated, but I know it must have just killed him. I really didn't figure out what a big deal it was until later."
It wasn't until former USU athletic director Chuck Bell called up Lewis in 1995 that KVNU regained the contract to cover Aggie athletic events. In between, Lewis called countless Logan High football and basketball games, while also serving as the PA announcer at the Spectrum for years. He and Teresa also adopted two children, Nick and Andrea, before Lewis became the "Voice of the Aggies" once again.
Over the past 22 seasons, the only time he's missed an Aggie contest was for knee surgery and a few occasions when the football and men's basketball schedules conflicted with each other. While he's enjoyed the ride, Lewis says "the traveling isn't as glamorous as people think," and he usually tries to continue with his duties at KNVU even when he's out on the road with the Aggies.
"Al's always preparing for a game, doing interviews and getting stats," Teresa Lewis says. "He always has to be working, and always wants everything planned out and scheduled. His passion for his job is huge."
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When the Lewises sat down a few months ago to count up how many USU games Al has broadcast, he didn't even count basketball exhibition games or serving as a color analyst for two football seasons. But he did count six bowl games, the first-ever Mountain West Conference Championship game and 21 basketball postseason contests, including 11 NCAA tournament games.
Among the many well-wishers via text, phone call, email and in person on Dec. 21 was former USU head coach Stew Morrill, who handed Lewis a card before the game pointing out: "I coached 558 games, so that means we worked together on more than half of that thousand."
"I've been able to have a lot of fun doing what I want to do," Lewis declares. "I can't ask for more than that."