Celebrity is relative, but you know you’ve joined the club when you get hit with The Question.
It happened to Ed Sharman not long after he left the air at KHQ-TV in 1981. There he’d pretty much invented the idea of the sports anchorman in Spokane, and then decided he had better things to do than watch consultants and focus groups redefine the job based on haircuts and haberdashery. Still, after 20-some years in front of the camera, withdrawal figured to be a bear and it was – for a few viewers.
Like the one who approached Sharman and his children on the street one day and asked, “Didn’t you used to be Ed Sharman?”
“Like someone else was now serving in that role,” he said with a laugh.
Now, that may have made the consultant’s point – that viewers attach themselves to the personality delivering the news, sports highlights or weather forecasts and that the connection is crucial, to the point where a bad hairstyle is ratings death.
But Ed Sharman was always secure enough in himself that he didn’t have to be “Ed Sharman!” on the air. It was enough that he was Q’s sports guy – as long as he was as good at it as he could possibly be and the viewers knew what they were supposed to know.
Turns out he was Hall of Fame good.
Anyone who tuned in before and after he left Channel 6 understood as much, but it gets validated today at the Spokane Arena when Sharman is inducted into the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame in a class that also includes Gonzaga and Utah Jazz basketball great John Stockton, former major league pitcher Jack Spring and the late Ferris High School basketball coach, Wayne Gilman. The on-site induction starts at 10:30, with a luncheon ceremony to follow.
Sharman might consider himself the unlikeliest of those four, but there’s always room for a pioneer with a sense of purpose.
No, he is not the first broadcaster to go in – Bob Curtis, Herb Hunter, Bob Robertson and Dick Wright all beat him through the door. But they all made it as play-by-play announcers, voices identified with a team – or, in Wright’s case, maybe a hundred of them – and held dear by that team’s fans.
Sharman moonlighted a bit on hockey play-by-play – but he was in your living room every night, not just on game night.
He was there with all the scores, interviews with two or three coaches, a Cougar football preview, highlights from a couple high school games – shot on film with an old spring-wound Bolex H-16 and hand-spliced – plus, on occasion, an essay-style commentary designed to provoke when provocation was called for.
No segue happy talk. No “Boo-ya!” No help in gathering it all.
And no notion of how this came about, really. He was hired at KHQ fresh out of Washington State in 1959 as an announcer – which meant he might read the news on either radio or TV, or do a live interview, or voice-over a commercial. He never got stuck doing a children’s show, but he did everything else.
“If your memory wasn’t good,” Sharman recalled, “you lived in fear of having to do a live commercial on television for some furniture store. They’d give you a script and 10 minutes later you were supposed to be reciting this for the viewing audience.
“You were on your own.”
Unless, of course, one of your fellow announcers was behind the camera trying to crack you up. TV, in its infancy – adolescence, too – seemed to breed that sort of rascality, and while Sharman can make buttoned-down look like shorts-and-flipflops, he had his moments.
“We had a half-hour news and feature show at noon,” he remembered. “Ira Joe Fisher did the weather on that, on this patio behind the building. For some reason, we did decided one time that I’d sit with my back to the camera for two or three days while he was doing the weather and then on the last day – there was always this pitcher of water on the set – I’d get up and pour the pitcher of water over his head.
“And, in fact, I did. But we forgot to take into account that the water was cold and when it hit him, it took his breath away. He couldn’t talk.”
Sometime early in the 1960s, the station decided it needed a full-time sports director. Sharman volunteered “because that was my passion anyway.
“I don’t think management had any idea what they wanted,” he said, “so it was like, ‘You invent the job.’ And that was easy. I guess I probably made it hard because I set high standards for what I thought ought to happen – and being the only one doing it made it a little hard, too.”
Or even a little impossible. Sharman was in the Air National Guard for 21 years, too. On Guard weekends in the fall, he might call a hockey game on the road in Kimberley or Trail on Friday night, get back at 2 a.m., report to Fairchild at 7, jump in the car for a football game in Pullman at noon and return to do the news that night at 11. On Sunday, there was only Guard duty and anchor duty.
Sharman’s self-imposed mandate was to cover local sports as thoroughly as a one-man band could. That insistence led to one rather sticky moment with management – when he used one of his on-air commentaries to skewer the Spokesman-Review, which of course shared ownership with Q-6, for what he and other readers saw as a sea-change in coverage priorities away from local sports in the late 1970s.
“It seemed to me that took away from what the Spokesman did best,” he said. “I thought it was a disservice to the community. I guess one aspect of that was that I didn’t look on other TV stations as my competition – I looked at The Spokesman-Review as my competition. (Former S-R sports editor) Bob Payne used to tell me they would watch my sportscast to make sure they didn’t miss anything – and that was probably the highest compliment I ever received.”
But it wasn’t long after, in 1981, that changes in his own studio – “the blazer of the year,” he called the superficial tinkering – would nudge Sharman out of the TV game, but without regrets.
“I don’t go to a lot of games anymore, but I did go out to Whitworth football the other day,” he said. “I really enjoyed it. The difference between the atmosphere there and a game in Pullman, for example, is just so dramatic. You’re not totally inundated every minute. The PA announcer says who carried the ball and how many yards, but that’s about it. It wasn’t so much of a show, with things being forced on you every minute.
“What a delightful thing.”
This, too: Not for the show or the celebrity, but Ed Sharman’s in the Hall of Fame.
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