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Saturday, May 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: Spokane’s media landscape takes another hit with the end of the Patchin and Lukens sports-talk radio show

KXLY sportscasters Rick Lukens, left, and and Dennis Patchin have fun at the microphone during opening remarks at the SWABs luncheon in February 2003. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
KXLY sportscasters Rick Lukens, left, and and Dennis Patchin have fun at the microphone during opening remarks at the SWABs luncheon in February 2003. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • An era ended in Spokane last night. Not with a whimper or a bang. Just a couple of heartfelt goodbyes. The plug was pulled at 700 ESPN on Patchin and Lukens, the last surviving show in what was once a semi-thriving local radio sports-talk world. 

•••••••

• Some friends lost their jobs Friday.

It’s probably happened recently to friends of yours. People everywhere are getting layoff notices, oftentimes on conference calls or through a slightly more personal touch, a Zoom notification. But the message is the same to millions. We can’t afford to pay you anymore.

When Dennis Patchin told his Spokane-area radio audience it had happened to him and his 700 ESPN partner Rick Lukens, it hit home to just about everyone in the Inland Northwest.

That’s because just about every sports fans in the Inland Northwest welcomed Dennis into their homes in some sort of fashion around here for almost 40 years.

There were the TV years, when Dennis, Rick, Bud Nameck and a rotating cast headlined KXLY’s sports department. If you didn’t have one of their trading cards back then, well you didn’t ride a bike and didn’t need something to put in the spokes.

The KXLY guys – back then, they were mostly guys, though, like every aspect of sports broadcasting, the doors have finally flung open to women in our mid-sized town – were part of this community. You saw Dennis at high school games and sports banquets. You heard his voice doing play-by-play when Gonzaga was beginning its run. You may have even caught he and Rick and Bud and some unrecognizable overweight newspaper folks playing county-league basketball together.

But Dennis was most well known as the guy who came into your living room every night, talked with you, and, as we used to tease him, exuberantly shared the sports news. Later, as times changed and so did KXLY Broadcast Group’s management personnel, Dennis transitioned to radio. He’s been the program director for 700 ESPN – the only sports-oriented station left in the market – for a while now. He has been the main voice of Idaho football for a few years. But most importantly, he’s hosted an afternoon talk show.

Once again, Dennis and Rick (and Julie Scott or Keith Osso and some others, including, on occasion, myself) came into your living room daily. Or, more than likely, your place of work or your car on the drive home.

Dennis’ voice is unmistakable. Always passionate, the Idaho State graduate began his career calling horse races in the area, quite possibly without amplification. But when he said “are you kidding me,” no amplification was needed to hear him on the backstretch – or anywhere else.

But that’s what made his show (and his career) so much darn fun.

Dennis is passionate about everything. Engaged too. Knowledgeable. Professional. That last one is the most important. No matter what Dennis did, from Washington State football’s postgame show to standing up front as an emcee at a local sports banquet, he was professional about it.

It was not enough. Not enough to last the latest rounds of layoffs in the radio business as the world transitions from over-the-air to downloadable podcasts. The trickle, caused by falling advertising dollars, has become a flood thanks to COVID-19 breaking the dam. All over America radio talk-show hosts, sports or otherwise, are filing for unemployment, like hundred of thousands of other folks.

Advertising dollars, the lifeblood of the industry, are hunkering down. Staying home. When a business has no one to attract, why spend money to attract them?

Friday morning a story appeared in the San Jose Mercury News about radio layoffs in the Bay Area. While reading it, we wondered about our friends and how they were doing.

At 5 p.m. everyone found out.

It had to end some day, right? Even Dennis and Rick, along with producer Steve Pry, who will stay on with KXLY’s radio group, acknowledged that.

Those of us who knew Dennis (and there are a lot) hoped he would be able to go out on his terms, riding off into retirement, accompanied by texts of praise on the Zerorez text line (or whomever was sponsoring it this month).

We feared his voice just wouldn’t be there one day at 3 p.m., after he finally told his superiors to “go pound sand” and stomped out. But that didn’t happen either.

Instead Dennis and Rick were let go. Laid off. Another “cutback” in hard times.

Yet, in a broadcasting business rarity, the 700 ESPN powers that be sent them out to do a final show.

There was no worry Dennis or Rick would pull a Howard Beal and scream at the unfairness of the world. Would criticize management. Would use words the FCC frowns upon.

They are too professional for that.

But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t hear the sadness in their voices. Or imagine the tears welling up. The listeners had made a connection over the years. The guys in front of the microphones had too. It was ending. A few water-works were in order. They were shed.

For their final hour Dennis and Rick played a game. It’s what sports-radio folks do. They played “one question, one topic.” Texts were taken. Any question was answered. Well, almost any question. The one on most of their listeners’ lips, the existential one of “why,” couldn’t be. Not to anyone’s satisfaction.

All we know is Monday afternoon Dennis and Rick won’t be there for us. We will punch the button for 700 and there will be some voice from Connecticut or somewhere coming through the speakers.

There will be nothing about Washington State. Nothing about U-Hi or Odessa or Sandpoint. Nothing about Idaho. Nothing about Whitworth, Gonzaga, Eastern, the Chiefs, the Indians, heck, the Shock or youth sports. Nothing about Spokane.

That makes us sad.

•••

WSU: Pat Chun is dealing with unprecedented challenges in a job filled with more than enough already. Washington State’s athletic director discussed them all yesterday with Theo Lawson in a Northwest Passages forum. Theo summarized the conversation in this story. … Larry Weir’s latest Press Box pod covers the Cougars’ basketball hopes for next season. … Around the Pac-12, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu made it a clean sweep of national player of the year awards when she took home the Naismith Trophy yesterday. Dayton’s Obi Toppin won the men’s award. … Some Pac-12 teams were almost done with spring football practice when the virus shut everything down. Others, including Washington State, had yet to start. How will the conference and the NCAA address that inequity? … It seems both football coaches in Oregon decided to talk this week. Mario Cristobal still has a staff opening at Oregon and has a starter at QB for now. … Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith covered a variety of topics. … A quarterback turned safety has decided to stay at Colorado. … Whatever happens with football this fall, Utah has a plan. … Clay Helton wants an extra four weeks up front to get his USC players ready. … In more basketball news, Arizona has lost an assistant coach to Marquette. … McKinley Wright makes Colorado go. … Oregon State may have found one of next year’s starting guards. … The Oregon women are losing another reserve to the transfer portal.

Gonzaga: This would have been the weekend of the Final Four. Would the Zags be in Atlanta, looking to win their first NCAA title? It’s unknowable, but we do know what happened the last time GU was in a Final Four. Jim Meehan was there and he has this review of the semifinal win over South Carolina. Jim will have more over the weekend. … Just for the fun of it, I ran down my TV Take from that game.

Preps: U-Hi athletic director Ken VanSickle is retiring at the end of the school year. Dave Nichols says goodbye with this story. If you have ever been to a high school event in which the Titans were a part of, you probably saw Ken walking around the periphery, making sure everything was running smoothly. I know I’ll miss him.

Seahawks: Whenever the NFL starts back up, Russell Wilson wants Jadeveon Clowney to be his teammate.

Mariners: When baseball begins, newspapers always bring out the big guns. The Seattle Times is no exception. … What did Ken Griffey Jr. do in his first big league at-bat?

•••       

• The media world is changing. Always has, in reality. But the bug that is killing thousands of people, forcing almost the entire world to hunker down, and is taking down our economy as well, is just accelerating that change. People who broadcast or talk about games are hurting right now, with no games going on. Some are even doing wild things to stay in the limelight. Others, like Patchin and Lukens, are bidding adieu. The times are tough. Until later …

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