For more than 30 years in Spokane, Friday in the fall has meant two things: high school football and “Friday Night Sports Extra” on KXLY-TV.
Friday night, the three men responsible for the idea gathered in the offices of The Spokesman-Review – wearing facemasks and socially distanced, of course – to discuss the genesis of the program.
Bud Nameck, Dennis Patchin and Rick Lukens joined S-R columnist Vince Grippi on a special edition of Virtual Northwest Passages to relive some of the memories of what Grippi called “a Spokane institution.”
Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review
Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review
The trio reminisced about all the miles they logged driving the backroads of Eastern Washington and North Idaho to bring football highlights into the living rooms of viewers across the region.
Today, it’s common for local TV to have a highlight show on Friday night, with clips from nearly every – if not all – the games for a particular evening. But that wasn’t always the case.
It all started March 7, 1986, the first day of that year’s State B basketball tournament in Spokane. According to Lukens, it was the result of trying to outdo the competition, and maybe a bit of spite at a former colleague.
He and Patchin had covered the first day of the tournament as they had in previous years, doing live stand-up from the arena and producing feature stories for the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news broadcasts.
“KREM-TV had decided to take everything up a notch,” Lukens said, “and I give them credit for that.”
He described how KREM had brought all of its reporters to the tourney for blanket coverage of the event – and his bosses noticed.
“The news director called us all in after the 6 o’clock show and chewed our butts for not doing enough coverage,” Lukens said.
“We were at the point where we didn’t really listen to this guy anymore,” Patchin said. “After we got our rear ends chewed out, Rick and I said, ‘We’ll show him, we’ll just run highlights of every game.’ ”
And so they did.
It was so successful and so well-received that during a post-tourney beverage they figured they should do the same for football.
But covering 15-18 games a night would take more time than slotted for sports in the 11 p.m. news. Going past 11:30 would mean pushing back one of ABC’s highest-rated news programs of the time.
“We had more content than we had time to put it on the air,” Nameck said. “We got very lucky with the fact that the station agreed to delay ‘Nightline.’”
“Nobody did that, delay ‘Nightline,’ ” Patchin said.
The fall of 1986 they did a “dry run” the first week of the season with North Idaho games, since they traditionally start a week earlier than Washington.
“The first few were all pretty rough,” Lukens said. “We were asking the crew to do things that they didn’t normally do.
“It took a while to get a rhythm going.”
Eventually, everyone got on the same page – even though a lot of times there was no script to work from – and an institution was born.
“Three or four years into it … we finally won the November ratings period in the 11 o’clock news desk, and it simply was because of ‘Friday,’ ” Nameck said.
The popularity of the program wasn’t about wins and losses.
It was seeing your school, your community, on TV. Big or small, it didn’t matter.
“Spokane had always been a very supportive high school sports town,” Nameck said. “So there was an niche and an opportunity.”
“I wanted to make sure we treated every school the same,” Patchin said. “The little schools were just as important as the big schools.”
The show did its best to highlight the critical games of the night.
“That’s one of the things we really could hang our hat on,” Patchin said. “If you’re playing a big game, or you’re playing your rivalry, ‘Friday Night Sports Extra’ will be there.
“If it was important to you, it was important to us.”
The three were more than sports anchors. They became celebrities – especially in the smaller towns.
“They just loved us,” Lukens said. “They’d come up to you at games and say, ‘Where have you been tonight?’ and ‘Where are you going next?’ They just hadn’t gotten the attention that they were now getting.”
Lukens did most of the scheduling for the crew. In the age before GPS – or cellphones – he’d sit down with the schedules in the paper and a map and plot out assignments and directions for the reporters and camera operators.
“You had to keep everything fresh in your head as to where they were and how long it took to get from St. John to Harrington,” he said.
The players, families, viewers and yes, even the coaches, all loved being part of the show.
“We were just three clowns doing a local show, having a good time,” Lukens said. “It was more like, we were ‘home’ for people.”
“Its amazing when you show a little interest in a community how they’ll wrap their arms around you,” Patchin said.
“That’s why this show was so much fun. You couldn’t wait for Friday to go all these places because you knew how much we were appreciated.”
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