"Tell me something," said Ted Dawson on the telephone. "Why am I always criticized in the newspapers?"
I answered that it probably was because of his effusive, emotional style. Dawson, the first-string sportscaster at KABC-TV Channel 7 for nearly eight years, is gushy on the air, which clashes with the news tradition of reporters keeping their emotions out of their stories. In contrast, Dawson tries to keep stories out of his emotions.
If a geyser could speak, it would sound like big, beefy, high-pitched Ted Dawson. He doesn't talk, he explodes. He's a 42-year-old cheerleader whose sportscasts are pompons. If they'd let him, he'd probably wear a baseball cap.
In fact, Dawson's excesses are taken for granted to the extent that he sometimes gets nailed for offenses he didn't commit. That happened in my Wednesday column when I wrongly named him as the Channel 7 sportscaster who encouraged viewers to call and harass Kansas City Royals Manager Dick Howser after baseball's July 15 All-Star Game. The actual culprit was Channel 7's Rick Lozano.
"A lot of newspaper people complain about my style," Dawson said.
I've called him "thundering" and "tumultuous" and ridiculed his clamorous delivery.
"And you used the term 'grating,"' he said. "But if you can't get excited about a great athlete, what can you get excited about? I'm just a Kansas farm boy trying to do my job."
Sometimes, though, Farmer Ted's exuberance roars off the Richter Scale. That happened during his coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles when he did more blubbering and slobbering than reporting. His jingoistic, almost tearful interviews of American athletes embarrassed even some of his Channel 7 colleagues and reportedly outraged then ABC Sports President Roone Arledge. There were rumors that Dawson would be sacked.
"I was told that Roone thought I was very unprofessional," Dawson said. "At the same time, he was taking a lot of heat himself from the newspapers and he may have been reacting to that. The newspapers were criticizing me, but the people were loving what I did."
By his own admission, Dawson is no journalist. He's hot dogs, popcorn and Cracker Jacks. He's a one-man wave. When interviewing sports figures, he throws rice, not curves.
"Any sportscaster who calls himself a journalist is kidding himself," Dawson said. "Even Howard Cosell was an entertainer. He had an act he put on."
At least Cosell never winked at the camera a la Dawson. "I don't even know I'm doing it," Dawson said. "It just comes with my smile."
If you're looking for the quintessential Ted Dawson, try this: "I've never believed what I do is important. What I do is fun. It's interesting. It's exciting, but it's not important. So why should you furrow your brow or get a deep voice and get concerned over sports scores? Sports are supposed to be fun. Because of the drugs, a lot of that is gone. But I try not to concentrate on that aspect of it. I have a 17-year-old son who is a great football player, and he has fun. He laughs a lot. When he makes a great play it's fun for him and that's the kind of thing I try to convey."
But Ted . . . Ted . . . Ted ! Sports is a business, a great, big Godzilla-bucks industry that profits from the public. It demands media scrutiny and tough reporting, not merely free publicity via wire service headlines, marshmallow interviews with players and those nightly reams of taped highlights.
"It's an important industry," Dawson agreed, "but I don't know if it's an important industry to the people I'm talking to. It's not an important industry to fans. It's something fun for them, an escape."
And those gratuitous stand-up interviews? "Your comments about those are valid," Dawson said. "The amount of information you get from those things is zero. But fans like to hear them."
Dawson, who says he has three years remaining on his five-year Channel 7 contract, recalls being much tougher on the air when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1975 and began sportscasting at then KNXT. But public reaction was negative.
I asked him what advice he would give young sportscasters getting started in the business. "Be enthusiastic," he said.