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He's the Closest Thing to a Star on Local Access

Cable TV: Sportscaster Gordon Spencer, a fixture at high school games, is learning the business from the ground up.

February 11, 1996|SARAH A. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GARDEN GROVE — He's been punched around on the football field, soaked in an aqua aerobics class and chased by high school students. All this for a job that pays less than $15,000 a year.

He's the cable guy. Not like the one featured in "The Cable Guy," a multimillion-dollar movie comedy about a cable technician. Gordon Spencer is a businessman turned local access cable guy.

The 32-year-old Laguna Niguel resident jumped a career track at McDonnell Douglas a few years back and set out to make a new life in broadcasting. He's become something of a local celebrity.

Known for his dedicated and sometimes zany news coverage of high school sports in Garden Grove and parts of Fountain Valley, Westminster and Huntington Beach, Spencer finds himself the object of attention.

Fans who have seen him on Channel 3 scream his name and ask for his autograph. Parents tell him he is destined for greater things. As one said recently: "You're ready for 'Monday Night Football.' "

"I tell them, 'Don't push it,' " Spencer said.

The affable correspondent had a quieter job managing credit card operations for a McDonnell Douglas subsidiary for six years and earning more than double what he makes now. When the company moved to Philadelphia in 1991, he stayed behind to pursue a career in radio broadcasting.

"I was burned out. I realized I should look into something more exciting," he said.

He enrolled in a six-month radio school and did radio work for a couple of years until he met a cable producer at a public television telethon. The producer suggested he try cable, so he did. Spencer started doing news pieces for Huntington Beach's cable station.

"I had no clue what I was doing," he recalled.

With no television training, he improvised, reporting on such memorable topics as the length and flow capacity of the city's water pipes. The camera operators usually made fun of him, he said, because he tripped over his words and it took up to 12 takes to get a line right.

After he was hired as an anchor and sportscaster for "This Week in Garden Grove," he also had a fair share of blunders. There was the time he came back from the "perfect" interview with all-star football players only to find the audio hadn't recorded.

Then there were times when he missed capturing the end of a game because he ran out of tape or battery power, or when he showed up after the only score of a game.

"You can never prepare too much," he has learned.

His bosses say those were the old days. He's now a professional who spends more time perfecting his craft than looking for a better-paying, more glamorous job.

"He's one of the most talented people we ever had; he's thorough, hard-working and knowledgeable," said John Borack, who used to direct of the cable show.

"He reports, shoots and edits his own pieces," said Gus Castellanos, who heads up the city's cable department. "His shooting is better than most people who do that exclusively."

Besides, what network is going to hire him to do a first-person story on finding a date at a "Tennis for Singles" game in Garden Grove? (As it turns out, he didn't. "The singles were mostly men in their 40s and 50s," he lamented.) Or, would ESPN allow him to cavort through a sporting goods store on in-line skates looking for Christmas presents? Probably not.

And if he moved on, the parents and teachers and students of Garden Grove-area schools would surely miss him and his interest in their accomplishments.

"I love him," said Darlene Engels, a secretary at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove. Unlike some reporters, she said, Spencer doesn't seem to be putting on an act that he cares about them. "It seems like he really does," Engels said.

"He calls the coaches, goes and watches the practices, sees what's in the air the week before instead of coasting through," Borack said. And the students notice.

Said John Frank, a member of Rancho Alamitos football and basketball teams: "He really puts his all into it." Once, he recalled, Spencer suited it up to play football with the team, but didn't fare very well on the field. "He's a little out of shape," Frank said.

Spencer himself is not so convinced of his popularity. He questions whether the high schoolers who call out his name on the street or ask for autographs are just being "smart-asses."

And he wonders if he made the right career move.

"Sometimes I think I should have stayed in business," he said, noting it's tough to make ends meet, although he does bring in a little extra by providing telephone support to credit card merchants in his spare time.

"But I figure if I just stick with it, it will pay off."

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