By Lee Roy Lucero
I wanted to title this “My Way,” however, I think Mark Smith has that whole Frank Sinatra thing on lockdown. Don’t want to be all up in his schtick.
So, why always on the edge? Plain and simple: In the 29 years that I have been doing this media “thang,” it has always been on the edge, or what I’ve always coined the fringe. I took pride in my nonprofessional status and holding those in mainstream media in low regard.
In 1989, a young, arrogant 21-year-old walked into KDEF 1150 with a massive chip on his shoulder, started as a board op and was given a noon-time radio slot in one of the first 24-hour radio stations in the United States. Along with co-host Isidro Romero, “Da Sports Bums” were created and conquered that noon hour with a brash arrogance that quickly caught the attention of the Albuquerque fan base as two “unprofessional dudes” who started tearing up the radio landscape. Those established media dudes, aka program directors, and station managers immediately wanted to change what we were doing. “You’re going to offend our listeners.” Or my favorite, “It’s about the kids! You guys need to show humility.” Did we listen? Oh no. That has always been my problem. I don’t listen, I don’t conform, so every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11:50, the callers would line up to be on air, and at noon Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” would blast. (This was pre-Jim Rome.)
The two arrogant dudes with “nicknames” not only excited the city of Albuquerque, but also the ear of the late Albuquerque Journal sports writer Mike Hall, who wrote an article about sports talk radio, talking about the crazy callers and crazier talk show hosts. While our program director took that as a serious rebuke, Da Sports Bums took it with a sense of pride, and thus started the war with mainstream media. Shortly thereafter, Hall decided that if he couldn’t beat sports talk radio, he would join it, and tried to bring old school journalism to radio.
It was during a basketball season when we met the one-and-only Mark “Ticky” Smith, then Lobo basketball beat writer for the Albuquerque Journal. After going back and forth on radio for months, we met at a local establishment during a remote aptly named “In The Ring.” However, Smith, at the time, didn’t know that we played dirty, not afraid to hit below the belt, as we painted Smith as a sellout to former Lobo basketball coach Dave Bliss. To knock him off his feet, we purchased a pair of knee pads and ChapStick, and on the air tossed it in front of Smith to help him out with his writing. Who would believe that 20 years later, local websites would go bonkers with rumors that then-Lobo men’s basketball coach Steve Alford forced the Albuquerque Journal to have Smith removed from the Lobo basketball beat for being “too negative.”
Truth was, Smith was the only mainstream media guy in this town who actually did write the truth — regardless if it was deemed positive, negative or somewhere in between.
Were the Alford rumors true?
I have no clue. Dude didn’t deal with me much, nor did his successor.
Ultimately, “Da Sports Bums” was too popular and controversial and KDEF decided to part ways with its most successful show and era of radio, as the idea of conforming to mainstream media disgusted me, and I wouldn’t do it.
A few years later I met up with Dom Zarrella of “Dom’s Dugout,” and once again on the fringe, after a brief stint on KDEF, we ended up on an FM radio station. There’s not much to say about that other than it was FM. From there, Zarrella and I started looking at this internet thing that Al Gore invented. And like that, bye-bye radio and being under the control of program directors and general managers. We could be our own bosses, we could write or say whatever we wanted. We could be controversial, we could be rough, we could be arrogant. Nothing or nobody could try to define what we did, or how we did it, and if they didn’t like it? Tough! The wild, wild west beckoned and TheRedMenace.com came to life!
If you think that radio was insane, the internet is an asylum! Quickly, we used our credentials and integrity (mostly Dom’s) to not stir up a ripple but make a huge splash as we would head out to Lobo sports practices and games, and start asking questions like we owned the pressers. We started giving opinionated pieces, video, audio, and writing not worrying who we offended. We were on the fringe and the forefront with recruiting news, football news, basketball news, and those in the mainstream media took notice as we proudly screamed, “The internet will kill newspapers!” The battle with MSM just started as these upstarts were rolling! Breaking news 24/7, giving opinions, and allowing the public to share news and give opinions. The old way of doing things was gone.
MSM didn’t go away though, they fought, questioning our right to be there as credentialed media, and questioning our professionalism and how we did things. The now-defunct Albuquerque Tribune did a full feature on the “new media” and yours truly wearing painted face and bright red wig on the front page of the Tribune, questioning who we are and how we were doing it. As much as some may have hated us, we kept growing and eventually were part of “The Lobo Coaches Show,” had stints on the now defunct Mountain West TV network and the NFL network. Which led to meeting Steve Davis and Adam Diehl and six years ago starting at ProView Networks with Red Menace TV. No doubt a great time personally and professionally, yet also very exhausting. It’s hard to lead the circus 24/7, it’s tough to be edgy and on the fringe constantly. Personally, I was burnt out, emotionally bankrupt. Twenty-nine years is a long time, and I’m not 21 anymore, the wig has been hung up for a few years, I had stopped writing.
But another thing has happened in the evolution of the internet and sports talk radio. Things that were considered “fringe media” are now blasé. Other Lobo websites started popping up, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media outlets have become the rage. All of a sudden in-your-face message board posts, tweets, radio blasts, are no longer edgy. It’s all been normalized and expected. It has become boring and silly. It has become normal.
I still want to be on the edge, I still enjoy being different.
It was amazing that as Mark Smith left the Albuquerque Journal and I had left the Scout network, that we started talking about putting together something fresh, something considered “edgy and fringe.” That is what I consider Enchantment Sports. The new “fringe” of sports. Not conforming to the old madness that is now the new norm, as I am always on the edge.