Reluctant to radio, a foil for coaches

In my final season as a baseball writer, my newspaper — the Montreal Star — was on strike. I was also freelancing for Montreal radio station CJAD, writing scripts for Expos Manager Dick Williams to read after every game, followed by an on-air conversation the next morning.

The strike that had nothing today with fastballs or sliders started in June. For logic unknown to me, the radio station kept me on road trips to continue writing the Williams scripts and reporting to the morning show. It kept me “working” and four other Dunns from starving.

The early-morning conversations continued through the World Series, between the Yankees and the Dodgers.

“Did you ever think about doing this full-time?” asked Ted Blackman, the program director and morning sportscaster.

“No,” I replied.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t really like radio.”

A week after the hand that fed me was removed from my teeth, I was working full-time in radio, as sports director. What I knew about the medium would have fit on the head of a microphone. I learned to love radio. I worked longer hours than ever, learning to splice tape, to make a voice for newspapers acceptable for radio listeners and to start my work day with a 3 a.m. wake-up call.

I stayed for almost five years.

Dick Williams became my first “coach’s show”…to be followed by Bernie Geoffrion, Claude Ruel and Joe Galat. This is not meant to be dropping names, it’s meant to illustrate how professional life can take some unusual turns. As a young sports fan who was beating up an already beaten-up Boom Boom Geoffrion hockey card, if you’d told me that one day I’d share a microphone with him I’d have asked what space ship brought you to earth.

As a young sports writer about to cover his first major beat, if you’d said the baseball manager — whose team (Oakland) had just won the World Series — would become a radio friend and colleague, I’d have said fantasyland is for Disney.

The shortest coach’s show was Geoffrion’s, not because he wasn’t good at it but because he didn’t have the stomach for coaching. Literally. Bleeding ulcers terminated his first two coaching jobs, in New York (Rangers) and Atlanta (Flames). He thought it would be different in Montreal, but it wasn’t and Boom Boom, who had succeeded the legendary Scotty Bowman, quit before Christmas despite a winning percentage of .600 over 30 games. His stomach gave out again.

Geoffrion was succeeded by Ruel, who also inherited the coach’s show, avec moi. His broken English and my few words of French made a strange mix, to say the least, but he made it fun. It was Claude’s second time in the Habs’ hot seat and, like Geoffrion, he originally replaced a legend (Toe Blake). Truly one of the nicest hockey men I ever met, Ruel won a Stanley Cup, missed the playoffs and resigned as Blake’s successor. As Geoffrion’s successor, he guided the Canadiens to two division titles. In the Montreal of that era, getting to the second round of the playoffs was a failure, and Ruel was returned to player development.

As for Williams and Galat…that’s for another column.