My Evening With Bob Lobel

Greetings once again from the West coast headquarters of BSMW in American Canyon, CA.

I was out getting coffee this morning, and switched on KNBR, the huge sports radio station out here in the Bay Area. To my surprise, at that moment, the topic of conversation was…

Bob Lobel.

WBZ’s decision to let Lobel go after 30 years was a big topic on the show, mostly from the angle that if a legend like Lobel can be let go, whose job IS safe? They made mention of the fact that Lobel turned down an offer from CBS to host College Football Today in the mid-80’s, which opened the door for Jim Nantz to take the position.

Several callers with ties to the Boston area called to give their recollections of Lobel, and it was noted that Lobel had lost a little something in recent years.

I’ll take this opportunity to give my own Lobel story.

About a year after I started BSMW, I had been getting short emails from Lobel on occasion, usually notes of support, or a quick observation on the topic of that day. Eventually Lobel invited me to come down to the WBZ studios to hang out for the evening and watch the production of that night’s newscast.

I accepted and met Lobel at the studios. He couldn’t have been more gracious, taking me on a tour of the building, showing me the newsroom, introducing me to the staff, (I was shocked at how many of them were familiar with BSMW)checking out the Sports Final set, and then going into his office while he got ready for the newscast. You might expect a huge, spacious office for someone of Lobel’s stature, but that wasn’t the case. It was a small, narrow, cramped room, without any windows, perhaps a little over double the size of a janitors closet. Just outside the office was a larger room where the sports staff was putting together highlight packages and there was a vast wall of sports highlight tapes and film.

The inside of Lobel’s office was just covered with photos of Bob with just about every local athlete of note in the last 25 years prior to then. (This was in 2003) Above his desk were several small TV monitors. It was a busy night, as the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics were all playing on that particular evening. All the games were on the monitors. We sat and talked for quite awhile, chatting about the current state of sports in Boston, about some of the personalities in town, who he got along with and who he despised. (As I recall, he wasn’t too fond of a certain WEEI morning co-host not named Gerry Callahan.) He also had a ton of sports books laying around the office, many of them brand-new review copies. He gave me several.

When it came time for first the TV38 10:00pm newscast, (At the time, WBZ was also producing a 10:00pm newscast for TV38.) he brought me into the studio with him. He introduced me to the news anchors that night, (Sarah Underwood was one, and she was incredibly nice as well.) and settled me just off the set where I could watch the entire proceedings. Lobel seemed to have a somewhat uneven relationship with meteorologist Ed Carroll, they needled each other constantly off the air, and I couldn’t really tell if it was 100% friendly or not. When it came time for sports it was the show that we’ve seen for 30 years, shuffling the papers, going through the highlights, (The “Gasoline Alley” Red Sox bullpen was a hot topic that night) and delivering a wisecrack or two.

When the newscast was over, we chatted for a few more minutes, and then with a few words of encouragement, he saw me out the door. It was a terrific, memorable evening, and I have only fond memories of Lobel to this day.

It’s been a rough few years for Lobel since then, and though his performance was certainly not up to what it was in his peak, he was still a sports media legend in Boston right to the end. I expect we’ll see and hear some more of him in the future, be it on radio, or perhaps in another television role.

  • NASCL

    Having a soft spot for Lobel, I enjoyed reading about Bruce’s encounter with him.

  • Rick

    I am surprised to hear the Bob Lobel didn’t care for his former competition. I distinctly remember Lobel appearing on D&C sometime in late 1999, early 2000 and everybody got along fine. Lobel and his former competition had a connection to Ohio and were joking around. I remember also that the shooting at Kent State came up. I think the competition was there.

    The old Boston Magazine’s description of Lobel’s childhood was very depressing. You have to feel for the guy growing up in that odd atmosphere.

  • LL

    I never saw Bob Lobel on a regular basis living up in Maine, but he was synonymous with Boston sports through the 1980’s. Whenever we’d visit family in the Boston area, I’d always try to catch Lobel and Sports Final.

    He may have fallen off his game in recent years, but he always seemed like a genuine guy. It’s nice to see Bruce treated the way I would expect Lobel to have treated him. It isn’t often the that is the case.

  • Paul

    Don’t get channel 4 on my cable system here in Maine but used to watch him all the time. Whenever I think of Bob Lobel though I go back to his early days on WBZ Radio when I found he and Upton Bell to be entertaining. I don’t find the same enjoyment from local sports talk radio these days. Bob got older and so did I.

  • Kevin

    I always looked at Bob Lobel the same way as Will McDonough. When both of them were writing/reporting I went out of my way to watch them. I really don’t feel that way about anyone currently.

  • Rick

    Didn’t Lobel do a “sportswriters on tv” bit on 38 in the 1990’s. Maybe Upton Bell was the host, but I think Lobel was a frequent panelist. It was interesting at the time. I think Ryan was a contributor, also.

    Reminiscent of the original Chicago version with Rick Telander, which SportsChannel New England would play every week. The Boston version didn’t have the octogenarians sucking down cigars, talking about middleweights from the 1940’s, though, which made it pale in comparison.

    • Looky Lou

      Yes Rick, the name of the TV38 show was “SPORTSBEAT” Lobel and Upton Bell used to co-host it….Gerry Callahan and Joe Fitzgerald were also regular guests…I used to look forward to watching it because at the time it was different….Nowadays with WEEI, “Around the Horn” “PTI” “Fox Sports tonight” (or whatever they call it now, the show with Felger) there are WAY TOO MANY sportswriters on TV flapping their gums. They all try to out do one-another, to the point I now find them all ANNOYING….when it comes to sportswriters on TV, LESS is better.

  • Mike

    As a producer at KNBR, I have to say that Bob was always happy to come on the station to talk Boston whenever asked. I recall booking him a couple of times back in the beginning of the PATS run in ’01-’02 and he would never turn the opportunity down, even it was right after his final 11:00 – 11:30 newscast. There’d always be plenty of calls and emails afterwards from MA transplants who were happy to hear Bob on the air out here, even it was just for 15 min.

  • Davey

    … great guy, who had an amazing run from ’84-’94 … Was classy enough to admit on D&C that he often “mailed it in” late in his career … was loyal to the idiotic Steve Burton but got shanked anyway … made sports fun in the 80s, thoroughly trouncing and humiliating John Dennis in the ratings … had many rocky marriages and was dogged by rumors of on-air boozing in recent years.

    His legacy is strong as a quality person, who treated everyone with respect. Hopefully, he takes a soft radio gig and enjoys his few remaining years of lucidity.

  • Chris

    Like Lobel or loathe him, many TV news personalities seem to have a sort of ‘womb-to-the-tomb’ feeling of entitlement when it comes to their jobs. Just look at the number of instances where ‘talent’ have thrown down the discrimination card (assorted flavors available). If the rest of us work in industries where jobs come and go, I don’t see what makes the TV news business so special. I think the airs these people put on and their sense of ‘entitlement’ conspire to make many of them universally disliked. As for Lobel, I think he was ‘liked’ decades ago. But as many have said, he wore out his welcome in a whole bunch of ways.

  • ben

    Great story Bruce. Still remember Lobel doing the weekend shift on “Calling All Sports” on ‘BZ radio when sports radio wasn’t nearly what it is today. Right around the time he was starting up on weekends on TV with Liz Walker during the late ’70s. Have a memory of a relatively chunky Lobel back in the rear of the Boston Marathon before it was “in” for pseudo celebs to run it.

  • eric

    Lobel is the greatest… I will miss him. He was the only reason why I watched the ch 4 news every night. I also taped sports final every sunday! Anyhow, Lobel will have many opportunites to do other venues now and I think it will work out better for him. Thank you for everything Bob!
    eric

  • Dan Riley

    I had the privilege of appearing on an Upton Bell hosted show with Lobel in the 90s when I was promoting my book (The Red Sox Reader). Sox pitcher Greg Harris was also on. My lasting memory is of the camaraderie Bell and Lobel brought to the show which they instantly shared with their guests. Within five minutes it was like sitting around talking baseball with old buddies. I don’t know if New England fans really appreciate the bond they’ve been afforded with many of the legends of the Boston sports media (even the loathsome ones who will remain nameless…never can tell when there’s another book to promote). I’ve been on the West Coast now for 25 years and a lot of the sports media stars have gone on to bigger and better things (Olbermann, Gumbel, etc.) That’s because they all view LA as a career launching pad. For both better and worse, New England media stars seem to settle in. On the one hand, the subsequent familiarity does breed contempt (both ways). On the other hand, you really do get the sense that many of these folks are family. It’s nice to see the family aspect of it reflected in these recollections on Lobel, though the tone of many of the recollections compel me to to point out that he’s not dead yet.

  • Dick

    To those of you who say he slipped in later years you should move to RI and see what we have to put up with.We were able to get Sports Final on 38 up to about a year ago. I enjoyed his programs immensly. Hope he gets a new job in RI

  • paul baranofsky

    lobel should have been canned 5 years ago.he was never serious about sports unlike mike lynch.Lobel spent too much time goofing with liz walker,.Also that lameassed line’Why dont we get players like that?: got tired and old.Also the red sox panicbutton shows what a total bozo this guy is.