Broadcaster signs off on amazing career

Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018 5:29 PM
Longtime BHS sportscaster David Bray calling a 2013 BHS Baseball road game at Centauri.
In 2014, Bray called a BHS baseball game versus the Piedra Vista JV at the Farmington Sports Complex.
David Bray called a game from Monte Vista during the 2018-18 state champion season for boys basketball.

As battered and bruised as the Bayfield players appeared following their 28-20 defeat of Kersey Platte Valley for the 2015 CHSAA Class 2A State Football Championship, lost in the party was the fact that their broadcaster, too, was playing hurt.

"Two nights before, I was working, closed the store - Albertson's - on Thanksgiving night, and I tweaked my foot somehow. Went to turn and go back to the office, and I felt some sharp pain in my foot-I was like, 'I must have just twisted it or something.' And it got worse and worse and worse," recalled play-by-play man Dave Bray, now in his third year working at the grocery giant's Durango location after 17 with Durango's City Market stores.

"Then, of course. I had to work that Friday-the day after that-too, then I had to leave right after I closed . at 12:30 in the morning! Drove all night to get to Platte Valley, and when I got in there . they'd had like four inches of snow and they were plowing the field and everything. Didn't have any room for me in the booth, so the athletic director gave me a little space heater - which didn't do me any good - and then a hand-warmer. I'd switch that between hands, but during the whole game my foot is killing me!"

"So after the game was over and I'd signed off, I hobbled down the bleachers and was limping to get to Coach and the guys. The field was a mess, they're happy ... it was just a terrific thing. Then, I'm walking back to the car, get in and I turn the heater on, and the pain was tremendous; I didn't know what was going on! I get back to the hotel room, take my shoe off, and my foot balloons to twice the size of what it was: I'd broken my foot that night at Albertson's! And didn't know it!"

"Thank goodness it was cold; I think that freezing temperature helped to keep the swelling from going up!"

On healed footing two years later, Bray proudly called Bayfield's third-ever gridiron title run, then promptly followed that with a 3A State Championship call for BHS Boys' Basketball in March 2018. A 3A crown for Wolverine Baseball unfortunately wasn't in the springtime cards, but Bray, again positioned outside the press box beneath ominous skies blanketing Arvada, once more had the final on-air word.

This summer, Bray made it his last; when Bayfield Football kicks off 2018 this Friday, Aug. 24, at Farmington, fans will begin hearing games on one of two frequencies (92.9 KPTE-FM 'The Point' as well as the current 'Superstation' 107.1 KLJH-FM, at BHS Athletic Director Derrick Martin's last check) with Dan Ford and/or Travis Johnson narrating the battles.

"I just decided ... maybe about a month and a half ago - after baseball season was over - that I think I've accomplished everything I could possibly accomplish," said Bray, who began broadcasting BHS athletics in fall 2009, mere weeks after ending a quarter-century stretch as the voice of Durango-based Fort Lewis College. "And the way Bayfield had this year, I mean . what an opportunity! To get to call two State Championships in one year, with one team? I thought, 'Can't get any better than that.'"

"I just turned 66," he noted, "and figured, you know, that's the ultimate time when you want to retire. So I decided maybe it's time to just sit back and be a spectator instead of being a commentator."

Raised in western New York, Bray earned an accounting/marketing associate's degree in '72 from Olean Business Institute and landed his first radio gig in 1975 as news director for WGGO-AM in nearby Salamanca.

"I was there for a year, and that didn't turn out too great because the owner got a break in his insurance by claiming that I was the night watchman for the station!" Bray recalled. "I lived in the back. He had a little small room with a bathroom, a small kitchenette, it was really tiny, but then he let me go because his insurance company said 'Well, you don't have a night watchman; you just have a DJ!'"

Not long after, after hearing about Durango from his pharmacist brother, who'd already gambled on relocating to the unheard-of Western town, Bray arrived in La Plata County in 1977. Setting himself up in a small jewelry shop on Main Avenue, "... right across the street at the time was KDGO-AM, right where Durango (Roasters) is (presently)."

An encounter with the late Ron Ford, who died in 2014, earned Bray an on-air role with the station for "about a year," and also presented him a dangerous opportunity to show his true love for such a job.

"When I was working on the weekends, I was in this little glassed-in booth and I was doing my show . I guess it was a Saturday night. And all of a sudden I started seeing smoke coming into the booth," said Bray. "Then I see firefighters coming through the door of the radio station . and they're banging on the window: 'You've got to get out of here!' Because down the street, at the New York Bakery, they had a fire in one of the ovens, and they were evacuating everybody in the block!"

"I said, 'No, I've got to stay on the air.this is vital! I've got to stay in case anybody needs to hear what's going on!'"

Ford thought differently.

"So I called Ron," Bray continued, "and Ron says, 'Get out of there!' I said, 'But yeah, I've got to keep going on the air so they know..' 'GET OUT OF THERE NOW! SIGN IT OFF, AND GET OUT OF THERE!'"

"From that point on. ... Ron Ford did a lot of Toastmasters stuff, did a lot of speeches, and every time he would do a speech, he told me, 'I always related that story, of one dedicated employee, that stayed in the booth while smoke was coming in and the block was on fire!' He said, 'Now that's dedication!'"

Having grown up idolizing hockey broadcaster Ted Darling, who called for the NHL's Buffalo Sabres from 1970 to 1991, Bray truly came into his own when he settled in at KIUP-AM (and sister station KRSJ-FM) and began describing FLC Raiders Football as a color commentator in 1982.

The Raiders eventually became the Skyhawks, and Bray became a fixture on the mic as the "Voice of the Skyhawks" and served as such for 24 seasons while working with commentators such as former FLC Football head coach Jay McNitt, Ken Dodge and still-active Durango High School athletics broadcaster Don Piccoli.

Recognized by the Colorado Broadcasters Association in 1999 for his dedication, Bray was inducted into the FLC Hall of Fame in 2008 after a surprise nomination from veteran Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference basketball official Mike Dent.

"The funny thing about it was, Mike and I, we'd kind of clash heads every once in a while because I was not pleasant sometimes to the officials early on; when they'd make a mistake I would say, 'You've got to be kidding me! That can't be right-that's a terrible call!' or something like that," joked Bray.

"My style is different - they always tell you to do your own style - and I'm sorry, but I'm a hometowner," he admitted. "I love to pump up the hometown team, and I think fans and listeners like that I'd definitely be hometowning."

Not out of the game for long after his Fort Lewis days, Bray began calling Bayfield High School sports in earnest after Mike Riggs (who'd taken over the FLC gig from Bray) unexpectedly died in Nov. 2010. Bray continued in a three-sport capacity through what ended up being his final call, BHS Baseball's 11-1 loss at Faith Christian in the 3A-Region IV Tournament semifinals. Bray's play-by-play was broadcasted by Passion Radio Network-operated KLJH-FM.

"Knowing that I'd have to be there an hour and a half before the game, and then setting up, having all the equipment ready to go, and then the first thing out of my mouth: 'Good evening everyone, and welcome to..' whatever sport it is, you know? I think that's the biggest thing I'm going to miss," said Bray. "You're on pins and needles when you immediately go on the air, then you start doing a game and you fall into it."

"Gonna feel funny, because I'm not going to be preparing for football season for Bayfield, and I'm not going to be doing it. It's going to take a while to slow down, I guess, on that one. It's just been an incredible journey."

Dave Bray, come on down! As an Empire State youth, Bray's radio journey had quite a fortuitous beginning.

"When I was a kid I'd listen to a radio station.out of Buffalo called WKBW-they were a 50,000-watt station back then, could reach pretty much across the country-and I could name every DJ that was on that station."

Good thing, too, as Bray recalled.

"One time I went to the Erie County Fair, and WKBW had a small booth in one of the breezeways. I walked up to the booth, and I just pressed my nose against the window! The DJ pointed his finger at me and said, 'Come around the side.' So I went around, went inside and.sat down, told him I loved WKBW and stuff like that."

Young Bray would be disappointed to learn the AM titan's technological workings were housed elsewhere, but was elated to meet a station personality, who would eventually go on to television fame.

"The guy who brought me into the booth was Rod Roddy," Bray stated. "Rod Roddy was a DJ on WKBW, and it didn't make any sense until I saw him on 'The Price is Right' and said, 'That's the same guy!' So that was how I got started!"

Staying tunedAsked what's kept him eager to announce during his career, Bray answered simply:

"The athletes, to me, are just amazing. When a high-school student went into college, you'd watch them in their freshman year, and you knew when the 'light switch' turned on for them, when they realized what it was like to play in college."

"You could just tell, that particular play or that particular game, that something turned them from a high-school player 98 pounds wet to a 175-pound person that could contribute to the team. That, to me, was the most delightful thing that I ever saw. I just enjoyed watching the players come along; I think that was the biggest thing for me. They thought I was 'Pops' or something, you know? I was the 'old guy' doing the games and stuff, and I got along so great with the athletes."

"So I figure over the years I've probably seen, touched the lives of over 10,000."

Be preparedAsked for the best advice he could give prospective broadcasters, Bray said:

"One time, I did a baseball game in Alamosa - a doubleheader - when it was snowing so bad I couldn't see past the pitcher's mound! I was covering my table with towels, blankets and everything so the equipment wouldn't get wet! And even this last one, when we went to Faith Christian, we were wondering if it was going to rain that game too!"

"You have to adapt; when you're a broadcaster you don't know what you're going to run into. So you bring every piece, accessory you possibly can - a long extension cord, your own table, your own chair - you know?"