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Sports on the Air

Creek rises, memories never fade for the best

Published February 20, 2004

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It was the day the staff at WDAE-AM 620 had feared:

The chickens mourned.

The cows finally came home.

And the creek rose.

Chris Thomas, the station's greatest talent and one of the few giants in the Tampa Bay sports media market, died Wednesday night, leaving a huge void in the sports-talk market.

Callers to WDAE lit up the switchboards Thursday for a chance to share stories about the popular Thomas, whose show was the highest-rated sports-talk show in Tampa Bay.

The station devoted the entire day to eulogizing Thomas, even skipping the popular Jim Rome Show from noon-3 as Ian Beckles filled in.

There is little debate: Thomas was the best thing sports talk had going for it in this market. Get past the animal and flatulence sounds, and he was the most intelligent, most well-spoken host, and had a knack for developing relationships with listeners.

Callers praised Thomas the family man, Thomas the friend, and mostly Thomas the funny man. He had an amiable spirit that, judging by the phone calls and e-mails the station received, touched many lives. Many of the memories shared by callers included his days as Ch.8 sports director, where he would dance to music while reading high school football scores.

The outpouring was impressive.

Many callers failed to get through their comments without breaking down in tears.

Tedd Webb, a longtime friend and another local broadcasting icon, openly sobbed while telling listeners about the kind of father Thomas was. In a day filled with similar calls, it was the most memorable.

Thomas was a student of history and culture, talents that served him well on Sept.11, 2001, and the days after. While other hosts played the brainless role of angry white guy, Thomas turned in arguably the best work of his WDAE career.

The Mediocre Sports Hunk, as he called himself, railed against the taxpayer-funded Raymond James Stadium, always referring to it as the Community Investment Tax Stadium, or CITS, one of the many acronyms he used to amuse his audience.

In the era of the know-it-all sports talk-show host, lumps of flapping lips that pass themselves off as journalists, ready to criticize on air as long as they don't have to confront the criticized, hiding behind so-called "sources," know this about Chris Thomas:

He was none of those.

Would any local sports talk-show host or television anchor do this, a memory shared with me Thursday?

At the news conference after Tony Dungy's firing as Bucs coach by the Glazers, as the rest of the press danced around the tough question, it was Thomas - then working for Ch.8 - who stood up and pointed the accusing finger at team vice presidents Joel and Bryan Glazer.

You mean to tell us, tell our viewers, that after firing the winningest coach in team history, that you've had no contact with any other coaches to replace him?

Is that, he vociferously added, what you're telling us?

The news conference, an amiable question-and-answer session to that point, suddenly changed. Thomas, a longtime thorn in the Bucs side, had called out the Glazers. The rest of the media horde followed suit.

Years later, those that were there still call it one of the most memorable news conferences in Buc history.

Thanks to one of the most memorable figures in Tampa Bay sports.

- Times staff writer Roger Mills contributed to this report.

[Last modified February 20, 2004, 01:31:57]


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