Ian Beckles used to have an easy job. Fill in when needed, sit in front of a microphone, talk about sports.
With Chris Thomas' death last week, that job has become, arguably, the toughest media gig in town.
The shoes, too big to fill.
The show, too popular to replace.
The style, impossible to duplicate.
Beckles is still doing weekdays from 10-noon, but where he was once just a substitute for a then-ailing Thomas, he is now looked upon as the successor. The job was once coveted; now it threatens to hang like an albatross around the neck of the new host.
WDAE-AM 620 program director Brad James said there has been no decision on Beckles' status, and that he is still on fill-in duty. It's too soon, James said, to think about a permanent replacement, with the station management devoting its time to planning a memorial golf tournament to be held March 15 at Feather Sound.
Here's hoping when the choice is made it's Beckles, who, judging by his callers, has acquired a loyal following.
He has, in many ways, some of Thomas' best characteristics. He is friendly with callers, able to engage in any debate with perspective and humor, and seems genuinely likable. If he doesn't know a subject - like the time a caller wanted to know his take on FSU's football signees - he will admit it and ask the caller to fill him in. Usually, he is very effective calling on his experiences to give listeners an insight unavailable anywhere else (with the exception of Scot Brantley on WQYK 1010-AM).
Beckles knows sports isn't rocket science. It's rather simple, and his approach reflects that. So when a caller suggests the Lightning is playing better defense in front of John Grahame because it knows it has to, he can scoff. As a Bucs lineman (1990-96), Beckles knows darn well he and his fellow linemates didn't block any harder for Craig Erickson than they did for Trent Dilfer.
"Sports is very simple," Beckles said. "People want to make it more than that."
Which is a view Thomas expressed on occasion. His death was traumatic for many of the callers to his show, but when the healing begins, Beckles should be a part of it.