Profile: Rick Karle & Fox 6 Sideline

Rick Karle on set of Fox 6 Sideline

Karle’s Fox 6 Sideline a community effort
By Hunter Ford

It’s a Friday night during football season and Rick Karle, sports director for Fox 6 TV in Birmingham, is doing a dozen things at once.

Karle has been a fixture on local TV since 1989, and the high school football highlight show he anchors each week is in its 20th season.

At 9:00 p.m. he greets a guest who has come by to get a back stage look at how the production unfolds.

He quickly points to rows of videotapes and index cards laid out on a table.

“We’ve got 15 cameramen out there covering two games apiece, 30 games total,” he explains. “Each cameraman has to edit his own stuff and give me a few descriptions of the highlights for the cards. There’s no teleprompter.”

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A cameraman comes hustling through the room, and Karle reminds him to “write legibly” to which the cameraman responds with a promise to type the card.

With cameramen coming from all parts of Jefferson and Shelby counties, traffic jams and many other unforeseen circumstances must be weathered each week.
Sideline helmet given as award to the Most Outstanding Player of the Week
“This is kind of like flying without a pilot, just waiting for the mountain to pop up out of the clouds, there’s so many things you have to rely on,” Karle says. “Seth Carlylse is the floor director who handles the cards, if he’s not there things could get dismal.”

Production chief Brian Pope says the planning for Friday night shows literally begins immediately at the conclusion of the last show.

“It’s chaos for sixty minutes, but most of the time, when it’s over, we sit back and say ‘That was a pretty good show.’ If there was something that didn’t go right, we pick up and start all over again,” Pope said.

After giving his guest a quick tour of the studio and production room, Karle mans his desk, taking calls from parents reporting scores of their kids’ games.
Rick meeting Mortimer Jordan Cheerleaders
He usually ends up editing some of the highlights himself, while also keeping an ear tuned to local radio reports.

“You try to absorb as much as you can without going crazy,” he said. “And we really do depend a lot on the parents and the school’s supporters. We are really local and we want the people to know we care about being part of the community.”

Does he get a lot of feedback for his efforts?
“Yeah, I get a lot of e-mail. A lot of them are negative, but it shows that the fans really care…they’re outspoken enough to let you know what they think,” Karle said.

Do people approach him at the grocery store and give him feedback?

“Oh yeah, I get that too. Mostly when people see you face to face they are complimentary. It’s in the e-mails they really tee off on you.”

Karle says when he started 20 years ago it was considered “aggressive” to cover four high school games on the weekends.

Fox 6 Sideline not only reports game action, it endeavors to relay the color, pageantry and spirit of the occasions.

“Babies, bands, you never know what you might see,” he says.

For each show, a team of cheerleaders is invited to the studio to liven up the proceedings.
Mike Dubberly, who has been a reporter for more than a decade at Fox 6, now serves as Karle’s co-anchor. Both Karle and Dubberly, along with Sheldon Haygood, cover Friday night games into the late hours then do a quick turnaround to cover Saturday’s college football action.

Dubberly says the Friday night games show sports at its most pure and fundamental level.

“Friday is more of a local appeal,” Duberly said. “You’re getting down to the grass roots…it’s about the parents who run concessions, the bands, cheerleaders…it takes a community effort.”
Mike Dubberly of Fox 6
Duberly says the college games are great, with the big-time atmosphere, but high school football in Alabama is also a sight to behold.

“There’s so much passion, from top to bottom, from the smallest schools to the biggest schools,” he said. “You can really feel it, I think more so sometimes with the smaller schools. Some of the bigger schools get a little spoiled with the amount of coverage they get and the smaller schools can be more appreciative.”

Dubberly, who played high school football in Jacksonville, FL said he enjoys seeing true amateurs play with heartfelt effort.

“High school is where a kid who has some heart can get a chance to play,” he said. “It’s great to see a kid like that lay it on the line.”

The show is all about Mom’s and Dad’s and kids, Karle says.

“I think it’s what separates the Birmingham market from other places,” he said. “And not to sound like Nick Saban or anything, but when we execute, I believe it is a very good show, and it is very rewarding.”

Writer’s Note:
To say that Rick Karle had a casual attitude about letting me sit in on for the Sideline production would be both true and false. He was an excellent host, laid back and quite candid. But it’s not all fun and games. You can tell he puts a lot of effort into his job.

On a typical football Friday, he does a 6 a.m. and midday broadcast, then tapes a segment with Paul Finebaum before anchoring Sideline, which runs past 11 p.m.

By the way, what does the F-Baum think of Karle?

“Easily, the hardest working and most competent person I’ve ever worked with in broadcasting. An absolute perfectionist. He misses nothing. Just brilliant,” Finebaum said.

Karle on Finebaum?

“Paul has gotten a lot better on the TV end. He is such a smart and cerebral guy…he learns fast. A lot of people ask me before we go in, “What should I say?” But I can bounce anything off of Paul and he has a quick response.”

When I interviewed Paul Finebaum a couple of years ago for a piece in the Hoover Gazette, I asked him about his relationship with other people in the media. Karle was the only person F-Baum mentioned with much fondness.

“I would say Paul is my buddy,” Karle said. “But we don’t hang out and go to dinner or anything. Paul is kind of unusual…well, not unusual, he’s just his own guy…I think a lot of really intelligent cerebral people are that way.”

A guy who has been around 20 years in this market has a lot of stories to tell. Karle called the first Baron’s game featuring Michael Jordan, for instance.

He’s covered Super Bowls and been to Wimbeldon. But he seems to focus very intently on the task at hand, which is why, I suppose, he’s lasted so long.

I asked both Karle and Dubberly whether they would enjoy attending sporting events as a pure fan.

“It’s a great job, but as far as watching (college) games, I spend most of the second half in a truck (editing tape),” Karle said.

Dubberly said he attended a sporting event with his wife not too long ago and she was disappointed in his apparent lack of enthusiasm.

“It’s not that really,” he said. “But you’re not supposed to cheer as a journalist. It’s been so long, I forgot how to cheer for a team.”

Another back story:
Dubberly was a high school student in Jacksonville when Karle was a 25-year-old cub reporter at the local TV station.

Dubberly came knocking at the studio wanting to learn more about broadcasting. “I was the young guy at the station so the manager had me give him the tour,” Karle said.

Karle once called a fledgling all-sports network in Bristol, Connecticut inquiring about a job.

“They told me they already had an anchor named Chris Berman,” he said.

NOTE: more photographs in the Gallery

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