Karleâ€™s Fox 6 Sideline a community effort
By Hunter Ford
Itâ€™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.
â€œWeâ€™ve got 15 cameramen out there covering two games apiece, 30 games total,â€ he explains. â€œEach cameraman has to edit his own stuff and give me a few descriptions of the highlights for the cards. Thereâ€™s no teleprompter.â€
A cameraman comes hustling through the room, and Karle reminds him to â€œwrite legiblyâ€ 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.
â€œThis is kind of like flying without a pilot, just waiting for the mountain to pop up out of the clouds, thereâ€™s so many things you have to rely on,â€ Karle says. â€œSeth Carlylse is the floor director who handles the cards, if heâ€™s not there things could get dismal.â€
Production chief Brian Pope says the planning for Friday night shows literally begins immediately at the conclusion of the last show.
â€œItâ€™s chaos for sixty minutes, but most of the time, when itâ€™s over, we sit back and say â€˜That was a pretty good show.â€™ If there was something that didnâ€™t go right, we pick up and start all over again,â€ 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 kidsâ€™ games.
He usually ends up editing some of the highlights himself, while also keeping an ear tuned to local radio reports.
â€œYou try to absorb as much as you can without going crazy,â€ he said. â€œAnd we really do depend a lot on the parents and the schoolâ€™s supporters. We are really local and we want the people to know we care about being part of the community.â€
Does he get a lot of feedback for his efforts?
â€œYeah, I get a lot of e-mail. A lot of them are negative, but it shows that the fans really careâ€¦theyâ€™re outspoken enough to let you know what they think,â€ Karle said.
Do people approach him at the grocery store and give him feedback?
â€œOh yeah, I get that too. Mostly when people see you face to face they are complimentary. Itâ€™s in the e-mails they really tee off on you.â€
Karle says when he started 20 years ago it was considered â€œaggressiveâ€ 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.
â€œBabies, bands, you never know what you might see,â€ 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 Karleâ€™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 Saturdayâ€™s college football action.
Dubberly says the Friday night games show sports at its most pure and fundamental level.
â€œFriday is more of a local appeal,â€ Duberly said. â€œYouâ€™re getting down to the grass rootsâ€¦itâ€™s about the parents who run concessions, the bands, cheerleadersâ€¦it takes a community effort.â€
Duberly says the college games are great, with the big-time atmosphere, but high school football in Alabama is also a sight to behold.
â€œThereâ€™s so much passion, from top to bottom, from the smallest schools to the biggest schools,â€ he said. â€œYou 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.â€
Dubberly, who played high school football in Jacksonville, FL said he enjoys seeing true amateurs play with heartfelt effort.
â€œHigh school is where a kid who has some heart can get a chance to play,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s great to see a kid like that lay it on the line.â€
The show is all about Momâ€™s and Dadâ€™s and kids, Karle says.
â€œI think itâ€™s what separates the Birmingham market from other places,â€ he said. â€œAnd 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.â€
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 itâ€™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?
â€œEasily, the hardest working and most competent person I’ve ever worked with in broadcasting. An absolute perfectionist. He misses nothing. Just brilliant,â€ Finebaum said.
Karle on Finebaum?
â€œPaul has gotten a lot better on the TV end. He is such a smart and cerebral guyâ€¦he learns fast. A lot of people ask me before we go in, â€œWhat should I say?â€ But I can bounce anything off of Paul and he has a quick response.â€
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.
â€œI would say Paul is my buddy,â€ Karle said. â€œBut we donâ€™t hang out and go to dinner or anything. Paul is kind of unusualâ€¦well, not unusual, heâ€™s just his own guyâ€¦I think a lot of really intelligent cerebral people are that way.â€
A guy who has been around 20 years in this market has a lot of stories to tell. Karle called the first Baronâ€™s game featuring Michael Jordan, for instance.
Heâ€™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, heâ€™s lasted so long.
I asked both Karle and Dubberly whether they would enjoy attending sporting events as a pure fan.
â€œItâ€™s a great job, but as far as watching (college) games, I spend most of the second half in a truck (editing tape),â€ 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.
â€œItâ€™s not that really,â€ he said. â€œBut youâ€™re not supposed to cheer as a journalist. Itâ€™s been so long, I forgot how to cheer for a team.â€
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. â€œI was the young guy at the station so the manager had me give him the tour,â€ Karle said.
Karle once called a fledgling all-sports network in Bristol, Connecticut inquiring about a job.
â€œThey told me they already had an anchor named Chris Berman,â€ he said.
NOTE: more photographs in the Gallery