Once upon a time, your Indiana Hoosiers used to play in Final Fours. Let's begin there today.
Once upon a time they had a couple of kids named Graham (Pat and Greg), and a Damon (Bailey) and a Calbert (Cheaney), and one Saturday night they played Duke in a national semifinal. They lost, of course. Everyone thought it was a crying shame – especially Indiana fans of a particularly grassy-knoll bent. Which brings us to a local radio show called SportsTalk, and to a lovely man named Art Saltsberg. You know who Art Saltsberg is, even if you don't know who Art Saltsberg is. If you've listened WOWO 1190 AM anytime in the last 50 years, you've heard his voice coming out of your radio. He's the voice of a million radio ads, and he knew all the people you did, like Bob Sievers and Jack Underwood and Bob Chase, too. And of course you heard him on SportsTalk for two hours every weekday night, sidekicking with Dean Pantazi of WPTA 21Alive. But back to those Hoosier fans of a particularly grassy-knoll bent. One Monday night in 1992, two days after Duke dispatched Indiana in the national semifinal, Art found himself sidekicking with a certain sports guy of lesser renown. That would be me, filling in for Dean as best I could.
Anyway ... Art opened the phone lines, and IU fans practically crawled out of the woodwork, equipped with dark conspiracy theories. The game officials hosed the poor Hoosiers, and the reason they hosed the poor Hoosiers is because CBS wanted Duke to win. So they slipped the Whistles a little cash under the table, or something like that. On and on it went. And finally Art had heard enough. When the umpteenth guy started in on CBS and the refs and the evil machinations of (bleeping) Duke, Art cut him off. Told him he was being ridiculous, or words to that effect. Told him he was flat-out crazy. Only time I ever heard Art Saltsberg kinda-sorta lose it on the air. And I mention it only because word has come down that Art is retiring after 50 years at WOWO as a salesman and broadcaster.
Here's what you should know about Art Saltsberg: There may be nicer or more professional people in the business, but I've never run across one. His easygoing nature, and the way he and Dean played so well off one another, was why SportsTalk drew such a loyal and regular audience of callers. There was Jerry from Philly and Vaughn and of course Basil, about whom hangs a tale. Basil, you see, was a teenager whose full handle was Basil Rhodes, and he was born with a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta. It meant Basil could break bones simply by rolling over, and it left him, as a high school student, bedridden and the size of an infant. But he was smart and funny and loved to give Dean what-for about his Cubs, because Basil was a die-hard Mets fan. No one who ever met him, before he died at 18, came away without marveling at him. And so, one night, Art and Dean drove down to Basil's home in Wells County, and broadcast SportsTalk from his living room. Even had Basil sign off for them at the end of the show.
Always thought that was Art and Dean's finest hour. And I think maybe Art might tell you the same thing.
Me, I say it's either that or the Night of the Grassy Knoll People. When the man on the other mic, as usual, made it all such a joy.
Ben Smith is a former sportswriter for The Journal Gazette.