Watching the Losers

How Jerry Schemmel stays on an even keel despite broadcasting for the Nuggets.

Schemmel's overall style is just as pragmatic; his delivery is clean, streamlined and blessedly free of the forced catchphrases that have been endemic since the rise of ESPN. "I just try to be the eyes of radio listeners," he says, "and I try to be professional, without getting into a lot of editorializing or ripping the team. If the Nuggets are down by 25, I don't see any reason to rub it in, because people know what's happening. I just call the action."

Given the frequent ugliness of said action, it's only natural that those paid to watch and participate in it would form a close bond. As the tipoff between the Nuggets and Orlando nears, Schemmel, dressed in a crisp white dress shirt and tasteful tie, joshes with his executive producer, Jason Kosmicki, who is juggling a laptop computer full of data and his daughter's entire kindergarten class, for which he's lined up a slew of freebie tickets. (Good seats are still available...) Also ensconced in the Fan section of the courtside counter provided for the media is Schemmel buddy Jack Thompson, president of Berger Funds, a powerful Denver mutual fund company, who for the past five years has done stats for home Nuggets broadcasts. Rather than use a computer, Thompson writes everything down in a studiously neat hand. Moments later, after the Nuggets are introduced, assistant coach Louis Dampier high-fives Schemmel, and recently signed center Kevin Willis ambles over to take a cough drop from a bag Schemmel keeps handy in case his throat gets dry. Not that Schemmel minds: After all, Willis recently bought him a new batch.

As the game begins, the Nuggets are blazing, with star forward Antonio McDyess and underachieving center Raef LaFrentz sinking everything they launch skyward, whereas the Magic seemingly can't hit a shot with a rim-seeking missile. But even as the Nuggets get up by sixteen points -- in the first quarter! -- Schemmel remains low-key; when a hoop is made, he eschews clever verbiage ("Straight through the silk!" "Right down the drain!") in favor of "Got it" and "Good." And before long, his decision to temper his enthusiasm looks like fortune-telling. The Nuggets slowly but surely piss away their double-digit lead, ending the first half ahead by just three -- and they emerge from intermission with all the energy of a cryogenically frozen Walt Disney, allowing Orlando sensation Tracy McGrady to score eleven points in four minutes. With time ticking down, the Nuggets, fueled by hyperactive backup guard Robert Pack, make a last-ditch effort to stay alive, but it's not nearly enough. They wind up on the short end of a 93-87 tally, and as veteran scorer George McCloud slams the ball down in disgust, it's abundantly clear to everyone that the season is essentially over, with more than a month left to play.

It's just a game: Radio play-by-play man  Jerry Schemmel.
John Johnston
It's just a game: Radio play-by-play man Jerry Schemmel.

But Schemmel still has work to do. Even after the 12,000 or so diehards have vacated the Pepsi Center, he's still in his seat, dispassionately dissecting another catastrophe -- and although his words are glum, the sense of calm, strength and sanity he exudes sends the message to his listeners that life will go on. For that, they should be grateful.

Guard that wallet: The Denver Newspaper Agency is currently attempting to prepare the populace for the arrival of combined weekend editions of the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, due April 7 and 8, with full-page Q&As explaining for the umpteenth time the joint operating agreement that made the papers' business merger possible (and legal). Among the questions: "What will happen to advertising and subscription rates?" But the answer provided -- "Advertising and subscription rates will be increased over time. These rates will reflect the size of our audience and the quality of our products" -- probably won't soothe business owners suffering from extreme sticker shock. The DNA has been downplaying the word that rates are headed for the stratosphere, but even the News has been forced to acknowledge the truth. In a March 11 article headlined "Advertisers Feeling Sting of New Rates From Dailies," a representative of Christopher's Dodge World said he's been told that a full-page ad in the News that would have cost him $2,055 pre-JOA will now require him to fork over between $12,000 and $13,000.

That's an approximately sixfold increase -- even higher than numbers reps were pooh-poohing just weeks ago. More significantly, these hikes are arriving just in time for what could turn out to be a sizable economic downturn. Speaking of which...

No, not that kind of stock: DJ Sandy Travis, the cowboy-hat-wearing veteran broadcaster whose tale of being sacked by country giant KYGO-FM was told in this space two weeks ago, still isn't baring his soul to scribes like yours truly, but he is talking to members of his "posse" -- boosters who've signed up for updates on his Web site, sandytravis.com, which was taken down late last week. In a March 11 e-mail, Travis addressed his situation for the first time. "Sorry I haven't gotten back to you about my problems with KYGO, but I've been trying to recover from the shock and reorder my life," he wrote, adding, "I've declined to do interviews with the media. I just hate it when people in my situation indulge in those pity parties. I simply can't afford the energy and time to look back. It's time to move forward."

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