Photo courtesy of CBS Sports
SHREVEPORT, La. – Tim Brando is sitting calmly in the middle of organized chaos.
It’s the last week of August, and the CBS Sports Network simulcast debut of his syndicated Yahoo Sports daily three-hour radio talk show (9 a.m. to 12 noon CT) that’s also being broadcast nationally on Sirius and XM satellite – did you follow all that? – is just more than a week away.
Timmy B. is surrounded by four robotic Sony HD TV cameras that are worked by remote control from CBS headquarters in New York. His crew, which at one time was a one-man show – his long-time sidekick Rogers Hampton – has grown to three, with addition of studio announcer Patrick Netherton and producer Dave Druda.
Tim’s radio show, which for 10 ½ years operated out of his home here, has moved to a multi-million TV studio built by CBS within the confines of Blade Studios. It’s a jaw-dropping a state-of-the-art recording complex operated by Brady Blade, one of the world’s best drummers.
On this day, while Tim and his crew are using his radio show as a dry run for his TV simulcast. Because Tim often tapes some interview segments a day or two ahead of actual broadcast – it’s not exactly easy to schedule the national sports figures that Tim interviews – it seems like he’s running in circles.
For instance, since the show is about to be on TV for the first time, he has wardrobe changes, something he never had before. On this day, a Monday, he tapes a couple of interviews for Tuesday, so he has to change shirts. He doesn’t want a sharp-eyed viewer thinking he wears the same Tommy Bahama shirt daily.
Meanwhile, Tim is seconds away from going back live with callers. Dave Druda is telling Tim through his earpiece that callers Brenda, John and Joe are lined up to talk to him. Tim has roughly about 4 ½ minutes to get it done.
Suddenly, the music comes up out of the break at the top of the hour – it’s Iron Butterfly’s 60s hippie anthem “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” One of the robotic cameras catches Rogers Hampton head-banging to the beat, the music lowers and. . .
“How DO we DO it, ladies and gentlemen?” Timmy B. booms.
For Tim, that answer is a lifetime of hard work to chase a dream. It’s all led to this simulcast radio show and his gig as the studio host of CBS College Football Today, which starts Saturday with the first “SEC on CBS” game of the season, Tennessee at Florida.
Tim is starting his 15th year as the CFT host, but his association broadcasting SEC events spans back to the late 90s.
Though Tim, 55, graduated from Northeast Louisiana University (now Louisiana-Monroe) in 1978, he has always been closely associated with the SEC.
His broadcast career accelerated in Baton Rouge, La., the home of LSU, where he worked at a tiny AM station, WIBR, starting in 1979. His day consisted of a three-hour disc jockey shift, then taking a break, and then conducting a one-hour sports talk show at 6 p.m. It was Baton Rouge’s first-ever nightly sports talk show.
“I never forget that the station owner, Bob Earle, built me a round table and drilled some holes in it to place microphones when I had in-studio guests,” Tim recalls of the station that was actually located across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge in dot-on-the-map Port Allen. “The only other thing that was on the table was a phone to click on to get to the callers.
“Mr. Earle built that table in our production room. He was so proud of that table. He was like, `Baby, we’re going to take care of you!’ He thought the studio was a palace.”
Tim’s enthusiasm and drive took him on a fast track to local Baton Rouge TV (WAFB) to ESPN where he became a SportsCenter anchor in 1986.
Though being a SportsCenter anchor is considered nirvana for most announcers, and he was also host of ESPN’s College Football Gameday long before it became the rock star tour it is these days, Tim realized being in the studio and living in Bristol, Connecticut (where ESPN is located) wasn’t a slice of heaven.
“I missed doing play-by-play,” Tim says. “I also knew my wife Terri missed living in the South. But I realized I was a more downhome Southern guy than I ever imagined. I have great memories of ESPN, but moving to Bristol was culture shock.”
After ESPN allowed him to live in Shreveport for the last four years of his 10-year career with the network, ESPN and Tim agreed to part ways in 1994.
So much for his dream job. . .
“My broadcast idols were Curt Gowdy and Jim Simpson,” Tim says. “My generation thought the real sportscasters were the ones right in there with the sweat and the toil of the coaches and players. Today’s generation thinks the guys who sit behind desks all the time in studios and never directly deal with the people they talk about are real sportscasters.
“I love doing both, but there’s a lot more credibility when the host of the show has to eventually deal with the person he talking about face-to-face or one-on-one. I always fashioned myself as not just a host, but also as a play-by-play man. I knew if I could always do what I wanted to do at the highest possible level, no matter what network I was on, I would be happy.”
When he took the career risk of leaving ESPN – “A lot of people thought I was rolling the dice, because the network was beginning to take off, and promote anchors as personalities,” Tim recalls – he had no shortage of play-by-play opportunities.
He became play-by-play announcer for SEC football in 1994 on Jefferson-Pilot. TBS hired him for Atlanta Braves telecasts (he got a World Series ring) as well as for the Atlanta Hawks and NBA playoffs telecasts.
“Those years of doing the SEC was very important building my grassroots knowledge of the league and my identification with the league,” Tim says.
Then, along came CBS. A former Raycom producer who became an executive producer for CBS had seen Tim’s play-by-play work in various formats, so Tim began calling play-by-play for a select few CBS football games in 1997 before CBS made him host of “College Football Today.”
He began his first year of CFT with Lou Holtz and Craig James working with him. Since year two, Brando has worked with former Oklahoma star running back Spencer Tillman (“Someone I truly admire,” Tim says).
In recent years, the show added former Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Tony Barnhart, and Ole Miss quarterbacking legend Archie Manning, father of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning.
“After that first year, I felt I had the responsibility to create the storylines for the show every Saturday,” Tim says. “Adding Tony, who has incredible contacts, gave us the perspective of a writer.
“I was able to get Archie, because I’d worked with him calling New Orleans Saints preseason games. When Eli was drafted (by the Giants), I’d knew he and Olivia (Archie’s wife) would be in New York four or five times a year to see him play, so it was convenient for him to do the show. Archie is someone who’s on SEC’s Mount Rushmore, so he added tremendous credibility.”
“Our show is fast-paced. It’s our job to weave the SEC storyline into what’s going on in the rest of college football. There’s no doubt the SEC is successful year in and year out, because the rest of the country does care about what goes on in the league.”
The chemistry and camaraderie of the College Football Today on-air talent is evident. It’s the same way with Tim’s daily radio/TV show.
When he started his radio show for Sporting News, he found Rogers Hampton producing local shows in Shreveport for Clear Channel. Rogers is the son of the late Rogers Hampton, Sr., one of the finest athletes ever produced by the state of Louisiana, a 5-6 fireball who could run a 9.8 100-yard dash, throw a shot put 51 feet and long jump 21 feet, remarkable numbers back in the 1950s.
Little did Tim know that Rogers Sr.’s son would bring that same kind of spunk and energy to his show, with an infectious laugh and a quick, Southern-flavored wit that often lights Tim’s fire on the days he might be a tad fatigued.
Somehow, someway, Rogers is the guy that gets Tim centered, and Tim doesn’t mind acknowledging his importance.
“Sporting News wanted me to hire someone who was part-producer, part on-air second banana,” Tim says. “I was told Rogers was the guy and he has been my energizer bunny.
“Rogers is a high-energy good ’ol boy and he’s exactly what I need. I couldn’t have gone to central casting and found a better guy than Rogers. I may be from the South, but I don’t sound enough like I’m from the South. But when I’m around Rogers, it kind of restores the faith that, `Yeah, he (Tim) is one of us.’ ”
Tim definitely is, considering his daughters’ college choices – LSU for Tiffany and Ole Miss for Tara. There’s a framed picture of them together on Tim’s set with the caption, “Sisters by birth, teams by choice.”
They’ve also got a bit of Dad’s broadcast pzass. Tara, 21, is a broadcast journalism major in her third year at Oxford. Tiffany, 28, works for her dad as a talented make-up artist and social media director who’s had to drag her old school father (and Rogers, too) screaming and kicking into the world of Twitter and Facebook.
Tim makes his show look effortless, and one of many reasons is he loves talking college football. He has a guest list of coaches, administrators and players that’s second-to-none, and more than anything, it’s an information-driven show.
While he’s not afraid to ask tough questions, his breezy interview style relaxes his guests. And he’ll tell you he feels having a daily show keeps him connected to the pulse of college sports, especially as the College Football Today studio host, or when he does college basketball play-by-play.
“A lot of guys in network television would never ever put themselves in position to engage fans on a daily basis, especially in a sport like college football where passion runs high,” Tim says. “Fans hear what they want to hear, and when they don’t like what you say, they just don’t like you, they develop a hatred for you.
“I’ve never had a problem with the objectivity factor. But what you say and how you say it has far more impact. Radio gives me a chance to explain in detail some of things that there isn’t enough time thoroughly explain on TV. I’ve never been just a TV guy, or just a time and temperature guy on the radio.
“I live, breathe and sleep college football. Today more than ever, fans need to know you’re connected to what you’re talking about. Being able intertwine my radio with TV does that for me.”
The one person who would have marveled over Tim’s latest career venture is his late father, Hub, a legendary Shreveport area broadcaster.
If you’ve watched Tim’s show, you’ll see a framed picture on his set that sits behind him over his left shoulder (right shoulder if you’re facing the TV). That’s Hub Brando and it’s no accident the picture is placed like he’s watching over Tim.
“I think my Dad would love that I’m doing a daily show from my hometown that reaches 44 million viewers and hundreds of thousands of listeners,” Tim says. “My Dad, always wanted maybe to a fault, for Shreveport to be a big deal. But just because of his age, he couldn’t accomplish what I have, mostly because of the technological advances that came along after his career.
“Before he died, he got to see me make it on network TV. Now, the idea that I could get the CBS Sports Network, an extension of the Tiffany of all networks in this country, CBS, to invest millions and telecast my radio show three hours a day from Shreveport. . .well, that would make ’ol Hub big-time proud.”