Locke’s fire continues to burn
March 22, 2011
An hour prior to tip-off, David Locke zips around EnergySolutions Arena at a galvanizing pace.
But he makes one stop.
Walking toward the Utah Jazz pressroom a room dedicated to one of Locke’s childhood inspirations and one of the most influential voices in the history of sports broadcasting, Hot Rod Hundley Locke’s stride takes a quick detour.
He finds a small, half-opened cardboard box and dives in. Grabbing a few packages of Thunderstix (long, narrow plastic balloons designed to make noise when clapped together) he slips them into his jacket coat pocket and continues on toward the pressroom.
His children had asked their father if he could pick them up just a few more. He obliged.
That is David Locke: A tireless motor greased with thousands of stats, clips of audio, energy, pre-and-postgame interviews and a love for the sport and for the art of broadcasting; And with all that, proving he’s a father No. 1.
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"He’s got a fire about him," said co-worker Ben Bagley, the assistant program director and a show host at KFAN 1320. "An intense fire inside of him. He wants to be the best. I’ve never met a guy who puts in the work behind the scenes to get the job done like David does."
That diligent effort was bred from a five-year-old Locke who would announce board games such as All-Star Baseball and keep elaborate stats for every game played.
"I always knew I was going to do this," he said.
Waiting for a breakthrough
Locke, who was raised in the Bay Area neighborhood of Palo Alto, Calif., came to Utah countless times during his childhood. His father worked in the ski business and Locke recalls family ski trips to the Beehive State.
After attending Occidental College in Los Angeles, Calif., as a political science major, Locke’s graduation present from his dad was the first step toward making a career in radio broadcasting a reality 13 radio shows every Sunday night in Southern California on bought time; each show started at 10:30 p.m.
Locke eventually sent out close to 300 letters and applications to radio stations all across the country. After no jobs surfaced, the 22-year-old drove across the Western United States for 45 days looking for jobs.
"I applied for every radio station known to my mind," he said.
After nothing came about for Locke, he packed his bags and set out for Utah, where he became a ski instructor at Solitude Resort. Every morning, he would drive downtown and sit in the lobby of a sports station until the man in charge gave him his shot.
The persistent Locke was eventually hired to open the station at 6 a.m. every morning before going to teach ski lessons at Solitude in the afternoon. After that, he would return to work on a late-night sports talk show and then shut the station down at midnight.
"That was a bit much," he said, laughing.
Nowadays, the 40-year-old Park City resident is arguably the most influential voice in Utah sports radio.
He followed in the footsteps of his idol, Hot Rod Hundley, and now owns the job he envisioned having so many years before.
"I remember driving on Wasatch Boulevard when we used to come out here for ski trips and tell my dad that I wanted to be that guy, and that was Hot Rod," he said.
Locke isn’t fond of hearing that he "replaced" Hundley, because, he said, that’s impossible.
"He can never ever be equaled," he said. "The greatest announcer in the history of the NBA could be the next announcer here after me and he won’t equal Hot Rod."
When Locke became just the second radio play-by-play voice in Jazz history in the summer of 2009 after Hundley’s 35-year reign came to an end, he knew he had his dream job and he had to run with it.
"(Hot Rod) was very good to me," he said. "He was very supportive. We sat down and we talked and he gave me great advice to just be me and not worry about it.
"He said, ‘You’re a worker, your signature’s work, so just work."’
Bagley remembers the day Hundley announced his retirement. He and Locke were doing a broadcast at a car dealership in Bountiful when they received the stunning news; the potential of following Hundley began to swirl in Locke’s mind.
"David’s high energy, bouncing off the walls, and then reality set in," Bagley said. "There was a kind of surreal subtleness that set in for him."
Tweet, tweet, tweet
After his career took him to Seattle, Wash., for a decade, Locke spent a year as the play-by-play announcer for the Seattle Supersonics in 2006-2007. However, he was let go from his position at the radio station in Seattle and again set out looking for what would be next.
Saying he went to lunch with every person of interest in the Emerald City would be an understatement, Locke said.
"I had a Joe DiMaggio lunch streak going," he said.
One of those lunches was one of the reasons Locke is now one of the most interactive voices in Utah. A venture capitalist told him that whatever he did next, he needed to figure out social networking.
"I literally engrossed myself; I spent hours watching and seeing how this company was doing or how this person’s doing," he said.
Now, the world of sports journalism and broadcasting relies heavily on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Locke welcomed that transition and thinks it has helped him handle the pressure of succeeding Hundley.
"We embraced Twitter when nobody even knew what it was," he said. "Truthfully, I didn’t know. I just listened to people who were a lot smarter than me."
When asked how many times he checks Twitter to check for breaking news, Locke replied, "If I’m not planning on being in a situation where I can’t check my phone like twice a minute, I just don’t take it with me. It’s kind of endless."
End of days
To any Utah Jazz fan, this season has been a bad dream. The rock of the franchise, head coach Jerry Sloan, captain of the ship for 23 years, abruptly resigned in February. The face of the franchise, All-Star point guard Deron Williams, was unexpectedly traded to New Jersey a couple weeks later.
And in the midst of it all is Locke.
"You never think it," he said. "But I think that’s what makes my job fun, though. This is where I really have a role."
The responsibility of the role of communicator between fan and franchise is a large one to shoulder with the state’s oldest professional franchise.
Asked if he ever thought he’d be the one to be broadcasting news of Sloan’s resignation, Locke said, "I guess I hoped I would be, because I would have hoped that I would be doing this for the next 25 years. I’d think Jerry would be coaching til he was 100."
As for Williams, who wasn’t always keen on dealing with the media, Locke said his relationship with the former Jazz guard was a very healthy one. He said his dream was to be associated with Williams all the way to the NBA Hall of Fame.
"That had always been in the back of my mind," Locke said. "Deron’s going to go into the Hall of Fame and I’m going to go having called almost all of his games. That was in my mind.
"I said that to him when he left. I said, ‘My goal was always to be in Springfield (Illinois) with you and get inducted as your radio announcer and you better still invite me.’"
‘I thought Park City was the place’
Leaving the friendly and eclectic confines of Seattle, Locke reacted to his return to Utah broadcasting with smile and sorrow. He said, in terms of cities, Salt Lake City can’t really hang with the verve of Seattle, and he wanted to bring his family to a place with its own sense of style.
"I thought we could get the community, and I thought Park City was the place," he said. "And I don’t mind being able to go out my back door and ski."
Before moving to Park City, Locke said he didn’t know all that much about summer outdoor activities such as mountain biking, but has since fallen in love with the town’s versatility.
"I don’t think I knew how great Park City was until I actually moved there," he said. "It’s just like this incredibly fabulous place."
Locke’s only complaint about Park City, from Bagley’s viewpoint, is the time it takes to get to and from work.
"He hates that drive, in that it takes 20 minutes to get down the hill," he said of Locke’s commute from Park City. "He’s crazy like that. It’s just always a million miles per hour."