The stage manager wires me up, then says, “You’re on at 12:15, moved you up a segment.” It’s opening day of the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, and I’m up next on Bassmaster LIVE. As I take my seat on the set, good friend Mark Zona leans over and asks me if I’m nervous. Not at all. Excited, but not nervous. Truth be told, I did four years of college football on TV, 15 or so ESPN hits as a talking head in the fall of 2008 and a live stand-up pregame hit from Nissan Stadium before a Titans appearance on Monday Night Football. Plus other studio sports shows, along with 20 hours per week of live afternoon drive radio. So, no, I’m not nervous.
Making the experience even more comfortable was having Zona to my right and a guy who I feel like I’ve known for 30 years, but just met, Tommy Sanders on the play-by-play. Tommy and Mark are so relaxed and professional, they’ve got me feeling totally at ease.
Two monitors face the set. One is on the “LIVE” feed, the same thing you are seeing at home, and the other on Ronnie Moore and Mike Suchan who are … where are Ronnie and Sooch? Zona tells me they are somewhere under the arena … like in mission control. Producer/director/boss Mike McKinnis is in our ear, letting us know we’re coming back in 10 … nine … eight …
After we get through the formalities, it’s out to the water, and the “Rapala 5 Box” or whatever Tommy calls it, and Tommy is flawless. Mike is giving him direction on what’s coming next, and he moves from element to element expertly. Our featured anglers on this first day are a bit quiet, leaving more time for Zona and I to chat about what we are seeing, and suddenly I get the feeling we’re doing Mystery Science Theatre." If you don’t get the reference, you’re too young, but the only thing missing is the silhouette of our three heads on the screen.
For a moment, I struggle with differentiating between Ronnie and Sooch, on air, and Mike McKinnis, giving direction. The stars of this deal are the fisherman, and when one begins to share information, as Kevin Vandam does, we quickly layout and listen. In what seems like just a few minutes, we’re off to break, and Mike says in my ear, “Can you stay another segment, Thom?” Of course. I think to myself, “Not run off in the first segment, nice!”
After another block, Mike again asks if I’m good for another and I want to say, “Are you kidding? I’ll sit here with bells on till the Classic Bracket ends in friggin’ October!” Instead, I say, “Sure Mike” Finally, after my third segment, I see Brett Hite approaching the stage, so it looks like my time is up.
These guys work so hard to make this look so easy, but believe me, there are a ton of moving parts. The night before, I saw Davy Hite in the lobby of the hotel, and he said, “You know, these production meetings for Bassmaster LIVE sometimes go to 9 each night.” I’m thinking, “Really?” Got to be one of those bent elbow meetings, if you know what I mean. But now, having spent a minute with those guys, I get it. Cudos to the whole crew on giving us a great show.