A Salute to Joe Tait

By Dave DeNatale

Let’s travel in a time warp back to 1993 for a few minutes….

It’s October and I was excited to get one of my first assignments with Bowling Green’s student station, WBGU, as I got an opportunity to interview Cavaliers broadcaster Joe Tait.  As a native Clevelander, I had always loved listening to Tait growing up.

Tait was in town for a radio affiliate night-out and would be speaking to a gathering of people at a local restaurant.  A perfect opportunity to try to meet an idol, and also impress the upperclassmen that ran our sports radio department.

You can’t imagine how intimidating it was to walk in there and go up to the big bear of a man that is Tait.  Stammering, stuttering, I asked if he had a few minutes to talk to me before the program was to begin.  “Sure, let’s do it now.” as we sat at a table.  So 18-year-old DeNatale starts up the tape recorder, does a check to make sure it was recording, fumbles around his papers, and there’s Joe Tait at the other side of the booth starting to look impatient.

“Son, this isn’t brain surgery,” he told me.

And that was all I needed.  For the next 10 minutes we chatted about his experiences in broadcasting, his thoughts on the Cavs (who were starting the season with new head coach Mike Fratello), and his love of college and high school sports.  Then I sat back and listened to him talk to the 50 plus people who had come out to hear him speak.  Plenty of stories about the early days with the Cavs, the Stepien era, and also breaking in Rick Manning as an announcer.

Tait also conducted a trivia contest and I won an autographed Mike Fratello basketball (which I still have by the way) because I remembered the name of the Cavs team dentist.  (thanks Stanley Brown!)

It’s stories like these that I remember so well as I reflect on Tait just finishing his final season as the voice of the Cavaliers.  For so many of us, he was the Cavaliers.  He’s the link that connects generations of fans from the Miracle of Richfield, to the Price-Nance-Daugherty era, to LeBron.  Although he had his familiar catchphrases like “WHAM!”, “to the line, to the lane”, and “have a good night everybody,” there was nothing phony or contrived about his play-by-play.  He told you what was happening and did so at a Hall of Fame level.

But Tait also served as a mentor to so many of us trying to get into this business.  He has been incredibly gracious with his time over the years and has never been too busy to listen to a demo tape and offer critiques.  All of us are grateful to have gotten his advice.

Because after all, what we do isn’t brain surgery.

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