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Friday, March 28, 2003

Woodling

Woodling: Falkenstien just keeps on rollin’ on

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— Whoever said Max Falkenstien was like old man river was underestimating the longevity of the man who has been broadcasting Kansas University football and men's basketball since the year after World War II ended.

Falkenstien keeps on rolling along, but unlike old man river, the 78-year-old sidekick to play-by-play man Bob Davis has worked hard to enhance his durability in those 57 years.

Less than two weeks away from turning 79, Falkenstien maintains a rigorous physical fitness regimen -- either jogging a couple of miles or riding a bicycle for nearly six miles every morning.

"My cutoff is 20 degrees," Falkenstien told me prior to Thursday night's Kansas-Duke game in the NCAA West Regional at the Arrowhead Pond. "I don't mind the cold weather, but I won't ride my bike if the temperature drops below 20."

Falkenstien also plays golf, and his handball playing skills are legendary among the many KU coaches and administrators and numerous friends who have stepped into a handball court with him.

Falkenstien's motto is simple.

"Old age is 10 years older than you are," he said with his familiar smile. "That works for everybody."

And yet the older you become, the greater the chance something in your body will not work as well as it once did. Falkenstien, for instance, has been on the handball shelf since last November. He's on the disabled list with a herniated disc problem that may or may not require surgery.

Yet the ailing back hasn't prevented Falkenstien from working every KU football and men's basketball game this season. In fact, he hasn't missed a game in 10 years -- when gall-bladder woes forced him to miss a basketball game at Oklahoma and the Jayhawks' 1993 trip to the Final Four in New Orleans.

Twice during the 2002-2003 basketball season, Falkenstien was humbled by reminders of his good fortune in the broadcasting business.

One was the death last month of long-time Iowa State broadcaster Pete Taylor, who was born the year Falkenstien first went behind a microphone. The other was the retirement of Jack Dale, a man who had broadcast Texas Tech athletics for 50 years.

"Jack came to me when I was general manager of WREN in Topeka," Falkenstien related. "He's from Alma, and he was 18 or 19 years old, and he asked me how to get into broadcasting."

Falkenstien, who never has had a day of broadcast schooling in his life, told Dale to enroll at a school in Kansas City that specialized in turning out mikemen.

Some broadcasters, like Dale, retire. Some, like Taylor, die too young. Others just keep rolling along ... and not just Falkenstien.

"I think about Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell and Chick Hearn who broadcast into their 80s," Falkenstien said. "That's not my goal, though."

Does that mean Falkenstien, who retired from the banking business eight years ago, is thinking about going cold turkey with a microphone?

"Yes, I am," he told me. "I haven't scheduled a date, but I know it's not too far away. Right now, I still enjoy it. It's still fun and exciting, and they still seem to want me."

Falkenstien's easy-going, optimistic style always has played well with both listeners and coaches, and they're the people he has to please. Countless KU fans turn down the sound on their TV sets and turn on the radio to listen to Bob and Max describe the action.

Sure, both are "house men" who are employed by the Jayhawk Network, but the fans love their pro-Kansas slant. They don't really want the neutrality or vicarious criticism of voices unfamiliar to them.

To tell the truth, even though Falkenstien says he is thinking of giving up his head-set for good, I don't believe him. Neither does compadre Davis.

"What year?" Davis said, grinning. "He's never said anything about it to me."

Whatever happens, one thing is certain. In Lawrence, Max Falkenstien and the Kansas River "jest keep rollin' along."

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