Ramblers on the Radio
The Sweet 16 is nothing new to Jeff Hagedorn.
When he was a freshman at Loyola University Chicago, Hagedorn experienced the Ramblers’ 1985 run in the NCCA basketball tournament, including storming out of his dorm room at Campion Hall and joining the student celebration on Sheridan Road. He smiled fondly when students celebrated in similar fashion this week as the Ramblers returned to the Sweet 16.
As a student, Hagedorn worked at WLUW, 88.7 FM, Loyola’s student-run radio station, where he recalls his first duty being unpacking cardboard boxes of albums and sort them alphabetically in the studio library. He had to earn his stripes before hitting the airwaves.
Today, as the Ramblers are making another deep run in the NCAA tournament, Hagedorn has a larger role at WLUW, calling the play by play for each game and providing listeners with a local outlet to hear the team’s latest case of March Madness.
“It’s great to be back at WLUW, seeing Loyola back in the Sweet 16. It’s been incredible,” Hagedorn said.
Hagedorn, a 1990 Communication Studies graduate, has been providing play by play of Rambler games all year along with broadcast partner Chris Sparks, who provides the color. But those games were live streamed.
When Loyola made the tourney, it learned the NCAA prohibits individual schools from live streaming audio as those rights have been solely granted to Westwood One. As a result, Loyola Athletics was exploring options to get the men's basketball NCAA tournament games on the air via a terrestrial radio partner, meaning a radio station with a signal.
Enter WLUW. The 100-watt station carries an FCC license and has a surprising strong signal that broadcasts in downtown Chicago and the suburbs, reaching beyond O’Hare International Airport.
Tom Sorboro, the Senior Associate Athletic Director of External Operations, contacted WLUW General Manager, Eleni Prillaman, to ask if the radio station would be interested in airing the games. To determine if this was possible, Prillaman and the WLUW engineers, Mike Dorris and Brian Sapp, met with Phil Carden, the General Manager of Rambler Sports Properties to discuss the technical details. Carden oversees corporate partnerships for Athletics as well as the audio broadcasts of the men’s basketball games.
Rambler Sports Properties and WLUW came up with a way to air the games live on 88.7 FM while continuing to offer the station’s regular programming on the live stream.
"WLUW is excited to provide listeners with the option to listen to the NCAA March Madness men's basketball games on the radio at 88.7FM or WLUW's regularly scheduled programming on the web stream at wluw.org," Prillaman said.
Hagedorn and Sparks call the games while Sam Levitt provides and pre- and post-game coverage, along with some technical know-how.
Sometimes the crew gets to travel to Indianapolis to broadcast the games in the stadium. Other times, they are limited calling the games by watching them on TV from a conference room inside Norville Center at the Lake Shore Campus.
“If we can be there [in the stadium], it’s better because we can feed off what the team is doing and the atmosphere in the building,” Hagedorn said. “But broadcast crews have been doing games remotely since the pandemic began, so you just have to do the best you can.”
And the games are always called wearing a mask.
“During the regular season, we followed rules of Gentile Center and called the games courtside wearing masks. We continue to do so for the tournament. We want to follow the rules and make sure everyone stays safe,” Hagedorn said.
“At first, it felt really different calling a game with a mask, but after a while, you get used to it,” he continued. “You have to get the right kind of mask so you can talk through it and the listeners don’t know.”
When he isn’t calling basketball games, Hagedorn is busy with his day job as Loyola’s Midwest Region Director of Development. He returned to Loyola in 2014 after 15 years hosting TV and radio sports shows and doing play by play in Minneapolis and Houston.
Since Hagedorn’s duties include fundraising for the Athletics Department, he views his advancement duties and radio gig as complimentary as the Loyola community enjoys another trip the Big Dance.
“It’s been great. A lot of people are interested in Rambler basketball right now,” Hagedorn said. “People are reaching out. It really shows how athletics can be the front porch of the university, welcoming people back.”