For years, Larry Pember has been the voice on the radio giving people of Northeastern Washington a window into local sporting events.
Now he’s hanging up the headphones but has plenty of memories from years of broadcasting to take into retirement.
Originally from Deer Park, Pember went to Eastern Washington University to become a teacher and after graduating from the school in 1960, he moved to California.
“About 75 percent of the kids I went to school with went to California,” Pember said. “That’s where the jobs were.”
And so he taught there for 17 years before moving up to Colville in 1977 after being hired as the head wrestling and golf coach along with teaching english and history. In 1983, he retired from coaching – wanting to sit back and teach.
“Around that time Eric Carpenter had bought the local radio station and I went and asked him if he was interested in broadcasting high school sports,” Pember said. “He said we had to have at least six sponsors, and once we got those, it began to build real fast.”
And that’s how KCVL and KCRK began broadcasting Colville sports. At first they began with football, basketball and a few baseball games. Pember said it was different at first, sitting above the action – seeing errors you wouldn’t otherwise see as a coach and learning how to balance his opinions on the air. It proved to be a hit though, and the people of Northeastern Washington tuned in.
“That grew through the years,” Pember said.
In the fall, football gave the radio station a game once a week and then when they expanded to volleyball, it became a two to three times a week affair.
“Scheduling wasn’t bad for me,” Pember said. “Most games were after school and it’s just interesting meeting people and seeing how they did.”
While plenty-versed in football, basketball and wrestling, Pember had to learn the ropes when it came to volleyball.
“I had to learn the terminology from the coach and I probably stumbled on the air during my first games,” Pember said. “It was a fast-action game and it was difficult at first.”
The radio broadcasts started with six sponsors but that quickly expanded. Then the radio station manager heard about a station in Green Bay, Wisconsin that sold sponsorships for the entire year.
“We jumped on that strategy and we did really well,” Pember said. “People liked it because they knew they’d be on the radio all season long.”
The Colville radio station expanded to broadcasting Chewelah and Kettle Falls games in the 1990s. This proved to be fruitful and the people of Chewelah responded to hearing their Cougars on the air.
Chewelah has 15 to 20 sponsors and when the Cougars are in the playoffs, Pember and company get a lot more.
“The people of Chewelah were very responsive,” he said. “We didn’t think we’d get this response when we started all this.”
Broadcasting more teams – in the spacious Eastern Washington – meant more road trips but Pember contends it was all part of the fun.
“We’d do something like a home and away all the way down in Pullman and it took a lot of time but we were giving people a service,” Pember said.
One of those road trips was to Yakima for one of Pember’s favorite memories: Chewelah’s boys basketball state championship in 2001.
“I went down to Yakima and Chewelah was the unknown team,” Pember said. “Everybody playing them said the Cougars were going to get wiped.”
“I just smiled.”
Chewelah, of course, did not get wiped and went on to defeat Lynden Christian in the state title game.
Chewelah was down in the fourth quarter but came back on a huge run to capture the school’s one and only boys basketball state championship.
“They went on something like a 20-2 run against Lynden Christian,” Pember said. “Beating them was a good memory of mine.”
Pember hit the airwaves on the internet just under a decade ago when Columbia High School in Hunters reached the state title game in Tacoma. They wanted to broadcast the game but – the station didn’t reach all the way to Hunters.
“We had the idea to build the website and put it on the internet,” Pember said.
They did that and after broadcasting the game, they got over 200 people thanking them for doing so. People from New York, Florida and even Iraq.
“After that we put the broadcasts all over the internet,” Pember said.
Pember said that what he’s enjoyed the most through the years has been talking with people and the sponsors that keep the broadcasts going. He has seen a lot of local sports throughout the years, and the best part about it all was he was able to share them.
“I enjoy talking with people and finding out what they liked,” he said.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff