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Radio & TV Talk

Posted: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013

11 Alive's Fred Kalil: 'I'm here until they kick me out' 

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By Rodney Ho

11 Alive's Fred Kalil may be stepping off the anchor desk after 21 years, but he'll still be entertaining and informing viewers from Turner Field, the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena.

"I'm here until they kick me out," he said in an interview this evening.

Kalil told the 11 Alive viewers Tuesday that complications related to brain cyst surgery and anti-seizure medications he takes to this day impacted his ability to anchor and read the teleprompter.

"I have not done well reading the prompter as it moves," he said. "Anchor people are sometimes prisoners of the prompter. I kind of caught myself doing that."

He prefers to ad lib when possible and "that's just become a little harder" he said.

Kalil is not only likable and relatable on camera but colleagues and peers say he is very much the same off camera as well, a universally respected figure in Atlanta sports media, a consummate professional.

"He's genuine," said John Kincade on his 680/The Fan show today. "When I was a cancer patient here in town, at the time, I was still a part-timer in the sports media. Fred Kalil never treated me as anything but a peer. He always had time to talk, always had time to shoot the bull. He gave me insights, told me about the town when I was new. I respect the hell out of the guy. He has been amazing sort of message of positivity in the way he recovered from his physical ailments."

In a separate interview, Kincade notes that Kalil brings an infectious "joy to the job every day"

Steve Holman, the voice of the Hawks, recalls goofing around with Kalil in the early days, one time jumping out of a car trunk in a spoof of Freaknik Kalil dubbed in the mid-1990s as "Frednik."

"He's a battler," Holman said. "Not only that, he's done a great job all those years." He said Kalil pioneered the looser way local stations cover high school football Friday nights. "He made it entertaining and fun," he said.

Tony Barnhart, a college football expert for CBS Sports, said Kalil has no trace of excessive ego. "He never lets that ego get in the way of what he's doing," he said. "I look forward to seeing him out and about."

Kalil grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Indiana. "I was told early on, 'Don't read that stuff. Just come on and sit in my living room and tell me what's going on. Don't read. Tell.' That's the key there."

He also appreciates what he gets to do as a sportscaster. "We're lucky to be here. We have great jobs. This is really cool to do what we get to do. There's no reason to be so competitive that you don't speak to somebody. Always treat someone with respect. That goes beyond competition in my book. My old [football] coach at Indiana Lee Corso told me, 'If you think something is wrong, don't point the finger. You better point the thumb. It might be you!' " (Corso, by the way, still checks in on Kalil and called him after the news came out about his sports anchoring shift.)

Kalil said it was difficult to accept the realization that he had to make this move. But he said his boss Ellen Crooke was understanding. "I really have a great relationship with Ellen," he said. "It was hard to explain to her. I got emotional. But she treats me like gold. Once I got it out, it was a relief. She took over from there. It was just great."

Randy Waters, his colleague for all 21 years at the 11 Alive sports desk, will handle more of the anchoring load, as will fellow veteran Sam Crenshaw.  "We all root for one another," Kalil said. "I know it sounds kind of hokey. We all like each other."

He said he doesn't think his condition will diminish his ability to do stories in the field. In fact, he hopes to eventually get off the anti-seizure meds which affect his short-term memory. "I went to the College Hall of Fame luncheon today," he said. "I talked to [former Tennessee head coach] Phillip Fulmer and others getting inducted. I had a blast. I love football and all sports. It's great to get to interview them."

While doing desk duty, he said he didn't get to do stories as much though he got out to do live shoots from Turner Field as often as possible during the baseball season.

The surgery he had 13 years ago has made him accept adversity with less stress. "I still get upset over stuff but just not as much," he said. "It's the old joke I said 13 years ago [to the AJC]: 'It's sports. It's not brain surgery!' " He also tries not to judge athletes who make mistakes so harshly. "That comes from being a dad," said Kalil, a recent empty nester who has a 19-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter.

He's also grateful that 11 Alive has stuck with him through his health issues. "They've supported me through everything," he said.

And the story the station's Jaye Watson did on him, he said, "made me cry."

Rodney Ho

About Rodney Ho

I cover local radio and TV for both the print and online editions. I write a blog on the same topics.

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