Questions For. . . Bob Lobel
In a wave of media exits, few were as stunning as the announcement that Bob Lobel, and several other WBZ veterans, had been let go. While Lobel stuck around for the 112th Boston Marathon, he read his final sports headlines on last night’s 11 p.m. broadcast.
We talked to the local legend about his upcoming back surgery, what he plans to do once he’s recovered, and why he hates saying goodbye.
I heard that you’re having back surgery.
Yeah, tomorrow. I’ve got stenosis and they have to do some fusion work in there too.
My mom had that surgery about a year ago, and she feels a lot better. I hope it works out as well for you.
I’m glad to hear about your mom. That makes me feel good. You always like to hear the success stories.
Has it sunk in that you’ve signed off for the last time?
It feels like a day off. I know I’m going to the hospital tomorrow, so it feels like I’m going to be on a little medical leave. It really hasn’t sunk in. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m going into the hospital for a little time so I don’t feel like I’m not going to work.
You get into such a habit of doing the same thing at the same time every day. Whether we go to the Garden or Foxboro or whatever, you’re still on the air at the same time every day. It’s a pretty bizarre job, actually. You’ve got to be there. It’s not like you can be late. You can get there five minutes before, but you still have to be there.
Was it hard to stay punctual?
I’ve had some close calls, believe me. I’ve had traffic issues, close calls, panicked phone calls— ‘Oh my God, I’ll never make it’—but somehow I’ve always made it.
The closest call was maybe 10 or 15 years ago when I was coming from the Cape and I had to decide where I was going to go in. I was either going to take the Southeast Expressway and take the Mass Pike out to Channel 4, or I was going to go all the way around on 128 and then take the Mass Pike. I had about 25 seconds to spare.
Was there a contingency plan if you didn’t make it?
No. I was totally on the phone all the time. I’d say ‘Okay, when I walk in the door, hand me what I need to know and I’ll be there.’ It only happened once, and it was a total traffic issue. I’m sure the anchor could have done what I did easily.
But it’s not the same if you’re not doing it.
It was one of those moments. Nobody watching knew.
That’s how it works. When you go to a TV set, you see how much managed chaos there is behind the scenes to make it work.
What you see on television you think that’s what you’re supposed to see. It’s like I told [Dan] Shaughnessy a long time ago—I’ve done thousands of sportscasts and none of them have gone the way they were supposed to have been done. You always have to adjust. Kind of like walking on a tightrope, without a net.
I unfortunately missed your sign-off last night, but I read Shaughnessy’s column today. There was no big retrospective like when Natalie Jacobson left Channel 5. Is the low-key ending how you wanted it?
This was clearly my call. The station probably would have done. . . whatever, but I just didn’t want to. It felt like the right thing. Like, ‘I’ll just do the sportscast, see you tomorrow.’ But I wouldn’t see you tomorrow. A retrospective thing. . . I don’t know. It’s like tapes of high school graduation—you never watch them again.
Do you feel like you’ve graduated?
Yeah, I think it’s about time. Time to graduate. Maybe it’s time to graduate and learn how to do something else. I don’t know. That’s a good analogy. I’m very comfortable with it. I’m very happy with the way there was that smooth transition, there wasn’t a big deal made. I could not look in the camera and say goodbye. I just could not do that. I would not do that.
How were your colleagues?
I told them ahead of time what was gonna happen, and I told them I didn’t want them to say anything. My wife was there and was watching in the studio. Scott Wahle stayed around to watch. It was very low-key. The fact I’m going out for surgery was kind of a good excuse. It was, ‘Good luck in the surgery,’ because no one ever wants to say goodbye. Saying goodbye is awful. It’s always better to say, ‘I’ll see you later,’ than to say, ‘Goodbye, and good luck.’ That’s just the way I am. I mean, I’ll come back in the building. I’ve gotta take stuff out of my office.
What do you think you’ll do after the surgery? Do you have any plans, or will you just see where things take you?
Totally. Good point. That’s exactly hitting the nail on the head. I’m gonna have the surgery, get better, feel better, then see where things go. Who knows? Could be radio, could be TV, could be anything.
When Todd Gross got fired from Channel 7, he started a website to do his own local forecasts. Do you have any plans like that?
Everybody tells me I have to do that. I will do that in some way, shape, or form. A website, get the blog, get the video blog, and put it all together in a meaningful way. Not just slap it together to have another place to go on the internet.
There was almost a backlash when it was announced you were leaving. It’s sad to see the era of the local personality ending.
Well, it’s changing. There’s no question about it. There are a few of us left around who are kind of like furniture in the house that you feel comfortable with. I think a website where opinions, stuff that I always really wanted to say, but couldn’t say on television—I’ve got a whole trunk full of those.
I think people would be really excited because it would be like a sports blog, but with your institutional memory.
That’s good to hear. It’s encouraging. That’s a brave new world to me. I’ve talked to some people who I think know what they’re doing when it comes to websites. Once I get through the surgery, I’ll deal with that in a very quick way.