Tom Ackerman’s first gig behind a microphone came when he was a sophomore at St. Louis Country Day School.
It was his first real experience in the press box, rifling through rosters, interviewing head coaches, and calling plays on the field as the school’s public address announcer. The games were on Saturday, and at halftime, Ackerman would call the old KMOX Sportsline to get the college football scores, which he then relayed to the crowd.
The updates were his first official sportscasts. His dad, Bill, would give him advice, listing what he liked to hear in a broadcast. Of particular importance? The right way to introduce “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“‘Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and join in the singing of our national anthem,’” his dad would instruct him. “That’s the proper way to address the crowd, Tommy.”
“Mr. Buck, I’m Tom Ackerman. I just started working here.”
After graduating from Indiana University, Ackerman returned to St. Louis and applied for a minimum-wage position at KMOX as board operator during Cardinals and Blues games. He told the program director, Tom Langmyer, about his student radio experience at IU and his internship in the promotions department at KSHE, where his chief responsibilities involved blowing up an inflatable “Sweetmeat” pig at car dealerships. Langmyer was impressed.
“So, Tom, what’s your goal in the radio business?”
“When the big names come to town, I want to be the guy that does the interviews. When the big games come to town, I want to do them.”
He got the job and, on his first day, stumbled across Jack Buck sitting in an office, mulling over a pile of papers.
“Sports and news,” he continued. “Whatever I can do to help. Nice to meet you.”
Buck was silent. Then the legendary announcer held out his hand.
“What kind of pizza do you like, kid?”
“I’ll buy it if you go downstairs and get it.”
In high school, Ackerman had been a delivery boy for his dad’s company. He worked in the warehouse, tagged along in the delivery truck, and carried armoires and coffee tables up flights of stairs. He also worked as a cook, server, and drive-through attendant at a barbeque joint his dad opened with some friends. Between furniture and smoked ribs, he caddied at Westwood Country Club.
So when KMOX asked him to drive the station van halfway across the city just to set up a table or make a coffee run at an unholy hour, he did.
He collected content from sporting events, filed game reports, conducted interviews, and snagged sound bites from players. And, whenever he got the chance—usually in the middle of the night when no one else was around—he’d slip into the studio and record himself reading sportscasts. Then he’d leave the tape on his boss’s desk.
Word got around that the Ackerman kid was doing a good job.
In October of 1998, KMOX needed a host for “Sports Open Line” while Ken Wilson and Bernie Federko made their way from the Kiel Center to Turvey’s on the Green for the Blues’ post-game show. Ackerman was ready. From that point on, he had a place behind the microphone. In addition to helping produce “Sports Open Line” and “Total Information A.M.,” Ackerman called in game updates for the Associated Press, filled in for broadcasters on Illinois radio networks, and provided scores for ESPN.
The timing was perfect. It was the late 1990s, and St. Louis was surging into the national spotlight. As Ackerman’s voice carried across the airwaves for the first time, the Rams became the Greatest Show on Turf, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris’s single season homerun record, and the Blues rebounded from the Mike Keenan era to be annual contenders for the Stanley Cup. National sports shows and major markets such as New York and L.A. reached out to him for interviews. Suddenly, the kid who stayed up late at night polishing his play-by-play skills on a tape recorder found himself the national expert on St. Louis sports just as his hometown was being heralded as America’s Best Sports City.
Ackerman thinks a lot about his dad. Almost twenty-two years have passed since he died. In that time, Ackerman has worked on some of the grandest stages in sports: The World Series, the Super Bowl, the Final Four. He had dreamed of being in the booth one day, calling the game. He just never imagined his dad wouldn’t be around to see it happen.
“My dad was—is—tied into my love of sport,” he says today. “I think about him—about how he would have enjoyed seeing certain things, like the Rams winning the Super Bowl. He passed away in 1993. He didn’t even know the Rams were in St. Louis.”
When he served as the public address announcer for the final Missouri-Illinois football game at the Edward Jones Dome in 2010, Ackerman introduced the national anthem the way his dad taught him. It was a tribute to the man who nurtured his love and respect for sports. Today, when opportunity arises, he still follows his dad’s careful instructions.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he says, “please rise and join in the singing of our national anthem.”
He is back at Country Day. With his dad.
The above is an excerpt from a piece titled “Bill Ackerman: The Dad Behind the Voice” by Amy L. Marxkors.
Quick Questions with Tom:
Sidney Street Cafe. Peacemaker is right there. Basically, anything Kevin Nashan creates. And anywhere on the Hill. Best lunch: Anthony’s.
Favorite St. Louis attraction?
It’s still the Arch. I get the same feeling, seeing it off in the distance when I return home.
I’m all over the map. Rock, country, reggae, blues, hip hop, jazz…and I can even keep up with my kids’ favorites.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
Person who made the most impact on you?
Professionally, Jack Buck. Personally, my parents, who shaped me into the person I am.
If you could only keep three possessions, what would they be?
My Jeep, iPhone and my…house?
If you are not at work, you’re probably doing what?
Playing with my kids or watching a game.
If you won the lottery, what would you do?
Take my wife on a nice, long vacation. Donate to organizations that impact children and families. Buy an airplane.
If you could interview one person, who would that be?
What is your strongest personal quality?
I like to listen and learn something new every day.
As a friend, he was someone I could lean on in this business.
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