When he was fresh out of high school and looking for a gig to help put himself through college, Scott Garrard picked up a telephone and started calling radio stations all around the Cache Valley. He dialed a station that played country music and left a message. To his surprise, someone called back with a job offer. He would work nights, play Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks and Alan Jackson. And then, on Fridays in the fall, he would call high school football games.
This summer, some 20 years after he first made his way onto the Utah airwaves, the sports talk show host found himself on another unexpected phone call, receiving another job offer from someone in his old stomping grounds.
“I had to jump on it,” he said.
So starting next month, Garrard again will be broadcasting from Logan, this time as the new play-by-play voice for the Utah State Aggies.
It will be a dream. It will be a juggling act as he works for his alma mater while continuing to run Utah’s biggest sports radio station and co-host his own popular three-hour show every weekday. It also will be the changing of the guard in Cache Valley, as Garrard takes the headset from local broadcasting legend Al Lewis — the Aggies’ beloved play-by-play man of the past two decades.
“I think Al will, in a lot of people’s minds, always be the voice of the Aggies,” Garrard said. “I don’t think you go in saying, ‘I’m going to replace that.’ ”
Negotiating new beginnings
He is a busy man. On any given day, Scott Garrard, Vice President of Radio Operations, is the liaison and buffer between the suits who run Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment and the on-air talent of The Zone Sports Network in Salt Lake City. From noon to 3 p.m., Scotty G. will be breaking down Utah’s quarterback battle and BYU’s running back depth as the counterbalance to his co-host and former Cougar lineman, Hans Olsen. Then it’s back to meetings and programming and show prep.
Garrard hasn’t exactly been looking for ways to stay busy. Yes, he had dabbled in play-by-play over the years, calling arena football games for the Utah Blaze in 2008 and 2013, and occasionally filling in on Aggies broadcasts in recent years. But he wasn’t expecting this.
“You always think it would be really fun to do, but then you end up doing a bunch of other things,” Garrard said. “So you kind of put it on the back burner and think that’s not something that’s ever going to happen.”
Then Utah State officials came calling. USU’s deal with KVNU in Logan was up for renegotiation. School officials and their partners at Learfield were looking for a change. In May, they announced The Zone as the new flagship station for Aggie athletics. The change would give the university more control of its programming, locations for its coaches’ shows, and the potential for a “six-figure annual increase [in revenue] going forward,” athletics director John Hartwell said.
The change also irked some people around Logan.
Eric Frandsen, vice president of operations for the Cache Valley Media Group, said he was “blindsided” by the move away from his station.
“It was just a real punch to the gut,” he said.
Still, USU officials said they hoped to retain Lewis’ services, despite the changes. Lewis, a Utah Broadcasters Association Hall of Famer member who called his 1,000th Aggie game last season, had been the play-by-play voice since 1995.
“That is the hard part of it because Al is literally a legend and synonymous with Aggie basketball and Aggie football,” Hartwell said.
Learfield “in essence offered to double what he had been paid previously to do this,” the athletics director said. But the broadcaster still has a daily show on KVNU in Cache Valley, and the network wanted him to continue to do pre- and post-game work for Utah State games. Ultimately, Lewis stayed with KVNU.
“That would be a clear conflict of interest for Al,” Frandsen said. “And Al was deeply conflicted. Through all of this process, a lot of people lost.”
Lewis did not respond to a request for comment on this story. The changes, however, have left his colleagues with mixed emotions.
“Scott worked for us,” Frandsen said. “It’s where he got his start. I worked on air with him for a while. I’m happy for Scott. I’m just really disappointed in how it came to be.”
Aggie all the way
Garrard only has a few weeks to get settled in and develop some chemistry with new color commentator Kevin Whimpey. Garrard is deep in his study of the Wisconsin Badgers, Utah State’s opening-week opponent. He also is busy studying North Dakota, the University of Utah’s Week 1 matchup, and a Portland State team that will take on BYU a few days before.
Garrard calls his show with Olsen the “best three hours of my day,” and knows that he will have to carve out time for all of his projects.
“We can make this commitment work and balance a few things,” Garrard said. “We’ll do some shows from the road every now and then, but we can make it work.”
UTAH STATE AGGIES OVER THE AIRWAVES
Salt Lake City • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM (KZSN)
Logan • 92.3 FM (KBLU-LP)
Preston, Idaho • 1340 AM, 105.5 FM (KACH)
Price • 95.3 FM (KRPX)
Green River • 102.7 FM (KRPX)
Moab • 100.3 FM (KRPX)
Orangeville • 95.9 FM (KRPX)
That show should be enticing to Utah State as it tries to build its brand and keep a footprint along the Wasatch Front. In Garrard, Utah State has a newer, younger voice and one that carries weight in Salt Lake City. Garrard said he won’t guarantee more Utah State discussion on his show — BYU, Utah and the Jazz are still sports talk’s bread and butter in the market — but it seems almost inevitable that it will happen. Garrard added that he won’t be reluctant to criticize his alma mater if he sees it fit.
“I think you can let people know where you went to school and still be fair and responsible,” he said.
And Garrard still has plenty of Aggie blue in his veins. His parents met there. He had two brothers and a sister go there.
“It was just what we did,” he said. “My dad always said he’d help pay for school, as long as it’s Utah State.”
Even without that incentive and legacy, Garrard found himself falling in love with Logan on his own.
“There was something about that campus and about that stadium and about that football environment that just sucked me in,” said Garrard, who made regular trips to Cache Valley from his home in southeastern Idaho while growing up.
That has Hartwell convinced they’ve found a good replacement.
“He’s a guy who grew up with Aggie athletics,” the Utah State AD said. “He has strong Cache Valley ties and he’s passionate. That was clear as we visited with him through the past few months as this possibility emerged.”
Garrard graduated from Utah State in 2001. En route to his current gig, he spent about five years working with Lewis, helping with Aggie pre- and post-game broadcasts.
Garrard said he spoke with Lewis last month at the Mountain West Conference’s media days in Las Vegas.
“I think he’s hurting a little bit, but he’s been a true pro,” Garrard said. “There are going to be a lot of fans up there that are going to miss Al Lewis. I’m going to do my best to provide as much content — on and off the air — as I can, but I think there are going to be people up there that are always going to miss the guy that’s been doing it for 20 years.”
Hartwell said the university would have done something to commemorate Lewis’ tenure last season had he known it would be his last.
“If we would have had a crystal ball to say, hey, the last basketball game last year would have been Al’s last game, we would have done something special to recognize him,” Hartwell said. “He just got put into a situation — and I totally understand it — where he had to make a choice.”
Garrard, meanwhile, will try to honor Lewis in his own way when he takes over Sept. 1 at Wisconsin.
“I want to harness that same kind of passion,” he said. “I want to bring that passion to the game, that excitement that he had, because you knew deep down he was 100 percent Aggie and he lived and died with each game.”