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Brad Rock: USU announcer Al Lewis was always tuned in to Aggies

Al Lewis and Coach Rod Tueller call the game during the championship game in the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas, NV, Saturday, March 12, 2011.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
Al Lewis and Coach Rod Tueller call the game during the championship game in the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas, NV, Saturday, March 12, 2011. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

To know how much Al Lewis loves his job, test his memory on the Utah State-Miami football game in 1978.

“We actually scored to take the lead late in the game and they called holding on us,” Lewis says. “A guy grabbed the tight end’s face mask and he threw out his arm to cushion the fall. Holding call on us.”

The Aggies lost, 17-16.

It’s all in the vault.

And not just the video vault.

Lewis — who will call his 1,000th Utah State football/basketball game when Weber State plays the Aggies on Wednesday — has been in radio 45 years. It has passed as quickly as a drop-in commercial. One day he’s a college freshman, asking the station boss for a job. Next day he’s reaching a longevity milestone.

“I got to do exactly what I wanted to do,” Lewis says. “I wanted to be the Aggie announcer when I was 6 or 7 years old. I’ve had 45 years in radio doing other stuff to be able to do the games.”

Lewis calls Aggie games the way only a Logan native could. When he was young, his family lived next door to USU’s play-by-play man. Lewis has spent his entire life in the Cache Valley, except three years during high school after his family moved to Las Vegas. But he promptly returned to attend USU. As a freshman he asked his neighbor — and KVNU’s boss — for a job.

It was a deal for life. He has been calling either Logan High or Utah State sports ever since.

In small-town sports, being the play-by-play announcer isn’t a fulltime gig. But radio is. So for four-plus decades he has been rising at 4:15 a.m. to do the morning news show on trusty KVNU (610-AM), which segues right into the “Trading Post.” Lewis joins colleague and sports color man Craig Hislop to help people sell their gently used snow tires, slide projectors, vinyl records, snowmobiles and picture frames.

Just like the Aggies, the program has weathered the challenges of change.

There have been some strange times for USU and Lewis, to say the least. There was the independence era, the PCAA, Big West, Sun Belt, WAC and Mountain West eras, too. Lewis called John L. Smith’s games, as the quirky football coach rolled through on his way to bigger jobs. He logged each of coach Stew Morrill’s streak of 20-win seasons and mingled with all types, from Logan natives Kohn Smith and Rod Tueller to current coach Tim Duryea. The football side featured everything from low-key Bruce Snyder and Mick Dennehy, to intense Gary Andersen, to the unpredictable Smith.

Lewis chronicled one- and two-win football seasons, as well as the streak of five consecutive bowl games. He even saw basketball coach Dutch Belnap draw a technical for yanking his necktie up like a noose and accusing the ref of choking on his whistle.

Regardless of coaches, Lewis went to work in early mornings and late nights. That can wear a person down. Just this year he was “throwing up in the Provo Marriott all night long and into the next day,” yet arrived on time for the game against BYU. He called two basketball tournament games when “I got propped up” in order to be there.

Left by the team bus after a game at Colorado State, he and Hislop once hitched a ride to Denver in the bed of a pickup truck.

“Boy was it cold,” Hislop says.

Lewis began his career in 1972, calling Logan High games until 1976, then doing the Aggie broadcasts through 1979. When the rights went to another station, Lewis returned to covering LHS sports until 1995, when KVNU bid its way back into the picture.

In order to call the games, though, he’s had to wear numerous hats. He has been station manager, sales rep, program director, disc jockey and newscaster.

“I’ve done everything except fix the station,” Lewis says. “I have no idea of the technical part.”

But he has the fun part down pat.