On Thursday, the popular afternoon show that runs from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays on AM 640 WXSM celebrates 30 years. Sportsline is the longest running sports talk show in the state.
“I never thought that I would be doing this for 30 years when it started back then,” Meade said.
Meade — who graduated from Dobyns-Bennett in 1971 and the University of Tennessee in 1975 — has been a sports fan ever since he was a child, growing up in an era when watching sports was not as readily available to the general public as it is today.
“I remember when my dad took me to my first Tennessee football game when I was 6 years old,” he said. “I was loyal to three teams growing up: Tennessee, the Baltimore Colts and the Boston Celtics. I liked the Colts because of Johnny Unitas, but when they moved from Baltimore, I lost interest in them. When Indianapolis drafted Peyton Manning, I started following them again.
“With the Celtics, there were two games on television on Sunday afternoon, and it was usually involving either Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell. I still think Bill Russell is the greatest player ever. Winning 11 championships in 13 years will never be topped. I actually held five shares of the Celtics when they were a publicly traded company back about 15 years ago before they bought everyone out.
“My original major was architecture, and I switched to communications in the middle of my sophomore year,” he said. “That was an exciting time to be at Tennessee. Condredge Holloway was the quarterback, and I still think he is the most exciting quarterback that Tennessee has ever had. I can remember there was one play against Georgia Tech where every player on the field had a shot at him, and they all missed. Then in basketball, Bernard King and Ernie Grunfield were there, and those were some really exciting teams.”
GETTING HIS START
Meade began doing play-by-play broadcasting in the mid-1970s and started out at Gate City.
His first few years of broadcasting the Blue Devils were quite memorable. In both football and basketball, Gate City was excelling.
“The basketball games at Gate City when they were still in that tiny high school gym were unbelievable atmospheres,” he said. “I can still remember in a game where it was Virginia High and Gate City. Virginia High set up a play for Darryl Wilson to go in and take the last shot. He went in for a dunk and missed it, then Gate City got the rebound, went down to the other end and hit a game-winning shot. That place went absolutely ballistic.”
He even broadcast some of the great football teams for the Blue Devils under Harry Frye.
“That 1978 Gate City team was good, and I remember that state championship game against Southampton out at Courtland,” he said. “That is still probably the best high school football team I have ever seen along with that 1972 Tennessee High national championship team.
“Paul (Overbay) and I did Science Hill basketball for a while and had them when George Pitts was there,” he said. “In the 1991 state championship game against Memphis Hamilton, I can still remember watching Shane Williams take the shot at the end right in front of me and it coming up about an inch short.”
Meade added, “When I did play-by-play, I tried not to be a ‘homer.’ Growing up and being a Celtics fan, the radio guy was Johnny Most, and he was the biggest homer you could find and I hated it.”
“I loved doing play-by-play, but it got to where the travel was too much, and I gave it up and wanted to do a sports talk show,” he said.
WJCW used to be a classic country music station, but the format changed to a sports talk show in 1990. The show grew from a one-hour slot in the evenings to its current three-hour slot in the afternoon.
“The preparation for the show has changed so much,” he said. “I used to do hours’ worth of reading local and national newspapers before the show, and then the internet came along and made things easier.”
“I had some great memories calling the Arby’s,” he said. “I did all of Ray Allen’s games, and then there were players like Ron Mercer, Udonis Haslem and plenty of others. I did that for 25 years, but the biggest thing was my daughter was 14 years old in 2015 and had barely gotten to see me between Christmas and New Year’s her entire childhood.”
The one show that sticks out in Meade’s mind is a few days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We were still at WJCW at the time, and that happened on a Tuesday morning,” he said. “I went back on either Thursday or Friday and some of my opening lines were something like, ‘If you have a problem with me doing this show, please call and I’ll stop.’ No one called and I think we got a lot of support because people wanted to return to some normalcy.”
STILL GOING STRONG
“I’ve always said that the callers and the listeners make the show,” he said.
Sportsline reaches thousands of people across the Tri-Cities, and the show has had quite the number of dedicated callers through the years.
“Ernie is one that calls just about every day,” Meade said. “Back in the early days, there was a guy that called just about every day and we called him ‘Pop Gordon’ because he was a big Jeff Gordon fan. I’ve had a few callers over the years that have been big Kentucky fans and try to stir me up.”
Added Meade, “I have been fortunate to do something in a field that I love, and I know a lot of people that would give anything to do something with sports. The best thing to happen during these last 30 years is the birth of my daughter in 2001. I’ve received a lot of support through the years. ... I’ve seen a lot of stuff in this business, and I can’t complain too much because I’m doing something I love.”