Wed. Oct 17th, 2018

From the Mound to the Booth With Shane Dennis

The 1994 Wichita State baseball team came into the season with high expectations. That wasn’t a surprise to anyone, considering the previous three seasons had resulted in the Shockers making it to Omaha for the College World Series. 

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At that time, Wichita State was a college baseball powerhouse. Several All-Americans and future big league ballplayers, such as Eric Wedge, Darren Dreifort and Doug Mirabelli, made their way through a program that was annually competing for a national championship. Though the Shockers were never short on big names in the late 80’s and 90’s, the name Shane Dennis took a backseat to no one in the history of the program.

Much of the excitement heading into the ’94 season was the result of Dennis’s return as a starting pitcher. A soon to be All-American, he served as the Friday night starter for WSU as the ace of the pitching staff. 

A broadcast major at Wichita State, Dennis’s senior season in ’94 was probably unlike any other college baseball player in the country. On Friday nights, he would take the mound for the Shockers and put up zero after zero on the scoreboard. However, during Sunday games, he was up in the booth providing color commentary for the radio broadcast. 

Like most college baseball players, Dennis’ biggest dream was to play in the big leagues. After being drafted in the 7th round by the Padres out of college, he realized there was a realistic chance of reaching his lofty goal. But even during his journey throughout the minor leagues and short stint in Japan, Dennis remembered being the kid that was enamored with listening to Kansas City Royals radio broadcasts at his small-town home in southeast Kansas. At that time, Denny Matthews and Fred White were almost like heroes and became his inspiration. If baseball didn’t work out, he knew broadcasting was an avenue he’d love to explore. 

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After taking broadcasting classes and doing color commentary on Sunday games for the Shockers, he was sure the business was right for him. Granted, he didn’t know for sure if the people listening were a fan of his commentary, but he was having the time of his life, even if it meant a small amount of ribbing from his teammates. His broadcasting career had officially started. 

After finishing up his first year of pro ball with the Padres, Dennis returned to Kansas for the off-season. Fortunately, he was able to find a station in the town of Fort Scott that needed somebody to cover high school and JUCO football during the fall. The station couldn’t pay much, not really even anything outside of his mileage, but Dennis saw it as an opportunity to gain more experience and keep his foot in the door of the sports radio world. He wasn’t getting rich, but he was grateful for any experience at all. 

Dennis’ pro baseball career spanned over six years. The highlights included being named the San Diego Padres Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 1996, as well as getting to face big names such as Edgar Martinez in Spring Training and Ichiro Suzuki multiple times in Japan. After his career was done, he returned to Wichita and became the Director of Operations for WSU baseball for 13 years. In 2004, Dennis was inducted Wichita State Sports Hall of Fame. 

His success on the field and well-known name around the city, surely helped him land a job at Sports Radio KFH in Wichita, where you can hear him every weekday. Along with his co-host, Bruce Haertl, Sports Daily fills the 9-11 a.m. slot on KFH. The two like to keep it local, especially during college football and basketball season. The Shockers reign supreme on the airwaves at KFH and provide the local content a market like Wichita is out to capture. 

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Today, not only can you hear Dennis during his weekday show on KFH, you can also hear him as the analyst of Wichita State baseball. 

Like many other stories of hosts in the business, one funny turn can change the total trajectory of a career. It may be fair to say that the unorthodox plan of getting Dennis into the booth during his senior season, had a major impact on his future in sports radio. 

TM: When you did color commentary during the Sunday games at Wichita State, did you instantly realize you were pretty good or that you were a work in progress?

SD: Our play-by-play guy propped me up. I don’t know if he was telling the truth or not, and to be honest, I don’t remember a lot about it. But I do remember wondering if the people listening thought I knew what I was talking about. You have your doubts.

The key was that our play-by-play guy would set me up and ask what I would do in different situations. Because I was on the team, there was such unique insight without giving away the signs.

Basically, that broadcast gave you a free trip inside the dugout. I would really just talk about the team, the season we were having, insight on the players, who my roommate was, you know, just ordinary things you wouldn’t otherwise have. I think people liked that part of it. As far as the delivery and the content I gave, nuts and bolts, I probably wasn’t very good. 

TM: When you were calling Sunday games, did the guys on your team rib you a little bit or think it was cool?

SD: It was kind of half and half. It wasn’t like I showered and got into street clothes when I was up there. I was in full uniform and did all the stuff that they did. By that time, I was a senior so I didn’t have to take much from anybody. They kind of kept quiet (laughs).

TM: Do you think your baseball career helped you establish a name in Wichita that people still recognize when you’re on the air?

SD: Yeah, I would hope so. I’ve been on-and-off, mostly on, being the analyst with the same guy I was working with as a senior. He’s still there. Over the last several years, I’ve been the analyst on radio for Wichita State baseball games.

Over the last 4-5 years, I’ve been doing more and more TV broadcasts, like Wichita State basketball games, volleyball, women’s basketball, a lot of various sports. It’s what I want to do, and I would hope the program director of the daily show I’m doing now recognizes this is an easy decision and that I know what I’m talking about, have some street cred and believable.

Hopefully people can tell I majored in it. This is my second full year of co-hosting Sports Daily in Wichita and I really enjoy it. I look forward to it every day, you know how it goes, you can get paid to talk about sports. It’s a great gig. 

TM: Has there been a shift in Wichita the last 15 years, in terms of a transition to college hoops being the biggest story in town versus college baseball?

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SD: From 1989 until 2005, the decade of the 90’s, really, basketball was just something to do until baseball season arrived. Now, unfortunately, it’s the opposite. I say unfortunately, because I’m a former player of the baseball program but they’re not as good as they use to be and now the basketball program is wildly popular.

There’s never been a happy medium with both programs, even though both have been great. It’s just always kind of been one or the other. I will say this, even when the program was down, the support for the basketball team has always been pretty good. Now that Gregg Marshall is here, it’s just gone crazy. The popularity has really shifted and hopefully we get into a situation where it gets more evened out, but that doesn’t look like the case right now. It’s always Shocker basketball season here. 

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TM: Is Wichita unique in the fact, that most every radio station’s peak season is football, whereas it may not be that way in your market? And who are the football teams you cover? 

SD: Kansas and K-State, you’ll always be able to find a hot button topic there. KFH, the station I’m on, we’re the home of KU sports. We have basketball and football. We have a good number of alumni and fans that will be listening for our take on KU in football and basketball.

There’s also K-State and the Chiefs, you know, just because Wichita State doesn’t have a football program, there’s no shortage of interesting stories with college football. There’s more than just passing interest with the state schools and Chiefs. 

TM: When would you say your peak season is with listeners? Is it during college hoops season?

SD: Absolutely, 100 percent. Now, baseball, normally, isn’t considered a talking point, or even a talking sport, but when the Royals were recently good, you’d be surprised.

During that time, I would often lead with Royals talk on my show. Now, you got to get creative with it, because on the surface, baseball is boring, but they were historically good. Right now, since October has rolled around, it’s all about Wichita State basketball. 

TM: What’s something about the Wichita market that most people don’t know, however you really enjoy? 

SD: I would say the accessibility of the programs. Long-term, I would like to have the opportunity to be the voice of the university. I think I’ve been around long enough and close enough to all the programs. People know that’s my goal but I like it here. Wichita State basketball is our pro sport and I think most of us around here are okay with that, especially considering how good they’ve been. I went to school and spent more than half my life here. It’s just beats working for a living and you hold on to something like this as long as you can.