ALREADY FIVE MINUTES LATE FOR A speaking commitment. Dale Hansen is lost. He drives aimlessly around the peri meter of CityPlace. He’s looking for a restaurant that’s circled on a map. but he can’t read the map without his glasses and he’s having trouble finding those, Hansen thinks it’s funny. “That’s my problem,” he concedes. “I think everything’s funny.”
Hansen elaborates: “A few years ago, on vacation in Hawaii, a wooden patio chair caved in and cut my finger off. Blood everywhere, and I’m cracking all these jokes. This woman runs up to my wife and says. ’Look. I’m a nurse, and that man’s gone into shock! ’And my wife says, ’Nah, feat’s just the way he is.”’
Now we have arrived at the nexus of what some might term The Great Dallas Media Dilemma. Channel 8’s Hansen reigns as the all-time, lop-rated sports-caster in this city-bombastic, unpredictable, and subtle as a steam locomotive. Hansen’s audience consists of passionate Dallas Cowboys fans. On various weekends, while their proud team is staging a re-enactment of the final flight of the airship Hindenburg. Hansen delivers the bad news and commentary like a stand-up comic. In fact, Hansen regards himself a stand-up trapped in a fat sportscaster’s body.
Hansen has secured his role as the most watched and most talked about TV news personality in the history of the Dallas market. ’’Most beloved” does not enter into the equation.
His humor stands out as self-styled and spontaneous. The 52-year-old refugee of the Midwestern Hog Belt and now gentleman fanner in Waxahachie will also announce that if he cared one iota about good taste, he’d be working as a sous chef in the French Room.
His perform an ce al the speaking engagement, once he’d located it, served as a representative sample of Hansen’s delivery. His audience was filled with members of a service organization. “What does your club do?” Hansen inquires of the program chairman before he begins his talk. “Youth work education,” he’s told. “Education.’” Han- 1 sen shoots back. “Then what the hell am I doing here?”
He discusses traveling on the job. “I’ve been all over. I went to a Cowboys pre-season game in Japan. You know, the Japanese maintain a reputation for being this superior and technologically advanced society. So explain this: They build a $200 million Disney theme park right there in Tokyo, and there aren’t two people in the entire country who are tall enough to ride the rides.”
He talks about his wife. “I’m getting off the Cowboys bandwagon to make room for two others to get back on. But my wife can still wear the dress she wore when she graduated from high school. But then, my wife’s 19 years old.”
Suddenly Hansen turns serious and begins talking about his son from a previous marriage. “! had to call my son when he was in the sixth grade.” Hansen says. “I was living here and he was back in Blair, Neb. 1 told him that he would have to quit the basketball team because his grades were starting to slide. My son started to cry. Basketball was his whole life. But 1 told him why he had to quit. ’ Your old man’s a bum.’ I told him. ’When you were smaller, I moved you from town to town just to follow my own ambitions. My family didn’t matter. And I don’t want you to turn out to be a bum. like your old man.’” Hansen continues. “That same sixth grader went on to graduate from college, majoring in science. I watched him graduate. Beautiful kid. Perfect skin, perfect blond hair, like Robert Red-ford’s. And thai was when it first hit me; This ain’t my kid. No way in hell this is my kid! The postman is the guy who should have paid his way through college, not me!”
With the speech concluded, the Q&A begins. “Dale, what do think of Mark Cuban?”
“Mark Cuban? Ya mean Son of Frankenstein? If he just had a couple of bolts stuck in his neck, you couldn’t tell ’em apart.”
Before his audience can fully absorb that. Hansen is out the door and gone. This appearance has been a quiet one, by Hansen’s standards, in that he won’t be called back to apologize for anything he said. “Yeah, that has happened.” he confirms, “A white back I was talking to some kids down at Lancaster High and brought up drivers’ ed. They spent four months leaching me to parallel park and I never parallel park. Then I said, ’But they didn”t spend 15 minutes teaching me how to drive drunk, and I do that four nights a week ! ” Apparently, some people look offense. Il was just a joke, for crying out loud.”
After leaving the speaking engagement. Hansen heads for the station to address yet another group, his regular one. the 300,000-plus North Texas viewers on a typical week-night sportscast. In the offstage world, many professional comics retreat into a somber, introspective persona. Not Hansen. To quote him accurately in prim, the reporter must place at least one word per sentence in italics. He swears he’s never had professional training about how to talk into a microphone or look into a camera. In fact, since high school, Hansen has never been to school to learn how to do anything.
Before coming to Dallas to work for Channel 4, he worked in television markets in cities with skylines dominated by grain elevators.
“I had my own style.” Hansen says. “Creighton University basketball is a big deal in Omaha, Neb. 1 gave the outcome of their game on my sportscast one night, and the boss told me that I was supposed to be a professional journalist and I couldn’t simply say Creighton ’got beat.’ Why not? Why not talk like people talk? Some guy walks into a bar and somebody asks him what Creighton did that night. What’s he gonna say? ’Creighton’s chances of victory were swept away tonight because of the superior inside play of the Indiana State Sycamores’? Hell, no. Thai’s what I told the boss. Of course. I got fired.”
How many times has he been fired?
“If you want to limit that to jobs related to broadcasting,” he says, “about five, But not for the same reason. Just being Dale was apparently enough. I got fired at Channel 4. Km, but that was mostly over a contract negotiation. My old man owned trucking line in Logan. Iowa, and he was constantly trying to convince me that 1 needed to do something 1 was good at, namely driving a truck. After the thing at Channel 4 happened, he said, ’Look. You’ve proven that you can’t hold a job in TV news up here in little towns. Now you’ve proven you can’t hold a job in big towns, too. It’s time to come home.’
“Then Many Haag offered me a job at Channel 8. Right after that Verne Lundquist left to go to a network job. All of the sudden I’m moving up. up. up. and so are my ratings mid my pay checks. And my old man calls and says, ’Way to go, Dale. 1 always knew you could make it!’”
Hansen continues his monologue back in his closet-sized office at the WFAA studios. With 20 minutes until air time, he types his show into a computer and times his segments with a stop-watch. He types, then he reads. “Last week, the papers were full of stories about how the Eagles defense would blitz the Cowboys on every play. Coach Dave Campo says he never reads the papers. And after last Sunday’s game. I believe him.”
In this austere setting. Hansen concocts some productions that could be modestly described as unorthodox. Like the one where he devoted his entire 10 p.m. sportscast to what, on the surface, was a diatribe against Troy Aikman. “After watching Kurt Warner for St. Louis last night. I’ll finally admit it: Aikman’s not the man for the job and the Cowboys will never win another game as long as Aikman is their quarterback.” Meanwhile, video clips are presented of Kurt Warner tossing little four-yard dink passes to gifted receivers who race the length of the field for touchdowns. Hansen’s presentation was intended as broad comedy, the greatest on-the – air hoax since Orsen Wells convinced the nation that Martians were invading,
“You should’ve seen the angry e-mails that rolled in about that,” reports Hansen the next day. “Over half of the people didn’t know it was supposed to be a spoof. What scares me is that we heard from a Cowboys assistant coach. He didn’t get it. either. And some of the people who didn’t gel it liked it anyway because they want Aikman run out of town.”
Clamor. Unrest. Uproar. Hardly the protocols that Marty Haag set in place when he fashioned WFAA into the prototype model of straight-arrow journalism in TV news. But David Duitch, current news director, described Hansen’s Aikman gambit as “brilliant” and “an illustration of why Hansen is the greatest sportscaster in the United States. “
Duitch also admits that Hansen has given him some episodes of dyspepsia because “there are viewers who don’t think some of the stuff that he does is funny, because they don’t realize that it’s intended to be funny, Bui the thing that set s Hansen apart from any other sportscaster is that he is not afraid to take chances, and that’s reflected in the numbers of viewers.” Hansen’s audience reached an all-time high in the February 2000 ratings book and were down only slightly in May 2000, when his Sunday night Dale Hansen’s Sports Special logged 159.000 Dallas market households, almost double the number of Channel 5’s Sports Extra. Ironically, Hansen’s ratings remain strong in the over-18 female category, a group that he has antagonized on at least two occasions.
Earlier in his tenure at Channel S. Hansen watched Robin Givens. the future ex-wife of boxer Mike Tyson, on 20120, “She described Tyson as a woman-beating degenerate, which he is.” Hansen says. “Then I wen! on the sportscast and said. ’If my wife went on TV and said (hose things about me, I’d whop her upside the head, loo.’ When I said that the camera in front of me jerked a little because the person operating the camera-a female- was laughing so hard. Marty Haag came running down the hallway to let me know that quite a few women in town wouldn’t be quite as amused and thai he wasn’t, either.” This became a premiere illustration of how a spontaneous remark in the hands of Shotgun Dale can backfire with an echoing crescendo.
“Bui,” Hansen counters, “modern urban life is a stressful thing. If I don’t laugh al things, then I’ll go insane.”