Tales to tell: Former Topeka broadcaster Robert Rennison pens book detailing experiences
Robert Rennison has seen just about everything there is to see from a broadcaster’s booth.
He’s mingled with influential business leaders and famous athletes, and he’s also feared falling through a rotting wood floor. Been banished to the rafters of buildings, accosted by angry advertisers and flashed by exuberant female fans.
Rennison has witnessed some crazy things in big cities and small towns all over the Midwest.
He’s looked behind the curtain at sports production. He’s crossed paths with many interesting people. And he also possesses a talent for research and an interest in history. With all that knowledge and experience, it was only natural that Rennison would write a book.
Over the past three and half decades, Rennison has broadcast in more than 250 facilities in 29 states and in Canada. The Kansas City native and former Topeka sportscaster compiled his memories and research in “Venues: Their People, The Experiences.”
“I love going to sports venues. And I know a lot of other people do as well,” Rennison said. “And most people aren’t as fortunate as me, in that they don’t get to see the behind-the-scenes things that take place. They don’t get the same experiences that I do.
“I feel blessed that I’ve been able to broadcast in so many places. Every venue is unique. Every venue has people with fantastic stories to tell.”
Some stories are funny. Some are sad. Rennison hopes they are all interesting to readers.
“There was the time a high school football player was accidentally locked in a building,” Rennison recalled. “His team couldn’t figure out where he was for the entire first half.”
The book, available on Amazon.com, draws a lot from Rennison’s experiences broadcasting professional hockey. Between 1999 and 2005, Rennison was the voice of the Topeka Scarecrows and Topeka Tarantulas. For the past 12 years, he has been the voice of the Kansas City Mavericks, a member of the East Coast Hockey League, owned by Lamar Hunt, Jr,
Through the years, Rennison has also broadcast high school and college sports. Much of the adventure comes from high schools, where the facilities might be primitive. But he also finds bigger venues to be a great source of history.
“I love telling people about the things that go on, the road trips and bus rides,” Rennison said. “That’s what I talk a lot about — my experiences at arenas and stadiums. And I also do a synopsis of these places. When I go into a venue, I like to find out about the history of it. So I do a lot of research on places I’ve gone.”
The history of a venue may include concerts, events, even tragic accidents. In Topeka, that history includes “the basketball team that wasn’t.” Rennison describes a 2005 press event to announce the formation of a professional basketball team. Nothing more came of that plan.
“There were a lot of things that happened during my time with the Scarecrows and Tarantulas that people in Topeka will find interesting,” Rennison said. “They aren’t all about what happened on the ice, but interesting things that were happening in Topeka at the time.”
Rennison also asked people he met over the years to contribute interesting stories about venues. Those include a hockey player who was summoned back from the training room because his team needed him. In his first-person account, he describes how, in his rush to get back to the ice, he nearly trampled a woman.
“After the game at a meet-and-greet, he had a chance to apologize to her. They’ve been married for several years now,” Rennison said.
Rennison was introduced to sports when he was invited to attend a Kansas City Chiefs game as part of the Huddle Club for children in 1969. He played high school football, but found his place was in the broadcasting booth. His high school actually taught sports broadcasting as a part of physical education class.
Rennison’s father was a hockey fan. So unlike most kids in the Midwest, he grew up familiar with the sport. While working in Houston following high school, Rennison met a minor league hockey announcer and was inspired to begin practicing.
Rennison returned to Kansas City for college and got his foot in the door by sitting in the booth of the Kansas City Red Wings, a farm team of the Detroit Red Wings, in the late 1970s. The professional broadcasters would critique his practice tapes.
“A lot of the people who helped me along the way went on to do great things,” Rennison said. “I got into hockey broadcasting because I love hockey. But the people are what have made my career so special.”
Rennison went into broadcasting, but had trouble landing a gig with a professional team. He was ready to give up, but made one last attempt, sending an audition tape to the Kansas City Attack, a member of the National Professional Soccer League, in 1994. Rennison got the job.
In addition to working for the Mavericks, Rennison owns Free Tap Sports Radio, which broadcasts high school sporting events. For the past three years, he has also worked junior college basketball and NAIA events.
The experiences were worth documenting in “Venues.”
“I’ve had so many wonderful experiences and I just wanted to share those with people,” Rennison said.