A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Don Owen: An iconic name in Northern Kentucky sports, Don Weber longs for return to television

Don Weber doesn’t want to be praised for his trailblazing past. The Campbell County native isn’t interested in hearing that he’s an icon in local sports, a familiar face that thousands of Northern Kentuckians welcomed into their homes via television for 24 years.

But it’s a fact that Weber became a legendary figure around Northern Kentucky as the sports director for local cable television. Friday nights during prep football season were not complete until you watched Weber’s scoreboard show — six minutes of action-packed highlights — at 10:54 p.m.

His coverage of the 9th Region basketball tournaments was unmatched locally. And his weekly show, “The Press Box,” was must-watch TV for sports fans in Northern Kentucky for nearly a decade. Don Weber became synonymous with sports in Northern Kentucky from 1986 until 2010.

Don Weber became a legendary figure around Northern Kentucky as the sports director for local cable television.

“It’s amazing how many people still do recognize me and talk about the show,” Weber said. “There usually isn’t a week that goes by that at least one person doesn’t stop me and ask about the show. It makes me feel good that my efforts over the years were appreciated.”

The list of names he covered is a Who’s Who of Northern Kentucky sports. Bill Aker. Owen Hauck. Dale Mueller. Shaun Alexander. Jim Connor. Ken Shields. Jaime Walz. Jack Jennings. Nancy Winstel. Bob Schneider. Andre McClendon. Nell Fookes. Jared Lorenzen. Lynn Ray. Michelle Cottrell. Those are just a few of the notables Weber encountered during his 24 years as a sports reporter.

But in March of 2010, Weber got the word. It was news he dreaded. Insight Cable (now Spectrum) eliminated his position as sports director as part of a major overhaul. The company reassigned him as a statewide political reporter. Most of his work was done in Frankfort and in other parts of the state.

Being a professional in an ever-changing industry, Weber adjusted.

“I began covering state news and politics in 2010 for a program called ‘Pure Politics,’” Weber said. “While I missed covering local sports tremendously, it did offer me a chance to branch out away from sports. I spent 80 percent of my time covering politics.”

Northern Kentucky sports fans weren’t happy. Weber, however, accepted the decision as part of the business. He handled the change with the same professionalism that had made him a household name in sports coverage.

Insight also scrapped popular shows such as Northern Kentucky Magazine and Charlie Coleman’s Northern Kentucky Sports Legends. The format change prompted many customers to voice their complaints — and cancel their service with Insight Cable. In fact, the company completely abandoned its local emphasis for a statewide audience.

ICN-6 became another casualty of modern-day corporate incompetence. And the sports community in Northern Kentucky — high schools and colleges — was left with a massive void in television coverage without Weber.

Boone County running back Shaun Alexander is one of the many notable players Don Weber covered as a reporter.

“He was a professional in every respect. Don’s approach was always very business-like,” said Jane Meier, who witnessed Weber’s work while serving as Northern Kentucky University’s athletic director from 1988-2009. “You developed a sense of trust being around him because he knew his business. Don was genuinely interested in getting the story, and getting it right.

“You could tell he really cared about the Northern Kentucky community. I always enjoyed working with him. He’s a very positive individual. Don’s coverage of sports on this side of the river was outstanding for many years. It was sad to see it end.”

For the next eight years, he covered politics around the entire state. Then, in 2018, Weber was let go by Spectrum. He did nothing wrong. The company simply decided to go in another direction.

For the first time in nearly four decades, Weber was out of the television business. He attempted to resurface in local television, but there were no takers.

“I applied for jobs in this market,” he said, “but never received a call from any of them.”

Weber now works in customer service. It’s not what he wants, but it pays the bills. His passion is reporting news accurately. Something he did for more than three decades.

“I would love to get back in the reporting business,” said Weber, who also won the Distinguished Service Award from the Northern Kentucky Athletic Directors Association as a tribute to his work. “I enjoyed those years and always tried to be fair and informative with all of my stories.”

But Weber doesn’t want to be known for his past accomplishments. No, he wants to continue his reporting career in the present and use that experience to bring accurate news to local viewers. And he misses being involved in sports.

“I truly loved every day that I covered sports in Northern Kentucky,” Weber said, noting his favorite part of the job was “building relationships with school administrators, coaches and many of the athletes, as well as hearing feedback from many viewers who appreciated the show.”

“People have told me about how some of my stories have wound up playing in videos at weddings,” he added. “Some talk about how they would rush home and watch the football and basketball tournament scoreboard shows. They also mention the lack of media coverage today when it comes to Northern Kentucky sports.”

That was not the case from 1986 until 2010.

Weber implements “The Press Box”
Weber attended NKU from 1976 until 1980. During his days as a student, he met sports icons such as Aker, Meier, Winstel and then-NKU men’s basketball coach Mote Hils. After graduating from NKU as a radio/television major, Weber began working as a part-time reporter for then-Storer Communications in 1983.

By 1986, he was a full-time sports reporter and eventually moved into the role of host for Storer’s “Sports View” program. His role continued to expand with TKR Cable, which followed Storer Communications in the never-ending line of cable television corporate acquisitions/hostile takeovers.

After several years, Weber oversaw the development of a new show — “The Press Box” — devoted to sports in Northern Kentucky that aired weekly. The format also allowed for viewers to call in and give opinions or ask questions.

“I thought that format really added something unique for sports fans in Northern Kentucky,” Weber said. “We had a limited budget. But the show didn’t really cost much to produce. It offered another type of forum — a call-in show — that viewers seemed to enjoy.”

The show originally aired live in the afternoon on Wednesdays and repeated later the same evening. In a move to increase viewer participation, Weber eventually decided to produce the live broadcast at night from 7 until 8 p.m.

Tom Gamble

“We started it as an afternoon call-in show, but we switched it to the evening because more viewers are going to call in at night,” Weber said. “Tom Gamble and Chris Gramke joined me during those first years. Tom was the sports editor of The Kentucky Post. Chris was the sports editor of the Recorder newspapers. It gave fans in Northern Kentucky a chance to hear the different perspectives of the media that actually covered this side of the river.”

Weber, Gamble and Gramke were never shy in offering opinions on the show, whether the subject was high schools, colleges or professionals. That was never more evident than in early 1997, when NKU was attempting to add a non-scholarship football program that sparked controversy among students and professors at the Highland Heights campus.

NKU football controversy and “The Press Box”
For several weeks prior to a scheduled vote by the NKU Board of Regents, Weber, Gamble and Gramke constantly alerted viewers of a flawed narrative being spun by those attempting to push through football. Weber said several NKU football advocates confronted him about the opposing views being presented on “The Press Box.”

“One of them, Bill Erpenbeck, asked why we were so negative about football,” Weber recalled. “I told him that Gambo, Gramke and I were just stating facts about the process. There were those who were upset by how we opposed a Division II non-scholarship program.

“But there were also a lot of others who applauded what we were pointing out, and we ended up being correct by the time all the facts came out.”

On Jan. 29, 1997, the NKU Board of Regents approved the addition of a non-scholarship football program by a 7-2 vote. The meeting occurred on a Wednesday afternoon. The controversial vote also provided plenty of fresh material for “The Press Box” later that night.

Bill Erpenbeck chaired the NKU Football Committee during the 1996-97 academic year. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“The most memorable show was the day the NKU Board of Regents, under an interim president (Jack Moreland), voted to start a Division II non-scholarship football program,” Weber said. “Gambo, Gramke and I were critical of the proposal for a variety of reasons. As I recall, pretty much all of the athletic department was also not in favor of the proposal.

“Our biggest objection was that it would be a non-scholarship program, so NKU would not be competing for conference or national championships. That’s what NKU was successfully doing in just about all of its sports at that time. We had calls from many of the people who were at the meeting earlier in the day.”

One of the callers that evening was Dr. Clinton Hewan, an NKU professor who threatened to resign if the school added football. Another caller, pretending to be Moreland, taunted Weber, Gamble and Gramke, provoking a humorous on-air confrontation with Gamble — already known for his fiery style as part of the “Two Angry Guys” radio show.

Weber laughed at the memory. “That particular show was one hour in length, but we probably could have done four hours that night about the NKU football controversy,” he said.

Three months later, NKU hired Dr. James Votruba as president. Votruba then brought in two consultants, Jerry Hughes of Central Missouri State and Jim Fallis of Northern Colorado, to examine the proposed NKU football program and entire athletics budgets.

The financial numbers didn’t add up. Neither did the facilities, staff and campus morale. And the idea of football at NKU was soon punted.

“It was never going to work,” Weber said of the ill-fated NKU football plan. “That’s what we’d said on ‘The Press Box’ for months. Dr. Votruba came in and really saved NKU from a potential disaster with that whole football saga.”

An era closes at ICN-6
One of Weber’s final assignments as sports director at ICN-6 was covering the 2010 9th Region boys basketball championship game between Holmes and Newport. It also provided a memorable outcome at The Bank of Kentucky Center (now BB&T Arena).

Holmes, the defending regional champion, entered that game an overwhelming favorite. By the time it ended, Newport had posted a shocking 60-34 win over the Bulldogs and earned a trip to the state tournament for the first time since 1962.

On March 17, 2010, Weber covered Newport’s state tournament game against Christian County. The Wildcats dropped a 70-51 decision to the Colonels at Rupp Arena. That game also marked the end of Weber’s journey as sports director for ICN-6.

From there, Weber quietly transitioned from sports to politics. No farewell specials. No longwinded on-air goodbyes. The only consistent media coverage of sports in Northern Kentucky for more than two decades was gone.

“I really enjoyed those years of covering sports in Northern Kentucky, because I felt like I was serving a purpose,” Weber said. “It was a dream job. I was getting paid to watch sports, while other people were having to buy tickets to get in and see the same game.”

Seeking an opportunity
Weber created a lasting legacy with his devotion to sports in Northern Kentucky. He is still asked by many viewers when the local cable TV operation is bringing back shows devoted to high school sports.

“I hear it all the time,” he chuckled.

Don Weber

Now 62, Weber is hoping to get another chance in the television business. His resume speaks for itself. So do the thousands of Northern Kentucky sports fans who remember his work.

“I was 20 years ahead of my time because I was a one-man show in the 1980s and 1990s,” Weber said. “The other TV stations always had a reporter doing the interview, and a cameraman shooting the video. All that changed in the 21st century. Now you see most of them doing the one-man show. Times have really changed in the television business. But I was interviewing, shooting video, editing and writing the entire thing years ago as a one-man operation.

“I always take pride in my work. I want to do a good job of reporting and also provide great entertainment for the viewers. Working in sports made the days fly by very quickly. I enjoyed working on deadlines, especially those Friday night scoreboard shows during the fall. Hopefully somewhere down the line, I’ll be able to get back into the reporting business. Hopefully.”

Thousands of sports fans in Northern Kentucky — many of whom grew up watching the iconic television reporter — are hoping the same thing.

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport

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One Comment

  1. Steve Hollingsworth says:

    Great article! Don interviewed me in 1988 after a high school basketball game. It was very neat as a kid to be interviewed for the media.
    I have also had the pleasure of spending many hours side by side as a Campbell County High School band booster member volunteering many hours with Don. Our community is much better because of people of Don’s character and giving.

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