Historically Speaking: Larry Lubben - sports caster by night
In the fall of 1983, Larry Lubben was approached by his neighbors with an unusual request.
In their spare time, they recorded and commentated on high school girls basketball games for the West Fargo Packers (which were aired on the public access channel) and asked if Lubben would like to give it a try. One of the men had a daughter that was graduating that year, and Lubben's fist-born, Lia, was in seventh grade with three more kids behind her.
Despite working full time and having an already full volunteering schedule, Lubben decided to try it out.
"I've been a sports fan my whole life, but I was a little nervous to say yes," Lubben said.
He worked through the nerves in a game or so and fell in love with it.
After three years, when Lia was getting into high school, he started organizing it himself. He continued with girls and boys basketball and began to expand as parents and coaches asked if he ever thought about giving their sport a try. Others volunteered to help with commentary and camera work, but Lubben was the constant. He tried most sports, but stuck with football, volleyball and boys soccer in the fall, girls and boys basketball, girls and boys hockey and wrestling in the winter, and girls soccer in the spring.
"Baseball was tough because there was the cage and we could never really get the right angle. We even had a stellar cross country team that we covered, but that took too much editing and repositioning," he said.
Not only did Lubben call games, but he began buying and using his own equipment, editing each tape himself, and manually changing programs for the West Fargo public access channel. After each game, he would bring the edited tape to the Harmon cable building - Harmon being the cable TV provider before Cable One and Mid Continent.
"The front door of the old Harmon Cable building opened into a hallway with a window into their office just big enough to reach my arm into," Lubben said. "I had to feel my way to switching out tapes to air that night's game."
Around 1985, Mark Larson from Harmon Cable and some others tried to shoot the games using multi camera switching, but Lubben confessed that it was full of glitches, and needed six or more volunteers.
"When you have that many people to help, you spend most of your time scheduling and even paying them. It just wasn't feasible with what we were doing," he recalled.
After that, they worked down to one camera without instant replay. He has had two principal cameramen over the years.
"I'll be at 1,500 games next year," he said, "but it's reassuring to have the consistency in help. If I had to try to recruit someone every week, I would just give it up."
Lubben has helped with other events, including the West Fest Parade, Homecoming coronation and graduations. But his favorite is sports, and his devotion has not been without its perks.
Lubben has provided color commentary on radio stations such as 740 AM The Fan, and WDAY has used his footage for their broadcasts. One of his fondest memories is interviewing Darin Erstad right after he signed with the Angels.
But calling games and editing them are two different jobs.
"I do all my own editing, just like anyone who wants to use public access. It has to be ready to go before we can use it," he said.
With time came upgrades of equipment, as well. Lubben started with Betamax tapes, and then moved on to VHS, which he still uses occasionally, and eventually he went digital. He used to make highlight films for each of the sports, and it would take 30 hours a piece to put together.
After Cable One took over for Harmon Cable, the site of the public access channel moved to the city hall building alongside the police station. In order to play his footage after hours, Lubben now must call the dispatcher in Fargo, who then contacts an officer in West Fargo, to let him into the building.
It may be a hassle, but after 28 years, Lubben has his schedule pretty well planned so that he does not have to come in late. Now that he is retired from his day job, he fills his time with what is most important.
"Around 1985, a parent came up to me and told me that I would only have to stick with it for three more years until her son graduated," he recalled. "Little did she know that this is what I really wanted to do."