KEARNEY — When Steve Altmaier retired from KGFW Radio in 2017 after 42 years in the radio business, he assumed he would fade into the sunset.
On Valentine’s Day, the sun came up again.
A phone call from the president of the Nebraska Broadcasters Association notified him that he would be inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame.
“I was kind of in a state of shock for the rest of the day,” he said. “It was something I totally didn’t expect. I didn’t know I was being considered and it was a bolt out of the blue, honestly.”
Altmaier will be inducted tonight at the NBA’s 85th Annual Convention at Embassy Suites in La Vista. He will be inducted along with longtime radio play-by-play broadcaster of Nebraska Cornhusker sports Kent Pavelka and one of America’s leading producers/directors of national and international sports programming Ken Fouts.
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Altmaier said he’s honored and kind of humbled to be inducted with Pavelka and Fouts because they’re very notable in their field.
“I’m kind of the ‘every man’ of this particular list,” Altmaier said. “Obviously Pavelka’s more of a name than Ken Fouts is, but when it comes to the direct resume of the two Fouts is probably has a bigger resume. He’s won Emmys, not regional Emmys, but national Emmys with some of the production stuff he’s done. ... I’m the guy that goes in, opens up, puts on the coffee and rips the wire and goes in and does the shift during the day and the sports at night. A lot of the people in the business did it that way. I’m kind of the Everyman of this group, there’s no doubt about that.”
Altmaier started at KGFW in Kearney in 1974 and was named the sports director in 1981. For more than 25 years, he called in excess of 2,500 Kearney State/University of Nebraska at Kearney sporting events — football, volleyball, baseball and men’s and women’s basketball.
For his service to the university he was inducted into the Loper Athletics Hall Of Fame in 2006.
He also broadcast countless high school games.
Except for a few recorded by parents and engineers at the state, most of those games faded disappeared with the sign-off as Altmaier never recorded any of his own calls.
“Gee, you’re 65 and you’re going into the Hall of Fame, people may what to hear it. You never think about that kind of stuff,” he said.
Unlike some other sports play-by-play announcers, Altmaier never developed a “signature” call. He thought about it some, but “I just thought each particular call should fit the particular situation. I didn’t want canned stuff.”
Now, as he prepares for his induction, he’s been thinking about the course of his career.
“When you talk about a guy doing sports in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference for almost 20 years, the journey has double meaning. It is definitely a journey,” he said.
With trips to Grand Junction and Durango, Colorado, and Silver City and Las Vegas, New Mexico, following a team in that conference involved hours on the road, often in winter driving conditions.
In 2005, when his stepson Jake slated to be the starting quarterback at Kearney Catholic, Altmaier changed directions in his career, becoming the associate news director then news director.
It was a smooth transition. He had been involved in the “Talk of the Town,” the station’s local news talk show, for more than a decade.
Another transition didn’t go as smoothly.
A self-taught typist, Altmaier said he became at odds with social media and the digital age.
“I’m not going to say it drove me out of the business but it made it a lot more difficult. You’re not only expected to be the sports director, you’re expected to be the internet editor/sports editor, to get stuff up as soon as you can to beat the other guy,” he said. “Pretty soon an 8-hour day becomes a 10-hour day because of your technology. That may have drove me out a year or two early. ... I couldn’t keep up any more.”