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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bob Allen has died after cancer battle

Former KHOU 11 and KTRK abc13 sports director Bob Allen loses cancer battle, passes away at age 70

Bob Allen, 70, lost his battle to cancer after looking like he beat it earlier this year.

Allen will be remembered as one of the greatest sports broadcasters in Houston, if not the United States. He certainly put in his 10,000 hours to earn that recognition. In fact Allen's old KTRK bio said he had the longest tenure of any major market sports anchor in the country.

Native Houstonian Robert Alan Egalnick, a young future Bob Allen, would bike from his West U home and sneak into KTRK channel 13 just to watch the nascent television magic. His family later moved to the new suburbia in southwest Houston where he graduated from Westbury High School.

A 1986 Baytown Sun article talks about how Allen's father, Lee Egalnick, founded the Karl Young Baseball League.

"The only things that held me back [from playing sports] were size talent and speed," joked Allen in an SFA-TV interview embedded at the end of this post. "Besides that I would have been All-state."

Allen attended Stephen F. Austin State and began his broadcasting career at KRBA Lufkin where he spun gospel records. He later became a DJ at KEEE 1230AM Nacogdoches.

It was a chance meeting with KPRC newsman Ray Miller that eventually led to Allen's hiring at 950AM after graduation in 1971. He started as a news guy, but after the station added in a new sports block, Allen took the role that would define his life.

But Allen's early interest in TV would call him to KTRK channel 13 in 1974 as weekend sports anchor after Dan Lovett jetted off to New York's WABC. As Dave Ward once wrote, it was that year the Oakland A's won the World Series, Rice Stadium hosted the Super Bowl and at Channel 13, a young broadcaster who used to visit the station as a child began his television career.

By 1975, Allen would be named sports director for the station where he would remain for 38 and a half years. And what years those were.

He started off seeing The Summit added as Houston's latest sports venue. It was there that the Houston Rockets would be champions in 1994 and 1995.

And of course he covered the Houston Oilers Luv Ya Blue era with icons like Earl Campbell and coach Bum Phillips. With the team hightailing it to Tennessee, Allen got his second chance to cover an NFL team in Houston with the arrival of the Texans at the the turn of the century in the brand new Reliant Stadium. Allen would report from the sidelines of pre-season games.

Allen was there to cover Nolan Ryan and the Astros run in 2005 to the first World Series played in Texas. He would later call this one of his career highlights.

And in between he interviewed such greats as championship boxer Muhammad Ali and Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt.

But what made Allen standout was his no-nonsense approach. He told us fans how it was. Even as a hometown guy, Allen would be a straight shooter if a team screwed up.

"As a journalist you have a job to do," Allen told SFA-TV. "If you do that job honestly, if you say that somebody made a mistake, or dropped a pass, or didn't run the right play, you're just telling the truth. You're not there to cover up for them. You're not there to shill for them. I cannot and will not ever do that."

There is criticism in the sports TV world too many broadcasters are ESPN clones. That was not Allen, he was his own personality.

"It's sports, it's not life and death," Allen told SFA-TV. "People take sports way too seriously. It's a game."

While he might have appeared to be larger in life on TV screens, Allen was a quiet guy in real life. He told me there were times that people would think he was conceited at a party because it appeared he was aloof. In reality, he told me he was just shy.

He certainly wasn't shy when it came to helping kids. It was well known that Allen was a big supporter of Special Olympics and The Sunshine Kids. His old bio says Allen served on the Board of Directors of both organizations, and was recognized with the highest honor given to a volunteer of Special Olympics, the Spirit of Special Olympics Award. You might remember the countless TV stories and specials he produced about the two programs. I have met parents of children who participated in the programs and they said their kids enjoyed their time with Allen who made them feel special.

"To see a kid with Down syndrome come running across the finish line and have people cheer them on and having he or she feel so good about themselves, they've finally accomplished something, that stays with you forever," Allen told SFA-TV.

Then what Allen did is still talked about in Houston media circles. He pulled off the almost impossible. After three plus decades, Allen wanted to leave KTRK abc13. In early 2012, he even announced his departure a year in advance.

Allen stuck around longer than planned because there was Super Bowl hope for the Houston Texans. That did not happen and Allen left KTRK in January 2013.

"Never in my remotest dreams did I think I would spend most of my life in that building (KTRK)," Bob Allen told back then. "Like most people in this business, I was always paranoid I'd be fired the next day, and was always relieved whenever I got a new contract done. It's been an amazing ride that's gone by so quickly."

At the time the future was wide open for Allen.

"I'm going to take a short break (sounds like I'm throwing it to a commercial)," Allen told me. "I am starting Bob Allen Media LLC with a couple of partners, producing longer form, multi-platform content. I would like to do radio again, what form I'm not sure. Radio to me was a lot of fun, the freedom of it."

He also wrote his biography with former Houston Chronicle columnist and current SportsRadio 610 KILT host John Lopez. The book never came out and now I don't know if we will ever get a chance to read it.

Now here is the nearly impossible part. A few months later in April of 2013, Bob Allen landed the sports director gig at KHOU 11. "Crossing the street" as it is called in the media biz just doesn't happen everyday. That shows Houston TV viewers' dedication to Allen.

That loyal viewership helped KHOU in the ratings as reported in the Houston Chronicle a month later at the end of May sweeps.

“The critical thing is that we did not lose in that (second) quarter-hour,” KHOU station president and general manager Susan McEldoon told the Houston Chronicle. “We have typically increased our lead-in (from CBS’ 9 p.m. show) but lose it in the second quarter-hour. That did not happen (in May). We have made some changes in the newscast, and viewers have responded.”

Allen kept rocking along at the CBS affiliate and even launched a Sunday night sports show.

Then Allen and Houston got a shock in June of 2015 when he was diagnosed with T-Cell Lymphoma. The man who had covered many epic sports battles raged a war of his own on his cancer. He would provide us updates over the next months.

By February of 2016, it looked good for Allen as he told us the cancer was gone.

"I am now in the rehab facility at MD Anderson trying to regain the stamina, strength & coordination I lost during the months of the stem cell transplant process," Allen wrote on Facebook. "Everyone including myself is very optimistic. Feel like I'm on the downhill run."

In May 2016, Allen was in recovery and became engaged to Houston photographer Megan Cardet.

Sadly, I heard that wedding never took place. The cancer returned in the last few months. Allen returned to MD Anderson and then later went home.

I want to end on a personal note. When I started working at KTRK, Bob Allen was a TV star I grew up with. It made me nervous to talk to him at first. When I started writing my blog in 2005, he started reading it to my surprise. I never thought Bob Allen would read my free Blogger account blog. This is the period I got to know Allen a little more and he told me the stories of sneaking into channel 13 as a boy.

He would even contribute sometimes. Here is what he wrote me that made a post in 2009. It's classic Allen:

Mike...I am saddened and disappointed you left out two very seminal moments in cinema. My appearance as Frank the sportscaster in the ABC made for TV movie in 77 called "Murder at the World Series". I even remember my line. "There he is..Bill..Bill Virdon...who will you pitch on Friday?"

Then there's the blockbuster 1989 theatrical juggernaut "Night Game" with Roy Scheider, where I was the Astros play by play announcer, who's miscall of the winning pitcher got someone killed in Galveston.

- Houston TV and sports legends come together to celebrate Bob Allen
- AUDIO: Remembering Bob Allen
- KTRK 13 sports director Bob Allen's Hollywood fame
- Bob Allen, former channel 13 sports director, makes Congressional debut

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