Just after 9 o’clock on a playoff night, KARE 11’s Golden Valley newsroom looks like it’s covering a tornado, if not being hit by one.
Staffers pop up from their desks, hollering instructions. Camera guys flood the zone. The evening’s high school football games are ending, and there’s less than an hour to get the highlights on the air.
Anchor Randy Shaver, the longtime host of “Prep Sports Extra,” hunches over his computer, the calm eye of the storm, preparing his 15-minute game-night recap.
“Give me the punt snap and the TD,” he instructs one cameraman. “Did that No. 9 do anything for Park?” he asks another, as he reaches for his ringing phone: “Randy. Whadda ya got?”
“Ironton killed them,” Shaver tells the young sports reporter beside him, who’s scouring Twitter for game scores.
The reporter asks how to pronounce a player’s name, and Shaver rattles it off, wondering aloud if the player might be related to an old NHL great.
“OK,” the reporter says. “By the way, Mom says, ‘Hi.’ ”
Three years ago, Shaver’s son Ryan joined him in co-hosting the station’s market-dominating sports segment, following Dad’s footsteps.
A lot has happened in the 35 years since Shaver became the face of local prep athletics. In the late 1990s, he endured treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma while remaining on the air and then quietly became the state’s most recognizable cancer advocate, raising more than $7 million.
He had comfortably settled into the weeknight anchor’s chair, when, just before this football season’s kickoff, Shaver learned he’d be facing a former opponent he thought he’d shut out for good: another aggressive cancer diagnosis.
Working his way up
All his life, Shaver, 59, has been a worker. The type to put his head down, without complaint, and push through an extra set of sprints back when he was a Division I athlete, or, these days, another late night at the station.
His father modeled this ethic by working three jobs, and Shaver passed it on to his two sons. (Ryan, now 29, recalls turning 16: “On my birthday he was like, ‘OK, time to get a job.’ So I went out and got a job at Dairy Queen the next day.”)
Shaver came to KARE in 1983, after working at a station in Austin, Minn.
“I was here before [Paul] Magers; I was here before Diana [Pierce]; I was here before Paul Douglas,” he said, ticking off the names of KARE’s best-known personalities, who have since come and gone.
Throughout his career, Shaver has covered sports in all forms — “I’ve been to Olympics and Super Bowls, though not with the Vikings there” — but he became best known for his high school football coverage. Shaver played high school football and considers it the purest form of the sport, when players play for the love of the game, before money factors in.
KARE, despite its acronym, hasn’t always shown Shaver the love.
When Shaver had a decade’s worth of experience on the sports beat, the station brought in a loud-talking West Coaster to be its sports director, instead of promoting one of its own. (In less than a year, KARE’s GM admitted his mistake and Shaver got the job.)
Shaver was also a top contender for a main anchor chair in 2003, when Magers left, and two years later when Frank Vascellaro departed, before landing the seat in 2012.
“After 29 years in sports, I was ready to watch the Vikings from my house and not be working from 9 in the morning on a Sunday until midnight,” he said.
But he couldn’t let go of “Prep Sports Extra.”
Shaver thrives on the adrenaline rush of narrating play-by-play highlights he’s seeing for the first time as they’re broadcast. Such ad-libbing is possible only because Shaver has spent hours upon hours talking on the phone with coaches and watching game tape, which he insists on logging himself after each show, even if it takes until 4 in the morning.
If you don’t really enjoy watching game tape, “you look at it as work and you don’t want to stay late to do it,” he said. “But I love seeing what these guys shoot, and rolling the video back to see a great block.”
For most news telecasts, a team of producers prepares the bulk of the stories, which are delivered to the anchors via the teleprompter’s smooth, all-caps scroll. But “Prep Sports” is more of a one-man show, with Shaver curating the highlights and improvising his script. That means he’s still reading through the camera operators’ chicken-scratched notes and practicing his delivery as he opens the studio doors.
At 11 p.m., Ryan joins Shaver to co-host the extended version of “Prep Sports,” often wearing a sport coat, jeans and sneakers in contrast to his dad’s traditional suit. His face looks a lot like his father’s: younger and broader, but with the same deep-set eyes. A slicked wave of hair crests Ryan’s forehead, lending a more mod look than Shaver’s close-cropped classic.
“Junior Mint,” as Shaver has referred to his son on the air, grew up tagging along with his dad to the station, banging on a typewriter, pretending to prepare a sportscast of his own. Ryan’s KARE bio describes his youthful ambition as wanting to be “a funnier, better-looking version of my dad.”
Ryan was 8, and his brother, Rob, was 5 when Shaver became one of the nearly 40 percent of Americans who will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
Shaver had known something was wrong for months, but put off seeing a doctor. His wife, Roseann, insisted. It turned out his fatigue and night sweats were symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma; a trace of cancer was found in Shaver’s bone marrow, elevating his condition to a worrisome Stage 4.
Shaver endured five months of chemo and a month of radiation treatments, working nearly his full schedule to keep things as normal as possible. Knowing viewers would notice a change in his appearance, Shaver shared his diagnosis on-air and received thousands of positive e-mails offering tips (“laughter is the best medicine”), compliments (“your smile outshines everything”) and appreciation (“thank you for being so candid and honest”) to a man viewers had never met but considered “like family.”
In an industry where viewers regularly make cruel comments about on-camera personalities’ bodies and clothing, Shaver’s Minnesota audience stayed supportive, despite the thinning of his once lush hair. Other cancer patients said they found his presence reassuring, and it inspired them to continue their own routines.
Shaver’s athlete mentality — his ability to maintain focus and hope while demonstrating resilience — served him well. A year after his diagnosis, the cancer was gone. Shaver was running every morning and his hair had grown back. He felt a renewed sense of purpose.
At Roseann’s urging, the Shavers created a nonprofit to support cancer research and patient aid in Minnesota. The Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund has raised more than $7 million, with major contributions from Minnesota’s high school football teams, which offered to help in 2012.
At the time, the overlap between Shaver’s covering Minnesota’s football teams and their passing “Tackle Cancer” buckets for his fund was characterized as “ethically questionable” by a University of Minnesota media ethics professor. But $1.3 million later, concerns about how a school’s decision to fundraise might sway coverage, or Roseann’s compensation (after a decade pro bono, she now gets paid about $17,000 a year — an hourly rate, she jokes, that might be measured in pennies) haven’t resonated much beyond the ivory tower.
That’s largely because of the trust that viewers have placed in Shaver.
Scott Libin, a former news director at KSTP-TV and WCCO-TV who now teaches at the U’s journalism school, notes that the most prized characteristic among anchors is authenticity, something Shaver possesses in spades.
“Authenticity means this person off-air is exactly the way he is on-air. And knows — actually knows — what he’s saying and isn’t just reading the next line that comes up on the screen,” Libin said.
Moving to the anchor position required something of a psychological adjustment for Shaver. In sports, at least one team always goes home happy, while news of tragedy and crime can be depressing.
But Shaver found he really enjoys the role he shares with co-anchor Julie Nelson, who he calls “extremely talented at what she does,” and “a good mentor.”
For her part, Nelson was equally “thrilled” when Shaver joined her at the desk: “He’s a man with very high standards and principles that he lives up to,” she said.
All was going well for Shaver with his work, his fundraising and his family — his son Rob had started medical school — when, last summer, he was blindsided by the news that he had prostate cancer.
Although he could have kept this diagnosis private, Shaver decided to share.
“If I’m going to be out front like I’ve been, then I can’t sit back,” he said.
He was again flooded with supportive notes from viewers. Gopher sports teams sent basketballs and paddles. The Vikings honored him as a Hometown Hero. He donned a hospital gown for a public service announcement urging men to get to the doctor.
Shaver opted for treatment combining hormone and radiation in lieu of surgery, and even though his prognosis is good, he is still coming to terms with the fact that no treatment can skirt the possibility of sexual dysfunction, something, he said, guys don’t like to discuss.
“I’ve had friends go through it and I thought I knew what they were experiencing,” he said. “But it’s not the same. It’s not just about cancer, it’s about all the other personal things that men have to go through.”
Cancer is so often described, as are sports, in the terminology of war; patients “battle” against an “enemy” disease. So it’s natural that Minnesotans have endorsed Shaver — the guy’s guy, the tough guy, the guy who could probably still best his sons in a pushup contest — to champion the cause.
But that’s too simplistic a perspective, and doesn’t acknowledge how attuned Shaver has become to cancer’s emotional toll.
That aspect of his personality comes out more in the informal cheerleading and coaching that he and Roseann have provided to countless cancer patients and their support networks. Sometimes it’s simply checking in; other times it’s making phone calls to cancer doctors they fund to connect patients with the best treatment.
And viewers are seeing more of Shaver’s softer side with Ryan around.
“Sometimes he’ll put me on blast,” Ryan said of his dad’s affectionate “tosses” in the broadcast. “He’ll be like, ‘Here’s Ryan; he’s going to be talking about soccer, but he was terrible at it!’ Or, ‘Here’s Ryan; his mom dressed him today.’ ”
The love and respect goes both ways, as viewers could see when Shaver signed off from “Prep Sports” regular season by fist-bumping Ryan: “Thank you, Mini-Me,” he said.
And then he walked out of the studio, down the dark hallway, and back to the newsroom, because he still had several hours of game tape to log.