POCATELLO — A happy accident put Brad Bugger in the broadcast booth for the first time.
In 1984, Bugger — then a young sportswriter at the Idaho State Journal, five years out of college at Northwestern — was covering an American Legion baseball game in Pocatello.
Local radio legend Jim Fox was broadcasting the game and asked Bugger to join him on the call for a few innings.
After the game, Fox asked Bugger to help him broadcast Pocatello High School football and basketball games — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Thirty-six years after that fateful day, Bugger’s broadcasting career ended in March at the Big Sky Conference basketball tournament when he called the Idaho State women’s 66-51 semifinal loss to Idaho.
He was scheduled to be on the call again the next day for the ISU men’s quarterfinal game against Montana, but the coronavirus pandemic wiped out those plans.
When Bugger left his Boise hotel for a midmorning walk that day, he was preparing to broadcast the game as usual. When he returned just over an hour later, the tournament was canceled — and his nearly four-decade broadcasting career came to an end.
“That was very disappointing, but I’m sure it was much more disappointing for the athletes who didn’t get a chance to finish their careers and finish their seasons. It was very sad,” Bugger said.
“ISU honored me the last home game that I broadcast, and I was very, very grateful for that. It was very kind and generous on their part. I just really felt appreciated.
”I got a lot of feedback from folks on Facebook and a lot of people came up to me and told me that they appreciated what I’d done in my radio career. That makes me feel very good, because it has been a wonderful ride for me. I’ve had the best seat in the house for 36 years.”
Bugger grew up near St. Louis, listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck call Cardinals games. On his bed at home, he would lay out lineups of baseball cards and call games himself, imitating what he heard on the radio.
After graduating from Northwestern — where Michael Wilbon and Christine Brennan worked under him on the sports section of the student newspaper — he went into the newspaper business, getting a job at the Journal after sending out, by his estimation, 150 resumes to various papers.
”I looked at the map, saw where Pocatello was, and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come out here for a year. I’ll get a year on my resume and go somewhere else,’” Bugger said. “And it’s been 41 years.”
After starting with Fox, who owned several radio stations in the area, Bugger split his time between working at the Journal and calling local high school sports.
Shortly after leaving the Journal in the early 1990s and taking a job at the Idaho National Laboratory, Bugger added Idaho State games to his repertoire after Fox secured the contact to call the university’s games.
He stayed on the mic for ISU games in various capacities until he retired.
”When the ISU opportunity came along, it was a totally different world,” Bugger said. “Now we’re getting on planes and flying to college towns all over the country. Jim and Su (Fox) really knew how to have a good time. They would rent a car wherever we would land, and we’d go off and eat at nice restaurants. Jim knew everybody in the Big Sky Conference because he had been the voice of the Northern Arizona program before he moved to Pocatello, so he had friends in most of the Big Sky cities, and it was just really a lot of fun, very enjoyable experience.”
As a football color commentator, Bugger had the opportunity to call some of the most iconic games in Idaho State history. Among the ones that stood out to him were:
— Idaho State 32, Boise State 31, Oct. 15, 1994: ”The last game that we played against Boise State in the dome. It was Boise State’s last year in the Big Sky Conference, and we came from behind and beat them on a last-second touchdown. I’ll never forget Paul J. Schneider, who was the voice of the Broncos back then, long-time broadcaster from Boise State, storming out of the press box and saying, I’m glad I never have to come back to this place again.’ So that was fun.”
— Idaho State 43, Montana 40, Oct. 18, 2003: ”The 2003 game where we beat Montana in (double) overtime, that was the year that ISU finished in a three-way tie for the Big Sky Conference (championship). Unfortunately, the playoffs were smaller then, so the two teams we tied with went to the playoffs and we didn’t. But that was a lot of fun, beating Montana in (double) overtime. I think there were almost 11,000 people in the dome. Jared Allen was playing for ISU then, and that was a lot of fun.”
— Ole Miss 38, Idaho State 14, Aug. 31, 1996: ”From a personal enjoyment perspective, ISU played at Ole Miss in 1996. My parents lived in the St. Louis area. It was really cool because my parents got to drive down, and they brought some family with them. We went to Graceland, I got to tour Graceland with my parents, and then we went to the game. My dad and his cousin got to sit up in the press box with Jim and I while we broadcast the game. The game was also simulcast on television, so we were the voice of the TV broadcast as well. Even though Idaho State didn’t win the game, just having my dad and his cousin there in the press box with me and experiencing that moment and enjoying that moment, it’s one of those things that I’ll never forget.”
Colleagues praised Bugger’s skill and work ethic in the press box.
”I’ve never worked with a better analyst, and I’ve done a lot of games with a lot of people,” said Mark Liptak, who called ISU women’s basketball with Bugger for over a decade. “Brad was always prepared. ... He had the ability to look at the stats and pick out the stats that were actually relevant and that were going to be a factor in the game that night. The second quality that he had, and I wish to God I had it — Brad had the ability to state an opinion, even a controversial one, and he did it in such a way that people would not get angry with him ... and that’s really rare today.”
No longer calling Idaho State football games in 2019, Bugger made the decision midway through the basketball season that he’d retire completely at season’s end.
He was also planning to leave his job at the INL, and he and his wife, Janice, had set a course to ramp up their international travel.
Their scheduled reservations — Greece for two weeks, then Italy for four — have been put on hold by the coronavirus, but Bugger has more travel in his future.
After 36 years behind a microphone, he’s earned it.
“I‘m very thankful to Jim and Su for giving me those opportunities, and then I’m thankful for people like Jerry Miller and Mark Liptak and the other announcers that I’ve worked with, because they’ve had a lot of patience with me,” Bugger said. “They’ve given me the opportunity to have a platform and be an equal partner on the broadcast. That doesn’t have to happen. Jerry and Mark and other guys, they allowed me the opportunity to have my say and to be an equal partner in the broadcast. For that, I am very, very grateful.”