Dan Gensel broadcasts a Soldotna High School basketball game from his perch in the stands earlier this month.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Dan Gensel’s first foray into broadcasting mirrors that of many who have taken the plunge.
It wasn’t really a culmination of studious hard work and effort to get there. He wasn’t a fresh-faced college graduate when he got that first assignment. Nor was it even the first game of a new season for the sport.
What it really was, for all intents and purposes, was the simple continuation of Gensel’s day to day joy save for his marriage to wife, Kathy.
“Kids and broadcasting that’s been it,” Gensel said.
And as simple as that seems, it only chips away at the real story of the man behind the mic known to most as “Coach.” And ever increasingly, he’s recognized as the sports voice for Kenai Peninsula teams.
Before joining the KSRM radio group in 1999, he enjoyed success in the classroom as a teacher and on the courts and playing fields as a coach for Soldotna High School. Ironically enough, it was at rival Kenai Central High School in the 1970s where he earned letters in three sports.
He won awards as an educator and coach, and he’s won awards in broadcasting.
But no award, event or pat on the back can give the satisfaction to Gensel that compares with helping and supporting a kid on the Peninsula.
“He’s actively involved enough in the schools that he knows about the kids and what they’re doing,” said Cherie Curry, acting general manager for KSRM. “It’s not about him, it’s about the kids. A lot of DJs, it’s about them. He puts the kids first.”
‘Here, go to Homer’
When Gensel had the chance to seek early retirement from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in 1999, he knew he wanted to help take care of his mother and father, John and Sarah, who came to Alaska in 1951.
Gensel, who turns 50 next month, went to KSRM envisioning a rebirth of the sports programming that excelled under the direction of Kurt Haider, who moved on to Anchorage. The reception was great he was told he could start first thing the following Monday.
“My role was to produce the Peninsula Sports Show on the four stations originally,” Gensel said. “They already had people doing play by play. My first play-by-play game was the last regular season game for SoHi at Homer in football. They handed me a set of gear and said ‘Go to Homer and do the game.’
“Once basketball season started, I got more involved. Eventually, I took over as sports director and took over the liberal duties with that.”
The rest is somewhat all that he envisioned, and it is continuing to grow.
The radio group now puts games on four stations, contracts on-air talent to spread coverage to Kenai Central, Soldotna, Skyview and Nikiski high schools, and expands to cover other schools on the peninsula when merited.
His mother died last May, but he still works a regular schedule of early mornings at the station. Midday time is spent with his father and nights are either with Kathy or at a game.
For the record
Gensel’s accolades are numerous, and all are cherished.
There are plenty of stories that won’t get told from the journey to SoHi’s 1993 girls basketball state championship. And there are equally plenty of broadcasts that Gensel freely admits he just didn’t set the record button for, thereby forfeiting any chance to have it entered for the statewide Goldie Awards.
But Gensel has been called to the podium many times.
When broadcasting, he understands the basics needed by a listener who may be miles and miles away from the venue.
“When I coached, I’d get into the flow,” Gensel said. “Once a basket was made, I’d look at the clock. When I broadcast, I actually do the same. You paint the picture for the listener. You’re the only thing they have.
“People tell me all the time, it’s so cool because I can follow the basketball on the broadcast.”
Or football, hockey puck, mushing team whatever the sport, Gensel delivers.
The Alaska Broadcasters Association’s presentations of its prestigious Goldie Awards has included Gensel each of the past two years in Division 2, which is defined as all stations outside of Anchorage.
Gensel’s call of the Soldotna’s girls basketball team winning in overtime at Palmer picked up a 2005 award. In 2006, he earned another award for a broadcast of a Peninsula Oilers baseball game won in the final at-bat with a two-run double scoring the winning run from first base on a close play at the plate.
“It was two different venues, two different years,” Gensel said. “Both years I entered a hockey broadcast I thought was the best, and I haven’t won for hockey yet.”
He added that two major factors decide the broadcasting awards.
“You have to have a good quality dramatic event,” Gensel said. “And two, you’ve got to remember to turn on the recorder. I’ve had so many great events pass me by.”
The KPB School District honored him with a Golden Apple Award for his community service in February 2003. He also earned a Teacher of the Year award in 1993, and was honored by the district again for his years of service when he retired in 1999.
His top coaching award was being named the state’s Coach of the Year after the state title season.
He considers one of his other top honors to be his role as emcee for the closing ceremonies of last year’s Arctic Winter Games.
Bleeds SoHi blue
Gensel can still remember when John Davis, the station’s owner, was calling play by play for a Little League game Gensel played in back in the 1960s. He figures in some roundabout way, life has come full circle with him now calling games.
Daniel Lee Gensel was born in Anchorage and began his education at the old Kenai School until he was 6 1/2 years old. He then switched to Soldotna Elementary, graduated from Kenai Central in 1975 and graduated from Long Beach State University in California in 1980.
At Kenai Central, he played basketball, football and won several regional running events in track and field.
He came back to Alaska after graduating with a degree in journalism and a double major in English. Fortunately for Gensel, the pace of growth was such that the first year SoHi opened its doors he was able to get on staff by October.
He never left, and close friend Al Howard, an assistant principal at Soldotna High, figures SoHi will never leave him.
“He had a passion for coaching,” Howard said. “He had a passion for the classroom. He spent his entire career at Soldotna High School. He bled blue. That will go with him to the grave. He’s got a passion for what he’s doing right now.”
It’s a passion, Howard emphasizes, that allows him to call the games without showing bias.
“He’s very unbiased,” Howard said. “He’s a former SoHi coach and teacher, but when you listen to him, you don’t get that sound of bias. And I think everybody appreciates that.
“He is honest. He’s not going to candy-coat it. Everybody knows where he used to teach and coach, and where his heart lies.”
Howard said Gensel’s relationship with students was on a high level of mutual respect.
“He’s an extremely hard worker,” Howard said. “He’s committed, sees the big picture. He was always pleasant to work with, because I could count on him doing the very best. Whatever we were going to do, we wanted to do it on the highest level possible. I knew I was going to get that from him.”
Gensel coached basketball for 19 years, working with junior varsity boys, varsity girls, track and football. He also served as athletics director and activities director. His teaching responsibilities have included English, history, speech, journalism and photography.
Local sports, all the time
But no responsibility is greater than that of the kids he’s around.
“He has a passion for sports,” Curry said. “He was able to take the high school sports to a new level on KSRM. He made it community based. Being a former teacher, he really had an in. It went hand in hand. He loves the kids and the sports. Our sports sales increased and Dan was instrumental in that.
“He has high integrity.”
And that’s important when covering the number of events the radio group strives to support.
“I wanted that exposure to the peninsula sports programs,” Gensel said of his choice for broadcasting after teaching. “It was a way for me to stay involved.”
Gensel knows the community well and not just individuals.
“The key to sports up here, if it involves their kids and their area, people are very supportive,” Gensel said. “They’re not interested in the big guys and how much people are getting paid. I’ll get calls every week about snowmachine racers, cross-country skiers, hunters and fishermen. Peninsula sports are quite a bit different than the Lower 48.
“Even in Alaska, we’re unique because we cover so many events. Mat-Su Valley has a game of the week on Friday. They don’t cover schools exclusively. In a year, we’ll broadcast over 250 sporting events. In Anchorage, they do UAA but with high schools, its teams that are spotlighted.
“No one can compare to the quantity that we put on the air. Part of that is the management, and their commitment.”
And part of it, too, is the man behind the mic.
“He follows the kids after they leave here, after they go to college,” Curry said. “He looks them up on the Web site. That’s something else that helps the success of the radio in the community. You throw out a name, he can tell you where they are, what they’re doing. It’s not out of sight out of mind for him.
“I think the community is really proud of him. We see that when he’s on the road with the Oilers. When he calls the Oilers, I think he could call the Mariners. We can be proud of that in this area.”
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