Dave Eanet arrives early at Ryan Field on those crisp Saturdays in autumn, walking out on the empty field hours before gametime. He smells the charcoal rolling in from the tailgates outside, listens to the sound of horns blasting as the band warms up and watches the sea of purple slowly growing in the crowd as the players take the field.
“I love being at the event,” Eanet said. “I like that whole buildup to kickoff. To me, on those days, I feel like I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.”
Eanet, the sports director at WGN Radio in Chicago, has been the Northwestern football play-by-play announcer since 1990, as well as the NU basketball play-by-play announcer since 1996. On Friday it was announced that WGN Radio and NU Athletics agreed to a four-year extension, as well as a new four-year contract for Eanet, keeping the “Voice of the Wildcats” on football and basketball games until 2019-2020.
Sports have always been a huge part of Eanet’s life. Growing up in Washington D.C., his grandfather took him to Senators’ (before the team moved in 1960, becoming the Minnesota Twins) and Redskins’ games. Eanet also recalls getting together to play baseball with his friends - where his passion for radio first stood out.
“We were always out at the park putting our own games together, and I was the guy doing the play-by-play,” Eanet said. “I was mimicking the announcers I listened to on the radio. When my friend was at the plate, I’d not only pitch but I’d call it.”
Eanet first got his start on radio while he was still a student at the Medill School of Journalism. In 1975, at the start of his junior year, Eanet was able to get a part-time job at WBBM, a radio station in downtown Chicago. Three nights a week, he worked from 4 p.m. to midnight answering a phone in the newsroom for $2.50 an hour (minimum wage was $2.10 in 1975).
The experience, however, was priceless. Eanet worked his way up to desk assistant, eventually becoming a full-time news writer by his senior year.
“Whenever I could, I would sneak over into the sports corner and hang out with those guys,” Eanet said. “If there was something I knew they didn’t want to cover but maybe needed someone to get sound, I would offer to go out and cover it on a night off.”
Eanet would transition to sports full-time in 1980, right after WBBM picked up the Chicago White Sox.
Ultimately, after NU’s magical Rose Bowl season in 1995, WGN gave Eanet the opportunity to call Wildcat football games, as well as offering him the position of sports director - and he’s been there ever since.
“The friends I’ve made through [Northwestern] and the people I’ve gotten to know over the years – players, coaches, staff – those are the people I’ve felt a connection with,” Eanet said. “It’s a place that you feel good about. Even when things don’t go well, when they have a tough season, you feel like they are doing it the right way.”
In Sept. 2014, to honor his 25th season calling Northwestern football, a plaque was unveiled at the radio box in Ryan Field, naming it “The Dave Eanet Broadcast Booth.” Now, after watching the stadium come to life on those crisp Saturdays in autumn, Eanet walks into a radio box with his name on it.
“I’d like to continue doing this as long as I can,” Eanet, who just turned 60, said. “As long as they’ll have me … as long as I feel good. I’ve always told my kids, find something that you really enjoy … and I did that.”