KARE 11 anchor Randy Shaver tackles cancer again
Just after 9 o clock on a playoff night, KARE 11s Golden Valley newsroom looks like its covering a tornado, if not being hit by one.
Staffers pop up from their desks, hollering instructions. Camera guys flood the zone. The evenings high school football games are ending, and theres 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, whos scouring Twitter for game scores.
The reporter asks how to pronounce a players 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.andthinsp;
Three years ago, Shavers son Ryan joined him in co-hosting the stations market-dominating sports segment, following Dads 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 Hodgkins lymphoma while remaining on the air and then quietly became the states most recognizable cancer advocate, raising more than $7 million.
He had comfortably settled into the weeknight anchors chair, when, just before this football seasons kickoff, Shaver learned hed be facing a former opponent he thought hed 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 KAREs best-known personalities, who have since come and gone.
Throughout his career, Shaver has covered sports in all forms Ive 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, hasnt always shown Shaver the love.
When Shaver had a decades 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, KAREs 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 couldnt let go of Prep Sports Extra.
Shaver thrives on the adrenaline rush of narrating play-by-play highlights hes seeing for the first time as theyre 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 dont really enjoy watching game tape, you look at it as work and you dont 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 teleprompters 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 hes 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 dads traditional suit. His face looks a lot like his fathers: younger and broader, but with the same deep-set eyes. A slicked wave of hair crests Ryans forehead, lending a more mod look than Shavers 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. Ryans 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 Hodgkins lymphoma; a trace of cancer was found in Shavers 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, Shavers 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.
Shavers 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 Roseanns 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 Minnesotas high school football teams, which offered to help in 2012.
At the time, the overlap between Shavers covering Minnesotas 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 schools decision to fundraise might sway coverage, or Roseanns 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) havent resonated much beyond the ivory tower.
Thats 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 Us 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 hes saying and isnt 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: Hes 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 Im going to be out front like Ive been, then I cant 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 dont like to discuss.
Ive had friends go through it and I thought I knew what they were experiencing, he said. But its not the same. Its not just about cancer, its 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 its natural that Minnesotans have endorsed Shaver the guys guy, the tough guy, the guy who could probably still best his sons in a pushup contest to champion the cause.
But thats too simplistic a perspective, and doesnt acknowledge how attuned Shaver has become to cancers 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 its simply checking in; other times its making phone calls to cancer doctors they fund to connect patients with the best treatment.
And viewers are seeing more of Shavers softer side with Ryan around.
Sometimes hell put me on blast, Ryan said of his dads affectionate tosses in the broadcast. Hell be like, Heres Ryan; hes going to be talking about soccer, but he was terrible at it! Or, Heres Ryan; his mom dressed him today.andthinsp;
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.
Rachel Hutton 612-673-4569