Dave McClurg, known mostly as D-Mac to athletes and coaches in Alexandria, is no stranger to being alone in the press box for high school sporting events.
In his over 30 years of being a play-by-play man, more than two decades of those were solo acts. However, for the majority of his 12 years as a voice of Alexandria sports, he's had a broadcast partner. That was until the COVID-19 pandemic threw him a curveball.
McClurg got his broadcasting career off the ground in Beulah, N.D. in June of 1988. As a small-town play-by-play guy, he learned the ins and outs of the business.
"I was out there for about two years," McClurg said. "I always had an interest in listening to sports broadcasting on the radio, more so than television. I was never that good athletically. I never competed in organized sports as a youth. In the last two years in high school, I actually lettered as a student manager and statistician for my baseball and basketball teams. Probably since I was 10 or 11-years-old, my brother, Mark, got me interested in watching sports. I took it a little further because I had an interest in listening to the radio."
One of the early hurdles for McClurg was getting comfortable behind the microphone. He grew up a reserved kid but found a home illustrating each play of a game.
"I used to be so darn shy all the time," McClurg said. "It blows my mind a little bit that I could be speaking to thousands of people. I've had different program directors that have encouraged me. One thing I've learned is to take a one-on-one approach. Think of it like you're talking about the game to your best friend or family member. Make it personable."
In 2014, McClurg joined Alexandria's KXRA for his second stint as a broadcaster in Douglas County. The first was in 1993 as he called games for six years for Z99 before joining a broadcast booth in Glenwood. From 2006 until he accepted the job in Alexandria, McClurg called games in the Minnewaska area.
"It's kind of crazy to think for about six years I was a competitor of Dave Harris and KXRA," McClurg said. "I've been in this business for a long time. This past fall was my 30th anniversary of calling games. I look at my first tenure in Alex separately, and in 1994 I got to follow the football team to the Prep Bowl. Alexandria finished second to Anoka that year. I remember Nick Heydt was on that team, and now his son is on this year's team. It's interesting to think about calling generations of athletes in this area."
Following a team on its state-tournament run is what McClurg called "the ultimate privilege." He chooses to enjoy those moments because he doesn't know when the next one will come.
"We all have our own duties in terms of making things flow, but I feel like I get to hang on and enjoy the ride," McClurg said. "You never take them for granted because you don't know when it's going to happen or not."
McClurg has felt fortunate to be the voice of several postseason runs for Alexandria athletics. But this year, he just feels lucky for the kids to get a season.
Players and coaches are taking each moment of this year day-by-day, and McClurg is doing the same.
However, he's doing it alone. In a typical year, he's had a color commentator by his side to help him on the broadcast. With the COVID-19 pandemic, KXRA is staying cautious.
"It's been very difficult," McClurg said. "Out of the 30 years I've been doing this, 23 of them have been solo. But when you get good commentators like Bob Cunniff and Ron Kirscht, you kind of take for granted they're able to fill in gaps. They make the broadcast flow a lot better. It is an adjustment to have your own show, so to speak. You have to be more cognizant of dead air. It may even strain the voice a little bit more."
McClurg's time working solo has let him feel more comfortable heading into this school year. While he wants to get his partners back in the booth with him as soon as possible, he understands that his health comes first.
"I'm not intimidated, but I'm certainly hoping that Bob and I can reunite before the winter season is done," McClurg said. "I don't think the transition from two-person to solo was as difficult for me as it could be for others. I think the scary part is trying to isolate myself so I don't get the virus. If I get the coronavirus, it's probably going to have dangerous, if not deadly, consequences. Having the pleasure of doing two-person broadcasts here at KXRA is much more preferable than doing it solo now."
McClurg feels fortunate to have games to call this year. He's willing to go the extra mile to keep the show on the air.
"It's a treat when I do have the opportunity to do it, but the mechanics are more difficult this year," McClurg said. "Because the state department of health says so, we aren't conversing with kids after the games. We aren't doing postgame interviews inside buildings this year. I do those over the phone now. The set-up and the take-down process is a lot longer for me this year. It's what we have to do this year, and I'm fortunate to get to do it."