Bruin Announcer Makes Name for Himself

While Marques Johnson was winning national player-of-the-year honors at UCLA and earning glory in the NBA, Bob LaPeer was beating the bushes, hoping to make it big as a play-by-play announcer.

LaPeer, who played football, basketball and baseball at Baldwin Park High and baseball at Cal Poly Pomona, began his broadcasting career at such stations as KCIN in Victorville, KREO in Indio, and KWOW in Pomona, announcing high school and junior college sports.

He was at KFXM in San Bernardino in 1970 when the program director there asked him to change his name because there was another Bob working at the station.

LaPeer chose Roberts as his last name, since Robert is his real first name, and picked Chris as his new first name because he admired Chris Schenkel. (Please, no cracks.)

The new Chris Roberts made his way to Los Angeles and worked at KUTE-FM, KFI and sister station KOST, and then KMPC. He also did Long Beach State play-by-play for 10 years. He finally hit the big time three years ago, becoming the radio play-by-play voice of UCLA football and basketball.

It was a bittersweet occasion, though. Roberts replaced John Rebenstorf, who had died of heart failure at 41. Roberts and Rebenstorf had worked together at several Inland Empire radio stations and were good friends.

Roberts has had Johnson as his partner on basketball broadcasts the last three seasons.

Roberts has called every Bruin game, and Johnson, also the Seattle SuperSonics' television commentator, has been there for most of them, with former UCLA All-American Mike Warren filling in when he's not.

Roberts and Johnson, when calling games, sometimes get a little excited, but maybe you can't blame them.

"I've always enjoyed calling games, no matter at what level," Roberts said. "But, yes, this is more than I ever imagined for me personally. I remember watching UCLA in the NCAA tournament in years past and now I'm a part of it for the third year in a row."

Said Johnson: "This is the best UCLA team in my three years. The depth is there, the three seniors, Tyus (Edney), Ed (O'Bannon) and George (Zidek), provide a strong nucleus and everyone is willing to share the ball. They're always looking to help each other get the open shots."

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Johnson, if anything, was too timid when he starting announcing. He could barely be heard.

At one point, he was given a more powerful microphone, but even that didn't help.

"I was trying to be Mr. Broadcaster," Johnson said. "I was trying to be technically correct about everything and thinking too much."

He says he is more comfortable now.

"I try to show more of my personality," he said. "I now feel like just a guy at a game, having fun and talking to a buddy. Chris and I have become good friends, and that's helped a lot."

Johnson, besides announcing SuperSonic games, also did some Monday night college games for ESPN this season. But his first love is acting, something he has been doing since junior high.

Writing also interests the former academic All-American. He is currently working on a screenplay about the internal struggles of a middle-class African American family. He says it is somewhat autobiographical.

Johnson, as many recall, was a Los Angeles City Section player of the year at Crenshaw High and the first John Wooden Award winner as a senior at UCLA in 1977.

He lives in the Crenshaw area--actually View Park, which is on the south side of Stocker Avenue, between Crenshaw and La Brea.

"It's an upper middle-class Afro-American neighborhood, but whites are beginning to discover it," Johnson said. "It's a great area that is centrally located to everything--12 minutes from downtown, 12 minutes from the airport and 12 minutes from the West side. And real estate is reasonable."

Johnson lives there with his wife of 10 years, Jocelyn, and their three sons--Josiah, 12; Joshua, 5, and Moriah, 4. Another son drowned in 1987 when he was 18 months old.

Johnson's oldest son by a previous marriage, Kris, is a freshman on the UCLA team.

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Roberts also has an athletic son, David LaPeer, a senior at Glendora High, who is one of the top high school catchers in the San Gabriel Valley. Roberts and his wife, Ann, an ER nurse at Friendly Hills Regional Medical Center in La Habra, also have a daughter, Nichole, 11.

Besides broadcasting, Roberts has a second career in real estate. He owns income property and also works as a broker for a firm in Glendora.

Of Johnson, Roberts said, "I think he's a little shy. The first year he pretty much kept to himself. But since then we've become pretty close. We've had a lot of fun this season."

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TV-Radio Notes

KABC radio conducted a call-in poll Monday during "Sportstalk," asking listeners if they would attend baseball games played by replacement players. "We expected maybe 800 calls," said co-host Steve Edwards. The station got more than 2,600 in three hours. The result: 73% said yes, 27% no. . . . The Dodgers' first spring training telecast last Sunday got a respectable 2.2 rating. . . . The Sports Illustrated segment on ABC's "Wide World of Sports" Saturday deals with a substance-abuse problem figure skating's Christopher Bowman talks about for the first time.

Jack Nicklaus Productions, better known for its golf events, and Net Assets, a Jimmy Connors company, this week announced that a men's over-35 tennis event called "The Challenge" will be played at Pebble Beach May 19-21 and televised by ABC and the Prime Sports networks. The participants will be Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas. The event is part of the 11-event Champions Tour. . . . The Golf Channel ventures into a new area this weekend, replaying NBC's coverage of the Nestle Invitational golf tournament on Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m.

Ed Sabol, 79, who founded NFL Films in 1962 and was still involved with the company, announced his retirement this week at the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix. Ed's son, Steve, has been the president of NFL Films in recent years. . . . Former Bruin Andy Hill is now president of CBS Entertainment Productions, and a CBS press release says: "Hill played (basketball) alongside such stars as Jamaal Wilkes, Sidney Wicks, Bill Walton and Henry Bibby." Well, not exactly. Hill was the 12th man on those championship teams in the early 1970s.

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