SportsCenter anchor’s first gig was on airwaves of Florence

ESPN SportsCenter and Portland Trailblazer studio host Neil Everett’s first broadcasting job was in Florence, Ore. He was the news director for KGBU 1250 AM in 1984 and 1985. (Courtesy photo)

ESPN and Trailblazer studio host Everett has local roots

April 21, 2022 — Before the 2021-22 Portland Trailblazers season fans received exciting news when it was announced that longtime ESPN SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett would join the Trailblazers broadcast team.

Joining the Blazers would mark a bit of a return for Everett. Though his job was as studio host for road games, these would be the road games of his hometown team — as Everett has northwest roots.

Neil Everett Morfitt was born in Portland in 1962 and raised in the Spokane, Wash., area.

Unknown to most of Everett’s fans, even the ones who know he’s from Oregon, is that his first job was on the central coast, in Florence, at a small family-owned radio station called KGBU.

“I graduated from University of Oregon in 1984,” remembered Everett. “I can’t remember if there was an ad in the newspaper or how I learned of this job in Florence, but I applied. One day I made the drive from Eugene to Florence, interviewed, got the job and went to work.”

Everett didn’t know much about Florence, as his coastal knowledge didn’t extend that far south.

“I was more of a north coast guy,” he said. “Astoria, Cannon Beach, maybe a smidge of Tillamook, but that’s about where my Oregon Coast knowledge ended.”

Still, Everett had certainly heard of Florence. One of his fraternity brothers at U of O was Zane Kesey, son of Ken Kesey, author of “Sometimes a Great Notion.” Though the famous book takes place in a fictional town called Wakonda, Kesey always said that the book is based on the logging industry around the Siuslaw River Valley.

Before coming to Florence, while he was an upperclassman at Oregon, his fraternity made him big brother to an underclassman named Jed, who was Zane’s brother.

Tragically, on Jan. 23, 1984, Jed was killed when the van carrying him and his teammates on the University of Oregon wrestling team crashed after it slid off an icy road.

“You get appointed to be someone’s big brother in the frat,” said Everett. “Jed was a pledge and I was blessed to get him as my little brother. I have really fond memories of those times and I always said if I had a son, I’d name him Jed.”

The job the recent college graduate had secured was at a brand new radio station in Florence called KGBU 1250 AM that was owned by Michael and Frances Younce. The station was located in the building that now houses the “Captain’s Lady Baubles, Bling & Books,” a gift shop, on Maple Street in Historic Old Town.

Also newly hired at KGBU was Jon Thompson, who is currently part owner and general manager of Florence’s only current for-profit radio station, KCST/KCFM Coast Radio.

Time has lost specifically what the station’s call letters stood for, but Everett has his own version.

“Just so people know, KGBU stood for ‘the Good, the Bad and the Ugly;’ Jon was the ‘good,’ I was the ‘ugly’ and you’ll have to do your research to figure out who the ‘bad’ was.”

Somewhat ironically, Thompson was hired as the Sports Director at KGBU. While Everett, a man who would later make his name on SportsCenter, got his start in Florence doing straight news.

Everett and Thompson would become fast friends, both just cutting their teeth in the broadcast business.

When KGBU eventually went into bankruptcy, Thompson and a partner bought it from the bank and put it back on the air in 1988 as KCST.

“Good old Jon Thompson, more times than I can remember, I’d hear him honking his pickup truck outside my duplex at 10 to 6 because I had overslept, and he was good enough to save my soul. I’d roll out of bed and roll into his truck. We’d head down to the station and grab whatever it was I used to figure out the news, which was probably your paper [the Siuslaw News] and an AP wire. I’d fire off about five minutes of news that sounded like I’d prepared for an hour when I’d really just rolled out of bed 10 minutes prior.”

Everett’s inclination to sleep in and need waking may have been because he was tired. He was doing what it took then — and still takes today — to survive in Florence and small towns along the coast. He was hustling and working a second job. His second job was tending bar at the Bridgewater, a restaurant still in the Kyle Building on Bay Street.

Everett described what it took to pull off the double duty.

“I used to go on the air at 7 in the morning,” he recalled. “Then again at 8 a.m., then at 9 … this is all off memory so bear with me … but after the 9 o’clock news I’d run down the alley to the Bridgewater to get the bar ready to open for lunch. Then I’d run down right before noon when it was time for my next five-minute newscast. Then I’d run back, work three hours, go back to the radio station, then back for dinner shift, close the bar, walk home, then get up and do it again. That was my M.O. then.”

Everett’s memories of Florence describe a town that was in transition from the past, when logging and fishing were the heart of the local economy, to today, when tourism is how locals survive.

“Florence was still a sleepy little coastal town,” he said. “Mo’s was the spot downtown. There were probably some of the little shops you still see today. I lived in a duplex a few blocks from Mo’s. I believe I made $600 a month and the rent was $200-something. That was my introduction to the Florence economy.”

Though Florence could accurately be described as “sleepy” then, the town was in the midst of making some noise, prompted by controversy around the federal government’s attempt to halt logging to save old growth and protect the spotted owl. This was the first big story of Everett’s young career and how he first received recognition outside of Oregon.

“I won an award for a radio series I did on the spotted owl while I was in Florence,” said Everett. “Things were, shall we say, at loggerheads between loggers and environmentalists. I’m guessing the station submitted it because I wouldn’t have been smart or inspired enough to do it, but they submitted my story somewhere and I won a little award for that. The fight between logging and environmentalism was quite the controversy back then. I’m guessing it still is, to some degree, today.”

Before long, word about the talented anchor in little Florence, Ore., got out to the rest of the world. Everett would first move on to Hawaii, where he worked 15 years as an athletic administrator at Hawaii Pacific University and on local television stations as an anchor.

In 2000, he was hired by ESPN and has been the host of the late-night Los Angeles edition of SportsCenter since 2009.

Everett has made a name on ESPN by referencing his roots throughout his SportsCenter broadcasts. He often starts episodes by greeting viewers with a “howzit?,” Hawaiian slang for “How’s it going?” He also often references the University of Oregon and Gonzaga University, as Everett was raised in Spokane, home of the ‘Zags.

One thing that makes Everett a bit of an anomaly amongst the well-known names in the world of sports and entertainment is his lack of presence on social media, something that is not by accident.

“I have enough things on my plate and don’t need to add one,” he explained. “To be honest, though, I don’t suffer fools lightly. If I was on social media, I would probably say some things I regret saying after someone said something that got under my skin. If I want to tell somebody something, it’s probably someone I know. Otherwise, I don’t really care that you just bought the best piece of pumpkin pie you’ve ever had.”

Everett doesn’t get his news from social media and, though he works for a national news organization, he is a big believer in local news. He still subscribes to his local paper and recognizes the importance of local voices and perspectives.

“I still get the LA Times delivered every day,” Everett said. “I think there's something to be said for local journalism, whether it's in a big city like LA or a smaller city like Florence. The same is true for local radio. I think Florence owes a huge debt of gratitude to Jon Thompson, as he grabbed the bull by the horns and kept radio alive in Florence. It’s such a valuable tool for the community, whether it’s for advertisers to peddle their business or for local news and sports.”

In 2021, Everett signed a multiyear extension to his contract with ESPN. Catch him nightly at 10 p.m. when him and his partner Stan Verrett host the Los Angeles edition of SportsCenter.