Randy Koller (right) announces a basketball game during the WIAA playoffs in 2009. Koller has been announcing basketball games for Durand High School since 1988. He milks 35 cows near Rock Falls, Wis. PHOTO SUBMITTED
Randy Koller (right) announces a basketball game during the WIAA playoffs in 2009. Koller has been announcing basketball games for Durand High School since 1988. He milks 35 cows near Rock Falls, Wis.
ROCK FALLS, Wis. - Even though Randy Koller did not play any sports in his youth, he has found his way to the basketball court.
Since the mid 1980s, Koller's voice became a staple over the airwaves with the play-by-play for the high school sport for Durand High School and other school districts in the area. Koller fits in announcing with the 35 cows he milks on his family's dairy west of Rock Falls, Wis.
"Durand had a terrific girls' basketball team in the 1980s, and I had some connections to the team," Koller said about how he got connected to the sport not long after graduating from Durand High School in 1982.
In 1984, Koller was asked to take care of team statistics for the Durand Panthers girls' basketball team and took over during the 1984-1985 season. The next fall, he began doing statistics for the Durand High football team as well. Soon afterward, he took on the additional role of providing commentary on the radio with Tom Pattison, sports director of the Durand radio station, WRDN FM 95.9 and AM 1430.
"I got to know Tom and provided some statistics with color commentary, and I had the opportunity to announce with Tom on a few games," Koller said.
When Pattison took on a new position as the sports director at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater's radio station in 1988, Koller was asked if he would be interested in filling the role as play-by-play announcer.
"The station owner wanted to know if I'd be interested in football. While football and dairy farming don't mix due to clashing with harvest season, I'd always loved basketball and I jumped at the opportunity to be the official announcer for Durand basketball on WRDN," Koller said.
While covering games on the radio for his alma mater brought Koller a lot of joy, he also knew many people in the nearby town of Mondovi, Wis. So, he announced games for the Mondovi Buffaloes basketball team in conjunction with his duties at Durand.
"I knew boatloads of people in both towns because the school districts border each other near Rock Falls," Koller said.
After Koller married his wife, Carma, and the arrival of their two children, Marissa and Jon, in the 1990s, he jumped at the opportunity to announce women's basketball games for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Blugolds.
"A couple of girls from Durand played for the Blugolds, so I announced games for them from 1998 to 2000," Koller said. "I even went down to St. Louis, Mo., with them to announce the game on the radio for the NCAA Division 3 Final Four."
Because their children were quite young at the time, Carma helped with many milkings while her husband was traveling to Blugold games at home and away.
"I can't thank her enough for keeping things going while I've been gone, and as my kids have gotten older they've stepped up to help out as well," Koller said.
When asked how he balances dairy farming with his broadcasting hobby, Koller said basketball was easier on his schedule due to largely being played after harvest season. But his family gets his praise for going the extra mile to get him to the games on time.
"On game nights, we feed cows before chores and milk at 4:30. Carma feeds calves and washes the pipeline, and Jon does a little of everything. We just try to get stuff done earlier," Koller said.
The number of games announced by Koller has fluctuated throughout the years as WRDN changed hands several times.
"The station was sold in 2001 and moved north to Menomonie, Wis., in 2002," Koller said.
Mike Sullivan, the sports director of Clear Channel Broadcasting - a conglomerate of radio stations in Eau Claire, Wis. - asked Koller if he would announce games for Durand and Mondovi on WATQ 106.7, also known throughout the region as Moose Country.
While Moose Country mainly covers games in the Dunn-St. Croix athletic conference, including Mondovi, Durand was in the Middle Border conference for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, or WIAA.
"Because I knew boatloads of people in both Durand and Mondovi, it made pregame preparations much easier. I announced a couple of games with teams like Colfax and Boyceville for Moose Country, but because I didn't know the teams at all, the amount of work doubled," Koller said.
Eventually, Brian Winnekins, a farm broadcaster who formerly worked at WCOW 97.1 based in Sparta, Wis., bought AM 1430 and moved it back to Durand. Koller began announcing games with Winnekins, filling in when Winnekins wasn't available or his duties as the current National Farm Broadcasters Association president took him out of the area.
"The past few years, I've done about half a dozen girls' basketball games every season," Koller said. "I've also done 12 to 15 football games through the decades as well."
While not broadcasting as many games in recent years, Koller has kept just as busy with positions on several boards of directors, including the Dairy Farmers of America's Central Area Council and a three-year appointment to the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board.
As his daughter, Marissa, got older, she began playing basketball with the Durand team. This worked out well for Koller because he could announce the game and watch Marissa play, eventually leading to one of the most memorable games of his broadcasting career.
"It was her last game as a senior in 2015, and they were playing against Hayward in the WIAA girls' sectional finals. Durand was beating the Hurricanes 42 to 41, but with eight-tenths of a second left Hayward shot a buzzer-beater right over Marissa. It was nothing but net," Koller said.
Two other memorable games were played in 1996 and 2000, in addition to announcing games at the state girls' basketball tournament in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2009.
"In 1996, Durand came from a double-digit deficit - they were 40 to 27 at halftime - to win by one point in the state semifinals. Four years later, I was announcing a boys' basketball game in Madison during the state tournament, and it was their first trip to state since 1969," Koller said.
Now that Marissa has gone off to college to study accounting and agricultural business at University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Koller's son, Jon, has begun to follow in his father's footsteps with broadcasting even though he is still in high school.
While Jon plans on returning to the family farm in the future, he helps with broadcasting Durand games on TV and the Internet through his mass media and video production class, and has begun announcing football and volleyball games as well.
"Dad helped out with my mass media class, doing some games with students when the class started in 2007, too," Jon said, giving a nod to his father's versatility in sports broadcasting.
Even though he did not play ball as a teenager, Randy Koller lives and breathes sports as much as he does dairy farming. As long as he gets his chores done on time, Durand can count on having a farmer in the press box at tip off.