Fred Kalil likes to say that sports broadcasting isn’t brain surgery.
Then he’d add the line: “Who knew that I’d get to do both?”
Kalil, retiring April 3 after more than 40 years in the TV business and 31 years in Atlanta, still remembers August 15, 2000, as a genuinely harrowing moment in his life. He was having terrible headaches and drove himself to Piedmont Hospital after a difficult 11Alive newscast.
“I felt like I had a concussion,” Kalil said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a few days after announcing his pending retirement. “I was throwing up.” Doctors took a CAT scan and found something problematic in his brain.
The next day, a surgeon opened Kalil’s skull with a power saw and removed a pea-sized cyst. Good news: it was benign. But Kalil spent three months regaining his short-term memory and going through physical therapy before returning on air.
His lifetime souvenirs: a titanium plate in his head and a zipper-shaped scar, fortunately covered by his lustrous dark hair.
“I probably came back too soon,” he said in retrospect. “My hair definitely didn’t look right.”
He took anti-seizure medication for years after the surgery. But one of those meds hindered his ability to read a teleprompter in the early 2010s and 11Alive removed him as chief sports anchor. In 2015, he left 11Alive and moved to CBS46. Once off the meds, which he no longer needed, he was able to do his job offering viewers game highlights and interviewing coaches and players without incident.
A South Bend, Indiana, native, Kalil in high school was the game announcer for basketball games. He had a knack for it. The father of a friend was general manager of a local TV station, who recommended he get into TV broadcasting. He took that advice.
In the 1980s, he worked in multiple smaller markets, honing his skills along the way. “I was told early on, ‘Don’t read that stuff. Just come on and sit in my living room and tell me what’s going on. Don’t read. Tell.’ That’s the key there,” he told the AJC in 2013.
11Alive noticed and hired him as sports director in 1992 four years before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, splashing the airwaves with promos and even a theme song, “Check Out Fred.”
“That was really the time of my life,” he said. “I was the lead guy on the station in the city that had the Olympics.”
He was a bit of a jokester, running a long-time bit called “Fred TV” highlighting his favorite plays of the week and a “separated at birth” segment featuring sports figures that resembled other celebrities such as football coach Lou Halz and Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Kalil covered college and pro sports with gusto but had a soft heart for high school football on Friday nights. “A lot of people pooh-poohed high school stuff, but I loved it,” he said. “I had kids who competed in high school. I enjoyed seeing them grow.”
His congenial attitude made few enemies among peers and coaches. He was front and center for two Atlanta Braves World Series wins, two University of Georgia national championships and two Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl losses.
“I don’t get angry,” he said. “The surgery gave me perspective. What’s the point of jumping up and down and screaming? If you get worked up, the other person wins.”
His solution: walk away. “I tell people now I have to pee,” he said. “I’m old!”
In recent years, he began getting late career accolades like induction into the Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame in 2017. “I survived 31 years in local television in one city in a top 10 market,” he said. “That’s the upset of the year right there!”
Two years ago, at age 62, he signed one more two-year contract and let CBS46 (now Atlanta News First) know about his plans to step away from the mic. His wife Carla wanted to move back to her hometown of Phoenix, where his daughter is now pregnant with his first grandchild.
“I’ve been doing this TV stuff non stop since the spring of 1979 when my mother passed,” he said. “It’s time. I want to be a grandpa and hang out and go to games just for fun.”
Kalil is happy to leave on his own terms. And he never took his ever youthful face for granted in a business that is so dependent on looks.
“I’m Lebanese,” he said. “I have olive Mediterranean skin. I never smoked. And luckily my hair grew back after the brain surgery into those crazy curls we once knew.”
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