Ted Nichols-Payne was one of a kind

Ted’s phone must have been filled with selfies – of friends and his three girls – oh, he loved those girls! They were his reason to live! This photo was last year in March when he’d just helped me unload a big batch of my books at the McKinney Post Office.

It was somewhere back in the late 1980s. I really don’t remember. Exact dates don’t matter. I just remember coming in to do my radio program from KRLD there at 1080 Metromedia Way right off Carpenter Freeway in Dallas that Saturday morning.

My board op seemed to change every week. The 40-hour-a-week people got weekdays. You know: the drive-time newscasts. Weekends were where the new kids got trained.

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This particular Saturday there was a long-haired new kid with big floppy red high tops. He had a great smile, but would he know what to do? This was, after all, my family’s financial lifeline that rested in his hands.

That day went well. And so did the next. And the scores of days, yeah weeks and years that followed. Soon, Ted Nichols, later Ted Nichols-Payne, was the board op everyone wanted all through the station.

We learned it was best not to take Ted out to lunch.

Again, I’m not going to have my chronology straight, but the main facts are going to be perfect:

This pony-tailed guy with the big, sweet smile took our son Todd under his wing. Todd had become one of those weekend board ops doing my program and working weekdays at KRLD. Ted taught Todd a ton. Todd went on to finish his degree, work at CNN and now the NFL Network.

And our older son Brian has done scores of football games, Ted on the production equipment and Brian on the stats board. Southlake Carroll. Dallas Cowboys. I really don’t know how many more. 25 or more years they worked together.

I did dozens of remote broadcasts in my 30 years and 2 months at KRLD, and this guy was right beside me on a good many of them. Most of the Christmas is for Caring remotes while I was still at KRLD. (I moved to WBAP in 2010, but when I needed technical help, Ted was usually the one I called. He helped me one time when my broadcast wheels had come off. He was standing in line with his girls – at Disneyland. He always had time.)

This past Sunday Todd called from California. I knew instantly that something awful had happened. “They found Ted in his car at the Ballpark on his way to do the Rangers game. He’s gone.” Todd could hardly finish the sentence.

Ted had died suddenly there in the parking lot. Lynn and I feel like we’ve lost a son. He was only 56. Just a few years older than our boys. He was planning on staying with Todd and Jen next week before Cowboys training camp just as he often had. They welcomed him in like part of the family. Ted always embraced Jen and told her how grateful he was for her concerns about his well-being. They’d both been through some hard times in the past couple of years.

Our son Brian was working the Cowboys versus Washington game on Thanksgiving with Ted. Brian asked my wife Lynn to come with him, to help run errands in the stadium for them.
I was at home watching the game on TV when I got this text from Ted: “She kept asking me what I was doing later. I kept telling her that I HAVE a girlfriend already!”

Ted had a horrible bout with COVID two years ago and we all feared that we were going to lose him back then. If there was any good thing that came from that terrible time, it was that Ted was able to see the outpouring of love and admiration that came from his adoring co-workers, family and friends.

Ted was simply the best at his craft, yet he never would have admitted it. He was humble beyond words. If he’d been in the booth Monday night when the Rangers called for a moment of silence in his memory, he would have put up with that for about half of that moment and then waived the rest off, asking that the game get underway.

Ted worked with Eric Nadel and the Texas Rangers Baseball broadcasts for 30-plus years. He engineered for Brad Sham and his Dallas Cowboys Football broadcasts for more than 20 years. Judging from their wonderful comments this week (professionally far more significant than mine) those guys thought the world of Ted, too.

I’ll close with one of my many Ted stories. It was a Saturday morning about 15 years ago. We were hosting the “Run the Trails” 5-K fund-raiser for The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney in Craig Ranch. We were up on the front porch of the Cooper Center as I did my morning program over KRLD.

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Ted, of course, was right there beside me. The kids had run their 1-mile fun run. Ted had shown Lynn how he operated the radio boards back to the studio. She thought he was just showing her for a lark. Suddenly he asked, “Do you think you could run them for a few minutes?”

When Lynn nodded, “I guess so,” Ted said, “My age bracket runs next.” He yanked off his jacket and headed for the starting line. “Good luck!” he called back over his shoulder. Next time we saw Ted, he was coming in First, hair streaming in behind him.

Photo: One Saturday morning before my broadcasts began…
Neil: “Ted! I just spilled water into my broadcast console. I can’t get on the air.”
Ted in reply: (No message, just this dour photo.)
Then my phone rang. It was Ted: “It’ll be OK when it dries out. Use your cell phone today if you have to.” And a chuckle as he mumbled something about letting horticulturists on the air.

Thanks for letting me include this in e-gardens this week. I really needed to write it. It’s the strangest thing – as I sat down at my office in McKinney to broadcast my program early last Sunday morning, I thought to myself how much I appreciated all of Ted’s help in setting up my equipment.

Ted knew that vertigo was forcing me to stay closer to home, and he had spent hours helping me choose the equipment and getting it all ready for my broadcasts. I still have all those text message instructions.

Sunday I thought about how I needed to text him to tell him “Thanks” once again and to let him know how much I appreciated him. And loved him.

And now miss him.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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