Resuscitation of the Ocala Quarterback Club, a possible second book with Steve Spurrier and new ‘Our Town’ show on Facebook Live are latest projects for this veteran journalist and best-selling author.
When the University of Florida football team opens its season next month, Ocala’s Buddy Martin will be there in the press box again, covering the gridiron action like he’s been doing since his college days there more than 50 years ago.
He hasn’t been there for every game or even every season, but during his long career as a journalist and college football observer he estimated that he’s written somewhere between 1.5 million to 2 million words about the Gators. A New York Times bestselling author, five of the eight books he’s written have been about the Gators.
His most recent book, “Head Ball Coach: My Life in Football,” written with former Florida coach Steve Spurrier, comes out in paperback this month, a year after its initial release. And he and Spurrier are already planning their next book about the importance of youth sports and working together as a team.
Martin started his career at the Ocala Star Banner, where both is father and grandfather had also worked, and went on to work at The St. Petersburg Times, Florida Today, Charlotte Sun, The Denver Post, New York Daily News and CBS Sports. He’s won more than 200 awards, including an Emmy as an associate producer for “The NFL Today” on CBS and covered major sporting events like the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Championship, Olympics, Masters, U.S. Open and college football title game.
These days Martin is host of his own sports talk radio show “The Buddy Martin Show,” heard locally from 6 to 7 p.m. on WMOP and WGGG, and regionally on Florida Sports Talk and the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. Martin is a pioneer of sports talk radio. As founding co-owner of Florida Sports Talk, he started the “Buddy Martin in the Morning” sports show back in 1996. His current show, which debuted in October 2016, is also broadcast via Facebook Live, attracting sports fans from around the globe. Regular guests on his show include Spurrier, Terry Bradshaw and Urban Meyer. He’s written books with all three.
Locals of course remember Martin’s “Voice of Ocala” radio show, a three-hour show covering Marion County news, local issues and local guests that ran more than five years from 2011 to 2016. He recently launched a similar show “Our Town with Buddy Martin” on Facebook Live.
A third-generation Floridian, Martin was born and raised in Ocala and graduated from Ocala High School. He’s always loved sports, having played in Ocala’s very first Little League game. He saw his first UF football game when he was in the seventh grade.
“I fell in love with that subject and that’s the track that led me towards becoming a sports writer and covering Florida football,” he said. “It was love at first sight.”
The writer’s first published work was a poem about Election Day that he penned in the sixth grade. His teacher, Miss May, submitted it to the Star Banner for publication. In seventh grade he began writing for the Junior Wildcat, his junior high newspaper.
As a student at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism, he began writing sports for the student newspaper “The Alligator.”
“I always had an affinity for football and sports. I found out that I could write so I started writing sports and it just all fell in,” said Martin, who lettered in baseball as a freshman at UF. “I gravitated to sports because I wanted to be around that culture. When I discovered I could go to games and cover them and get paid for it, that was amazing! It was kind of an epiphany for me.”
In college, he got his first professional job as a journalist working as interim sports editor at the Banner. He was only 20. After that gig was up he returned to UF and worked part-time for The Alligator and The Gainesville Sun as a sports writer. About a year later he was offered the fulltime job as sports editor at the Star Banner. By this time he had married Joan Sharp, a lovely coed he met at UF, and their first child was on the way. The offer of a full time job at his hometown newspaper and a doubled salary was one he could not refuse.
Martin expanded sports coverage at the newspaper and began writing his first column. In covering the Ocala Quarterback Club, Martin got to meet and interview nationally-known sports figures and sports writers who were guest speakers at the club.
One of those sports writers was Fred Russell, sports editor, columnist and vice president of the Nashville Banner. He recalls their meeting over a drink at the Brahma restaurant in Ocala. He asked Martin two questions – Do you write a column? Do you cover the games at Florida? Russell advised that he should be doing both and Martin took that advice to heart.
Russell wrote an inspiring message in his book “Bury Me In An Old Press Box” that he signed for Martin. “It said ‘To one of the brightest sports writers in the South.’ That just lit me up! And it taught me a lesson about encouraging young people. I did that for the rest of my career. I found out how much those words mean to people.”
To expand sports coverage at the Star Banner, he had to expand his staff. From a classified ad came the talented crew of Van McKenzie, Jay McKenzie, Jim Waldron and Jim Huber – all young guys making their start who would go on to big careers in journalism.
“They had fun, worked hard and learned a lot. We were committed – 75 hours was nothing, and not a nickel of over time,” he recalled. “It still gives me great joy to think about those young people coming in there and seeing them get excited about the business, watching them grow and go on to better jobs.”
Martin moved on, helping to launch Florida Today – a precursor of USA Today in 1966 and also working at The St. Petersburg Times before seeing his dream come true of working in New York City.
“I got offered a job in New York before my 40th birthday to be sports editor of the largest paper in America at the time,” he said of the New York Daily News. “That was a boyhood dream of a boy from Ocala to go to New York City and be a sports editor at one of the papers. And there I was.”
Subsequently Van McKenzie followed him to each newspaper before blossoming into a nationally known editor and designer. In the third year at the Daily News, he and Van McKenzie hired an all-star cast for an afternoon edition, “Daily News Tonight.” Unfortunately that edition of the newspaper folded and 17 talented staffers were laid off.
Next, Martin moved out West to work for the Denver Post. It was there on a radio show in Denver that he met football great Terry Bradshaw, who is today one of his closest friends. The two first collaborated on a book “Looking Deep,” before working together on “The NFL Today” show for which Martin was awarded an Emmy.
Bradshaw had just started working on “The NFL Today” and Martin had just seen the movie “Broadcast News,” which piqued his interest in the Albert Brooks role of associate producer.
“I called Terry and said I want to come and work with you. He said ‘Great, call this guy and we’ll work something out.’ I did and we ended up working together for three years. And that little trophy over there,” he said pointing to the Emmy statue in his living room, “that’s where it came from.”
Martin also guided a news team at the Charlotte Sun in South Florida and the paper was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Hurricane Charley in 2004.
He’s been back in Ocala now for almost 10 years. But he’s too busy for retirement. He helped launch a successful grassroots effort to save the historic Marion Theatre in Downtown Ocala about six years ago. The theater is now considered an important part of downtown revitalization efforts.
His next community cause is helping revive interest in the Ocala Quarterback Club, something he discusses every day on his radio show. Mike McGinnis, Wes Wheeler, Howie Rohrbacher and Steve Lee have scheduled a membership drive rally in August at CenterState Bank which will include recognition of three living charter members. The club was huge back in the day with more than 200 or so members and national sports figures like Rocky Marciano and Red Grange as guest speakers.
“This is part of the culture that I want to help bring back and pass along to the next generation,” Martin said. “For 11 to 12 weeks out of the year we’ll do social things built around football. It’s not a civic club. Not a church. No political ties. Just a social club doing good for people and things in our community.”
For now he’d be happy to see the club survive with membership growing to around 150. But he thinks it has great potential. “If there is a will here and the right people get involved, we can do good things using sports as our vehicle.”
In the future, Martin and his wife Joni may downsize to his childhood home, a two-bedroom house located off Fort King Street near Downtown. The couple has been married for 56 years and have three children and four grandchildren.
In the second bedroom of the home, Martin’s dad used to build radios and talk on ham radios during World War II. He says that room could be a great home office where he could write books and columns and maybe even broadcast a radio show.
“That’s just a picture in my mind,” he said. “Why not? That’s where I deserve to wind up. We’ll finish it up right there. My wife and I watching the birds, loving our grandchildren, living happily ever after.”
Until the next community cause or book deal comes up.
Courtesy of Best Version Media