CHEERS SCRIPTWRITER KEN LEVINE can imagine what psychiatrist Frasier Crane, his favorite character on the series, would say about his new summer job. “It’s one of the rare instances,” Levine intones, à la Crane, “when somebody can act out his fantasies without having the vice squad coming to investigate.”
Every time Levine slides behind a WBAL radio mike, he’s doing exactly that—fulfilling a dream he’s had since he was a young Dodger fan growing up in California’s San Fernando Valley, falling asleep at night with a transistor radio glued to his ear. Last December, Levine, the coauthor of 28 Cheers scripts, beat out more than 100 other aspirants to land a one-year contract to do play-by-play for the Baltimore Orioles games, teaming with principal announcer—and baseball wit—Jon Miller. Observes Miller: “I think he has a very friendly quality which says, ‘Hey, I’m just a regular guy.’ ”
“My goal is to put the listener in the ballpark so he can almost smell the hot dogs,” says Levine, who is returning to his roots. After graduating from UCLA in 1972, he worked as a disc jockey before turning to comedy writing. He and collaborator David Isaacs scored with The Jeffersons and M*A*S*H. Then came Cheers.
But Levine missed the roar of the locker room, the smell of the crowd. A few years ago he began skipping out on wife Debby, son Matthew, now 8, and daughter Diana, 5, to sit in the upper deck of Dodger Stadium and practice his own play-by-play into a tape recorder. In 1988 the minor-league Syracuse Chiefs heard his tapes and hired him. After three summers in the minors, he made it to the bigs.
On radio Levine misses the live audience feedback he gets at Cheers tapings—he is now working on four scripts for the new season—and his occasional hyperbole can go unchecked. After a recent home run by Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr., for instance, Levine exclaimed, “I have goose bumps the size of walnuts. Wow!” But he remains unapologetic. “I really did have goose bumps,” he says. Truth is, he gets them just showing up at the ballpark.