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Rooke's voice is hard to miss

You want reality, here's reality, and it's not "Survivor" or any of its spinoffs or rip-offs. Reality TV (and radio) is the domain of John Rooke, a broadcast pro who reacted to the industry trend of "newer, younger, cheaper" by creating his own network of sorts, working all around Southern New England, from Bristol (Conn. and R.I.) to Boston.

"It's called making a living," he said last week of his on-air enterprise that includes doing play-by-play of Boston College football and Providence College basketball, hosting sports talk at ESPN Radio, anchoring occasionally at Channel 56, working for the Patriots in two jobs, and hosting "Coastal News," a new PAX production.

In addition, he's a producer for BCN Productions of Canton, working on specials such as "Golfing Around the World," and is working on an Internet broadcasting endeavor he's been mulling for years.

Of all the running around, he says, "One person's problem is another's opportunity."

That's the attitude Rooke will bring to the WRKO (680 AM) microphone tomorrow night when he and analyst Pete Cronan call BC-Miami football. The 7:45 game also will be aired on ESPN.

Before the season, this was Rooke's take on the Eagles: "A lot of people think this team may be a year away, but I haven't seen depth like this in my five years on the job. They like the idea that they're under people's radar to start the season." If BC (2-1) hadn't stumbled in its opener against an underrated Wake Forest team, the hoopla around tomorrow night's game would be huge.

The next day, Rooke will be back on the job in Foxborough as the Patriots' public address announcer. It's his 11th year on that job. The last game he missed? The "Snow Bowl" playoff two seasons ago, when he was with the Providence basketball team in Miami. "I watched that game from South Beach," he said.

"He beat out a big field to get our P.A. job and certainly has become the voice of the Patriots," said Stacey James, the Patriots' media relations director. "He's got a lot of things going for him. How would you like to have to keep track of his W-2s at tax time?"

Rooke's second Patriots job is hosting "Patriots Football Weekly" on Patriots.com radio along with Fred Kirsch, Bryan Morry, Paul Perillo, and Andy Hart.

Rooke originally wanted to be a newspaper writer. But that changed one night when he was working as an editor and writer on The Daily Texan, the student newspaper at the University of Texas. "Wednesday was my night to lay out the pages," he said. "I got a call from the women's athletic director. She wanted to put a note in the section that they were looking for someone to do play-by-play for the women's basketball team."

Rooke wrote the blurb, then answered the audition call. "Guess who won the tryouts. Me," he said.

Thus Rooke became the first voice of the Lady Longhorns. "Nell Fortner was on that team," he said. "She's now gone on to work as an ESPN analyst, US national team coach, and coach of the WNBA Indiana franchise."

It's indicative of the network of contacts Rooke has built. "Often things change quickly in this business," he said. "It's hard to have all your eggs in one basket."

Indeed, Rooke tried a different basket, taking a brief walk away from sports to work on the staff of former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Almond. "I worked through his re-election campaign in 1999," said Rooke. "They wanted me to stay on full-time, but I wasn't about to give up a 20-year broadcasting career."

He's been around long enough to have hired Providence talk radio host Scott Cordischi, now the afternoon drive voice on WSKO (790 AM). "We all end up hiring our replacements," said Rooke.

Who better to talk about reality?

Playing the heavies

HBO has the heavyweight bout between Chris Byrd and Fres Oquendo live tomorrow night, following the 9:45 p.m. replay of Saturday's Oscar De La Hoya-Shane Mosley fight. Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, and George Foreman are at ringside for the live bout. In addition, HBO is about to re-run its 12-part series on the most memorable fights in the network's 30 years. Starting next week, HBO will run it on Wednesdays at 8 p.m., with HBO2 re-airing each segment Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. First up is the 1981 Sugar Ray Leonard-Tommy Hearns bout. Marvin Hagler vs. Hearns is on for Oct. 15-16, and Hagler-Leonard Oct. 22-23 . . . NHL.com has been video streaming the Maple Leafs' games in The NHL Challenge 2003 from Helsinki and Stockholm this week. The final game will be against 2001 Swedish League champion Farjestad today at approximately 5:30 p.m. (the streaming begins approximately one hour after the game's conclusion) . . . The stakes are high as ESPN's "Dream Job" open auditions continue nationwide. Aspiring sportscasters are competing for a one-year on-air contract, a quest that the folks at ESPN are turning into a prime-time reality series. The Boston stop on the tour is tomorrow (10 a.m.-8 p.m.) at Atlas, 3 Lansdowne St. Call 617-437-0300 for more information. Rules? You have to be at least 21 and have no prior professional experience. Walk-ins are encouraged . . . Craig James, hired as a college football analyst by ESPN this season, has been "called up" by parent club ABC to work the Saturday studio show with John Saunders and Terry Bowden, starting tomorrow . . . ESPN2 has the US-Slovak Republic Davis Cup qualifier, with singles today (2 p.m.), doubles late tomorrow (1:30 a.m.), and second singles late Sunday (1:30 a.m.). ESPN tennis commentator Patrick McEnroe is the US captain.

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