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Canterbury Park Launched P.A.’s Career

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May 5, 2017


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Canterbury Park opens its live horse racing season at 4 p.m. today, and Paul Allen will be back for his 23rd season at the Shakopee track. Those who don’t know Allen may well wonder why the man who is the radio voice of the Vikings and a Monday-Friday talk show host on KFAN is also calling races as track announcer.

It’s pretty simple. Allen, 51, has a passion for racing and is loyal to Canterbury Park owner Randy Sampson.

Back in the 1990s, Allen was living in California and at a “tricky spot” in his career. Sampson had heard Allen via simulcasts call races at Bay Meadows in northern California. Sampson liked what he heard and hired Allen, who was on unemployment during the months when Bay Meadows wasn’t operating.

Allen’s first year in Shakopee was in 1997 and he had no idea Canterbury Park would be a catalyst to his career. He knew he wanted to call races or be in broadcasting. “The chances weren’t really emerging as quickly as I was hoping they would,” Allen told Sports Headliners this week.

During that first summer at Canterbury, KFAN’s program director heard Allen’s voice and was intrigued by it. He asked Allen if his general sports knowledge was savvy. Allen said it was and soon he was doing short updates on KFAN. That work continued into 1998 and by fall an opportunity emerged to host a regular show with Jeff Dubay.

The same fall found Allen hosting a Vikings fan-line show. “I fell in love with the team,” Allen said.

A few years later KFAN and the Vikings were looking for a play-by-play voice. Allen got the job, and in August he starts his 16th year calling games.

Paul Allen

So now you understand the connection to the track. “If I don’t get the job at Canterbury, I don’t work at KFAN,” Allen said. “If I don’t work at KFAN, I don’t work with the Vikings.”

Allen raves about Canterbury, a clean and family-friendly track offering not only racing but live music and promotions galore. Racetracks in various parts of the country have struggled or even called it quits, but Canterbury is an industry success story that Allen is proud to be part of.

Allen said that each year when racing season begins, his “excitement is off the charts.” Part of the anticipation is the racing but a lot of it is relationships with people he has known for years, including Sampson and track publicist Jeff Maday who he has worked with for 23 years.

When Allen was a young teen growing up outside of Washington, D.C. he lived in an apartment with his single mom who worked as a waitress. The apartment was so close to a racetrack that Allen could see it from his deck. His mom took Allen and friends to the track. The whole experience of racing prompted him to bond with a sport that while declining in popularity even in 1979, still is the “Sport of Kings” to many.

By 1985 Allen was living in southern California and attending classes at Pasadena City College. He hosted a campus radio show, did publicity work for the basketball team and was editor of the school newspaper. He also interned at the Pasadena Star where after college he got a job covering both racing and prep sports.

Allen enjoyed betting the ponies and he became distracted from his newspaper duties, including showing up late for work at the Star. The paper terminated him. “Honestly, I deserved to get fired,” he said.

Allen was out of work for three or four months. Then he heard about an opening calling races at Bay Meadows. There were three finalists for the job and Allen told the track management he would take the position for even less money than they were offering.

Now days with his compensation from the morning radio show, Vikings broadcasts and the track announcing, Allen’s total annual earnings are well into six-figures, but money has never come first for him. In his early years at KFAN, for example, he made annual salaries of $27,000, $29,000 and $31,000. He prides himself on giving his employers “more than they expect.”

Allen is that competitive and he wants to deliver for his bosses. On the air, or behind the microphone at Canterbury, he is energetic, confident and sometimes loud. The passion for his work is always there and if he makes a mistake he is ready to move on.

“I don’t let it get me down,” Allen said. “If I make a mistake, I make sure that it’s gone from the time I call the next play, or I call the next race, or I do the next segment.”

Allen’s intellect and knowledge commands attention from listeners, and so does his sometimes flamboyant style, but he insists all of it is who he is. Yet away from work, he is a different guy, whether spending time with family, friends or by himself.

“You develop multiple personalities. When I am away from the Vikings and KFAN or Canterbury, I am a lot more introverted than people would think,” Allen said. “I am a lot more quiet.

“I don’t like being in places that are loud. I don’t like being in large groups where people feel because of what I do, I have to be that personality—when I am not that personality. I am much more withdrawn and subdued than anybody would ever think, and those closest to me know exactly what I am talking about.

“However, when it’s time to flip on that microphone, what comes out of me is who I am on the other side. God blessed me with a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy and dedication to making those (who pay me)…a lot of money. I am a company guy through and through, always have been.”

Important, too, are the relationships and friends he has made, including those who sometimes told him things he needed to hear. “There have been people along the line of my career who have cared about me and have not been afraid to tell me what they truly think about who they felt I was becoming,” Allen said. “In the early stages of my career it was Dark Star and Chad Hartman. In the middle stages of my career it was Tom West, media relations guy for the Minnesota Vikings.

“(In) the later stages of my career, now it’s one of my best friends, and a man I just love so much more than anybody will ever know, former Viking safety Corey Chavous. Corey and I are very close on a personal level. Corey has a way of straightening me out that nobody has ever had.”

Allen’s many friends also include 49ers offensive lineman Brandon Fusco, Wild goalie Alex Stalock, Vikings trainer Eric Sugarman, and NFL coaches Norv and Scott Turner. They have a race horse ownership group that also includes Canterbury Hall of Fame trainer Mac Robertson. The group bought Skol Sister as a yearling in 2016 and she will run this season at Canterbury Park.

Skol Sister will add to the fun of another year at Canterbury, a place that Allen intends to stay at as long as Sampson is around. “We kind of have a handshake that I am not going to step away from Canterbury until he no longer runs the track,” Allen said. “We’ve had that handshake for about five years. The racetrack still keeps me attached to my childhood, and my dedication to my late mom.”

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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