Bill Doleman sits at his desk.
Bill Doleman sits in his office.

Fairbury, Nebraska. Population: 3,904. 

It’s home to the hot dog brand that bears the town’s name and Olympic broadcaster Bill Doleman. 

Doleman has done it all throughout his 30-year career. He has broadcasted more than 30 different sports, many during the Olympics with NBC Sports. Doleman has done play-by-play, sports talk, studio shows and even voice acting. He epitomizes the flexibility and skill set needed by the modern sports broadcaster.

When Doleman grew up in Fairbury during the ‘70s, the town boasted more than 5,000 residents. 

“It’s the cliche everybody knows everybody,” Doleman said. “In the summer you left at 9 a.m. and got home at 9 p.m.. You rode your bikes all over town, hung out at your friends’ houses and played baseball in the summer.”

The school year offered Doleman the opportunity to try as many things as possible. That’s a theme that permeated the rest of his life and broadcasting career.

“You did your classes and then participated in every sport that you could,” Doleman said. “Man, it’s the kind of thing that kids in big cities don’t necessarily get to experience. You get to take part in everything because the opportunity is there, so why not give it a shot?”

He took full advantage of his high school options. Doleman played, in his words, “mediocre” football, “above-average” basketball and “reasonably-okay” Legion baseball in the summer. Those weren’t his only sports influences. 

Doleman grew up without a father. In 1969, his dad passed away when he was 3 years old. 

“My mom understood the importance of having a male influence in my life, and as it turned out, many male influences in my life,” Doleman said. “One of them just so happened to be around a small college football and basketball team in Crete.”

When he was approximately 10 years old, Doleman served as the ball boy for Doane football. The university’s head football coach was a friend of the family. So each Friday during the season, Doleman and his mother made the hour-long drive to Crete.

There they stayed with friends who owned the town flower shop. Saturday meant games against Midland, Nebraska Wesleyan or Hastings. Be it home or road, Doleman was there.

“Our friends were friends of the football coach as well,” Doleman said. “They’d use the Crete Floral van to drive the equipment to the games. So you’d have this Doane College bus, followed by a flower shop van, and I’d be sitting in the back on the equipment with my friend.”

Through every one of Doleman’s sporting experiences, he did play-by-play in his head. His fascination with broadcasting began with the 1972 Olympics in Munich. 

It was foreshadowing in some respect.

“Understanding like, ‘Wow, this is a really cool thing and I can watch this,’” Doleman said. “But also, that was the tragedy with the Israeli athletes being kidnapped and killed. Getting that information from these people on television, Jim McCay, Peter Jennings and Howard Cosell, and understanding the gravity at that age and the ability for television to bring the world into my living room had an impact.”

Doleman graduated from the University of Nebraska’s College of Journalism. Rick Alloway served as the school’s broadcasting professor and Doleman was one of his first students.

“When you look up at the people in the class and listen to their work, you just thought, ‘Well, this guy is going to go somewhere,’” Alloway said. “He’s got the skills. He had the voice and he had the preparation skills.”

Doleman said play-by-play remained a passion, but he eyed athletic administration as a more realistic option. Nebraska’s sports information office provided Doleman the perfect place to refine his skills. Additionally, he made friends with broadcast industry professionals through his work such as those at Nebraska ETV.

That led to opportunity. 

In February of Doleman’s senior semester, the outlet sent a request for a demo tape. Nebraska ETV was set to broadcast a Nebraska baseball game in April and after some initial hesitancy,, Doleman said he agreed to record an audition. He called two archived baseball games on a six-inch monitor in a closet at the Nebraska ETV studio.

It was all quiet for a time. Then Doleman went on spring break to Daytona Beach in 1989 and received a call via payphone. 

 “They said, ‘Okay, here’s the deal. Adrian Fiala (who was the NETV color analyst) wants to do play-by-play as well. So we’re going to give you three innings and have him do the middle three,’” Doleman said.  “Now, word for word they said, ‘If you suck, we’ll just have Adrian finish out the game and hope you had fun. If you do okay, we’ll probably bring you back for 7-8-9.”

April 9, 1989 marked Doleman’s first professional broadcast. He closed out the final three innings in the play-by-play role. Doleman formed a long-standing relationship with Nebraska ETV from then on. He stuck around in the Lincoln area for the first few years out of college as a result.

Doleman continued to work with Nebraska ETV, what later became Nebraska Public Media, and called volleyball in the early stages of its rise to prominence in the state. He also broadcasted track and field, swim and dive, wrestling and gymnastics. Because of his time working in the sports information office at Nebraska, Doleman said he had a passion for all of those sports.

Doleman was primarily a freelancer apart from his work in the Cornhusker state. That’s part of why he was such an attractive guest speaker in Alloway’s sports broadcasting classes. 

“His career mode was different than a lot of other people who had full-time gigs,” Alloway said. “I valued the fact that he was very forthcoming with the students in the class every year about what it’s like to have the life of a freelancer.”

Perhaps Alloway’s favorite Doleman lesson featured an extremely detailed breakdown of his yearly budget.

“He would start with the early part of the year which was when he was making pretty good money because of Nebraska volleyball and Nebraska Public Media and stuff along that line,” Alloway said. “There were months where he was making $4,000 or $5,000 a month.”

Alloway said there were plenty of students who were amazed by those numbers, but then Doleman would talk about handling months with no income. Bills, groceries and tithes to the church don’t stop because the work does.

“He was very good about a lesson on budgeting, personal discipline and how that was working when you did freelance work,” Alloway said. “Because, you didn’t really have the security of knowing that you had a stable paycheck coming in the next month.”

Doleman made plenty of longer-term stops in between freelancing stints. He worked as an anchor and studio host at the Mountain West Network which was one of the first “conference” sports channels that paved the way for the Big Ten Network. Later, Doleman played a similar role at CSN Houston where he covered the Rockets, Astros and other Houston sports.

In December of 2015, Doleman got a call from NBC.

“I had some connections there and they referred me to somebody who needed a ski jumping show,” he said. “Next thing you know, ski jumping led to curling, led to some other sport and eventually the opportunity to work the Olympics in 2016.”

Doleman’s dedication to diversifying his broadcasting palette paid off.

“Nebraska ETV and Nebraska sports information set the foundation for the passion for all the other sports that are out there,” Doleman said. “Then you learn how to prepare for it.”

Doleman’s experience has featured broadcasts of archery, taekwondo, an emergency judo appearance he often jokes about and approximately 15 other different sports across four Olympics with NBC.

Passion and chance brought Doleman back home.

In the summer of 2022, Nebraska’s college of journalism had an unexpected faculty departure. The institution’s dean, Shari Veil, was at a conference in Denver when she heard the news. It just so happened that Veil already had a lunch planned with Doleman. 

The two had met a year prior in a meeting orchestrated by Alloway where they discussed the prospects of Doleman teaching. Veil offered him a lecturer position which is a shorter term commitment and goes through a different hiring process than tenure track.

“This was an opportunity for him to test out whether or not he liked teaching and us to test out whether or not we liked him teaching,” Veil said. 

Doleman fit the bill for Veil’s experience-driven college.

“He’s worked through a number of different media organizations,” Veil said. “Covering the Olympics, being able to shift from one sport he knows really well to one he knows nothing about and still being able to speak intelligently. Everything that he’s done is really, really key to bring to our students.”

This newest experience of teaching has shown Doleman the value of his career and the relationships he’s made along the way. The power of relationships is something he hopes to impart on his students and is why he wants his teaching environments to be more like cafeterias than classrooms.

“The relationships that I made meant a lot to me,” Doleman said. “I hope the students understand that the relationships they make will mean a lot to them over the years. Realizing that life’s better when you get to work with friends.”

Doleman has yet to spend a full year as a professor, but Veil said he’s already a good match. He works well in one-on-ones with students and doesn’t hide the work it takes to succeed in the profession according to Veil. Whether it’s getting up early for a morning game or traveling six hours for an event, Veil said sports are often so romanticized that parts of the job get left out.

“Bill helps engage students in the backside of that,” Veil said. “Being very upfront about, this is what the industry is. There’s no setting out roses of this is going to be this magical thing. It’s very straightforward.”

For Doleman’s part, it comes back to hard work and the values he learned in Fairbury all those years ago.

“If you don’t love your job, it’s hard work,” Doleman said. “If you love your job, you love working hard. I’ve come to the realization that I’ve loved to work hard at what I’ve done. The fruits of it are the relationships I’ve been able to make and the experiences that I’ve been able to have.”