Friday, July 19, 2024

Sam Kouvaris: Still in Action in the Air, on Land and at Sea

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By Devan Stuart LesleyPhotography by Renee Parenteau

For nearly four decades, Sam Kouvaris served Jacksonville’s sports community becoming one of the city’s most recognized faces. That might not have been the case had his original career plans panned out. 

“My earliest memory is wanting to be an astronaut,” says Kouvaris, born in the midst of the great Space Race. “My dad worked on NASA’s Mercury and Apollo programs as a quality control engineer, and I’ve always been fascinated by flying. I told my wife, Linda, ‘I’m going to become a pilot before I’m 50’ and I was able to achieve that.” 

Today, Kouvaris is a multi engine-rated pilot who spends much of his time flying, marveling at the views of the pristine and largely uninhabited areas along the Eastern coastline’s Cumberland Island and its wild ponies are a favorite. Flying is one of the top ways he aims to remain active, sharp-minded and healthy well into his (pseudo) retirement years. 

“TV weathermen are paid to drive ratings. Aviation weathermen are paid to save lives. So when you’re a pilot, you spend a lot of time studying the weather,” he says, noting that studying the Atlantic hurricane paths demands an agile mind. In the days prior to Hurricane Idalia’s recent rampage from Florida’s Big Bend region to the northeastern South Carolina coast, Kouvaris recalls, “I dissected what the storm was going to do based on information from the various aviation and weather sites and I made all the right calls.” 

While flying is a challenge, the hyperfocus required also gives a respite. 

“People say it’s stressful, but I say it’s the exact opposite, “When you’re in the cockpit and you’re sitting in the left seat, flying is the only thing you can think about. You’re totally consumed by it, and I really enjoy that.” 

While his time in the air is a top focus today, it’s his time on the air that made him a household name in Northeast Florida. He delivered sports news from the WJXT-TV desk from 1981-2018, then as a Florida Times-Union columnist until 2021. Yet, a media career wasn’t his goal. Instead, Kouvaris entered college as a pre-med major and, in his second semester, took an introduction to broadcasting class as an easy elective. Impressed with Kouvaris’s natural aptitude the professor suggested he make it a career choice. The rest, as they say, is history. 

After graduation and a bartending stint, Kouvaris headed south with an audition tape and a bit of ambition. After hearing “I like you, but I’ve got a guy” enough times to have made a less determined young upstart throw in the towel, he finally got a yes from WJXT-TV. 

“They hired me at three o’clock and put me on the air at six,” he recalls – an early omen for Kouvaris who would become the longest tenured sports reporter in the city’s history. “So, whenever I speak to groups, I tell people, ‘Look, it’s about persistence. I had been thrown out of 15 television stations, but I just kept going to the next one.’ ”

Sharing his story and doling out advice to students and young journalists keeps him constantly on the go. His 2018 exit from conventional media doesn’t mean he’s done – Not by a long shot. He continues to deliver sports news and commentary online via SAMSPORTSLINE with Sam Kouvaris, a brand of his company, Pegasus Media Productions. And he’s still making major waves in sports. His passionate lobbying efforts helped land Tony Boselli, legendary Jacksonville Jaguars tackle, considered one of the best offensive linemen in NFL history, a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame in 2022. 

“I’ve always joked that I would be one of the busiest retired people I know, because I always have so many hobbies,” he says. “I play golf, I fly the airplane, I ride my bike, I go to the gym. And I really enjoy all of that.”

Kouvaris can still be found in the spotlight from time to time. He’s tried his hand at standup comedy and gets a kick out of surprising friends and fans who don’t yet know that he can play the trumpet or belt out a tune like a pro. He frequently performs in conjunction with fundraising efforts, with big band musicians, or on behalf of groups such as University of North Florida’s music program. 

It’s kind of hard to turn people down when they want you to wear a tuxedo, stand in front of a 16-piece band and sing some Sinatra in front of 1,000 people,” he says. “That’s a pretty good gig.”

He also does consulting work and continues his longtime charitable work. Over the years, he’s helped raise millions of dollars for organizations such as the MS (Multiple Sclerosis) Society and Dreams Come True, which funds the dreams of children with life-threatening illnesses. All the while, he and Linda make keeping in touch and spending time with friends a priority. 

But his greatest accomplishment? “Well, that’s easy: My children and grandchildren,” he says, noting that he and Linda moved to the beaches to be closer to their four grandkids. “We’re so proud that today, all three of our children are flourishing. As Bill Murray says in Lost in Translation, ‘If you’re lucky, they grow up to be the most delightful people you know.’” 

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