Anchoring or reporting the sports or participating in the broadcast of a live sporting event—as a performer or on the technical side—can be immensely satisfying.
But no position in sportscasting brings a non-participant closer to the action than that of the play-by-play announcer. He or she is overlooking the arena or the field, vividly describing all that goes into an unscripted passion play as it happens. As they do this they are in direct, immediate contact with the people most interested in the outcome of the proceedings, the fans.
Baseball Hall-of-Famer Vin Scully, in his 65th consecutive year as the play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, sums up the credentials of a good play-by-play announcer as"basically accuracy, preparation, information, and entertainment all wrapped up into one."
Mike Breen is ABC's play-by-play announcer for the NBA Finals. He also broadcasts NBA playoff and regular season games on ESPN as well as the New York Knicks on MSG. "I think if you asked the viewer who's watching at home, 'this guy who's calling the game, does he sound excited, does he sound enthusiastic, does he sound informed and prepared, and does he make me wish I was at that game sitting alongside him?' If you can accomplish those goals, I think that's a good play-by-play announcer."
Like all artists, play-by-play announcers prepare and perform in their own unique styles. A certain amount of that is dictated by the medium in which they are performing and the sport they are covering. That said, many issues concerning performance and preparation for play-by-play announcers are consistent across the board, no matter what.
Jim Nantz has been a broadcaster for CBS sports since 1985 and has covered, among other sports, the Masters, NFL football, and NCAA basketball. He says: "It always gets back to preparation, because we're storytellers above all. We're there to observe and tell people what we see and then combine that with information in the hopes that you have something fresh and unique."
Play-by-play announcers who feel they can simply "open their mike and broadcast the game," are doing a disservice to the fans and the broadcast itself. Good preparation adds depth and breadth to any broadcast. How best to "do your homework" for the game and the resources available is detailed in Chapter 3.
As you gather this information, pertinent facts are normally arranged in the announcer's personal style, perhaps using some sort of chart, card, or fiipcards that can be referred to during the event. While some in the business hand-write a new chart
Jim Nantz, courtesy of CBS/John Rio
for each game, many have taken to using a computer program of their choice. Using some sort of electronic spreadsheet or software saves time, particularly when covering the same team where much of the basic information changes little from game-to-game.
Once you build your charts, the first thing to consider is becoming familiar with player identification. Number memorization is mandatory in hockey and soccer. In football, it's important to at least know the numbers of the skill position players while perhaps relying on a spotter for tackling and blocking identification. Baseball's slower pace makes number memorization a little less important, although your chart needs to help identify players in position on the field. In basketball, number memorization helps, although it may not be mandatory given that players may be more readily identifiable through their physical characteristics.
While charts do vary from individual to individual and from sport to sport, each will have a number of things in common:
Complete rosters with numbers and correct name pronunciations General individual team information
Certain statistics and other facts that could be used during the broadcast
Understand the operative word here, could be used. The fact of the matter is, most of the information you prepare for a game will not be used. Judiciously using your material will be discussed later in the chapter.
There's no correct way to write out or arrange this information on your chart. Laying it out vertically or horizontally with the use of various font styles and colors will be a matter of personal choice. But chances are, given the limited room, the information you obtain may have to be abbreviated or written in such a way that perhaps only you will understand it. Getting ideas or taking a look at the charts of other, more experienced announcers is always helpful. Still, expect your chart to continue to evolve as you find out what works and what doesn't.
"Hi everybody and a very pleasant good afternoon to you, wherever you may be. .
That is the signature line that calls all of southern California to attention. The line belongs to Los Angeles Dodgers' play-by-play voice Vin Scully, acknowledged by most as the greatest play-by-play announcer ever. Not just in the history of baseball where he's made his greatest impact, but in the history of the business.
At the top of Scully's stunning résumé is his longevity. In August 2013, he announced he would return in 2014 for his 65th consecutive season with the ball club. When he started with the then Brooklyn
Vin Scully, courtesy of Fox Sports West
Dodgers in 1950, gasoline cost 27 cents a gallon, a postage stamp was just three cents, and the minimum wage was only 75 cents per hour.
Scully is a member of a number of Halls of Fame, including his 1982 induction into the Broadcaster's wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the Ford C. Frick Award recipient. In 2001, the press box at Dodger Stadium was named in his honor. In 2005, the book Voices of Summer by Curt Smith named him baseball's all-time best broadcaster based on "longevity, continuity, network coverage, kudos, language, popularity, persona, voice knowledge and miscellany." In 2009, the American Sportscasters Association selected Scully as the Top Sportscaster of All-Time.
PLAY-BY-PLAY AND ANALYST
Scully was interviewed on August 27, 2013, just a row from his usual spot, behind home plate, in the Dodger Stadium press box.
Q: Are you still learning?
A: Oh absolutely. There are things that you take for granted and then suddenly you can't reach for it and get it when you need it. That always pops up. Also in baseball—and that's the only sport I do now—there's plenty of time to hang yourself [laughing]. So, you have to be very careful. It's a high-wire act at all times so you try very hard to be careful.
Q: Do you have to like that element, being on a high-wire without a net?
A: I would think so. I think you have to enjoy the challenge. And of course, I love baseball, I love the game itself and I assume anyone who's heading in that direction has the same feeling. I don't know how you can do nine innings in three hours and dislike what you're looking at.
Q: What is it about broadcasting that you still love?
A: Part of it is the roar of the crowd. The roar of the crowd excited me when I was eight years old, crawling under a big four-legged radio and I would hear the roar of the crowd and I would get goose bumps and I would wish that I were there. A Tennessee–Alabama football game and there's a kid in New York City listening to it because of the roar. I think the crowd more than anything gives me a lift. There are days, naturally, when you come to the ballpark and maybe you'd rather be home doing something else. But once that crowd begins, it just seems to lift me up and away we go.
An integral part of doing your homework is also knowing the rules. This is a fluid process, meaning that it's something you'll always be doing because there are many rules and they are always changing. Here's how to learn the rules and keep up with them all season long:
Obtain a rulebook from a team or the league (printed or online) Seek out other support materials
Talk to game officials and league supervisors
Keep the rulebook with you
Bookmark certain rules for easy reference
If you don't know the rule, just ask!
Of course, actually calling the action is the real joy. Put it in the context of an opera, where the play-by-play announcer is certainly performing and in a way, singing. The song does not contain musical notes per Se, but there is a rhythm to it. And like opera, there are acts, plot lines, a climax, and a denouement.
As characters and plotlines are developed in the game, the play-by-play announcer conveys the importance and emotion of it all. This is done with some of the same individual styling, phrasing, and passion of the opera singer; sometimes solo and other times with accompaniment. Play-by-play broadcasters are said to announce with a certain cadence, that is with a certain tempo or pulse to their delivery. This cadence is a by-product of an announcer's personal style, the sport that's being broadcast, and the medium on which the event is being broadcast.
Personal style is developed in at least two ways, as discussed in Chapter 5:
"Going to the driving range" begets style development through repetition, which can be as easy as going to a sporting event and doing play-by-play into a digital recorder
"You are a river" is when you visualize yourself being "fed" or influenced by announcers you admire and other external factors
As your play-by-play conveys the ebb and flow of the action, "it's important for sportscasters to use 'projection' as opposed to a louder 'volume," as broadcast voice specialist Ann Utterback explained earlier. She says "projecting is important when stressing the emotion of the moment or the intensity of the action." Changes in your cadence will also occur in these situations as well.
The differences between the play-by-play description on the radio versus television is inherent. In radio, the announcer is virtually the entire show. In television, you are a central part of the show, but apart nonetheless.
"Naturally on radio, you paint the full canvas," says the Scully. "As far as television is concerned, it's already there—you put captions to the pictures. So I think it's totally different."
PLAY-BY-PLAY AND ANALYST
Radio play-by-play announcers are effectively their own producers and directors. While there is a specific format indicating when certain announcements are to be made or commercial breaks played, the radio announcer pretty much lords over the content. He or she alone decides what's important along with when and how to convey the information. But whatever conveyance is being made, from describing the action to relating the look in the eyes of an angry coach, it must be done in such a way that the listener at home can visualize the situation as if they were seeing it themselves. That means the radio play-by-play person must always remember:
that the listener cannot see, making detail critical
vivid descriptions such as left side, right side, near side, and far side
specific indicators and locations that are intrinsic to the individual sport, such as in the lane, at the blue line, at midfield, and deep to left field
other basics like what is happening, who is initiating the action, and the consequences of the play
brief re-descriptions of the important plays
that your voice is everything
Announcers will often forget that radio listeners (and television viewers) tune in and out all the time. Because of that, they often don't remember to give the most essential piece of information often enough: the score! in basketball and hockey it's time and score. In football it's down and distance along with time and score. And in baseball it's the count, the base running situation, and inning andscore. Baseball announcer Red Barber, whose Major League career spanned three teams and four decades, would be reminded to give the score whenever his three-minute egg-timer ran out.
Television play-by-play announcers often don't require an egg-timer. Normally a score bug displayed on the screen provides time or inning and score throughout the game. This is, in microcosm, illustrative of the TV play-by-play announcer's mandate. Unlike his radio counterpart, who must always remember that the listener can't see anything, the TV play-by-play person must always keep in mind that the viewer can see almost everything! Thus, one of the biggest issues for television play-by-play announcers is "what can I do to enhance what people can already see?"
Mike Breen of ABC, ESPN, and the New York Knicks says in terms of career development, it's best to transition from radio to TV and not the other way around.
"I think radio to TV is easier than TV to radio," says Breen, who was the radio voice of the New York Knicks before becoming their lead television voice as well. "The key to moving from radio to TV is to simply talk less, to be much more concise and also to make sure the analyst takes a much stronger role, realizing it's more important to explain why as opposed to what. It's also important to supply more background and personal information [on players and coaches]. Radio is very nuts and bolts—you're just the eyes, it's what's happening, what's the score, what's the time. With TV you can get involved with much more and that's why having the ability to work with an analyst on TV is so much more important."
Calling the action on television does not require the rapid-fire, ultra-description of radio. Instead, TV play-by-play needs to be a step removed. It's OK to allow the game and its sounds to simply "come through" the telecast, especially when the action might be deemed inconsequential: in baseball between pitches; in basketball while a team is slowly dribbling the ball up the court; in soccer during a build-up at midfield. When the play is more consequential, then the TV play-by-play announcer can hone in and be more descriptive.
The late sportscaster Ray Scott was one of the early advocates of a minimalist style for television. Sportscasting historian John Lewis once described Scott's style this way:
"Stan. . . to Dowler... Touchdown" was a call Green Bay Packer fans heard Scott say many times during their dynasty. The three word description poignantly defined Ray Scott's style; simple but oh so effective. He believed in minimizing chatter, and choosing words carefully, allowing the action to speak for itself. The result was powerful. With Scott, the game breathed. His reverent, commanding tones embodied the National Football League. Former Green Bay sportswriter Lee Remmel described his voice saying, "Everything he said sounded like it was chiseled in stone." Mary Albert, a young voice of New York Sports when Scott was at his height, recalled being moved by Scott's work. From his autobiography I'd Love to but IHave a Game, Albert said, "He had a spare, simple elegance that still held tingles.'
Descriptions on radio or television will often lend themselves to an individual announcer's unique phrases. When a team was having great success in a game, the late Red Barber would say that club is "Sittin' in the catbird seat." Mary Albert's "downtown" has become synonymous with basketball's three-point shot. Hockey's Mike Emrick uses
PLAY-BY-PLAY AND ANALYST
a liberal sprinkling of metaphors, highlighting a frenetic sport's finer points. That said, Emrick's TV call, like that of most hockey announcers, is a little more descriptive given the nature of the game (small puck and many hard to discern players going in and out of the game).
"Occasionally people have asked 'where does that particular phrase come from?' and I cannot say," says Emrick, who has announced both the Stanley Cup Finals as well as the Olympics. "I don't conspire to use a certain word to describe an event, it's just the translation of what I see with my eyes into whatever words I have. It helps probably to have more verbs than adverbs and things like that at your command so you can mix it up a little bit. When I was first starting to do this, one of the IHL [International Hockey League] announcers said "if you can come up with different ways to say the same thing, that will help an awful lot." That's because if you use the same word to describe the same action, well, how many times does the puck get dumped in from center ice? If you use "dumped" every time you're going to drive people nuts."
Emrick's style of unique phrasing helps to meet the mandate of augmenting what the viewer can already see. This also goes for other visuals on a telecast such as graphics. As we detailed in Chapter 4, ad-libbing to enhance what is already visible to the viewer is often the preferred style. One notable exception is when reading a graphic containing someone's quote. In that case, the viewer is reading too so it generally helps to read along. But for example, if there's a graphic showing how a football player averaged 3.4 yards per carry his first year, 4.1 yards his second season, and 4.6 yards his third, all you have to add is simply: "He's improved his yards per carry every year he's been in the league."
Speaking of numbers, allow the graphics to handle some of the more minute details such as decimal points. Instead of saying "he's averaging 15.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game" round it off to say "he's averaging just under 16 points and just over nine rebounds per game." It's a little easier for the viewer or listener to grasp.
In fact, that is always the case. That is, people tune in and out of a broadcast all the time. Play-by-play announcers need to be especially mindful of this. Even if it ruffles the feathers of those who've been with you since the first pitch or kickoff, feel free to repeat at occasional intervals the main storylines of the game, including a quick synopsis of what has happened in the contest to that point and a repeat of the overarching storyline
(i.e., a fight for first place, a grudge match against a long-time rival, etc.). To avoid feeling like you're repeating yourself (and annoying those who've been with you the entire broadcast), feel free to preface your recap with a phrase such as "if you're just joining us," but often that's not necessary.
In order to avoid using clichés, sportscasters should:
Look themselves in the mirror Circle the wagons
Imitate the Bob Costas of the world Give 110 percent
For play-by-play announcers, analysts, anchors, reporters and hosts alike, staying away from clichés—you'll pardon the expression—is easier said than done. Bob Costas, who has done play-by-play and hosted for NBC Sports since the early 1980s, says you hope you have enough facility with the language that you don't have to rely on them.
"Even the best broadcasters will occasionally use phrases which could be called clichés," says Costas, who is into his fifth decade as a sportscaster, most of it at the network level. "There are only so many ways to describe a ground ball to second base or a jump shot. But what you hope is that you don't think in clichés, that you're not offering the same, standard take on everything. Better to say this happens 'rarely' than to say 'this happens once in a blue moon."
Let's get back to our opera metaphor for a second. Often a sporting event has storylines similar to that of an opera or, for that matter, any dramatic play. And while that first inning three-run home run or those three touchdowns in the second quarter might often be the difference in winning, the real drama will often occur late in the game. That brings up an important concept for the play-by-play announcer to bear in mind. While you will certainly want to show excitement and emotion when describing that bicycle kick goal or that alley-oop slam dunk, you have to consider when this play occurs. If it comes relatively early in the contest, make sure you keep that very thing in mind. In other words, always keep "something in reserve" so that if there is a game-turning or game-winning play late in a game, you are ready to signify—with your call—that this is the most important moment of the contest.
PLAY-BY-PLAY AND ANALYST
When it comes to making that big call, let it be spontaneous. Scripting or planning a call takes away the human element, the real excitement, the spontaneity of it all. Relax, relate, concentrate. . . and make the call! You'll be the better for it.
Most big or game-winning moments on television are often followed by the play-by-play announcer "laying out" and not saying anything. This allows the director and producer to expound on the event with a live video and audio montage of celebration and/ or dejection featuring players, coaches, and fans. In this case, the sheer sensation of the moment is conveyed best in just pictures and sounds. Words would only get in the way. On radio, it's not a bad thing to consider a similar practice, with a layout and a "crowd swell" after a big play. "They are on their feet here at the stadium after that three-run walk off home run by John Smith . . ." after a five- to eight-second pause might work well, really allowing the listener to feel the moment.
After you make the call and the excitement from the big play starts to recede, look to your left or right. You may have a color analyst with you, perhaps champing at the bit to give his or her take on what just happened.
When broadcasting in college, the analyst will often be just another student. But as you move up in the commercial ranks, most analysts will be former players or coaches. Some will be more polished than others as performers. Some you will like personally more than others. But it's incumbent upon you to at least do your part to develop a good, professional, on-air relationship that connotes "good chemistry."
Good chemistry between play-by-play announcer and analyst is much the same as the good chemistry between players on a sports team. When there's good chemistry:
individuals embrace their roles
each of you has the opportunity to exhibit what they do best there's an air of mutual respect and comfort
egos are subjugated for the common good
NBC's Costas on chemistry: "Sometimes you can just feel it right away. You hope that you get along with the person and that the person trusts you, that you want him to do well and that the whole broadcast matters."
Chemistry can only come by investing the time to work together on the air. A good,
honest dialogue between play-by-play and analyst before and after games greatly facil-
itates the process. During a sort of "pre-game show" between the two of you, you can
discuss what each of you plans to bring to the broadcast. This is especially valuable for the play-by-play person, who can then use this information to "set-up" the analyst during the game. This timely advice of setting up the analyst was once relayed by the late Jack Brickhouse, who was a play-by-play voice for the Chicago Cubs through five different decades. He once told a gathering of young play-by-play announcers at an American Sportscasters Association seminar to "play your color analyst like a fiddle." Some liken his advice to that of a good basketball point guard, in this case the play-by-play, making good passes to his primary scorer, the analyst.
Costas says: "You sort of work [the broadcast out] intuitively. You don't need a 'now it's my turn, now it's your turn.' You kind of just figure out which moments call for a little more of one guy than the other, which moments should be shared and which moments should be exclusively one guy or the other. It becomes kind of a dance that doesn't need to be plotted out step-by-step."
Work hard, use 10 percent
All that homework you do for a game? If you use 10 percent of it, it's a good night. More importantly, if you use 10 percent of it in the right way, it's a great night.
Yes, you want to use some of that background information to augment the broadcast. But you want to use those facts at the appropriate time. For example, let's say the analyst shared before the game that the home team felt it had an advantage by using running plays behind their 6-7, 340-pound left tackle. So, after Jenkins the running back scampers for 25 yards and a first down over left tackle, that's your cue to say something like "the home team executed its game plan to perfection on that play." Hopefully the analyst will take the cue and, pardon the expression, run with it.
Generally speaking, telling a story or using other nuggets or stats just to "get them in" is gratuitous and does little to enhance a player, coach, or a particular moment. But if you can peg a story or a big stat to a significant event in the game, your research takes on that much more meaning. For example, your listener/viewer doesn't need to know a particular player is his club's all-time leader in grand slams after he hits a single. But to let me know while he's trotting the bases after a grand slam that "that's Fleming's tenth career grand slam, tops in club history....certainly makes it a lot more momentous.
Holding off on certain stories or facts until a suitable time takes discipline. The inclination is to want to use your homework since you went to the trouble of doing it in the first place. So, think of it in terms of quality versus quantity. Even if you use less than 10 percent of your research on a broadcast, but all of it was interesting, timely stuff, you've done a good job.
Knowing when to tell stories and co/oryour broadcast is dependent not only on good timing but the sport and the medium as well. Baseball naturally lends itself more to storytelling because of the time between pitches, while a sport like hockey requires you to frequently wait until there is a stoppage in play. That said, hockey on the radio demands more of that type of