As the calendar nears mid-August, that means one thing for the vast majority of our clients: madness. Students are beginning to arrive, fall is in the air and the 2011-12 sports schedule is about to get underway. I thought this might be a good time to post a few thoughts on broadcasting, specifically sports play-by-play.
First, let me preface – I am not the world’s foremost source of play-by-play knowledge, nor do I claim to be. However, we at Stretch Internet have multiple staff members who come from a broadcasting background, so we draw on what we know. Personally, I come from a background in professional hockey broadcasting – I spent five years calling games for a minor-pro league with stops in Amarillo, TX and Prescott Valley, AZ along the way. I always found that, in broadcasting, (and in any industry for that matter) no matter how good you are, there is always room for improvement. The people who reach the coveted positions are the ones who never stop wanting to get better.
That said, these tips may not be for everyone. I’m sure some of you have been in the business for 30 years and are long past play-by-play 101. But I also know there are a lot of younger college-aged broadcasters calling games to work on their craft, improve their technique and ultimately find a play-by-play job upon graduation. Or, perhaps you’re an SID who wears 22 different hats – eg. media relations, advertising, sales, grounds crew, statistician, athletic trainer, water boy (or girl), head coach, assistant coach, janitor AAANNDD play-by-play broadcaster… you get the point. So, hopefully, a handful of you will find these tips useful, and if you are a seasoned veteran, perhaps you have some other pointers to drop in the comments as well!
Who doesn’t like lists? Let’s simplify this and go with 5 good play-by-play tips:
1. Time and score:
It’s the most basic of broadcasting tips, the most critical piece of information any broadcaster can give, and when you really break it down, it’s the quintessential function of the play-by-play broadcaster. You are in place to relay information about an event to an audience that cannot otherwise get the information. Now, as technology permits in 2011 there are a handful of ways people can get updated scores and information, but you have to assume your listener is driving in a car and will be turning the dial within the first five minutes. You don’t want to go more than 3-4 minutes without resetting the current situation: time remaining, score, situation, down and distance… anything the listener needs to know. There are a variety of ways to remind yourself of this (some suggest using an egg timer to go off every 3 minutes) but try to train yourself to the point where it becomes automatic.
2. Variety is the spice of life, and broadcasting:
There are so many ways to tell a story, and in broadcasting it can be easy to get stuck in certain phrases. With any sport you are going to have repetition – certain things will happen over and over and there’s no real way to get around that. That doesn’t mean you have to describe it the same way every time. Mix up your vocabulary, whip out a thesaurus and try to come up with a new way to say ‘drives down the lane’ or ‘puts a shot on net’ or ‘run up the middle.’ You may not even recognize that some of your phrases are repeated over and over, but take some time to listen to your recordings and identify phrases that you may be using too often. One of the best examples of a broadcaster who can turn a phrase in a variety of ways is Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, voice of the New Jersey Devils and national hockey broadcaster for the Versus (soon to be NBC Sports) network. Pay attention to the last two minutes of the following clip (where vocabulary is discussed):
Also try to get creative in identifying teams. Instead of using team names, use jersey colors every now and then… ‘White has the puck with three attackers, pushing through center ice with a full head of steam.’
3. Let the game tell the story:
Doc eluded to this in the clip above, but you never want to force something into the call if it doesn’t fit. You may have unearthed a great nugget of information about someone, but you don’t want to use it unless the game gives you an opportunity. Have the information on hand and use it when appropriate.
4. It’s about the game:
This tip probably falls more into the category of personal preference, as there are always going to be certain aspects of broadcasting that spark debate. I have always felt that a good broadcaster allows the game – and not the broadcaster – to be the focus. The fans are tuning in because they like a particular team, rarely because they want to hear you. The goal is always to provide an entertaining, informative and enjoyable broadcast, without confusing yourself as the focus of the broadcast. That’s what makes Vin Scully (legendary Dodgers broadcaster) so unbelievably good at what he does. You can tune in to the game and he seamlessly relays the action to the fan in a way that almost makes you forget he’s there. He becomes a direct connection between fan and event. Don’t get me wrong – there is a time and a place for certain antics, but rarely do you hear broadcasters in the big leagues who have a schtick.
Though I do still chuckle at things like this:
And of course you can’t have the schtick conversation without referencing the infamous Florida Panthers play-by-play broadcaster Randy Moller. For those who aren’t familiar with him, he has carved out a name for himself by tacking on random pop-culture references to the end of every goal call. He even takes e-mails from fans with suggestions for catch phrases. Pretty unique, and I find myself cracking up at a lot of his calls so it’s hard to argue with his method. A few samplings below:
5. Be a boy scout:
Simply put, always be prepared. Do your homework, put in your time and be prepared for the apocalypse (in sports broadcasting this means a blow-out or extended delay). It is a common refrain from the best broadcasters in the business that they often use 10% or less of their prepared material in a given broadcast. This is a good thing, you always want to be over-prepared.
The best example I can give from personal experience is a hockey game I was broadcasting a few years ago in Amarillo, TX. During the intermission, the Zamboni malfunctioned while cleaning the ice and died about fifty feel from the tunnel. A second Zamboni came onto the ice to tow the broken machine (which effectively cleared the ice surface), but unfortunately the second machine’s blade created a giant pothole in the face-off circle. The ice crew tried desperately to repair the ice but temperatures and science were rebutting their efforts. All total, there was a three hour delay before the game resumed and I started handing out radio interviews like chocolate to children. I talked to fans, the trainer, the bus driver… I was on the verge of creating personalities and interviewing myself. The moral of the story is there are certain things you never see coming so always be prepared to improvise, and come with a lot of material.
Well there you have it, thanks for reading and hopefully you find something applicable to your situation. Again, feel free to add comments with other tips you might have or any feedback on this list.
Have a good call everyone!