A Sure Way To Fail At Sports Broadcasting

There is a sure-fire way to fail at sports broadcasting.  Not a specific technique or lack of skill that will cause your demise, but rather an overall approach.  Learn this lesson, and learn what not to do.

Nearly 20 years ago, while broadcasting minor league baseball, I encountered two truly great guys. This duo was the broadcast team for a division rival, which meant we caught up with each other a dozen times per season.

The two broadcasters shared the same name - Joe. (no, not their real name)  However, they were so different that we gave them each a nickname.  One was Professional Joe and the other was Unprofessional Joe.  Here's why.

Professional Joe would show up to the ballpark hours before the game, diligently preparing himself for the broadcast.  This guy knew what it took to succeed in sports broadcasting.  Unprofessional Joe, meanwhile, would strut in casually shortly before first pitch.

Professional Joe dressed the part - cleanly shaved in neat pants and a collared shirt.  Unprofessional Joe usually hadn't touched a razor in days, and was usually decked out in shorts and a t-shirt.  

Professional Joe would invest time near the dugout and batting cage before the game, curiously asking players questions and gathering valuable information to spice up his broadcast. Unprofessional Joe used to hang out in the dugout before the game too - literally, he used to hang from the top of the dugout and practice quasi-gymnastic moves to draw a laugh.

Both Professional Joe and Unprofessional Joe were terrific guys, the kind you'd enjoy spending an evening at the ballpark with.  Their overall approach, however, was what separated these two friends and broadcast partners.

Unprofessional Joe wasn't part of the team's broadcast crew the following season.  Unprofessional sports broadcasters usually don't stick around very long.

Does Your Mother Do This?

While watching Al Michaels call a football game this week, I recalled some wisdom I learned almost 20 years ago from broadcasting legend Marty Glickman. At Fordham, Marty would talk sportscasting for hours. Listening to our tapes and letting us have it – no sugar-coating, just the good and bad. I consider his sage sportscasting advice often, and this week, while listening to Michaels, I reflected on one of his most unambiguous points.

Al Michaels is a terrific play by play announcer in my opinion. Smooth, abundantly prepared and quick on his feet. Michaels has been a mainstay on the national football scene for decades, calling some of the biggest games in NFL history. I am always pleased when I tune in to a game and find Michaels behind the microphone, and I think aspiring sportscasters should take note.

One main thought Marty Glickman constantly drove home - to which Michaels clearly adheres - is that nobody tunes in to hear a broadcaster. We all tune in for the game, not the broadcaster, regardless of how wonderful we think they are. Solid broadcasters certainly add to the action, while lousy ones can detract from it. However, we tune in for the game itself. In fact the way Marty put it, “The only person who tunes in to hear the broadcaster is his mother!”

As play by play broadcasters, this should constantly put our ultimate duties – to inform, enlighten and entertain - in perspective. We should be facilitating the fans’ enjoyment of the game, not trying to become a major part of it. I understand I may have some disagreement around Bristol, Connecticut or some other media outlets that push “attitude” above all else. Sorry, but I agree with Marty Glickman.

And so I leave you with this question. Is there any time you tune in to a game to hear the broadcaster?
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Saying Less Is More In Baseball Play By Play

Remember this post from two seasons ago? How many TV baseball play by play guys would handle this culminating moment the same way, with such control and professionalism?  Give it some thought.....
Last night during Johan Santana’s remarkable Mets no-hitter, I saw a terrific broadcaster do a terrific job by saying nothing. Hugh? But isn’t a broadcaster supposed to talk? And most DO! They talk, and talk and talk.  And more than a few yell and yell and yell. So how can a broadcaster succeed by saying nothing?

The goal of the play by play broadcaster is to bring the listener into the game, so to speak. The great Marty Glickman used to say he wanted the viewer/listener to “feel” as if they were sitting next to him at the game. Let them experience every emotion along with each fan in the stands.

On last night’s final pitch, Mets TV play by play man Gary Cohen exuberantly declared that Santana had completed the first no-hitter in Mets history…..and then he shut up! For 64 seconds he said nothing. (I timed it with my DVR and iPhone) Also silent were Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, his broadcast partners. Whether it was planned or not, it was masterful broadcasting.

As I watched Santana being mobbed by his teammates, I felt as though I was in the stadium. I didn’t have some obnoxious loudmouth yelling in my ear. It wasn’t about the broadcaster, it was about the moment. Because of the words they didn’t say, it was a wonderful moment for me, the viewer.

When I called the final out of the Hudson Valley Renegades New York Penn League title in 1999, I tried to employ much the same tactic. After an excited description of the game’s final pitch (a strikeout), I let the crowd fill the broadcast air. On radio I didn’t let it go 64 seconds, but surely for 10 or 20 my listeners heard a jubilant crowd and fireworks filling the air. Gary Cohen I’m not, but I’m proud to say I learned a thing or two from Marty Glickman.

How many broadcasters would have let us enjoy that moment by saying nothing?
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10 Tips For Getting Hired In Radio

Jason's 10 Tips
We've had a lot of great interaction over the past few years with aspiring sportscasters who come to our site looking for answers.  Our readers often ask for the real-world steps they need to succeed.  And by succeed, I mean get a real job.  Not learn about a job, or find plenty of jobs.  I mean actually GET that sportscasting job.

Some of our most popular posts are How To Get Started In Sports Broadcasting, and our recent article How To Become A Sports Broadcaster In Five Simple Steps.  I hope you've found these to be awesome resources.

Let me tell you about a fantastic new site that every sports broadcaster and sports fan should follow - Jason Barrett's Media Blog.  Jason is the Program Director for 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and a guy who has worked in every area of this business over the past two decades.   He has actually done the job searching and now does the job hiring. In other words, he's been where you are and can tell you how to get where you want to go. (And yes, he hired me once, almost 15 years ago. Okay, so he's not perfect)

Seriously though, his recent post 10 Tips For Getting Hired In Radio is truly excellent.  As is the entire blog. He shares the real nuts and bolts type stuff we all crave, and you'll see in his bio that he has worked with some of the biggest names in sports radio.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter too...but only if you want to be truly connected into the sports radio industry.

I hope Sportscasters Club has been a constant source of sports broadcasting information, inspiration and fun. That's why we're here, and we love to find other professionals who share the passion for guiding aspiring sports media professionals.

Now go take Jason's 10 Tips and get hired!
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Watch Out For The P.C. Police!

A sportscaster I know related the following story about the ridiculousness of Political Correctness.....

While calling a college hoops game for the campus radio station, the aspiring broadcast professional made an off-handed joke about the team's star player possibly setting off a metal detector at the airport following the game, due to his mouth full of gold teeth.

Within a week, the broadcaster was called into the station's business offices for a closed-door meeting, where station big wigs expressed their dismay about his "racially charged" comments.

"But I didn't say anything about anyone's race," the young sportscaster explained. "He does have a mouth full of gold teeth, and I made the joke about it.  But I certainly would never even think about a racial joke.  He's a basketball player.  His color is irrelevant."

The station's stuffy braintrust simply could not allow this kind of conduct on their air, and the broadcaster was subsequently passed over for a big station promotion.  In explaining why he had not been chosen to lead the sports department, he was told that his judgement must be questioned for making such "racist" comments.

Later that semester, the sportscaster went searching for advice to an experienced radio professional at the same institution - a black professor whom he, and all others, liked and respected.

In confidence, he told her exactly what he had said on the air, in complete context.

"I didn't hear you mention anything about race," she answered.  "Was there something else I missed?"

"Nope," the broadcaster lamented. "This was the one sentence that they said was racist and insensitive.  And furthermore, I know guys from all different races that wear gold teeth!"

"Again, you didn't say anything about race," she concluded. "I don't see how you can take a joke about gold teeth to mean anything racial.  You never mentioned race, color or ethnicity.  I certainly wouldn't have been offended whatsoever."

The moral of the story?  Sports broadcasters have many challenges to overcome.  Regardless of your intent, the P.C. Police are always lurking just beyond that radio dial, waiting to pounce.  Be ready.
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10 Ways Baseball Broadcasting Has Changed In 20 Years

I started my professional baseball broadcasting career in 1994.  It is amazing to think back and recall how different baseball broadcasting is today - specifically in the minor leagues - compared to two decades ago.  I mean, honestly, I don't feel that old!

A baseball broadcaster's daily life has changed in many ways over the last twenty years.
Here are 10 important and surprising changes that jump to mind:

1.  Riding minor league buses has never been fun, and never will be.  Knees get sore and calves cramp just as they always did.  However, 20 years ago, most players would pass time on long bus rides by playing cards or, if lucky, listening to a portable CD player.  Occasionally you'd hit the jackpot and get to watch a good movie, if the bus had an overhead VCR and someone rented a VHS tape.  (For those under 30, this is a VCR.Now I do feel old.)

I recall many long hours on the bus, reading the Book of Questionswith former broadcast partner, Bill Rogan.We'd ask each other questions, such as "Would you rather stick your hand into a tub of snakes or a bee hive?"  These conversations often got heated, and we passed the hours arguing and contemplating life's deep complexities.

Today, most everyone on the bus carries a portable computer, capable of instantaneous movies, videos, music, maps, conversation and communication.  In other words, smart phones have phased out the Book of Questions.  They contain any question, or answer, you could ever have.

2.  In 1994 we did our pre and post-game interviews on cassette tapes, and carefully rewind and re-cue those tapes for play during the broadcast.  If you were slick, you could make those interviews sound as if they were live.

Today, most interviews are conducted with digital equipment, making recording and playback simple and efficient.

3.  During the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, we had fans constantly coming up to our radio booth, telling us when either of the two hit another home run.  Fans would hear it on another radio broadcast and relay the information to us.

Today, you can watch, hear and read every moment of any sporting event in real time.  The broadcaster truly has all the information at his fingertips in real time.

4.  I had a few ways to supplement my income during the baseball season.  After games, I would find a phone in the press box or in a vacant luxury suite, where I would call in the night's box score to a local newspaper.  The paper would pay me $15 per game to call in and spend 15 minutes giving them all the details of the game, so they could print the recap the next morning.

Today, media can get much of this information digitally or online in real time.  Struggling broadcasters have to find other ways to make a little extra dough.

5.  In years gone by, media members would dine on free meals in press boxes before games,  From a simple hot dog to more gourmet offerings, broadcasters always love a free meal.

Today, many professional ballclubs charge per person for the pregame meal.  The one bright spot is that the offerings are usually more appetizing than a simple dog and soda.

6.  In the past, players' families would often listen in to games on radio networks or, on occasion, on newly-formed internet broadcasting stations.  If a broadcaster was critical of a player, that player's family would hear it and let the player know the next time they talked by phone.  By the time what you said got back to the player, his version was usually much worse than what you actually had said.  Nothing like the good, old-fashioned telephone game to get a player, or many, annoyed with you.

Today, everything is done in real time.  Fans, family and even players can listen live and get the true version of what you say, as you say it.  Pitchers in the bullpen will often listen to game broadcasts, and used to wave their hats to me when I said something they liked.  If I chose to rip on them, they'd show their disgust by kicking up a storm of dirt.  As long as you are fair, you'd always rather have an athlete hear your comments first hand.

7.  Minor league baseball is a traveling freak show circus.  With a game every night, from town to town, the life can be quite crazy.  Players, and the media, have been known to partake in their share of late-night shenanigans.

Today.....ok so not everything has changed.

8.  Broadcasters in the 90's had to proactively market themselves to prospective employers through bulky, mailed packages, containing demo cassette tapes, physical resumes, press clippings and other materials. 

Today, much of the career networking and resume sharing can be done electronically.  You can never replace the human touch that helps you stand out, however today's technology offers immense time-saving advantages.

9.  Radio play by play guys were always headed on a long trip.  At least that was the way it looked, as they lugged huge, overloaded suitcases suitcases containing their radio broadcasting equipment.  It was a workout dragging that 100 pound tub from the press box to the team bus, along with personal bags and belongings.

Today, equipment is much more compact and lightweight.  I'd say that makes today's broadcasters soft compared to the tough guys around a couple decades ago.

10.  Years ago, some broadcasters would chronicle their games and travels into diaries, journals and books.

Today, they simple log on and bang out a post on a super cool, hugely-followed sports broadcasting blog, such as this one!  We hope you sign up to receive our posts, thanks!
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Broadcasting Irregardless

We heard a sportscaster the other day, rambling on about how a player did something "irregardless" of the situation.  Sharp listeners probably cringe when they hear that word.  And boy do we hear it often.

Most dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster, are clear that the correct word would simply be
Did he just say that?
"regardless."  While they agree there is, indeed, such a word...it is nonstandard.  If that weren't enough, try using the word in any basic Word document.  You'll get the squiggly, red line underneath - showing that it is a spelling error!

If Webster says it's nonstandard, broadcasters should do better.  Most who use it are just lazy.  Some don't know this word really isn't a proper word.

Sportscasters should be proper and precise.  Viewers and listeners deserve it, irregardless.
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Broadcasting Face To Face

Teenagers these days don't hang out with each other.  Rather, they stay home and talk virtually through their smart phones and devices.

A mother recently told me this about her teenage daughter.  Aside from being quite scary, this also gives us a great insight into he psyche of the younger generation of professionals, and broadcasters.

Technology is a terrific way to create, build and expand your brand as a broadcast professional.  Sports broadcasters are able to network and share like never before.  This is not just a good thing, but a GREAT thing for building your broadcasting career!

Don't think for a moment, however, that you can lay at home on the couch and "virtually" network your way to the sports broadcasting career of your dreams.  For this, you'll still need good old-fashioned people skills.  You know, those communications abilities you paid the school tens of thousands for.  Just ask our friend, Dan Miller.  His advice for landing that dream job is priceless. 

New technological advances are wonderful for building and growing your sportscasting business, but don't be fooled into believing this alone is enough.  You still must get out there and make it happen.  And that means flipping off the phone and getting out there with real people.

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Cat Attacks The Closer

Minor league baseball life is not glamorous at all.  At least most of the time.  As a result, minor league broadcasters often find humor in the smallest things.  You are in a season-long bubble and trivial events can seem SOOO important.
One such story involves a minor league team’s closer, who spoke often of how he was being groomed to be the eventual big league closer.  He was riding buses in the Bush Leagues simply until the time was right for him to assume his role in the Major Leagues.  Just ask him – or not – and he’d tell you.  He was a good guy with a jovial nature. 
I recall one late-night stop after a road game.  The team was hungry after playing a game, and the bus pulled to the side of the road, between a half-rate fast food joint and a convenience store.  Those are your options boys.

Half of the weary team ambled into the convenience store.  After about 30 minutes, most of the players were safely back in their seat on the bus, ready for the long trip ahead.  All the players except one.

A few minutes later the door to the convenience store popped open and out darted a stray cat, which darted across the street and into the darkness.  A moment later, the team’s closer slowly stepped out and up into the bus.  The right sleeve of his multicolored summer shirt was ripped, nearly torn from his torso.  He looked as if he’d been involved in a bar fight.  The team erupted in laughter.

“I found this cat in the store,” he explained  “I tried to rescue it and get it home safely, but while I was cornering the cat near the chips I caught my shirt on the rack and ripped this huge hole!” 
Although a bit sore, the team’s closer was back on the mound the next day.  Even more ridiculous than that....inside the Groundhog Day of minor league baseball, this was a big deal to us.
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Pimping The Home Run

Pimpin ain't easy....unless you are a baseball slugger.

Late one night in the 90's, a professional hitting coach explained to me what it means to "pimp a home run".  We stood in a sports bar, watching a bank of televisions, as he explained that "pimping" is simply showboating after connecting on a round-tripper.  "Pimping" is hitting the home run and then going through a rehearsed, choreographed mini-dance or routine, he said.

"Pimping" was made popular on TV during the 90's, by guys such as Sammy Sosa, who did the leap across home plate.  Barry Bonds would drop the bat and stare, as he took a few slow, pronounced steps toward first base.  Jeffrey Leonard rounded the bases with "one flap down" as his left arm hung limp.

Perhaps the best long-ball pimper of the era was Rickey Henderson, who would do a quick two-step and give a quick tug at the chest of his jersey.  The coach even shared that he would attend Rickey's "pimping practice" sessions back in Oakland, where Henderson would "teach" young players a series of "pimp moves".  In fact, Henderson had so many he had to name them...routine number one, routine number two, etc.

As the coach explained this to me, he glanced casually up at a TV showing a home run during the evening baseball highlight show.  "See, that's a number two," he quipped, matter-of-factly.

In honor of the great Rickey Henderson, we'd like to share this over-the-top, unbelievable act of pimping a home run....enjoy!

You Are Hired!

Find Your CallingWant to find that perfect job in sports broadcasting?  Here are some outstanding thoughts from our friend, Dan Miller.  Very relevant, don't miss this stuff.

"You're Hired!"   
Here are some interesting stats from the July/August issue of INC magazine.  The questions and comments are Dan Miller's.

New jobs in April – 119,000

Who did the hiring:
  • Companies with fewer than 50 employees – 49%
  • Companies with 50-499 employees – 48%
  • Companies with 500 or more employees – 3%
Question:  Why do job-seekers continue to make companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Wal-Mart, General Motors and UPS their prime targets?
You increase your odds dramatically by targeting smaller companies.

What 2012 college graduates say the top priorities are when looking for a job:
  • Job Security – 33%
  • Salary – 23%
  • Health Care and other Benefits – 23%
  • Company Culture and Perks – 18%
  • Company Size – 3%
Question:  Are you kidding me?  Job security is #1??   Haven’t you seen what happened to your Mom and Dad?  You’d better be looking for a place where you can refine your skills and show your value.  But your job isn’t going to have “security” and guaranteed “salary.”

If you really want those – start your own business.  72% of college students now say they want to start their own business.  Companies are gun-shy about investing training in someone who isn’t going to be there 18 months from now.  “Security” goes both ways.

Portion of employers that have rejected a job candidate because of that person’s social-media activity – 34%.

Top 4 reasons those candidates weren’t hired:
  • They posted inappropriate photos or information
  • There was evidence of drinking or drug use
  • They had poor communication skills
  • They badmouthed a previous employer
Question:  Most companies will Google you before they look at your resume.  Are you comfortable with your “online” resume?

Creativity will do more to open the doors for you to be considered than a stellar resume.  What have you done that shows you to be “remarkable” in your job search?

Dan Miller, President of 48 Days LLC, specializes in creative thinking for increased personal and business success. He believes that meaningful work blends our natural skills and abilities, our unique personality traits and our dreams and passions. Dan is active in helping individuals redirect careers, evaluate new income sources, and achieve balanced living. He believes that a clear sense of direction can help us become all that God designed us to be.

You can get free job resources by going to  http://www.48days.com/store/?ap_id=sportscastersclub

Tenure In The Outfield

Baseball is known for its colorful characters and hilarious moments.  Where fact meets fiction, sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Take, for example, one of baseball's best players of all-time.

The story goes that one day, while riding on the team bus to the ballpark, this baseball immortal overheard a teammate discussing longevity in the game and retirement with a young rookie.

Ask he inched closer, the rookie asked him, 

“Hey, you’ve got tenure, right?”

“Ten years?” The star shot back quickly. “I've got twenty years in the big leagues!”

Care to guess who that was?

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Why We Miss Ernie Harwell

Ernie Harwell was a gem of a man.  An accomplished poet, inventor, musician, devoted family man, Christian, mentor…..and yes, a pretty good baseball broadcaster as well.  4 years after he passed away, we miss him today as much as ever.

I covered a lot of ballgames in the mid-90’s, as a 20-year-old college broadcaster at WFUV Radio at New York’s Fordham University.  I’d take the D Train from Fordham Road down to Yankee Stadium, catch a pre-game meal, take in batting practice on the field, watch the game and then collect interviews for use on air.  For a college-aged sports fan, there was nothing better.

During one of my first assignments, I sat in the Press Lounge, preparing to eat my breakfast before the Yankees’ 1:00 game a few hours later.  As I jabbed my fork into my scrambled eggs, a hand tapped my table and a gentle voice asked,
“Would it be okay if I sit and eat with you?”  It was Ernie Harwell.

I contained my shock and excitement long enough to invite him to sit and join me.
Over the next half hour he shared a lot – tales, advice, insight and perspective on the sports broadcasting industry.   Much like the great Marty Glickman, he seemed intent on learning my story and sharing his willingness to help.  We had a great breakfast and he even passed me his phone number, in case I needed a tape critiqued in the future.  Did I?  You bet I did.

Later that season, while broadcasting in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays farm system, I sent Ernie a tape and asked for his thoughts.  Soon thereafter we spoke at length on the phone, and he laid out some concrete, real-world ways I could improve.  He ended the call by saying, “Rick, just keep on keeping on!”

Today I counsel young sportscasters, and one main theme I constantly try to drill into their head is to take every opportunity to learn from a successful mentor.  Ask for insight and most of the time they will provide it to you.

In a day where much of our sportscasting culture is wrapped up around ego-boosting soundbytes, catch-phrases and clich├ęs, its refreshing to think back to a man who was never too big to give back.  

We all miss Ernie Harwell much more than we realize.