Growing up in Chicago and the Midwest, I got bit by the play-by-play bug early in life. I had so many great examples to follow, in those that were covering my local teams at the time. People like, Vince Lloyd, Jack Brickhouse, Jim Durham, Pat Foley, Joe McConnell, Lloyd Pettit and others.
Radio was my thing as a kid. I used to love staying up late at night and seeing what “far away” station I could pull in on my transistor radio (Gen Z, millennials, google it!). I would hear hockey in Pittsburgh and baseball from St. Louis and New York among others.
Now that I’m a grown up, I have a greater appreciation for not only the job itself, but the way some of today’s broadcasters call games.
Radio play-by-play is not easy. It’s all about description. Which direction is the play going? Where is the ball? What are the uniforms like? There’s also keeping up with the action. Calling plays quickly and decisively is key. It’s also about keeping things entertaining. You don’t have graphics, or pictures to bail you out in slow times or in-between plays. Radio play-by-play announcers have to pick the right time for stories without compromising action. It is cliché to say, but you really are the eyes and the ears of your audience.
Play-by-play on radio is also about making a connection to the audience. Local radio announcers are “the voices of people’s childhood” and live on in the hearts and minds of fans, long after these voices retire. You are the conduit between the team and it’s fan base. Think about how awesome a responsibility that is. It’s one I never took for granted and neither do the top announcers of today.
I have been presented with an opportunity to call out only 5 of the announcers that I consider tops in the field these days. This was a tough assignment. I know most of, if not all, those that are in consideration for this list. That alone makes this a difficult task. The ability to do what we do is pretty special. It was very hard to whittle down this vast group of talented broadcasters to a list of only five.
Here are the criteria I based my thoughts on: Announcers must be the radio voice of a local franchise. They also have to be the current announcers for that team. The rankings were limited to the major four professional sports leagues. At the end of the day, I carefully took into account, the announcers’ work and how they were at doing the job. Here we go. These are in no particular ranking order.
Jon Miller, radio voice, San Francisco Giants, MLB
Baseball Resume: Oakland A’s (1974); Texas Rangers (1978-79); Boston Red Sox (1980-82); Baltimore Orioles (1983-1996); ESPN Sunday Night Baseball (1990-2010) and San Francisco Giants (1997-present). Ford C. Frick Award (2010).
There are very few radio voices like Miller’s. He’s not monotone, no way. The man uses his voice to his advantage. It’s an easy-going delivery, filled with excellent vocabulary, and tremendous descriptions regarding the field, the defense, the crowd and of course the game. Miller’s energy level rises to the occasion when something exciting happens and it never, ever, sounds forced or manufactured. His style is not matched by anyone, some have tried, but they can never duplicate the warmth and purity of his calls.
Perhaps the thing I most admire him for, is his sense of humor and timing. Miller doesn’t take himself too seriously, and is able to poke fun at himself at the drop of a hat. He is a purely entertaining listen, whether it be imitations or just some great stories. Giants’ fans are lucky to have a guy in the booth that comes across as friendly and someone you’d want to have a beer with. Miller does call it like he sees it. That’s the reason he’s in San Francisco. In his final season with the Orioles, owner Peter Angelos didn’t feel he was enough of a ‘homer’ and didn’t renew Miller’s contract.
On August 7, 2007, Miller made the call of Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 756th home run on KNBR:
Three and two to Bonds. Everybody standing here at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. An armada of nautical craft gathered in McCovey Cove beyond the right field wall. Bonds one home run away from history. And he swings, and there’s a long one into right center field, way back there, it’s gone! A home run! Into the center field bleachers to the left of the 421-foot marker. An extraordinary shot to the deepest part of the yard! And Barry Bonds with 756 home runs, he has hit more home runs than anyone who has ever played the game!
In 2016, Miller accidentally called a grand slam by Hunter Pence for Buster Posey, but corrected himself mid-sentence:
Swing and there’s a high drive, deep into left-center field, it’s on its way… adios pelota! A grand slam for Buster Posey…’s good friend, Hunter Pence.
Miller used the phrase intentionally a week later when Pence hit another home run.
Tom Hamilton, radio voice, Cleveland Guardians, MLB
Baseball Resume: Columbus Clippers, AAA, NY Yankees (1987-89); Cleveland Indians/Guardians (1990-present).
Tom Hamilton is huge part of baseball history in Cleveland. Hamilton is in his 32nd year of calling Indians, now Guardians games. He had the daunting task of coming in and working right away with the legendary Herb Score. He has done so seamlessly. Hamilton took over as the main play-by-play voice in 1998.
Hamilton is a tremendous baseball announcer. I enjoy dialing in a game that he’s calling. He has a ‘giant’ booming voice that is full of inflection and description. The enthusiasm he displays is unparalleled and when he gets into a call, look out, it is usually legendary. Hamilton is revered by fans because of his style and larger than life calls. His cadence is unique, but it works. Fans just love his home run calls, especially when they are game changing. Don’t mistake him for a ‘homer’, because he will call out his own team when it messes something up. He’s one of a kind in the way he calls a game and it’s great.
“Swing and a drive, waaaay back, and gone!!” or “Swung on and belted, awaaaay back, and outta here!!” – for a Guardians home run
John Wiedeman, radio voice, Chicago Blackhawks, NHL
Hockey resume: Philadelphia Flyers (1996); Tampa Bay Lightning (1997); Columbus Blue Jackets (2001); New York Islanders (2001-06); Chicago Blackhawks (2006-present).
Knowing John is to really like him. A down to earth, friendly professional who, by the way, is darn good at his job. The fast-paced game is not too quick for him. Wiedeman makes it sound easy and describes the action in such an accurate way, it’s hard to understand how he does it. If you happen to be listening to the game with the television sound down, what he says, is what you see. He paints the picture so well. I had the opportunity to work with John and his partner Troy Murray for the playoffs in 2014. I marveled at what I saw, in preparation and detail. Wiedeman is a humble star, once telling me he thought what I did (baseball play-by-play) was more difficult than what he did for a living. I chuckled because he’s wrong!
As the voice of the Chicago Blackhawks, Wiedeman has been behind the mic for 3 Stanley Cup titles, won by the Hawks in 2010, 2013 and 2015. The first title, was the team’s first in 49 years. He captured the essence of the jubilation of a fan base so well, on a call that was nearly impossible to make. The Patrick Kane OT winner in Philadelphia in 2010, tripped everyone up, but John powered through extremely well.
“For the third time in six seasons, it’s one goal achieved! The Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup! The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup! The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup! The Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup! Lord Stanley, the Blackhawks organization along with the greatest fans in all of hockey, welcome you back to your new home: Chicago, Illinois, in the U-S of A!”
Wayne Larrivee, radio voice, Green Bay Packers, NFL
Football resume: Kansas City Chiefs (1978-84); Chicago Bears (1985-98); Green Bay Packers (1999-present).
Larrivee is a dynamic football play-by-play voice. His style seems to really fit the game and the NFL. Larrivee has an ability to speak quickly, while still being understood, which is something not everyone can do. His descriptions of the pre-play formations, the play itself and the aftermath are absolutely excellent. I love his cadence and the words he uses to describe things. Larrivee uses his analysts well, leaning on him for true expertise. When it’s a former player he’s working with, Larrivee understands that relationship with the fans, and knows how special it is.
He is also a straight shooter, not sugar-coating things when they go badly. But, when things go well, you know who he’s working for. I like the way Larrivee builds the anticipation to the play. Obviously, we, the listeners, can’t see what’s going on. He is a master of ramping up the drama. From the drop back of the quarterback, to the coverage scheme, to the receivers, to the ball going in the air and the result of the play, good or bad. It’s ‘edge of your seat’ stuff in big moments and the lead up is constructed so well by Larrivee.
At crucial moments at the end of games, Larrivee refers to a clinching point as “The Dagger.” In 2011, Larrivee teamed up with Sheboygan, Wisconsin-based advertising agency to start selling merchandise with his signature phrase. If you’re a fan of the Packers, nothing beats a good ‘Dagger’ moment.
Mark Boyle, radio voice, Indiana Pacers, NBA
NBA Resume: Indiana Pacers (1988-present)
The longtime voice of the Pacers is a fan favorite. Boyle is regularly praised for his ability to paint the picture for the audience, making them feel like they are at the arena. Boyle is not your typical ‘homer’. If you didn’t know he worked for the Pacers, it would be hard to tell when listening to a broadcast. It’s only when the moment calls for it, he rises to the excitement level that Pacers fans can appreciate. There’s nothing phony about it.
You can tell that he knows what he’s talking about, he’s always prepared. The mark of a great play-by-play man is being ready for all moments, but not forcing information that really isn’t needed. Just because you prepped it, doesn’t mean you have to use it. He falls into this category. It’s a very ‘even’ broadcast, it finds a median that makes his broadcasts a comfortable listen. Great voice, great timing and great descriptions are his trademark.
When the Pacers eliminated the Knicks in game seven of the 1995 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, Patrick Ewing missed a winning layup at the buzzer.
“He missed, he missed. Ring the bell, baby. Ding-dong, the witch is dead. Ding-dong, the witch is dead.”
That’s my list. I know you’ll think there are people that I missed and I fully acknowledge that. The task was daunting and fun at the same time. Just so you know, there were others given careful consideration. Among them:
Bob Wischusen – Jets, Mitch Holthus, – Chiefs, Greg Papa – 49’ers, Dan Dickerson – Detroit Tigers, Ken Korach – A’s, Pat Hughes, – Cubs, Kenny Albert – Rangers, Judd Sirott – Bruins, Pete Webber of the Predators, Chuck Swirsky, – Bulls and Matt Pinto – OKC.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.