RADIO SPORTSCASTING

November 1995

 

Seventy five years ago people would have to either attend a sporting event or read the newspaper to find out about the results of baseballand football games, tennis and boxing matches, horse and boat races or other sports activities.

1920 was the year that brought sporting events to the ears of the people through spark transmitters, code, and the converted telephone (the microphone of today). A year later, in 1921, the first popular priced home radio receiver was produced by Westinghouse for about $60.00, not including head sets or loud speakers. Thus, radio promoted the popularity of sports as the audience could be in their homes and share in the thrills of a game.
 

On August 5th, 1921, radio's first professional baseball game was sent over the air waves by the country's first radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA. Harold Arlin described the play-by-play contest of 7 walks and 21 hits from the field to the broadcasting station. For one hour and fifty-seven minutes the radio audience listened to Harold Arlin use his eyes, ears, brain, a wireless telegraph and a converted telephone to recount the defeat of the Philadelphia Pirates (8 to 5) by the National League Pittsburgh Corsairs.
 

Arlin was also the first man to broadcast a tennis match and give first play-by-play account of a football game (University of West Virginia and University of Pittsburgh). As a result of Arlin yelling so loudly on one touchdown, he knocked the station off the air.
 

Until the 1920's there were only written descriptions of the games. But with the beginning of radio, the sports broadcaster made the game come alive by painting pictures with words and also using props for sound effects. A hollow block of wood tapped with a stick or a pencil was used for the sound of a bat hitting the ball, the placement of a microphone near an open window where a group of extras were hired to cheer and shout upon signal, or the use of a canned sound track of cheering, with the broadcaster adjusting the volume for effect, reached the listeners who were miles away. It made the audience feel that they were at the event.
 

The sports broadcaster was and is like an artist or poet. On TV a sportscaster with his/her commentary provides the captions for the picture. But on radio the sportscaster has to make the listener see with their mind's eye. It becomes a canvas and it is a challenge to the sportscaster to paint the picture with words of the action that he is viewing. The listener puts his own brush strokes on this painting by bringing their experience and imagination into play, thus completing the picture.
 

The great broadcasters have always preferred radio. For many people, long after the details of a game are forgotten, the voices and phrases of the broadcaster are remembered; the Mel Allens, Red Barbers, Jack Brickhouses, Don Dunphys, Graham McNamees, Bill Sterns, Harry Carays, Russ Hodges, Vin Scullys, Dizzy Deans, Phil Rizzutos, and many others who brought the game alive. Who can forget the phrases of "Holy Cow!", "They're Off!", "Going, Going, Gone!", "Say Hey!", "How about that?", "How sweet it is!", "Oh my!", "Bye, bye baby", and of course Rus Hodges' cry of "The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Penant!" after Bobby Thomson's line drive into the lower deck of the left-field stands to clinch the series for the Giants in 1951?
 

With the advent of radio a new career was born, that of the sports broadcaster. Many young people would dream of becoming the next Red Barber, Mel Allen, Vince Scully, etc.
 

Dick Enberg, chairman of the board of the American Sportscasters Association and an NBC broadcaster has advice for young people on how to become a sportscaster.
 

 

HOW DOES ONE BECOME A SPORTSCASTER?

by Dick Enberg, ASA Chairman of the Board and NBC Sportscaster

 

My first baseball broadcast on radio didn't last long. In the second inning of a semipro game, one of the players fractured an ankle while trying to break up a double play, and since the team only had nine men in uniform, the game was called. The forty fans jumped into their cars, Dick Enberg tried to say good-bye gracefully, and the one-man band unhooked wires, packed equipment and wondered if Red Barber really started this way.
 

At that time, I was working my way through Central Michigan University. The summer radio job paid one dollar an hour, and my first baseball game netted me a total of two dollars, including travel time.
 

All of this is a preface to the subject: How does on become a sportscaster? I have received hundreds of letters from young men and women who want to know how they should prepare themselves for work in broadcasting sports. Obviously, there is no set formula. And certainly, I can't recommend the exact course that I took because I had never really planned to make sportscasting my full-time livelihood (I prepared to become a teacher, and taught and coached for four years at Cal State University-Northridge before going into full-time broadcasting).
 

However, here are some guidelines. These are factors which seem, in retrospect, to have been most fundamental in my career:
 

1. I have been an avid sports fan all my life. I went to games, read books, devoured sports pages, listened to broadcasts. If you aren't an enthusiastic fan, you should probably consider another occupation. This job is not particularly easy or as glamorous as it might appear, and if you don't enjoy sports, you would not only be unhappy, but you would also probably offend those listeners who are sports zealots, and who are extremely knowledgeable.
 

2. I received a college education - not, admittedly, with the intention of becoming a sportscaster. But it has proven invaluable. Broadcasting involves writing, informing, entertaining, and educating, and you can't help but be better qualified to meet the challenge with four years of college education. An obvious major is communications, radio-tv, or journalism, but often young people overlook the importance of a physical education minor. If you wish to become a well informed sportscaster, the P.E. training offers important foundations for both major and minor sports.
 

3. Once involved in broadcasting, I practiced constantly. A portable tape recorder is an invaluable asset. Go to a little league game, a high school or college game, and practice calling the action. You can even practice at a major league game. Sit in the upper deck (you may feel a bit conspicuous at first) and start polishing your approach. I used to turn down the TV sound and sharpen my play-by-play calls in my own living room.
 

4. I was willing to start at the bottom. I had no choice, of course, but many people today seem unwilling to accept the fact that a training program is helpful and that those experiences are part of growing up. Just as most ball players need minor league seasoning before coming to the majors, so it is with broadcasters. This allows a young announcer to make mistakes in front of the least critical audience, we all make them. It's best to have honed your talent so as to make fewer and fewer as you ascend toward larger markets.
 

5. I listened, all my life, to sportscasters. As my interest in the profession sharpened, I listened more critically. It doesn't pay to totally copy someone's style, but being a good listener, you can generally pick up a healthy set of do's and don'ts. If you hear or see something that fits your style, employ it.
 

6. Radio is a true test of a sportscasters talent. And that's about it. When you analyze it, the formula is about the same as it would be for any endeavor; there just aren't many substitutes for education experience, preparation, hard work, and a real love for what you are doing. If you think sportscasting might be your thing, I wish you luck. May it be as richly rewarding for you as it has been for me.
 

 

 1999 American Sportscasters Association, Inc.