Dick Enberg’s accidental lesson will help you

Last week I was going through some old stories I had kept from the newspaper. I came across a wonderful piece of advice for TV play-by-play broadcasters from Jim Nantz. It is from John Maffei’s column in the February 1, 2013 edition of U-T San Diego.

TV play-by-play captions

Nantz said longtime network announcer and current Padres TV voice Dick Enberg taught him a valuable lesson.

“Dick and Merlin Olson were calling the Super Bowl in 1983,” Nantz said. “The entire first quarter, they had feedback in their headsets. So they talked in short sentences. After the game, Dick said people came up to him and said he had never been better. Dick told me he used that was a learning tool. He learned less is better.

Remember that in radio, you are describing the pictures — creating images on a blank canvas.

In TV, you are simply providing captions to the pictures.

Doing this will immediately make your broadcasts better

No good. No good. No good.

This is a phrase that many play-by-play broadcasters use repeatedly on a missed shot in basketball. “Over to” is another that you will often hear when the ball is passed between players.

pbp vocab

Varying your PBP vocabulary is important for all broadcasters. It makes for a more entertaining and intelligent broadcast.
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This common mistake will sabotage your interviews

When I was on-air, I took great pride in my interviewing skills. I wanted to be different and better than everyone else. At one point, I decided I could do that by making my interviews sound less like Q&A and more like conversations.

Big mistake.

interview sabotage

Interviews are NOT conversations. By definition, interviews are Q&A. They are input/output. You input questions and your guest outputs answers.

If you hold conversations, it gives your guest too much leeway to go whatever direction they want. Usually, it won’t be the direction YOU want. Your guest will often steer clear of subjects that make them uncomfortable.

Another reason that conversations don’t work is because they often involve you making comments instead of asking questions. Guests often won’t reply to comments, which brings the entire interview/conversation to an awkward, grinding halt.

If you want to distinguish yourself as an interviewer, do these four things:

  • Be well-prepared
  • Have a plan — know what you want from the interview
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Be a good listener and ask follow-ups

It’s funny – I wanted to have conversations because I wanted to distinguish myself. However, it was only after I realized the error in that that I was able to set myself apart.

5 tips to ensure you are welcome in the locker room

When I was covering San Diego Chargers and San Diego State Aztecs football in the early 90s, I would escort a female reporter friend of mine into the locker rooms. She would hold my elbow, keep her head down, and ask me to lead her to the players she wanted to talk to. Whether it was for religious or personal beliefs, this was part of her locker room etiquette.

locker room

For the most part, the etiquette inside the locker room is the same as on the outside.

  1. Don’t go into the trainer’s room. That is totally off-limits to the media.
  2. Don’t follow guys to the shower.
  3. When guys return from the shower to their locker, either (a) wait for them to acknowledge when it is okay to start asking questions or (b) wait until they have put their pants on.
  4. Don’t be “that guy” who never asks questions but instead only takes audio back to the station that came from the questions of others. You’ll gain respect from your peers if you actively participate.
  5. Always thank people for their time.

Sports talk hosts – here is another point about the locker room that is particularly relevant to you:

You will gain the respect of the players you cover if, after you have been critical of a guy, you make yourself available in the locker room.

Being critical then hiding inside the press box or radio or TV station is a fast way to lose respect.

Good tips for great sideline reporting

Sideline reporters do not easily impress me. Many of them don’t provide anything that the guys in the booth can’t provide.

sideline reporting

However, two radio sideline reporters have stood out to me over the years for their ability to offer insights that can’t come from the booth – Jordan Moore at USC and Matt Walters of Kansas State. (Full disclosure – Matt has been a friend of mine for 26 years).

I spoke to Jordan and Matt about how they approach their jobs in a way that distinguishes themselves. They agree that they are responsible for bringing two things to the table.
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Training camp for PBP voices

Football teams at all levels are either underway with their football seasons, or about to embark on them. It’s time for them to get ready for their football seasons, and it’s also time for broadcasters to prepare for their play-by-play assignments.

pbp training camp

While you won’t have to physically work as hard as the football players do in training camp, there is some pre-season work that can be done to sharpen the minds of play-by-play broadcasters. I have begun my play-by-play training camp by doing some housekeeping, assembling my tools, and getting some practice reps before the season begins.

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What divides great PBP voices from good ones?

Is your play-by-play career stuck on the 9th floor of a 10-story building? Maybe you aspire to a major college play-by-play job but you’ve plateaued at Division I-AA. Or maybe you’ve been in minor league baseball for 10 years yet never even interviewed for a Major League job.

nba energy

Your play-by-play might be missing the one thing that distinguishes the great voices from the very good ones:

NBA energy.
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Becoming a more versatile PBP broadcaster

I have always thought that old dogs could be taught new tricks, just as well as new dogs. The key to training both is cultivating the desire within them to learn the new tricks.

Yours truly, a relatively old play-by-play dog, learned some new tricks and had a lot of fun doing so during the recently-ended broadcast season at Washington University in St. Louis.


In the 2014-15 broadcasting season at Wash-U, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to call more games in men’s and women’s soccer, in men’s baseball, and I was given the PBP assignment of women’s softball for the first time. It is a compliment to be entrusted with adding those sports to a PBP list that began as being limited exclusively to football and men’s and women’s basketball.
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