How can today's play-by-play guys become more like yesterday's greats?

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Jon Chelesnik
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How can today's play-by-play guys become more like yesterday's greats?

#1 Post by Jon Chelesnik » Wed Mar 08, 2017 10:39 am

This email from a friend asked some fascinating questions.

Here is what he wrote:

I just read an article about the retirement of Bob Miller, and the end of a broadcasting era in southern California.


Read it here.

The last paragraphs drew my attention:

"Maybe I’m just becoming a grumpier old man, but I would take any of these broadcasting legends any day over anybody in the new crew. There is scarcely a broadcaster whose career started in the past 15 or 20 years who really enhances the atmosphere of the game he’s calling.

They need to put a new button on the remote control next to the mute button. They need a button that will silence the announcers and just give us the crowd."

I hear this a lot from friends and families about games we watch.


Now, here are his questions:

1. What can we do as broadcasters to take our broadcasting to the level of Scully, Enberg, Hearn, and Miller?

2. What can we do to help bring excitement about the next generation of play-by-play broadcasters?

3. What can we do to enhance the atmosphere of the game we are calling?

Here was my reply:

What I suggest is studying the work of the all-time greats. Take notes about what they did that today's guys aren't doing. The research would be both fun and fascinating, and would almost certainly give you an edge as you continue honing your craft and building your career.

How do you address his questions?

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Re: How can today's play-by-play guys become more like yesterday's greats?

#2 Post by PhilGiubileo » Wed Mar 08, 2017 1:48 pm

Jon,
This is a great topic, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer.

To be honest, Vin Scully wouldn’t get hired today if his name wasn’t Vin Scully. He’s a true original in a field where many of the recent hires are very much cookie cutter. Maybe it’s me, but many of today’s play-by-play hires at the TV level seem to be aloof sounding folks with a dry sense of humour and delivery to go along with it. I think this is what they’re being taught. That’s nice, if you’re Joe Buck.

What you’re seeing is that technology is ruining the development of young announcers at the lower levels. On a positive side, college kids are able to get more reps because one isn’t limited by the bandwidth of a college radio station. Additionally, many of those additional reps are video broadcasts—and therein lies the rub.
College kids today are learning how to be TV play-by-play announcers first, where passion and creativity for the play-by-play announcer aren’t utilized nearly as much, simply because the viewer can see what’s going on. It’s a medium for the analyst (on-air), and the Director (off-air – see the tributes to the late Bill Webb this week as confirmation).

That’s a huge difference between today’s up and comers vs. the legends. The legends learned on radio. They eventually went into television, but they developed as storytellers that were responsible for painting a three-dimensional picture to a listener on radio. They opened the door to your imagination. When the Scully’s and Chick Hearn’s of the world migrated over to television, they brought their interesting, knowledgeable and unique personalities over to TV.

Social media doesn’t help. I think today’s students have trouble thinking outside of soundbites or memes/tweets/short clips that are digested via Twitter/Snapchat/FB and Instagram. It contradicts being able to tell a narrative that spans a 162 game MLB schedule or 82 game NHL schedule. So on the flip side of the Joe Bucks, you get the opposite end, the Gus Johnson wannabes that scream their way onto their 30 seconds of viral fame.

What I do find interesting about your response is that it directly contradicts Scully’s, who suggested to not listen to other announcers, and to be yourself. I tend to agree with that assessment to a point. However, I still listen to others, and I’m sure many of us do. Regardless, I still strive to be myself and I think I’ve succeeded at that for a long time.

So with that said, what would I tell a young announcer? I’m not sure. Ultimately, these types of broadcasters are getting hired (the poorly trained Joe Buck wannabe types)—so until the decision makers change their course and attempt to be original instead of following the pack, I’m not sure if trying to emulate the legends of yesteryear will earn them gainful employment.

Otherwise, the best advice I could give someone is to really learn how to be a great RADIO play-by-play announcer before sliding over to television, because it’s much easier to learn TV with a good radio background than vice-versa.
Phil Giubileo
Play-by-Play Broadcaster/CT Whale (NWHL) & Quinnipiac University Men's/Women's Hockey (ECAC)
Always looking for freelance work in the NY/NJ/CT area

Follow me on Twitter @philgpbp
See my website at http://www.playbyplay.biz

ssteve

Re: How can today's play-by-play guys become more like yesterday's greats?

#3 Post by ssteve » Wed Mar 08, 2017 7:40 pm

I believe there are some. I'm not one of the Joe Buck haters first of all. I think he does a great job. Jim Nantz is one of the greats of this era and still young enough not to be of the Enberg or Scully era. The problem, to me (if it's even a problem), is that there is so much more televised sports that the pool is diluted. There is so much more televised today that there are a lot more announcers both good and bad that dilute the talent pool. With all the ESPN stations showing games, FX1, the major networks, ESPN3, I just happen to think there are still some immortals or our era but they may get less exposure because televised sports today has so much exposure.

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Re: How can today's play-by-play guys become more like yesterday's greats?

#4 Post by AkSarBen » Thu Mar 09, 2017 8:31 am

I think it is a fundamental problem of people receiving a poorer education than in the past. Grammar is horrible, no one bothers to correct it on a national level. Having a background of general knowledge has gone the way of the dinosaur. The greats you mention and others like Jon Miller are able to descibe and entertain because they know a lot more than the sport they are broadcasting. They had vast vocabularies, not a set of flash cards to look at for synonyms they can't call up from memory. If a budding sportscaster aspires to those levels then educate yourself, about the world. Most today just want to be known as an idiot screaming on YOUTUBE not a communicator.

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Re: How can today's play-by-play guys become more like yesterday's greats?

#5 Post by Jon Chelesnik » Thu Mar 09, 2017 9:08 am

Wow -- fascinating responses.

These are two fabulous reasons:
College kids are able to get more reps because one isn’t limited by the bandwidth of a college radio station. Additionally, many of those additional reps are video broadcasts—and therein lies the rub. The legends learned on radio.

Social media doesn’t help. I think today’s students have trouble thinking outside of soundbites or memes/tweets/short clips that are digested via Twitter/Snapchat/FB and Instagram. It contradicts being able to tell a narrative that spans a 162 game MLB schedule or 82 game NHL schedule.
A quick point of clarity -- when I suggested to the person who initially posed the question that he study "the greats," I meant for the sake of trying to determine what they do differently, not for trying to mimic them.

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Re: How can today's play-by-play guys become more like yesterday's greats?

#6 Post by JoeVasile » Fri Mar 10, 2017 1:17 pm

I agree with the point of growing up by digesting sports on television and not on radio perhaps effecting the way that a lot of young sportscasters (myself included) develop at the start, but at the end of the day, I don't think that today's play-by-play guys need to be more like yesterday's greats. The industry changes, peoples' preferences change, and as that happens, you see a shift in the way that we call games. Yes, the nuts and bolts stay the same, but the presentation of that information has to adapt.

We can blame social media or education or short attention spans all we want, but if that is the reality of your audience, then you need to present the broadcast in a way that is consistent with your personality that caters to that. If you are authentic to your personality, for the most part people will like you on air. The only problem is when you try to be like someone else on air - whether that is Gus Johnson, Vin Scully or Jon Miller. At the root of peoples' love for Vin or Dick Enberg or any other sportscaster is that they fee that they are true to themselves. You're sitting on the couch with Vin having a one-sided conversation about the game like you would with your dad or grandpa. You're in on the joke when Brent Musberger or Al Michaels make a gambling reference. You're jumping up and down and going crazy along with Gus Johnson after a big shot is made. I don't think it is a today vs. yesterday debate as much as it is a question of authenticity. If you are true to yourself (along with being well prepared and everything else that goes along with calling a game), you'll be able to enhance the atmosphere of the game and deliver that excitement. But as soon as you try to be like the guys on TV or Radio, you lose that and become a mute-button guy.

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Re: How can today's play-by-play guys become more like yesterday's greats?

#7 Post by jaymurry » Sat Apr 08, 2017 5:02 pm

This is a very good discussion. I'm enjoying a review of all the responses.

Here are two more cents to put onto the table...

I believe one major difference between today's broadcasters and the greats of the past is the ability to recognize when the drama of a game is building, and stop the stats conveyor belt to focus on illuminating that drama for the viewer/listener. Many times I hear announcers get so immersed in mentioning the minutiae of stats about a player, that they forget to focus solely on the drama that is unfolding before them.

The great broadcasters of the past didn't have the reams of stats that are available today. But, they didn't get caught in the quicksand of stats either--so they could focus on illuminating and describing the key moments of a game with flair and excitement. Far too many times, today's broadcasters are so busy trying to mention all of the stats available in the media game notes, especially late in games..."John Doe, when in Single-A ball, batted .333 on cloudy Wednesdays..." that they can't react quickly enough to properly provide an entertaining and memorable punctuation when John lashes a base hit that brings home the game-tying run.

Even when the drama takes a while to build and climax (when a batter fouls off several pitches)...the greats stayed with the description of the key moment in front of them, instead of being tempted to restart the stats conveyor belt.

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Re: How can today's play-by-play guys become more like yesterday's greats?

#8 Post by AkSarBen » Sun Apr 09, 2017 2:03 pm

Mr Murrays comments on modern reliance on stats are right on the money. They are a crutch to use instead of developing other skills, I referenced earlier. Whether this is a reflection of changing times or not, developing your vocabulary, your general knowledge in other areas and your grammar are things that will serve you well, even if industry standards for today's young broadcasters are lower

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