Posts Tagged ‘broadcasting’

The most important thing for a play-by-play broadcaster’s development is reps; one needs to call games in order to get better at calling games. But, listening is also important – listening to yourself, listening to others and getting decision makers and/or more experienced broadcasters to provide constructive feedback after listening to you. Without those three types of listening, it’s impossible for a play-by-play broadcaster to get better or to know if he or she is headed in the right direction. All three types of listening have been crucial in my development as a play-by-play broadcaster.

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The first time I called baseball play-by-play on the radio was in Pasco, Washington – the season opener between my team, the Yakima Bears, and the Tri-City Dust Devils. I’d never done a pre-game show on my own and I’d never thought about how to put one together, making my 15-minute pre-game a challenge. I did very little research on the Bears players and no research on the Dust Devils players, so I had little to talk about during lulls in the action. When there was action, my calls were pedestrian at best, horrendous at worst. In short, I was awful.

After the game, I started thinking. Should I listen back to my first broadcast? I wondered. Maybe I could learn something. When I was in college, veteran broadcasters spoke to me and my classmates about the importance of listening to our own broadcasts, so didn’t I need to start after my first game? I never did listen to my first baseball broadcast; as it turned out, I screwed up my recording of the game – of course I did! – so I couldn’t listen even if I wanted to.

Eventually, I figured out how to archive my game broadcasts on my Minidisc recorder, but I was two weeks into my first season before I listened to one of my broadcasts. It was a game at Everett, Washington that ended when the Bears leftfielder dropped a fly ball with two outs in the ninth inning, allowing the winning run to score. I thought my call of the game was very good, particularly my call of the final play. And, on the 20-minute bus ride from the Everett ballpark to the hotel, I listened to myself through my headphones. My initial assessment of my call was accurate; I sounded really good, even upon further review. However, I noticed a few things I didn’t like about my call and I made mental notes on the improvements I needed to make. After the brief listening session, I felt pretty good about my play-by-play and was excited about my next broadcast, when I’d get to implement some of the changes I wanted to make.

That exercise led to me creating a policy to which I still adhere – I only listen to my play-by-play after what I feel is a very good broadcast. When I’ve listened to games I’ve done that I didn’t think were very good, I’ve wound up picking apart my call even more and feeling uninspired about my work. But, listening to games in which I felt my call was good energizes me even while I recognize there’s room for improvement.

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I love long-distance drives on Saturday afternoons during the fall and winter, because they give me a chance to listen to basketball and/or football play-by-play. On this particular Saturday in December, I was in the middle of a three-hour drive to call a basketball game when my radio dial settled on the broadcast of a Division I basketball game. The play-by-play broadcaster was decent; he painted the picture pretty well and gave the time and score often. However, he kept referring to his team by their nickname, a nickname I didn’t immediately identify with a particular school. I listened to nearly a quarter of the game broadcast before I heard the school’s name.

I immediately thought of my own basketball broadcasts; at the time, I was calling games for the University of Nebraska Omaha. Do I say the school’s name and nickname enough? I thought. Do I make it clear that “Nebraska Omaha” and “Mavericks” are one in the same? From that point forward, I made more of an effort to interchange the school name and nickname of both teams as often as possible, occasionally using both together. The broadcaster I was listening to may have figured the majority of his listeners are fans of his school and didn’t need to hear the school’s name repeatedly. However, I’ve always believed it’s important to make my broadcasts accessible to as many listeners as possible without dumbing down the broadcast to the point where diehard fans would be offended. And, I didn’t think making it clear that “Nebraska Omaha” and “Mavericks” or “IUPUI” and “Jaguars” or “Kansas City” and “Kangaroos” were interchangeable would insult my core audience.

Too often, play-by-play broadcasters think they can only learn from the best broadcasters and, if they’re listening to a broadcast by someone they deem inferior, they just tear it apart without breaking down the call critically. However, lessons can be learned even from the worst broadcasters. Mind you, the Division I broadcaster I’m referring to was far from horrible – he was quite good, actually – but I was able to learn from something he did that I thought sounded awkward. There are broadcasters I don’t particularly care for who are good at certain facets of play-by-play that I try to emulate. A play-by-play broadcaster can learn something from every game broadcast he or she listens to, whether it’s what to do or what not to do; the latter is just as important as the former.

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I don’t remember how Liana wound up with a free night at a hotel – was is for opening a new bank account? Anyhow, because I had a basketball game to call on Valentine’s Day, we decided to celebrate the holiday the following week by spending a couple of days in Syracuse, New York; I’d never taken Liana to the city where I earned my college degree, Syracuse was only an hour away and it was a trip that was within our modest budget. We’d just checked into our hotel when my cellphone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway. To my surprise, it was the Director of Broadcasting for a National League team. He wanted to talk to me about the demo CD I’d sent him.

A couple of months prior, I sent a CD with clips of my baseball play-by-play to nearly all of the 30 Major League Baseball teams, hoping to get some feedback on my work. The few teams I’d heard from hadn’t told me much, if anything, about my play-by-play skills. So, I listened intently as the gentleman on the other end told me I needed to be more descriptive (“this isn’t television,” he reminded me). I kept probing him for more information; what else did you notice? I asked. The Director of Broadcasting was firm, but friendly, and he was happy to answer any questions I had. We talked for about an hour. At the end, he told me I was headed in the right direction and that, with more experience, I’d have a shot at a broadcasting position in the Major Leagues. He also encouraged me to keep in touch and to keep sending him my demos. After that conversation, I was a much better broadcaster. I also realized Liana must love me to put up with me spending an hour of our romantic getaway on the phone.

Of the three types of listening, getting constructive feedback is the hardest to accomplish. Most who listen to a play-by-play broadcaster will either tell that broadcaster he or she is great or that he or she is awful, if they tell him or her anything at all. That’s why it’s important to cast a wide net; when I was a minor league baseball broadcaster I contacted the Director of Broadcasting for several Major League Baseball teams and two gave me constructive feedback (another National League team’s Director of Broadcasting emailed me with useful feedback and we later spoke over the phone). It’s crucial to keep seeking constructive feedback until you get it. And, once you find people willing to help you, don’t be afraid to ask them to listen to more of your work down the road as you continue to get better.


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I go through stages where I only listen to a specific music genre or musical artist for a few days. During this particular period, I was listening to a lot of old-school rap from the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of my favorite groups from that era is A Tribe Called Quest, a trio of rappers from Queens, New York who were adept at combining sounds unique to rap with superb wordplay. At the moment, “Can I Kick It?”, a Tribe song held in place by guitar chords borrowed from Lou Reed’s classic rock hit “Walk on the Wild Side”, was playing. In the song’s chorus, Tribe asks “Can I kick it?”, with the audience responding “Yes you can!” over and over again.

Then it hit me. I can use that.

I was in the middle of my first – and, as it turned out, only – season as the radio voice of The College of St. Rose men’s and women’s basketball teams. St. Rose’s women’s team had a two-guard whose primary job was to come off the bench and fire three-point shots. Like most long-range shooters, it was apparent within one or two shot attempts whether she was hot or cold. And, when she was hot, even the rare threes that missed looked like they were going in. One night, she came in and hit her first two threes and I knew she was on. So, when her next three went up, I saw my opportunity.

“Can she hit it?” I asked my listeners and the basketball floated through the air.

“Yes she can!” I exclaimed as the ball snapped through the bottom of the net with ruthless precision.

And, just like that, I’d come up with another way to describe a three-point shot.

Catchphrases in broadcasting can be a dangerous thing. Often, for something to truly become a catchphrase, a broadcaster has to use it over and over again in the same situation, which can become paralyzing and a threat to a broadcaster’s creativity. I see “Can he/she hit it…Yes he/she can!” more as an option than a catchphrase because I don’t use it on every three-point shot attempt; I don’t think I’ve ever used it more than once in a game broadcast and I’ll often go several games without using it at all. I feel that something like “Can he/she hit it…Yes he/she can!” has to be used sparingly, if at all. And, it works well only if the shot goes in; “Can he/she hit it…Nope” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

When I got my first play-by-play job, calling minor league baseball, I had six months to prepare before I called my first game. A good portion of that six months was spent trying to come up with a catchphrase for home runs. Every baseball broadcaster has a home run catchphrase, I thought, so I should too. I finally settled on “Forget it!”; I can emphasize the “r” even more on bigger home runs, I thought to myself. I spent countless hours going over that home run call in my head and aloud.

Then, the season started. And, I barely used the home run catchphrase I’d spent months perfecting. There were two main reasons for that. For one, I was overwhelmed, particularly at the start of the season, and I focused more energy on getting the nuts and bolts of baseball play-by-play correct and less on catchphrases. And, I realized my best calls – of home runs or of anything else – came when I just reacted and described what I saw. Play-by-play is hard enough, I reasoned, and I don’t need to make it even harder by trying to force specific catchphrases or expressions into my vernacular.

Even though I don’t focus on catchphrases in my play-by-play, I still spend a lot of time trying to come up with different words and phrases I can use on the air, but I do that as a way of preventing my play-by-play description from becoming stale. For example, last month I realized I was using “puts up” too often when describing an outside shot attempt (e.g. “Phillips puts up a three”). So, I focused on using other words to describe the act of shooting a jumper, paying close attention to the words used by other broadcasters when they described similar plays. It didn’t take me long to reduce my penchant for “puts up”.

However, some words and phrases work well, even if they’re repeated over and over. Perhaps the best example of that is NBA broadcaster Marv Albert’s “Yes!” call after made jump shots. Albert says “Yes!” after a healthy portion of successful outside shots in almost every game he’s done for at least the last four decades. However, it works for Albert because it’s simple and he varies the “Yes!” based on the importance and/or difficulty of the shot; Albert’s “Yes!” is more emphatic after a game-winner than it is after a first-quarter make. And, it never sounds like Albert is forcing “Yes!” into his call. Albert says he came up with “Yes!” as a youngster, when he heard a referee say “Yes, and it counts!” after a player made a basket despite being fouled and he and his friends started using “Yes!” in their own pickup basketball games. A broadcaster never knows when inspiration will strike.

Whenever an inexperienced or aspiring play-by-play broadcaster asks me about catchphrases and signature calls, I always tell him or her not to worry about coming up with any; let it happen organically. Instead, the focus should be on economy of words and on being able to describe the same plays in myriad ways. As broadcasters get more experience, their personality will emerge, and so will their style and any pet phrases; trying to force a style or catchphrases into play-by-play usually sounds contrived and inauthentic. I also tell broadcasters you never know when or where your favorite words or phrases will emerge. Maybe you’ll have some old-school rappers to thank.

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I’d heard about Twitter for months but it took me awhile to grasp the concept. You send out short messages called tweets? Who reads them? Why would anyone care? How is this any different from status updates on Facebook? Eventually, I joined Twitter reluctantly; I kept hearing about links to interesting articles that were showing up in people’s tweets, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I had no preconceived notions about how much, or how little, I would tweet.

I started by following people I knew and following people who covered baseball; the former for obvious reasons and the latter because I’m always up for reading something about the game I love and cover for a living. The baseball season was in full swing when I joined, so I started tweeting my observations about the Kansas City Royals games I was watching every night in my role as the Royals pre- and post-game show host on their flagship radio station. At first, my followers were all people I knew. After a while, more and more people I didn’t know started following me; those people were mostly Royals fans who wanted more information about their team. I figured I’d wind up with no more than 1,000 followers. There can’t be that many people interested in what I have to say, I thought.

It didn’t take long for Twitter to become addictive. If I was away from the computer or my phone for a few hours, I’d spend 20 minutes scrolling through all the tweets on my timeline that appeared during my hiatus. I’d wake up in the morning and check every tweet that was sent while I was sleeping. It wasn’t until my now-wife and I visited her family in rural Puerto Rico – where internet access and reliable cell phone service weren’t easy to come by – that I broke myself of my obsessive-compulsive Twitter behavior. I still check Twitter regularly, but I no longer fret over the tweets I might be missing.

It also didn’t take long for me to realize there were a lot more people interested in what I tweeted than I ever imagined. I currently have nearly 4,200 followers, more than four times my original estimate. I’m conscious of how many people follow me – and that most of them follow because I tweet quite a bit about the Royals and other Kansas City-area teams and happenings – but I don’t want to become completely beholden to my followers. Most people on Twitter are relatively anonymous, but I’m not; I’m on the radio regularly and easy to track down if one so chooses. And, because of my lack of anonymity, I have to be conscious about what I tweet. Many in my position choose to play it close to the vest and to only tweet about a specific subject or subjects, keeping the tweets relatively benign and unlikely to stir the pot. However, I couldn’t play it close to the vest if I tried; that doesn’t mean I tweet recklessly, but I don’t place limits on what I tweet about. Most of my tweets will relate to baseball or another sport and I try to be honest in my assessments, making critical statements when I deem criticism to be necessary. However, I tweet about lots of other topics: parenthood, politics, pet peeves, observations, news that may only interest me, etc. Like everything else I do, I want my Twitter account to be a reflection of me; I consider myself to be a sports fanatic who has a variety of other interests and concerns and I want my tweets to show that.

I enjoy answering questions and discussing a variety of topics with my Twitter followers; they learn a little more about me and I learn a little more about them, too. The majority of my interactions on Twitter have been positive, even my interactions with those whom I disagree. More often than not, I enjoy the back-and-forth with my followers and many have told me they appreciate that I’ll actually respond to them, whereas many others won’t. I will even respond to the handful of people who are harsh or unnecessarily negative toward me; I usually respond by retweeting those comments or responding to them in a way that allows all of my followers to view my response. I have yet to block someone for tweeting negative things or unsubstantiated criticism to me; often, such haters are so surprised you’d respond to them, they back off. Twitter has also allowed me to connect with others who cover baseball; I’ve arranged several radio interviews and developed a few contacts thanks to Twitter. Through Twitter, I’ve also gotten restaurant recommendations, reconnected with acquaintances I haven’t heard from in years and been offered free legal and medical advice from apparent experts in those fields (I’ve declined those offers).

Sometimes, I have to remind some of my followers about the free and voluntary nature of Twitter. I’m amused by the “no one cares” responses I occasionally get regarding my tweets from some. It cracks me up when I’m told to “stick to sports” or “stick to the Royals” when I tweet about non-sports or non-Royals topics. One of the great things about Twitter is it can be whatever you want to be; I will never understand those on Twitter who don’t get that concept. Besides, Twitter would bore me if I, and everyone else, only tweeted about work and/or followed the same boilerplate. By the same token, it amuses me when I see articles and blog posts about how to use Twitter. There are no hard-and-fast Twitter rules; tweet about what you want and follow, or don’t follow, whomever you want. Don’t want to reveal much about yourself? Fine. Want to use Twitter as your personal confessional? That’s fine, too. Want to follow only a handful of people who only tweet about a specific topic? Go for it. Want to follow thousands of people from a variety of disciplines? Make it happen. I think the universal and adaptable nature of Twitter is why its popularity continues to grow.

Okay, time for me to post this blog, so that I can tweet a link to it. Even if no one cares.

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My first play-by-play gig was as the voice of the Yakima Bears, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the short-season Northwest League. The Bears played 76 games in 80 days. Exactly 75 of those 76 games were played at night. As a first-time broadcaster, the season was a grind, but I loved the challenge and looked at every day as an opportunity to improve. Not a day went by in which I wasn’t tweaking some aspect of my preparation or listening to a half-inning of my work or experimenting with different things on the air. My experience with the Bears wouldn’t have been ideal for every first-time broadcaster – some would prefer a more structured environment working with an established broadcaster – but it was perfect for me and, by the end of the season, I felt like I’d developed a solid foundation even though I knew there was still a lot of room for improvement.

Before the season began, I’d come up with several phrases and expressions I planned on using on the air; the only one I remember is “forrrrrr-get it!” for a home run. Once I got on the air, I found myself rarely using those scripted phrases and, when I did, they were usually forced; I found that my best home run calls were spontaneous reactions to what I was seeing. It also took me a while to learn how to show the proper level of excitement on certain plays; I’ve always been very low-key and have never been much of a shouter or yeller. As the season progressed, I learned how to raise my voice to convey what I felt was the appropriate amount of excitement. That summer, I learned the most important tenet of play-by-play broadcasting:

Be yourself.

Several months ago, I defended the play-by-play style of New York Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling, who does exactly what I realized I couldn’t do: use pre-planned phrases. However, that works for Sterling and I think he truly is being himself. When I first heard Gus Johnson call college basketball games on CBS, I didn’t like him; he was very excitable and emotive and I thought he was trying too hard. But, now I’m one of Johnson’s biggest fans; over time I realized that Johnson’s unique, high-energy style matched his personality and that he was being himself. Both Sterling and Johnson are polarizing figures who most fans either love or hate with no in-between, but there’s no doubt in my mind both broadcasters are being themselves. Every play-by-play broadcaster needs to be prepared and descriptive but, beyond that, there are no hard and fast rules for having a play-by-play style that’s well received and will lead to a fulfilling career. Play-by-play is like writing: it’s important to learn the proper mechanics, but success will be elusive until you find your voice. Not to mention, “success” is very subjective and means different things to different people; whether it be working at the network level, calling your alma mater’s basketball and football games or serving as the long-time voice of a minor league team. And, just like one’s style, no one truly knows what will define success for them until they’ve been in the business for a few years.

I’m not sure when over the last decade I realized I’d figured out what “being myself” meant for me, probably because there wasn’t an Aha! moment; it was a gradual process achieved only after gaining self-awareness and lots of experience. And, I don’t even know how to describe what my style is. But, I know it when I hear it. When I listen to audio of games I’ve called, I cringe every time I hear a bad description, a misused word or a mangled phrase. I cringe most when I don’t sound like myself, when I can tell I’m trying too hard because I’m trying to be perfect or because I’m thinking too much about saying something that may sound good on a demo CD rather than focusing on describing what I’m seeing. And, if I don’t think I sound like myself, the listener will eventually pick up on that lack of authenticity as well.

Every now and then, a novice play-by-play broadcaster will e-mail me a clip of his or her play-by-play to critique. I try to help those broadcasters whenever I can; I know what it’s like to feel like you’re calling games in a vacuum, wondering if you’re any good and if you’re getting better. Also, there aren’t very many people who “teach” play-by-play, so critiques combined with carefully studying your work and the work of others is really the only way to learn how to effectively call a game. Most of the broadcasters who e-mail me their play-by-play need more reps and instruction and are still learning the basics of the craft, which is where every broadcaster should start. And, as you get more proficient with the basics of description and preparation, a style will emerge; to be as good as you can be, that style can’t be forced and has to emerge organically. Forcing one’s play-by-play style is similar to lying; one leads to more and, before you know it, the lines between truth and fiction are blurred and you don’t even know who the real you is anymore.

So, when I hear broadcasters screaming at the top of their lungs or unnaturally distorting their voice to convey excitement or using catch phrases for nearly every play or trying to make their voice sound deeper or more authoritative than it actually is, I wonder if they’re trying too hard, a question only the broadcaster can answer accurately (and an accurate answer comes only with the proper level of self awareness). But, over time, listeners figure out who’s being true to themselves and who isn’t. As with athletes, the careers of play-by-play broadcasters top out at different levels depending on a variety of factors. But, no broadcaster who isn’t true to himself or herself will go very far.

If you’re a play-by-play broadcaster trying to move up in the business, someone who’s trying to figure out what your next move will be, remember to always be yourself and to seek honest and critical assessments of your work. You may not go very far in broadcasting – a business that depends a lot on subjectivity and on being in the right place at the right time – but you will find your voice.

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Thanks to my job as a reporter covering the Kansas City Royals for their flagship radio station, I’ve developed quite a following on Twitter. Recently, one of my followers asked me if I was a fan of the Royals. I replied that, while I like to see the Royals succeed, I don’t consider myself a fan. My response led to a lengthy Twitter discussion about why I’m not a fan of the Royals; some suggested I was a traitor for not unabashedly rooting for the Royals and others assumed I don’t care about the Royals if I’m not a fan of the team.

I can’t help that I grew up in New York City rooting for the New York Mets, rather than in Kansas City rooting for the Royals. I suppose I could toss my past aside and pretend the Royals are the only team I’ve ever cared about, but that would be disingenuous. Even though I do a Royals post-game show and have many people who follow me on Twitter because I cover the Royals, I don’t hide my past or present allegiances. I learned about and fell in love with baseball thanks to the Mets and pretending otherwise would be ignoring a key part of what’s made me who I am.

When I first took the Royals reporter job, just before the start of the 2009 baseball season, I scoured the internet for information about the Royals teams of the previous few seasons, taking detailed notes that almost filled up an entire legal pad. Now, in my fourth season covering the Royals, I feel like know as much about the team as anyone who didn’t grow up following them could. I’ve gotten to know many of the players, coaches and executives – past and present – very well. I enjoy interacting with and talking to Royals fans and I feel I have a good grasp of the fan base’s mood. I like to see the Royals do well – it’s easier and more enjoyable covering a winning team than it is covering a losing team – but I still don’t consider myself a fan.

I am a fan of Syracuse University’s teams, especially football and men’s basketball. I am a fan of the New York Giants. I am a fan of the New York Knicks. I will celebrate the successes of those teams and brood over their failures. I will always wear merchandise with the logos and colors of those teams. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I will always care whether Syracuse, the Giants and the Knicks win or lose. However, if I stop covering the Royals, I will no longer follow them closely. Sure, I’ll still be interested in how they do – I occasionally peruse box scores, rosters and schedules for teams I covered a decade ago – but I will no longer concern myself with their day-to-day activities. I no longer consider myself a Mets fan because I’ve spent the last decade immersed in coverage of other baseball teams, making it difficult for me to follow the Mets closely at the Major League level; this is true even though I covered one of the Mets minor league affiliates for four years.

Some say covering a team you aren’t a fan of is a good thing; it leads to more impartial coverage, they say. I think there are advantages to covering a team you grew up rooting for: you’re already familiar with that team’s history, you know what’s important to that team’s fans and you know how those fans think. And, seeing the inner workings and getting to know the on- and off-field members of a team decreases the chances of a fan-turned-media member becoming an unabashed cheerleader. Even the most plugged in fans are prone to speculation about the motives and character of a player, coach or team, speculation that often isn’t very informed or is based on what others have told them. On the other hand, media who cover a team are less likely to speculate because they have a better idea of what’s going on. And, when they do speculate, it’s usually well-informed speculation based on their intimate knowledge of and on- and off-the-record access to a team and its key players. Unlike fans, media who cover a team every day are less likely to run hot and cold about a team or player’s performance because they usually have a better understanding of the big picture. If you are a fan of a team, covering that team every day will make you less of a fan and more of a shrewd observer.

So, no, I’m not a Royals fan and I doubt I’ll ever really be a Royals fan. But, I do enjoy covering them and I hope they succeed in turning things around and eventually make it back to the World Series. Because, who wouldn’t want to cover a World Series?

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My first year as the radio pre- and post-game show host for the Kansas City Royals’ flagship station was a difficult one. I’d never done talk radio before, but now I was hosting a call-in talk show after every Royals game. I’d never followed the Royals closely, but now I needed to be an expert on them. I’d never covered a Major League Baseball team on an everyday basis before, but now I was learning how to do so on the fly.

And, I was dealing with listener criticism for the first time.

I came to Kansas City after four years in Binghamton, New York, where I was the radio voice of minor league baseball’s Binghamton Mets and of Binghamton University’s women’s basketball team. I’m sure there were fans who didn’t like my work, but I never heard from them. There were a couple of message boards and blogs that talked regularly about Binghamton basketball, but they focused on the higher profile men’s team. I wasn’t aware of any active boards or blogs that regularly discussed Binghamton media or the Binghamton Mets. Before Binghamton, I did sports play-by-play and news anchoring and reporting for a radio station group in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While there, one of my co-workers directed me to a message board filled with mostly negative comments about personalities at nearly every radio and television station in the area. There were a handful of mildly critical posts about my news-anchoring skills – I even responded to one of them on the message board, using my real name – but I was more concerned with my play-by-play than I was with my news reporting and anchoring, so I didn’t dwell on those negative comments for very long. My stay in Kalamazoo was preceded by a stint in Yakima, Washington where I was the radio voice of minor league baseball’s Yakima Bears, a short-season team with a 76-game schedule. If there were online forums or blogs devoted to Yakima radio or to the Bears, I wasn’t aware of them.

Kansas City was a completely different animal. For starters, its metro area is about 10 times bigger than Binghamton’s. And the Royals, like every Major League Baseball team, has several message boards and blogs devoted to it. There are also a few blogs and message boards covering Kansas City media. Generally speaking, message board and blog posts range from incredibly positive (I love the trade the Royals just made!) to incredibly critical (I hate the trade the Royals just made!) to incredibly uninformed or delusional (The Royals didn’t trade for Alex Rodriguez? Well, then they obviously don’t want to win!). Sometimes, a post that takes the middle ground on a topic can be hard to find.

I knew nothing about any Royals or Kansas City media message boards or blogs until Greg Schaum, my post-game show co-host my first year, directed my attention to some negative posts about me during the first couple of months of that first season. I was called out for pronouncing the name of the Royals ballpark incorrectly (I was calling it COWF-man Stadium my first few weeks, rather than the correct COUGH-man Stadium), for not being from Kansas City, for not being a Royals fan and for being clueless about baseball. Some posts were less tactful than others, but it was clear at least a handful of people thought the new Royals post-game show host was lousy and not credible.

The negative comments definitely stung, mostly because this was foreign territory for me; I’d never gotten feedback in such a hostile and condescending matter before. The rest of the season, I regularly scoured message boards and blogs for comments about me. Most of the feedback was still negative but, after a while, it no longer stung; by obsessing over what others were saying about me, I minimized its impact on my psyche. I also noticed there were fewer comments about me, negative or otherwise, as the season wore on. I interpreted the decrease of comments as a good sign, a sign that the fans were getting used to me, regardless of their feelings about my work.

As my tenure covering the Royals progressed, I became more knowledgeable and more confident in what I was doing and in my approach to the job, which also helped me deal with negativity directed toward me on the Internet. If I’m being true to myself and to my beliefs, I reasoned, I have nothing to worry about. I also joined Twitter, giving me a forum with which to interact with listeners and to show more of my personality. I think Twitter has helped listeners realize I’m a real person who loves talking baseball, even with those who disagree with me. And, people are less likely to be critical of someone they feel they know in some way – no matter how small – and someone who regularly responds to them, as I do on Twitter.

Occasionally, I still do a Google search for message board comments and blog posts about me. Sometimes, people call into my Royals post-game show to tell me how terrible or stupid I am. I actually like reading and hearing negative things about me from time to time, regardless of how off-base the comments may be, because it keeps me humble. If all I heard were positives, I don’t think I’d be as good of a broadcaster; I definitely wouldn’t be as thick-skinned. Besides, the negative comments and blog posts are often the funniest, especially when the author has no idea what he’s talking about, but thinks he does. Some people in media respond regularly to negative things that are written about them online, but I don’t. Most of the time, I think it would be a waste of time to respond and I think jumping on every negative comment or blog post makes one look paranoid and hypersensitive, two adjectives I never want to be used to describe me. I’ve chosen a field in which I’m a (very) minor public figure and I accept the good and the bad that comes with that. Also, if someone really wants me to respond directly to him, he can always call into my show or message me on Twitter.

More than anything, I appreciate the opportunity to work in a market where at least a handful of people occasionally discuss me and my on-air work in a public forum. I don’t aim to be controversial, nor do I say things on the radio simply for effect. But, I know I can’t please everyone all of the time. And, if people are critical of me, that means they’re listening. It would bother me a lot more if I were ignored.

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Meeting John Sterling this summer was quite a treat. For years, I’ve heard his bombast, nicknames and expressions on New York Yankees radio broadcasts. But, it’s one thing to hear someone on the air and another to actually meet him or her. Many broadcasters are nothing like their on-air personae. However, talking to Sterling was like hearing him calling a game, only he was responding directly to me.

How you feel about Sterling depends a lot on what you value in a broadcaster. If you value accuracy above all else, you won’t like him. Sterling admits he tries to be “ahead of the play”, calling the action as it happens or before it happens. Play-by-play broadcasters are generally taught to be on top of the play or slightly behind the play, allowing the action to unfold. Being ahead of the play – a style that, to my knowledge, no other play-by-play broadcaster uses – leads to more drama and excitement when correct, but sounds awful when you guess wrong. Anyone who’s listened to Yankees broadcasts for any length of time (or has visited the numerous websites that regularly ridicule Sterling) has heard Sterling break into his famous home run call, “It is high! It is far! It is…gone!” only to hear it altered to “It is high! It is far! It is…caught” because what initially looked like a longball to Sterling was a long out instead.

If entertainment value is what you look for most in a play-by-play broadcaster, you’ll love Sterling. He’s probably best known for his home run calls for Yankees players, all of which involve some sort of wordplay. A blast by Nick Swisher is “Swisherlicious!”, Jorge Posada’s homers are followed with “Georgie juiced one!”, Curtis Granderson’s dingers are “Something sort of Grandish!” Sterling also ends each Yankees victory with “Ballgame over! Thaaaaaa Yankees win!” dragging out the word “the” for several seconds. Those traits, along with many others, serve to bolster Sterling’s popularity with Yankees fans (although there’s a vocal bunch of Yankees diehards who despise him) and increase the frequency of complaints about his broadcasting style, particularly from sports broadcasting critics and fans of the Yankees’ opponents.

I find both the fans and critics of Sterling fascinating. His fans love his catchphrases and look forward to what his home run calls will be for the newest Yankees players. Many of his fans also feel Sterling’s calls add drama and excitement to Yankees games. Sterling’s critics deride his frequent mistakes – most of which are the result of Sterling’s desire to be ahead of the play. Those critics often use words like “homer” and “unprofessional” to describe the Yankees voice.

Since I’ve done play-by-play for 10 years – seven of them in baseball – many would assume I dislike Sterling’s broadcast style. After all, I don’t think I’ve met another play-by-play guy who has kind words to say about Sterling. While I certainly wouldn’t recommend that young play-by-play broadcasters emulate many elements of Sterling’s style, I think there is a lot that can be learned from him.

For one, I have a tremendous amount of respect for play-by-play broadcasters who’ve been able to work for decades calling major professional sports. Not only has Sterling called the Yankees on the radio since 1989, he also did play-by-play for Atlanta Braves baseball and Atlanta Hawks basketball in the 1980s and Baltimore Bullets and New York/New Jersey Nets basketball and New York Islanders hockey in the late 1970s and early 1980s. All told, Sterling’s been calling games for more than three decades. And, you don’t stick around for three decades if you’re a talentless, unprofessional hack.

And what does “unprofessional” mean anyhow? I’ve heard and read several who’ve described Sterling as unprofessional, and I don’t buy that at all. An unprofessional play-by-play guy does little or no research and doesn’t know much about the teams or players. I don’t get that impression when I listen to Sterling. I know he doesn’t spend much time in either team’s clubhouse before games, but there are several very good and professional broadcasters – mostly those who are older and more established – who don’t. I’ve seen Sterling prepare and I know he’s a voracious reader of each team’s daily media notes and of the media guides. Could Sterling do more to prepare? Sure, but I don’t think you can say he doesn’t prepare at all, or enough, so I don’t buy the “unprofessional” rap some have given him.

Sterling has also been called a “homer”, because his calls are heavily slanted in favor of the Yankees. While I agree Sterling openly roots for the team that signs his checks I wouldn’t call him a homer. In Confessions of a Baseball Purist, the wonderful autobiography of legendary baseball play-by-play broadcaster Jon Miller, Miller says a broadcaster is a homer if he only views things from the perspective of his team; everything his team does is good and everything going against his team is bad. However, I’ve heard Sterling criticize Yankees players on numerous occasions. He’s especially critical of players who don’t properly execute the fundamentals – moving runners over, throwing to the correct base – whether they play for the Yankees or not. While I think Sterling may embellish the good deeds of the Yankees a bit too much, I wouldn’t call him a homer.

Many have also described Sterling as “being bigger than the game.” In other words, Sterling is more interested in being the story than he is in letting the game be the story. Now that it’s possible to watch every Major League Baseball game on television or on the internet, most radio baseball play-by-play guys aren’t well known outside of their local market. However, Sterling’s calls are regularly played on ESPN and the MLB Network and on sports-talk radio shows across the country. Sterling’s calls have appeal because of his unique and unmistakable sound and because he’s called games for the Yankees – one of the most prominent and polarizing franchises in professional sports – during one of their most successful eras. I would agree Sterling’s acting like he’s bigger than the game if I thought he was intentionally embellishing his calls so that they’d get more play nationally, but I don’t believe that he is. I think Sterling loves the attention his work has gotten – what broadcaster wouldn’t? – but I don’t think Sterling has altered his style so he can get more attention.

What I like most about Sterling is he is unapologetic for his play-by-play style. While many would consider Sterling’s style to be shtick, he insists that it isn’t. And, I tend to believe him. I think what we’re hearing from Sterling on the radio is Sterling being himself. Sterling’s had the Yankees play-by-play job much longer than he’s had any other play-by-play job and, as a result, he’s gotten comfortable, which has allowed his personality to come out. When you hold a play-by-play job for a brief time and/or aren’t sure how long you’re going to be around, you’re much more likely to play it safe and close to the vest. While it may seem like being careful will keep you employed longer, in many cases, it doesn’t. The play-by-play broadcasters who last, the ones who make an indelible impression, are the ones who let their personalities shine through in their work. I don’t like every one of Sterling’s on-air mannerisms, but I don’t doubt their authenticity. Some things Sterling does – namely, the unique home run calls for each player – have taken on a life of their own, but Sterling still seems comfortable with what he’s doing.

The hardest thing for a play-by-play broadcaster to do is find his or her voice. Too many broadcasters try to sound like someone they aren’t and are completely different off the air than they are on the air. If Sterling had the same broadcasting style, but wasn’t being himself, listeners would see through it and he wouldn’t be very successful. The main reason Sterling resonates is because he’s himself. And, I think that’s the most important lesson other play-by-play broadcasters can learn from Sterling.

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