Thursday, August 8, 2013

Broadcast Blues

I should have heeded the signs my career would take when, at 9 years old, I recorded my own play-by-play of an electric football game.

I had a large cassette recorder and as I played the game, setting up the players on the green metallic field, clicking the switch and watching them vibrate around, I called the action into the microphone as if I were doing a live game. I played the Minnesota Vikings against the San Francisco 49ers. Both teams had players named Gene Washington and I remember making reference to that fact numerous times on my broadcast. I was more annoying than Joe Buck for cryin' out loud.

I also did riveting action calls.

“Bill Brown takes the handoff and goes up the middle for two yards,” I chirped, sounding in my broken voice like a hyena on ether.

I remember I became bored doing the play-by-play and, since it was a Minnesota Vikings' game, I decided to end the broadcast fittingly and cancel the contest because of a blinding snowstorm at the half.

Fortunately my parents had enough sense not to save the cassette tape; my father on hearing my squeaky voice probably thought the cassette tape was stretching and tossed it away.

Yes, I should have paid attention to that. But instead, I blindly pursued, albeit briefly, a career in television news. After spending about six months as a weekly newspaper writer in a rural northeast Arkansas town, I made the leap and became a television reporter. I was awful. I still had my Minnesota accent back then and on seeing people who recognized me on television I was often told “You don't sound like you're from here.” That was the only compliment they could muster. It did beat that “hyena on ether” thing, though.

Fortunately, my plunge into broadcast was short-lived and I left the state for Philadelphia and then Lubbock, Texas, before I eventually returned to print news where I remain today.

It is much better this way. Television news was acting. To be successful in that medium, you had to sound good and look good. I had neither requirement. Now, I can write my news stories in my underwear if I so chose (I work in alone in a bureau office). I can guzzle Pepsis and cram chips in my maw while I type my tales. No one sees me. (Point of order, though. I don't write in my underwear at any time. I have standards. I do guzzle Pepsis and cram the chips, on occasion.)

And there's the anonymous aspect of being a newspaper reporter. Once at 6 a.m., I sat in a Waffle House in central Arkansas and watched as two people held that day's newspaper and discussed a story I wrote in it about a state politician who was involved in a motor vehicle accident that killed a woman. Police suspected the politician was drunk. The two people read parts of my story aloud and talked about its points as I sat nearby, unbeknownst to them as I drizzled my waffles with syrup. I thought about joining in the talk, but opted not to and instead basked in the anonymity

Another person told me that I “had a face for radio.” And then he added the twist. “And you have a voice for newspaper.”

Yes, I should have seen my career's path ahead of me when I tried broadcasting that fateful football game back nearly 35 years ago. Now, when I roll my APBA baseball replays, I think quick color commentary bits in my head, but I refrain from speaking them out loud.

I don't want people thinking I'm not from here and I do, after all, have that voice for newspaper.


  1. Loved that part -- "I was more annoying than John Buck..." LOL!

  2. Glad to know someone else is annoyed by Mets' catchers!

    I once did commentary during a college basketball game for the college radio station. I wish I had your face and voice! I never even wanted to hear the broadcast. I sound awful on my voicemail greeting.

  3. The irony, of course, is that print people are increasingly being thrust in front of TV cameras to broadcast out of their newsrooms through partnerships with local TV stations. It's become so prevalent the AP Stylebook has added a section on broadcast terminology within the past couple of years (in addition to "hard-hitting" subjects like food and fashion). But personal play-by-play is one of the best parts of the game, no matter how your voice sounds.

  4. I had chances to be on Nancy Grace's show a couple of times to discuss stories I was writing about. I turned the offers down and I'm sure Grace's production people would have thanked me if they realized what they could have broadcast on air.