There is a huge difference between calling games on your own and having a colour analyst in the booth with you. Chances are throughout a season you’ll have to do both in order to cover your full schedule of games, and both setups require a bit of a different approach from a prep and execution stand point.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few different colour analysts, as well as call a lot of games on my own. When I first got hired to call Junior hockey, the colour analyst I teamed up with had done the broadcast for a few years prior. In addition, he’d been in the town and around the team for many more seasons and was invaluable. I arrived in town 12 days before my first game and no matter how much prep you do, there’s only so much you can memorize. Andy, my colour guy, was able to carry be through the first ten or so broadcasts by communicating tendencies, moments from past seasons and provide great insight for the audience.
As the games and years passed, I got more comfortable and when Andy decided to pursue work interests elsewhere, I carried the show myself. Outside of the odd game here or there, I’ve been solo calling hockey for the last 3 seasons and enjoy it a great deal. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years when calling games solo, and with a colour analyst.
If you’re flying solo:
Turn the game into a conversation with the audience
Instead of talking to your colour analyst, talk to your audience. Pose questions, chat with them and make it a very casual environment. Obviously you want to call the play…that’s your job…but in stoppages, intermissions, etc you can make a very deliberate shift to an atmosphere where you’re sitting on the couch talking about the game with your buddies. Stay professional, but make it conversational. This will not only make it easier for you to cover this time, but it’ll also encourage thought and debate with your audience which in turn makes them more engaged.
Make sure you’re well prepped
When you’re solo, you have to have all the information. In order to do the above and turn the broadcast into a conversation, you have to know where to take that conversation. If you’re solo, you have to make sure your prep is inch perfect and that you have it laid out in a way that you can discuss certain things when they crop up in a game. Go through your prep and write down some talking points. Teams record at a certain point in a game, key players and their histories or venue information is all great, light conversational material that you can use when not covering the nuts and bolts of a game.
Slow your pace
There’s nothing worse than having 5 minutes to fill and running out of material at the 3 minute mark. You’re the only voice on the air for 3 hours, so you want to make sure you’re not “getting all your s*** in” too early. Use natural pauses when you speak, use crowd noise, take pauses. Don’t feel obligated to cover every pause with your voice…sometimes the noise of the crowd can be a great pause for you to take a short swig of water and setup for the next play. Watch any baseball or football game with a solo announcer…how often is it just the crowd noise?
If you’re with a colour analyst:
Be on the same page
When possible, do your prep together or at the very least coordinate your prep so that you have the same talking points. There’s nothing worse than you as a play-by-play announcer setting your colour guy up to elaborate more on a particular point, then he or she taking it in a completely different direction. Ensuring that you’re on the same page about game stories makes it much easier for you to both tell the tale.
Have a format and stick with it
Similar to the point above, when you have two people on a broadcast you run into issues with two different broadcasters taking the call in two different directions. Have a game script that you can both follow. If you’re in a pre-game situation, what are you going to cover after the coach interview is completed? At the end of the period/quarter/half, who’s doing the score recap? What comes after that? Agree on a format and execute it together.
Be a leader
If you’re the play-by-play guy, you’re in charge of the show. You’re in charge of what comes next and you lead the ship. Make sure that your colour analyst knows that. When I first met Andy, it was in a pub where we had lunch and I laid out how I wanted the show to go. He offered some thoughts and things that had worked in the past, which we promptly added into the show. Go over things like goal/touchdown calls where he’ll jump in, how much you want him to fill in the stoppages and any hand signals or off-air communication to indicate changes or game occurrences.
Broadcasting with a colour analyst can open up a lot of doors and make things much easier on the play-by-play announcer, however it also introduces some complications that have to be managed and monitored. Whatever the situation, the key to success is in the prep and the work that you do leading up to a broadcast that’ll give you the best chance of success.