A few weeks ago, the eyes of the state of Indiana were on New Palestine High School. Charlie Spegal, the Dragons’ senior running back, entered the day needing just 12 yards to become the state’s career rushing leader – one of the most notable and considered unbreakable records in Indiana. I knew it would be a major broadcast that season.
I’ve been New Palestine’s play-by-play announcer for more than a decade. I’ve been fortunate to be on the mic for several state championships and big moments. But a record that could happen anytime in a game – and would likely happen early – was something new.
As I was taking a pregame walk, some asked me “in a major broadcast, do you have anything rehearsed, or are you a live in the moment guy?”
I told him “I’m the live in the moment guy.” I believe a broadcast needs to be spontaneous and sound natural. Pre-planned lines sound fake and stilted.
For me, the moment came on the third play. Third-and-nine, Charlie was nine yards from the record. He got 10 and a first down. The game stopped, he was recognized and posed for pictures with the previous recordholder, and then things continued (his team scored on a 51-yard TD pass on the next play).
THIS is going to be the call that lives forever. So, how do you “live in the moment” in a major broadcast without sounding scripted?
If a big moment will come, know the circumstances surrounding it. Are you calling a championship game? Know both teams’ histories with that championship. Is there a streak? Is there a big hurdle they’ve overcome? Is it the first time in years? If it’s an impending record, know who held it, how long it had been held, when it’s going to be broken. Be prepared, have that information handy in your notes.
In my case, the previous state rushing recordholder was in attendance. I found out the player who held the record before him was going to be in attendance but had a work conflict. We mentioned both of those on the broadcast before the big play.
Be a reporter: What is the most important thing happening?
Plan in advance. You know what might happen and sometimes will happen, but you don’t know how it is going to happen. Stay in the moment and tell the listener what is happening. That comes from your preparation.
Focus on your fundamentals
The adrenaline is going to be very high at a big moment, for you and for your listeners. That’s when we can most easily forget where we are and what we’re doing. Just remember. Set up the action. Describe what you’re seeing. Stick with who-what-where (who has the ball, what is he/she doing with it, where is it), and then convey the moment. But if you stick with your fundamentals, things will work out. Take a deep breath.
Be the eyes and ears of the fans
If you’re doing radio, your fans can’t see what’s happening. Tell them. Recap the championship play, or the record-breaking play again. Describe the celebration. Pat Hughes said the Cubs were jumping around like delirious 10-year-olds when they won the World Series. I can *see* that in my head.
Stay in the moment: don’t force it
Relax. Take a deep breath. Use your voice as an instrument – it can convey emotion with a rise in volume and intensity in your normal voice. Be measured and relaxed while it’s happening. Avoid yelling and screaming.
You can convey the emotion so well with your words and your voice. One of my all-time favorite big moment calls came from Pat Hughes. With the Cubs about to win a series at home against a big rival, he took the pulse of Wrigley Field and said “I wish all of you could be right here at this moment.” It captured the feel of the stadium without any change in vocal inflection. Another was from Dave Goucher, when the Boston Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup title. He later said on social media he thought about what he’d say beforehand, but it wasn’t rehearsed.
Again, just a rise in intensity with his normal voice: “Get the duck boats ready. After 39 long years, the Cup is back home. The Bruins are 2011 Stanley Cup champions.” That call is iconic, and is still played at the start of every broadcast on WBZ-FM. Those calls are iconic. Ones with lots of yelling and screaming aren’t. Stay measured, stay in the major broadcast moment and enjoy the call.
Andrew Smith is in his second year as the play-by-play voice of the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. He also has been broadcasting and covering sports in Central Indiana for nearly 20 years.