Listeners hate it when announcers fail to offer the score during radio broadcasts. They also hate when announcers predict plays, act like homers, and forget to offer the time left in a game. That's what veteran broadcaster Warren Kozireski told college students at a national college journalism conference in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
That was clear to me this afternoon as I listened to a Bears-Lions game. The Bears announcers told me the game was a shut out (but not who was being shut out) and that the Lions were trying to get three points before the end of the half. Five minutes passed before I heard a score - and a full minute after Jason Hanson kicked a field goal to put the Lions ahead 13-0. I thought I would have to sit in a car at the Arthur Pumpkin Patch while my daughters trampled fields filled with gourds. Fortunately, that catastrophe was averted when the Bears announcers finally ceded that the Lions were winning.
As a print journalist, I have rarely given sports broadcasters their due. Through the years, though, I have gained more respect for radio broadcasting. After Saturday, I admire the work of hard-working radio broadcasters even more. Kozireski revealed the challenges to broadcasting a sporting event. He outlined several areas where sports broadcasters can improve. As I listened, I realized these tips are just as relevant for print reporters. Check out his main suggestions below:
Offer time and score frequently. "That is the number one complaint," said Kozireski, who is also the general manager for a radio station in Brockport, N.Y. "The time and score's always there on TV. Then you go over to radio and what happens? You hope somebody slips in the score once in a while." The key is to have a system, some way that reminds announcers to add these key elements. There is no single way to do this. In baseball and softball, for example, some announcers offer the score after every batter, while others offer it after the second out in the inning. Some offer it every three minutes, using an egg timer. "I still witness them in booths all the time," Kozireski said. Announcers also need to reveal who is leading and the exact time left in a game. For example, announcers should not just say that 5:18 is left in a game; rather they should also give the reference point to those just checking in (saying the 5:18 is left in the second quarter or first half, for example.)
Know the team rosters. Make sure you know the names and numbers of key players. Saying that a pass has been completed to No. 48 (even if you add the name after a brief glimpse at the roster) reveals you did not do your homework. "The moment 48 catches the ball, you need to know the name," Kozireski said. You should study the key players first. In football, that means the quarterback, running backs, and receivers. In hockey or basketball, that may mean studying the leading scorers. These are the players who will touch the ball, or puck, most frequently. Always make sure the numbers are correct by asking team managers and assistant coaches to verify them.
Don't predict. That means saying what has happened, not what is going to happen (even if it appears obvious.) Don't say that a quarterback is going to pass or that a running back is going to get a first down as he runs. Instead, say that a quarterback is in the pocket and that a running back got a first down. Says Kozireski: "Your job is to report."
Don't be a homer. Some broadcasters still argue that outwardly rooting for the home team is a good thing. One student in Saturday's session claimed 90 percent of his listeners rooted for the college team. But not all fans are rooting for the home town, and many want a more evenly balanced report, regardless. That's why I watch White Sox games with the sound off because I cannot stand Hawk Harrelson's blatant one-sided view of the game: "C'mon Big Daddy!" "He gone!" (I wish he were.) If a player from the home team makes a mistake, announcers must describe the play correctly, even if they believe some viewers will get upset. "In one game, I said a player muffed a punt," Kozireski said. "His mom called to complain. I asked, 'How would you like me to describe it?'" It went through his arms and bounced away. But she is clearly biased." Being a homer can also hinder one's career. Networks are not interested in biased announcers on national broadcasts where there are no home teams. Be more like Gus Johnson, who is excited about key plays, regardless which basketball team makes them.
Read books on sports broadcasting. Read Josh Lewin's Getting In The Game, Marv Albert's Yesss, and Dan Patrick's The Big Show -- all of which offer tips, suggestions, and insights into the profession.
Drink lots of water. Not Red Bull, Gatorade, or vitamin water. Milk is the worst thing because it coats the throat. "By the third period of a hockey game, your throat is rough," Kozireski said. "If the games goes into overtime, you can be in trouble." For sore throats on game day, drink hot tea with lemon.
If you are an analyst, shut up! Give the play-by-play announcer time to do his job. The game is not about you. Also, analysts need to do their homework so they know as much as possible about the teams and players. Plus, analysts should not follow the ball. That's the play-by-play announcer's job. Instead, look at other parts of the field or rink. And do not be a Monday morning quarterback, saying what a player or coach should have done; instead, offer your suggestions before plays.
Here are a few other brief suggestions:
■ Don't pigeonhole yourself to a single sport.
■ Avoid jargon, translating a sport's terminology.
■ Sit down and talk with coaches to learn the game better.
■ Dress the part. Keep those worn jeans and torn t-shirts in the dresser. Dress professionally to be treated as such.