More than Just “The Voice”: The Story Behind Sports Broadcasting

By Brian Brownfield-

Brian Brownfield commentating

Photo courtesy of Brian Brownfield

I have known for a long time that I wanted to get into the field of sports broadcasting. What could be better than getting a paid to talk about sports? It is a long and arduous journey for many to reach the highest pinnacles of sports broadcasting, and many will say the climb is never-ending. My journey has begun right here at Menlo College, working for the Athletic Department as the Sports Information Student Assistant. But nobody calls me by that title; to many, I am now simply known as “The Voice of the Menlo Oaks.” I have had this conversation with many people, and now it is time to share my experiences behind the microphone with all of you. It may seem like all you need is a good voice to be a successful sports broadcaster, but you will find out it is much more challenging than that. You need to have knowledge. You need to have desire. But most of all, you need to have a passion for what you do.

Preparation is (Almost) Everything

When I was growing up, my parents knew that I would find a path towards sports broadcasting because I would mute my games of Madden and talk while playing. I could not stand hearing something that was not as good as it could be. It needed to be unique. It needed to have flair. It needed to be coming from me. So when I arrived at Menlo and inquired about sports broadcasting on campus, I was more than eager to begin the process. A wide-eyed freshman at the time, I was ready to hop on the mic from day one. How hard could it be? All you have to do is talk about what is happening, there cannot be much more than that, right? Wrong!

Menlo’s Sports Information Director, Aaron Gillespie, has been my biggest mentor throughout the journey. He previously did all of the live broadcasts for Menlo, and I learned right away from his tutelage that one could not simply show up and call a game. Preparation is a broadcaster’s best friend, and a sports broadcaster can never prepare too much for what he or she is about to do. Working at the collegiate level means doing many different sports, sometimes multiple sports on the same day. At Menlo, I have put my stamp on seven different sports: men’s/women’s soccer, men’s wrestling, men’s/women’s basketball, softball, and baseball. There are days when Menlo has hosted four of those sports on the same day! Trust me, prepping for that many games can take a long time.

For a standard game, I will spend about one hour in preparation. I print out the stat sheets for each team and fill it with my own notes. I’ll research the past few games for each team so I have recent information to talk about, look ahead at the next few games, and find out where the players rank among conference leaders. If there is any other information that I can find that is useful towards a broadcast, such as some fun facts about individual players, I’ll throw that on my stat sheet. Since I’ll be talking for multiple hours with very few breaks, I need to find as many tidbits to fill that empty space in between action. The audience must remain engaged throughout the entire game. After all, sports is in the entertainment business and sports broadcasting falls right in line with entertainment.

Matthew commentating a volleyball game

Photo by Brian Byllesby

Matthew Ganibi, a junior at Menlo, is the Voice of Oaks Volleyball and he does a fantastic job at dealing with the constant back-and-forth action the sport brings. Not only does he prepare for the game itself, but he operates the best pregame show among Menlo broadcasters. “I spend over 2 hours writing out my script for each game: pulling up stats, analyzing the stats for each team, and finding ways in which I can effectively deliver this information,” Matthew explains. “For weekend games, I will start preparing on Thursday for Friday’s game. I outline my content for Saturday’s game after the Friday night match. I wait for the stats to be up to date so I can adjust my numbers and analysis if needed. After that, I need to read through the script to make sure I run through it smoothly and sound as natural as possible.”

For games I’m on the call for, I use about three pieces of paper as reference: the stat sheets for the home and away teams and a program that has both rosters and an overview of the contest. It can be easy for the table I am working at to get cluttered with all of the papers, but my personal philosophy has always been to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared. I may write something on my note sheet that does not get said during a game, but that is simply a product of not having the right moment to bring it up. Another aspect of my game preparation that I really enjoy is talking to the players the day of a game. I do not often have the chance to interact with them during their warm-ups, but when I do, picking their brains before a contest can give the listener an insight that will make them feel more connected to the game and the players. Not to mention, I can learn a lot from it too!

Always Be Yourself

Brian in the MLB Athletics broadcasting studio

Photo by Amanda Young

One question I always had for sports broadcasters is if they were different people outside of their craft. Au contraire! The personality you hear on the air is often times the person you get to meet off the mic. I’ve been fortunate enough to personally meet and interact with a few professionals, and their work mirrors their personalities. One such individual was Ken Korach, the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Oakland Athletics. Korach has been with the Athletics since 1996, and I was able to visit the radio booth during an Athletics game in September of 2015. What an experience! Not only did I get to see what broadcasting is like on a professional level, but I also got to pick the brains of some of the best in the business. The common theme: be who you are. “Preparation is key for any successful broadcast, but you also need to remember to be yourself while on the air,” Korach told me. “Speaking with a clear voice and a lot of information will help you get started, so spend a lot of time on that avenue. Show up, be prepared, work hard, and just be awesome.”

Personality is not something I struggle with while on the air. For those of you in the Menlo community who know me personally, I am quite the character. I try to be the same person on the air that you would see eating in the cafeteria. I have never been a fan of broadcasters who have a monotonous voice, who never show emotion, or who fail to make a personal connection with his or her listeners. That’s why the one thing I would tell anyone who wants to get into broadcasting is to make sure he or she can keep an audience engaged. If a fan wants to mute the volume and just watch the live shot, you have failed at your job. Part of the fan’s enjoyment of the game should come via the work that you are putting in. The tough part is making sure that you aren’t doing too much to make your work seem more important than the game. You want to add to the game, not distract from it.

Trying to keep a constant tone of voice throughout a game can be difficult. If the action on the field or court is getting exciting, there will definitely be a shift in the way I call a game. The more excitement in the game, the more it reflects in my voice. If Menlo’s third baseman Lucas Erceg hits a game-tying double in the bottom of the eighth inning, that’s a potential turning point in the game and deserves to reflect the excitement in the dugout and in the stands. If Vanessa D’Amico hits a go-ahead three-pointer with five seconds left in the fourth quarter, I’m just as excited as any fan in the stand. After all, I’m a Menlo student myself. I also like to throw in a little humor to my broadcasts, especially when I am working a game by myself. I need to spice it up somehow! For instance, I have been known to make the comment, “That’s why you do a double-knot, kids,” when there is stoppage of play for someone to tie their shoes. During Menlo softball games, I keep a running total of the amount of foul balls that wind up going into the backyard of the neighbors here in Atherton. Another one gets hit, and I’ll say, “And that’s another foul ball lost to the Backyardigans.” Little comments like that keep myself entertained, and hopefully let the audience know that I am every bit as human as they are.

Another significant thing to keep in mind is the audience that is presumably listening. Aaron Gillespie puts it best when he says, “It’s of utmost importance to realize that whether it’s your first or 500th call, it might be the first time someone has ever tuned in to you. Your style is something that is polarizing, some will love it, some will hate it, but if you first focus on the foundation of a call: having accurate information, knowing pronunciations of names, giving score and time often, knowing the significance of each match up, and doing all of this with minimal bias, you’re going to excel in the industry and gain the respect of your audience.”

The Broadcasting Duo

Aaron and Brian commentating a basketball game

Photo by Brian Byllesby

I have done my fair share of games for Menlo without any broadcast partner, but my favorite games to do are when Aaron Gillespie and I team up. For basketball, I’ll stick to doing play-by-play, and he will do the color commentary, which is analyzing what goes on during each possession. For baseball and softball, we will switch up the duties and rotate every few innings so we each get to do play-by-play and color commentary. Having worked with Aaron for three years now, I have to admit that we make a pretty mean tandem on the air.

“Working with a partner on-air is always a massive benefit,” Aaron notes. “It’s a bigger benefit if you have off-air rapport with the person and are able to have some of that trickle into the call. Your audience knows if you work well together and being able to bounce technical questions and witty discourse off each other in stride adds a whole new dynamic to any broadcast that benefits both the broadcasters and the audience.” It also helps gives the audience another perspective when listening to a game. Speaking from my experiences at Menlo, there are things that Aaron will pick up on and say that I never would have thought about, and vice versa. It is a great change-of-pace for the listeners and helps create a different atmosphere for not only the audience, but the broadcasters as well.

Keeping Things Fresh

One question I was pestered with when I first started broadcasting was finding those little phrases that everyone remembers. What was my signature call going to be? When I started thinking about it, I had absolutely no idea where to start. But that was my problem, I did not need to think! The action on the field or court was going to dictate any signature call that I created. Right away, I found them for all three major sports that I broadcast. For a goal in soccer: “In. The. Net!” For a basketball three-pointer: “And he/she drains it!” For a baseball homerun: “Get outta here, baseball!” What is pretty cool is hearing the athletes mention the calls when talking to me. Menlo men’s soccer player Nick Krahnke loves to reenact my calls when he sees me. Those little moments and interactions with others who listen to my work make the job worthwhile.

I am not the only one who feels this way, as Matthew Ganibi shares a similar standpoint. “As a volleyball fan and former setter, I can’t help myself when it comes to a gutsy save, a perfect set, a thunderous kill, a wicked serve, or a big-time roof (block). Those plays enable me to use my catch phrases, which always amps me up.”

Sports broadcasting is a perfect opportunity that students have here at Menlo College. However, broadcasting is not the only opportunity for students to get involved in sports operations, many  students run most of our game-day operations. There are always chances for students no matter their interests in the sports world. It gives everyone a wonderful way to get their foot in the door while working in a collegiate athletic department. Most successful sports employment stories begin while working in college, and Menlo has the perfect opportunity for students who seek to gain experience. The administration of the Athletic Department knows how difficult it is to break into the industry and are more than happy to give assistance to those eager to learn. I highly recommend anybody who is planning on majoring in Sports Management or planning on working in sports to get involved. My journey began with a simple email to Menlo’s Athletic Director, Keith Spataro. Yours can too.