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Deneroff Still Gets A Rush When The Red Light Goes On

“I still love being there. There’s nothing like going to the ballpark, stadium or arena for a big game. I’ll never take that for granted.”

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Unless you work in the sports broadcast industry or consistently listen to radio credits, you might not be aware of the name Howard Deneroff.

As the Executive Producer of Westwood One Sports, Deneroff has been on hand for three decades worth of the world’s greatest sporting events, playing a vital role in how they sound to the listening audience.  Not only has he hired some of the most recognizable voices in sports, but he’s in the booth himself, contributing to Super Bowls, the Olympics, Final Fours and other prestigious events. 

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Howard’s rarely in the spotlight, but he’s been near it for the last 30 years and that’s how he wants it to stay.  He might not enjoy talking about himself, but Howard Deneroff loves discussing his job. Filled with great stories and insight from the inner workings of a sports broadcast, Deneroff exudes the passion that all diehard sports fans and audiences share.

Brandon Contes: Westwood One for 30 years, you’re the Executive Producer give a quick scope of work because you’re well known within the industry, but when I tell my wife I’m interviewing Howard Deneroff today, she says who’s that?

Howard Deneroff: [Laughs] She doesn’t listen to the credits enough.  It’s technically nine years with CBS Radio Sports (different from today’s CBS Sports Radio) and 21 years with Westwood One, but it’s the same entity.  My role is in charge of the play-by-play division of Westwood One, all of our broadcasts for the NFL, NCAA, NHL. We also broadcast the Masters, the Triple Crown of Horse Racing, the Olympics – it’s a full schedule.  I’m in charge of the overall sound, talent and production. I’m also part of the negotiation team for broadcast rights of all our events. 

It’s my job to make sure all of our broadcasts sound up to network standards.  We want people to hear a broadcast and know this is Westwood One. If you hear something wrong, it’s my fault, if you hear something right, everyone else gets the credit [Laughs], which is the way it should be, but hopefully you never hear anything wrong.

BC: Are you surprised about radio’s longevity as someone who’s been in the business for over 30 years?  It’s outlasted CDs and iPods, it’s going to outlast newspapers, maybe even cable.

HD: We use the term audio more than radio now, because you can hear us online, on your phone and a lot of devices.  We’re radio primarily, but people consume audio in a lot of ways, which is part of why the demise of radio has not occurred, despite many people predicting it.  I entered into this business because I love sports and broadcasting and the combination of the two was my way to get into sporting events for free [Laughs].  There are plenty of people that still can’t watch games, for whatever reason, whether they’re at work, in the car or visually impaired.  

There’s still an audience out there and we’re going to produce the best broadcast possible for them, even though we recognize the younger generation isn’t as glued to the radio as I was at their age.

BC: Did you ever have an interest in doing local radio?

HD: When I first started, my goal was to do live sports.  I would have taken a job with any team or local broadcast, it just so happened that I got this network job out of college.  Literally – graduated Sunday, drove Monday, started Tuesday. Not at the level I’m at now, but it was as a production assistant with CBS Radio Sports.  They had broadcast rights to Major League Baseball and the NFL. At the time they just started the Spanish language division to broadcast the World Series and Super Bowl in Spanish.  Spanish was my best subject in school and my grandmother lived in Cuba before coming to the United States, so I learned the language growing up. I don’t speak it fluently, but I’m conversant enough to produce a broadcast in Spanish.

BC: During those early years, were you trying to get on-air or did you quickly realize you liked being behind the scenes?

HD: I did some on-air work in college at Syracuse, but to be fair, I was in college at the same time as Mike Tirico, Ian Eagle and a bunch of talented broadcasters.  Probably 12 to 15 people doing on-air work and I was 15th out of the 15.  We had a great group of broadcasters and I recognized that I was the worst guy there.  We didn’t know Mike Tirico and Ian Eagle were going to be two of the greatest broadcasters of all time.  While I was the 15th best there, I may have been the 16th best in the country, [Laughs] we’ll never know. 

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Nobody wanted to lug equipment and produce.  No one really knew what producing was. But I started to think I might not make it as an announcer, so I went behind the scenes more and from the first time I did a game as a producer – a women’s basketball game, I never wanted to go back on-air.  I did on-air work throughout college, but it was never a priority anymore. Production was perfect for me. I’m organized, I know how it should sound and I can help people get there.  

People like Ian didn’t need a ton of help, but I enjoyed the planning of, ‘let’s do this for four minutes, then take a break and we’ll place this interview here’.  I could still help by knowing it was the first time something happened in a game since 1982 or who holds this statistical record, but producing just felt right for me from the start.  I like making decisions, but I never needed to be the front-man. I never need credit, I just want a good broadcast and that’s my reward.

BC: How many announcers, analysts, reporters, on-air personalities do you hire in a given year?

HD: It’s about 12 broadcast teams for men’s and women’s NCAA basketball, six for the NFL, college football is two or three, and between everything we do with the NHL and all other sports, it’s about 50.  Then in an Olympic year it’s another dozen. I get a lot of requests and audio demos sent to me that are good, but I can’t hire everybody. I love the NCAA tournament because I get to hire a lot of people, but I still might only be hiring 12 people in the entire country!  I hate having to tell people no, that’s the bad part of the job. I love being able to hire people, to tell them yes and find new talent. Out of 365 days of the year, there is probably no more than 15 days in the year that I don’t get tape or an email sent to me inquiring about a position or asking me to listen.

BC: Do you enjoy critiquing audio?

HD: I love it, I wish I had more time for it.  I remember when I was graduating college, there were no smartphones, email or links, so you would send out cassette or videotapes and it was very hard to get a response.  When I was sending tapes, I didn’t like not getting responses, so I always try to respond, even if it’s just saying I might not get to this for six months or apologize because I don’t have an opening right now.  But it’s important to me to at least send a note. 

BC: How much of a tape do you like to listen to?

HD: People say you know quickly if someone is good and sometimes you will within a few minutes, but I listen to a full game or at least a half of a game.  Somebody could be good for three or four minutes and then just go off the rails. If I’m considering hiring someone, I definitely listen to the full game, but even if a student sends me a tape, I’ll listen for at least a half.  Too many things happen in a game where I like to listen to more than just a few minutes.

BC: Is it fun to find younger broadcasters and watch them grow?  Just like a general manager of a team drafting and developing their own talent or even as a listener, I remember hearing Kevin Burkhardt on the FAN and then seeing him on SNY.  Now he’s a top broadcaster in the country and I get excited when I see him because it was fun to hear and watch that progression.

HD: Yeah and there’s no question you never want to swing and miss.  Have I done that? Yes, nobody’s perfect, but you recognize it quickly.  You want to hit a homerun, you want broadcasters that will never have the listener thinking ‘how did this guy get on-air?’  I’d like to think our track record is pretty good and we’ve had very minimal complaints from affiliates regarding talent. Talent is still only one part of it.  I’m a producer at heart and producers are very important, engineers are hugely important. Without the right equipment, it doesn’t matter who’s on-air. You can have Mike Tirico and the best analyst, but if the mic isn’t on, it won’t matter.  A good broadcast encompasses everything. Having good talent helps to navigate through tough times. Look at the end of this year’s Kentucky Derby when they’re waiting to see the decision on the winner. There’s no road map for that delay, there’s no plan for a blackout in the Super Bowl.

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BC: You were in the booth for that Super Bowl, Ravens and 49ers?

HD: Oh yeah.

BC: Did you think you hit the wrong button?

HD: [Laughs] The front row of the booth is Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, a spotter, a statistician and me.  The second row is our pregame and halftime show hosts, Jim Gray, Larry Fitzgerald and our producer for that and the third row is engineering and equipment. 

I go to grab a cue card for Kevin, so I turn away from the field and my headphones go out which happens occasionally if I turn too far and the headphones get pulled out of the socket.  That’s what I assumed happened. I turn back to plug them in and look at my box that has all my buttons to talk with everyone, it’s like a mini intercom system and it’s dark. “Oh Crap.”

Kevin starts hitting me and banging his headphones to signal he has nothing, I look down and see he’s dark and now it’s “oh s***”

Keep in mind this is all within three seconds!  I turn around to yell for an engineer to see what’s going on and I see complete darkness and we have racks of equipment that should be lit up!  Now the expletives get worse. Within those first few seconds, I’m thinking it’s us. Once I look out and see the whole stadium is out we realize, okay this is everyone.

My first year at CBS Radio was 1989, my first World Series was in the Bay Area, which of course had an earthquake during our pregame show.  I was a rookie and let everyone tell me what to do, but I never thought 20, 25 years later I would go back to that experience. You’re not a sports broadcaster anymore, you’re now a news reporter, because at this point we don’t know if it’s the stadium, the whole city of New Orleans, terrorists or what.  Thank God the stadium had one bank of lights on so everyone inside wasn’t in a panic. 

We have an emergency phone that we actually call the “oh s*** phone.”  I call the studio and they tell me we’re in a commercial break which is what we’re supposed to do.  After the break, I hand the phone to Kevin Harlan so he can explain to our listeners what’s going on.  Kevin then hands the phone to Boomer and they go back and forth on-air.

BC: So you’re now doing a broadcast during the Super Bowl through a landline telephone?

HD: Right, which is exactly what they did in 1989 (during the earthquake).  First, they try to explain what happened, what they heard, what it looks like.  One of our engineers worked at our radio affiliate in New Orleans, WWL. He called them to find out if the outage is the entire city.  Once we find out its isolated to the stadium, we report that. We keep trying to find out information and report, because even the PA system was out and the 70,000 people in the stadium have a radio at their seat, so they’re learning what happened by listening to us.  But those unusual things are the beauty of live broadcasting. That was probably a bigger adrenaline rush than anything I’ve ever done.

We probably received more positive feedback about those 36 minutes than all of the Super Bowls I’ve worked combined. 

BC: There’s certainly a different rush with anything that’s live.

HD: I love it and that’s when I’ll know it’s time to stop doing this, unless they tell me first because you don’t control your own fate.  But when that red light goes on, I still get an adrenaline rush and until I no longer get that rush, why would I want to stop doing this job?

BC: Were there other things from earlier in your career that you didn’t foresee being helpful, but later on you were able to look back on.  Similarly to how the earthquake broadcast helped you know how to handle a Super Bowl power outage?

HD: When I first started at CBS, I used to walk upstairs to the television studios and watch how they would do the NFL Today because halftimes for games start at different times and they only have one studio show.  How does one show do all of the different games when each halftime overlaps? I was fascinated to watch because it’s a jigsaw puzzle, but I never thought it would be relevant for me. 

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In 2003, we take over the NCAA Tournament and we have individual basketball games that start and break at different times and they all overlap. So 14 years later, I knew how to jump back and forth and arrange it.  It’s the crux of how we do the tournament because we’re doing every game, and while fans of a specific team can hear the game in its entirety online, we have a RedZone style broadcast for terrestrial radio.  You always need to watch and learn around you because you never know when something will come in handy.

BC: Who’s in charge of the RedZone style broadcast that you hear on WFAN and terrestrially around the country?  Who decides what game to play and when to switch to a different game?

HD: That’s me and (WFAN afternoon host Mike) Francesa kills me every year on-air [Laughs].

I’m watching every game simultaneously and making those judgements and there’s a lot that goes into it.  There could be a three point game where a 12 seed is beating the 5 seed and it’s at the 4 minute, 28 second mark.  Fans might see the score and want me to switch to that broadcast, but I’m not going to that game when they have an automatic TV timeout at 4 minutes.  You’ll hear 20 seconds of action and then a break. Why not stay with action (of the first game) and wait until after they have a timeout? If you’re just looking at the score, you want us to go to that game because it’s a 12 beating a 5 with less than 5 minutes to go.  Trust me, I’m getting there, but there are a lot of factors with timeouts, commercials and live reads. You want to join cleanly. My goal is to give fans the most action possible, with the least amount of interruption.

There are times you pick wrong.  We can have two close games and need to choose which one is going to have the better ending.  There’s no question I’ve made mistakes in switching off a game. It’s an impossible task, but we joke every year – and guess what time we’ll start getting criticized for not switching to a different game.

BC: Where are you doing that from?

HD: Our New York studios, which is the CBS Broadcast Center.  It’s in the same building, so we can have our eyes on everything TV does, which is great.

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BC: How often are you at games and in the broadcast booth?

HD: I’m on the road 200 to 250 days a year, depending on if we have the Olympics or something like that.  It’s less than I used to be, but it varies depending on what rights we have. I used to do more events, but we have very qualified people to do the job without me in the booth.  I still love being there. There’s nothing like going to the ballpark, stadium or arena for a big game. I’ll never take that for granted.

BC: When you are in the booth, are you ever critiquing the announcers?  Or is it mostly making sure everything sounds smooth and you’re hitting commercial breaks on time?

HD: Let’s be honest, the most important thing on any broadcast is that the commercials play properly, whether I want to admit it or not.  Without commercials, none of us have jobs and I get that, but there’s more to it. What are you going to talk about, for how long and in what order during a broadcast.

BC: So you’re also developing topics for pregame and in-game conversations?

HD: Yes, and when you hire top talent we usually know what they’re going to talk about, but there are times you’ll have a great sound bite or highlight to incorporate that’s relevant to the game.  Once the puck is dropped or kickoff happens, most of the time it’s left up to the announcer because we have the luxury of hiring the best of the best. There are times I’ll prompt the announcer or analyst.  It could be as basic as saying in their ear ‘hey coach, would you go for it on 4th down or not?’

It could also be like Super Bowl XL – Marv Albert’s doing the game with Boomer Esiason and it was the second or third play from scrimmage in the second half.  The Steelers have the ball and Willie Parker breaks through for what ends up being a touchdown run. It was clear from about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage he’s going to score, so I tell Boomer in his ear to ‘layout’ – don’t say a word, don’t jump on Marv.  I rarely say that to an announcer, so if I do, they know it’s for a good reason. 

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I then yell out to my statistician ‘how long will this run be?’  He tells me 75 yards, and I ask if he’s sure, 100% sure? He said ‘yeah, why?’  Because the record is 74 yards, Marcus Allen. So right after Marv says touchdown Willie Parker, I’m in his ear saying ‘longest run in Super Bowl history.’

Marv then regurgitates, “The longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.” (Howard said this doing a decent Marv Albert impression)

I tell the studio to cue up the Marcus Allen highlight from Super Bowl XVIII, which we have ready to go just in case and I want that coming out of the commercial break.  Next, I tell Jim Gray, Marcus Allen is in the MVP suite because he was honored at the game as a previous Super Bowl MVP, go ask him about his record being broken. 

Sometimes you need the stars to align, but there’s also the preparation of having that Super Bowl XVIII highlight ready to go.  You want the broadcast to be entertaining. If you don’t have it, is anybody listening saying, ‘why don’t they have that highlight?’  No, but I think people like hearing those old highlights that pertain to and enhance the broadcast.

BC: Have you ever gotten a tape that someone sends and you don’t think they’re ready yet and then years later you hear them with another company and now they are ready for network?

HD: I can give you a specific example.  We like to have different calls from NCAA Conference Tournaments for potential Cinderella teams.  We already have a lot of the larger schools because some of those tournaments are on our network, but we don’t do all of the smaller conference tournaments.  In 2008, we wanted a play-by-play highlight from the University of Evansville and with smaller schools, they don’t have a producer or anything, we have to contact the announcer directly.  We get a copy of a game winning call from their play-by-play voice, Brandon Gaudin.

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It was a nice call, nothing earth-shattering.  After the tournament he sends a thank you note and asks if I would listen to and critique some of his tape.  I gave him a list of probably 10 notes, comments such as you didn’t give me the shot clock here, I’d like to know the free-throw percentage or this was too much information with the starting lineups, simple concrete items like that. 

A couple years later Brandon gets the Butler job.  He reaches out again and asks for another critique.  Then Butler gets to the Final Four and now he introduces himself in person and asks, ‘Can you listen again?  I think I’ve really improved.’ I give him a few more pointers and he asks if I’m closer to working for Westwood?  I said ‘you’re getting closer, but still need a couple more things.’

Then he gets the Georgia Tech job.  After a year, he asks me to listen again and now he’s really close, he needed one more year.  He worked on a couple of things that year and then I hired him. It was a progression of around six years.  I liked his persistence, he never just said, ‘I’m good I should work for you.’ He just wanted to get better.  I’m happy to listen, I like listening. I find it funny that people trust me on it, but I think I hear things differently than people.  I can’t call games the way others can, but I know how it should sound.

BC: You mentioned things like not giving the shot clock or free throw percentage, but when you listen to a broadcaster from a small school, how much do you factor in that they might not have a producer, statistician or someone in the booth helping them give the right statistic at the right time?

HD: In 2003, I was in Omaha for the College World Series and Kevin Kugler, who worked there locally at the time, asked me to listen to a tape.  I forget the exact game in the tape, but it was a football game between two teams you never heard of, Division II or III. The quality of the tape was HORRIBLE.  It was distorted, it was windy, it was terrible and my first question was ‘who’s your engineer?’ He said, ‘I’m the engineer’ – so I told him, ‘well I’m never hiring you for that.’ [Laughs]

But in the tape, he says, ‘That’s a 17-yard gain. He now has 4 catches for 78 yards. They’re 3 for 7 on third down.’  He gave instant numbers like that throughout the entire game, so I asked ‘who’s your stat guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t have a stat guy,’ so I asked ‘well who’s your spotter?’  Again, ‘spotter? I don’t have a spotter.’ I was so impressed that he could handle all of that. We hired him for the network within a year after that and he’s been a great addition ever since.

The answer is yes, I recognize the resources are different.  I tell people NFL games are easy compared to Division II games, because you have a statistician, spotter, all the press notes you want, all the information and video you want.  If you can do a high school football game well, you can do an NFL game. That doesn’t mean I’m giving someone from high school an NFL gig, but I don’t want anyone to ever be discouraged in saying ‘I know I’m only doing high school or Division III games,’ because it’s not that far of a leap. 

BC: I compare sports talk radio in the way it’s changed to Major League Baseball because it used to be, put the mic on and take calls; baseball used to be throw the ball, hit the ball.  Baseball has gotten so specialized with analytics and everything in radio is now analyzed and debated should we take calls, should we use guests or radio bits, how much audio and music beds should there be.  Both have modernized. Similarly, how have play-by-play broadcasts changed?

HD: Great question.  I don’t know that it’s changed as much, but if you listen back to old broadcasts; World Series, NBA, Super Bowls – the game ends, they give the final score and throw it right to a break.  The Super Bowl ends and they would just go right to a commercial! What I would say changed the most is the pre and post-game shows being longer. We get everybody we can to talk about the game.  If you’re a fan, you want to hear from the players to know what happened, what did it feel like? And you want that from the losing side too, which never would have been done in the old days.

Part of the reason for longer pre and post-game shows is bigger rights fees.  In order to pay for those, you need a certain number of commercials. But when I first started, we would go on-air for the Super Bowl at six o’clock for a 6:18 kickoff – we had an 18 minute pregame show.  Then we expanded it to start at 5:45 – a half hour pregame show! 

Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego – the story is John Elway’s last chance at winning.  We talked to him at the hotel and he gave us 14 minutes. To this day, I think it was the best interview we’ve ever done, but I couldn’t air more than six minutes of it!  We had to air the parts talking about how can they beat the Packers and the road to the Super Bowl. I will tell you, the half of the interview that did not air was better than the half that did, but we needed to prioritize specific quotes.  I was so frustrated by that, so I went to our bosses and told them they need to give us more time. They have to be able to sell the Super Bowl and let us do a longer show. So for Super Bowl XXXIII, we added a one-hour optional pregame show called Super Sunday to see if affiliates would take it and it was awesome, but we still didn’t have enough time!  Super Bowl XL, we added another hour and then XLV, we added another hour, XLVIII we added another.  Now we have six hours of pregame, but as little as 21 years ago, we had less than 20 minutes, which is crazy.

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The fans are also smarter because of the access to information they have.  They know the game better, so you can be more technical on the broadcast. When we do a broadcast, we’re blacked out in the cities of the game, so if we’re doing a Jacksonville-Tennessee game Thursday night in December and you’re listening in Seattle, you’re a diehard fan.  You’re not a casual fan. We can be more in depth and technical. We can say “Cover 2” or the “A-gap.” It’s still important to teach, but the audience is smarter than they used to be with the information they have.

There are also many more former players and coaches on the broadcast than there used to be.  They give a different perspective and take the audience into the huddle. Also, audio technology has changed – you can hear the puck hit the post, a thunderous dunk or the swoosh of the net at the buzzer, and we incorporate that into our broadcast.  It’s all part of today’s audio experience. 

BC: You mentioned that Seattle fan listening to the Titans and Jaguars game in December, they might be a diehard fan, but they also might have money on the game.  What’s the thought on bringing sports wagering into a broadcast?

HD: For the first 29 years that I’ve done this, gambling was completely off limits for every sport.  It was never a discussion. Now the NHL has a team in Vegas and the NFL is going to Vegas. The NFL just sent us revised guidelines for advertising because for years, we weren’t able to take advertising dollars from casinos and now all of a sudden we’re allowed to.  I don’t think we’re at the point where on the broadcast we’re going to talk about the line or the over/under. At some point, it looks like there will be in-stadium betting and once the NFL opens it up, we’ll open it up. There’s an audience that cares about it, but they’re not tuning into us to hear the spread.  They tune in to hear what’s happening. They want to know the score, but they don’t need us to tell them the betting line is 4.5. At some point? Maybe, but not yet. We might eventually decide we could sell a show specifically to gambling, but in terms of within the play-by-play, I don’t think we’re there yet.

BC: Do you do mock broadcasts when trying to pair an announcer and analyst?

HD: Very rarely.  It’s difficult budget wise, but generally because we’re the network and we can be more selective, everyone who I will consider hiring already has a tape.  It’s very rare that we hire someone who hasn’t already done the job somewhere. Occasionally, television will do a mock broadcast and let me see it, but to see how two people will work together, I’ll put them on a less important game to start.  I won’t put a pair on the NCAA Tournament together if they haven’t worked in the regular season together. We’ll take a Tuesday night regular season game in February to see how a pair will mesh, but I have the advantage of choosing from the cream of the crop.

BC: Can you tell after one game?  Do you need to hear a full season to see how broadcasters will develop together?

HD: If I don’t think they mesh together after one game, it’s unlikely they’ll have a second game together. Chemistry can develop, but if it’s bad, I don’t think it’s going to get fixed and there’s no need to try when I know they’re each good enough to work with someone else.  There’s really not a lot of that because we have the luxury of hiring from some of the best in the country. They don’t need a lot of coaching. Some guidance, but the critiques I give to the people I’m hiring is different from the critiques I give the people I’m not hiring. 

BC: How important is it to have a play-by-play announcer with personality?  Ian Eagle, Kevin Harlan they’re funny, they have personality, is that something generally you look for?

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HD: Personality is more important on TV than radio.  Description is more important for radio than personality.  Relay the information, describe what’s happening, get excited about what’s happening.  Passion is more important than personality. Personality can help and can make you better, but we don’t need a comedian.  The analyst needs to have personality more so than the play-by-play voice because the play-by-play announcer is there to describe what’s happening, while the analyst needs to relay the information with an entertaining delivery.  A play-by-play announcer can have all the personality in the world, but if I don’t know where the ball is, it’s irrelevant for radio.

It needs to sound fun because at the end of the day, it’s sports.  If we’re not having fun, the listener knows. We’re at a football game, basketball, hockey game.  We take this seriously and dead air is terrible. A commercial doesn’t play, that’s terrible [Laughs].  But big picture, sports is a release and putting it into perspective, the worst day at our job is better than the best day for a lot of people at their job.  It’s an awesome job. I like talking about the job, I don’t like talking about me [Laughs].  I think I have a very good ear, but it’s not a skill like a heart surgeon, so I get uncomfortable talking about myself because someone else can do this job well.

BC: But you do influence what millions of people hear on the radio in a given year, so there is an interest in how you go about the job.

HD: I never thought about it that way.  That’s interesting, but I consider myself part of that target audience.  I’m a diehard sports fan, so when I’m working on a broadcast, I just try to think about what is it that I would like to know.  

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

BSM Writers

Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting

The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.

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Maryland Matters

As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.

For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.

While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements. 

While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized. 

Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.

People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.

First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.

The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues. 

None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.  

As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.

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Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans

Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.

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It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.

I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.

One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.

Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.

I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.

For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.

That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.

So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.

This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.

I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?

That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.

Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?

Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.

As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday. 

Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.

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Doc Emrick’s Love Letter is Hockey and… Language

The Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Doc Emrick developed his love for the sport and the art of the call early in life and never let go of either.

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LaFontaine, Indiana is a small rural town in the northeastern sector of the state with a population of just under 900 people. Located between the cities of Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, it is similar to the village illustrated in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” and its name, rooted in the French language, translates to “The Fountain” in English.

In the summer of 1955, the local Cub Scouts managed an organized softball league, and once children graduated to become a member of the Boy Scouts, they would transition to play baseball. One nine-year-old child in the summer of 1955 had the common realization that he would not likely make the major leagues since he was not considered an elite-level athlete. While he enjoyed playing the game, he enjoyed listening to the game on the radio even more, so much so that he wanted to pursue broadcasting as a career.

There would often be a softball or baseball game being played on a near-nightly basis in LaFontaine, with upwards of 100 people attending. The town ballpark had a public address system; however, it had no steady announcing presence, instead relying on adults to volunteer to provide the play-by-play for the spectators. For this prospective broadcaster with a nascent avidity for baseball, sitting behind the microphone and vivifying the action became something hardly perfunctory, but rather an inspired art form. It afforded him the chance to interact with his community and his friends as a familiar voice, and helped prepare him for what would become a 47-year professional career carrying out this very task, albeit in different settings for different audiences through different mediums, and primarily in an entirely different sport. 

Going to a Major League Baseball game from LaFontaine was quite the trek for the young Mike Emrick and his family; therefore, attending was often a once-a-year event that took place in the summer. Driving northwest through the corn fields for approximately 150 miles without the presence of super highways, he and his brother Dan, accompanied by their parents, would eventually reach their “Field of Dreams” in Chicago, Il., where they would take in an afternoon game. From the time he was young though, Emrick cheered on the Pittsburgh Pirates. He grew up listening to Bob Prince and Jim Woods call games of hall-of-fame outfielder Roberto Clemente on the wide-ranging KDKA radio signal.

Emrick had always had an interest in calling baseball games; however, that all changed one day in 1960. At the age of 14, he attended his first hockey game just before Christmas, a matchup between the visiting Muskegon Zephyrs and Fort Wayne Komets in Fort Wayne, Ind. The game ended in a tie, but Emrick was enamored with the game’s nuances, spontaneity and occasional fights nonetheless. While on the way to the car in a snow-filled parking lot to return home, he realized that this fast-paced game on ice would be the outlet through which his voice would be heard and passion for sport expressed.

“When I saw my first hockey game,” Emrick said, “overnight the whole idea changed from baseball to hockey. Then the question was: ‘Well, how do you get to do that?’”

Emrick closely followed the Komets after his realization, learning its players and the game of hockey listening on WOWO radio. While he was a fan of the team and enjoyed watching its hockey games at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, he was also there for another purpose in his quest to become a professional broadcaster.

“After I got my driver’s license at age 16, I would drive 40 miles on Wednesday nights to Fort Wayne and sit in corner sections of the old Coliseum… and do games into a tape recorder and try to get better at it,” Emrick recalled. “It was taking those games and using those sort of phony games; I used legitimate names of players because I would get a lineup and learn who they were. Then I would save the tape – and that was eventually my first audition that I sent out.”

Emrick grew up within a pedagogical household where great emphasis was placed on the proper use of the English language. His mother, Florence, was a home economics and physical education teacher while his father, Charles, was a high school principal, and the family owned a music store on the side as well. From the time he was in fifth grade, he received a salient piece of advice from one of his teachers about the inculcation and subsequent expansion of his vocabulary which he carried with him throughout his career.

“Once we used a word five times, it was ours for life,” Emrick recalled. “[My teacher] encouraged us to build our vocabulary, and so that was influential, I think, along the way.”

Emrick landed his first broadcasting job in 1973 as the radio play-by-play announcer in the International Hockey League for the Port Huron Wings (later renamed the Port Huron Flags) on WHLS radio for $160 per week. That job came after a series of rejection letters from a legion of hockey broadcasting outlets, the stationery located in a binder he keeps to this day.

The next season, despite nearly landing the Pittsburgh Penguins radio play-by-play job, Emrick added another job to his résumé by becoming the team’s public relations director and continued broadcasting games. While he had the will and determination to succeed and become an NHL broadcaster, his backup plan of becoming an educator was quite genuine in scope as his time in the minor leagues continued.

Shortly after he graduated from Manchester University in 1968 with a B.Sc in speech, and, one year later, an M.A. in radio and television from Miami University, Emrick’s foray into the world of college instruction began. Prior to working in Port Huron, Emrick resided in Pennsylvania, teaching public speaking classes at Geneva College and managing it’s 15-watt campus radio station. In addition, he volunteered to work as a correspondent for The Beaver Sun Times coverage of the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a season press pass so he could further immerse himself in the game of hockey.

One of Emrick’s mentors in broadcasting was Bob Chase, the Fort Wayne Komets’ play-by-play announcer for 63 years, and someone who had a profound influence on his career. Chase called hockey, along with various other sports including basketball and racing amid his time behind the microphone, and while there were many other announcers doing play-by-play professionally, Chase was representative of Emrick’s soundtrack of hockey.

“I was a college guy and befriended him and he was very kind to me and would listen to my work,” said Emrick. “He was the one person that I listened to because at the time there was not a national TV package for the NHL, and so he was about the only guy I had access to.”

Emrick sought after his Ph.D in broadcast communications to ensure he would have a successful teaching career if his broadcasting dreams fell through. While in the doctorate program, Emrick honed his craft and earned his nickname “Doc,” a pseudonym he was called throughout his broadcasting career. In fact, his dissertation was titled “Major League Baseball Principal Play By Play Announcers: Their Occupation Background And Personal Life,” and signed off by Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, his nonacademic advisor. Later in his career, he famously used 153 different verbs in a single game to describe the movement of the puck, including “squibbed,” “flagged” and “galloped” – an aspect of his broadcasting style, per se, that demarcated him from others in his profession.

“I always tried to use words that were hopefully interesting, but also I didn’t want to come across as talking down to the audience,” said Emrick. “I just wanted to use something that was creative and maybe amused people a little bit. Once one of those words was used, I tried never to repeat it the rest of that night because you don’t want to hammer people with the same one.”

Prior to the 1976-77 season, Emrick relocated to Portland, Maine to serve as the radio play-by-play voice and public relations director of the brand-new Maine Mariners in the American Hockey League – an affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers. After three more years of hard work in the minor leagues, he finally made it to the pros with the Flyers as its television play-by-play announcer for home games on PRISM cable beginning in the 1980-81 season.

Having worked in both broadcast mediums, Emrick knows that radio requires the announcer to evoke imagery within the mind of the listener, while television is centered on the announcer’s reaction to the already-cultivated picture. While he never broadcast a boxing match, Emrick uses an analogy within that sport to describe the difference between the two broadcast mediums.

“I’ve heard it described before, and it’s probably accurate, [as] the difference between a boxer leading or counterpunching,” said Emrick. “In radio you basically lead, and in TV you counterpunch.”

Regardless of the medium though, what truly makes a broadcast unique is in how effectively it goes beyond the action taking place on the ice. Being able to do that comes in one’s preparation and knowledge of the game, both of which Emrick possessed and continued to grow upon being named the inaugural television play-by-play voice of the New Jersey Devils in 1982 on the MSG Network.

“The legs that get you from one thing to the next are the identity of the players,” said Emrick. “I think that’s still the most important thing of any play-by-play description is… the ‘who’… because it’s the people who are competing that draw the audience, and you need to identify who it is.”

Emrick returned to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1982-83, first as a spot announcer, and upon his departure from the Devils in 1986, as an studio analyst on UHF telecasts. In the same year, he began his first of many years of national television work as the lead play-by-play announcer for NHL games on ESPN, working alongside former NHL forward Bill Clement.

Before the 1988-89 season, Emrick was promoted by the Flyers to be the team’s lead television play-by-play announcer, working with his analyst Clement for a majority of the time in both his regional and national obligations. Working in both roles simultaneously, he has had to be cognizant of his audience – meaning that the preparation for regional and national games, while similar in methodology, differed from one another in terms of the time devoted to each team.

“Usually with a national telecast, it’s 50-50 on how much you talk about one team or the other,” said Emrick. “With a local broadcast, it’s usually 70-30 or 80-20 because if there’s one team that is supplying all of your viewers or most of them, you go that way.”

Emrick’s presence on regional sports networks continued upon his departure from the Flyers after the 1992-93 season, as he returned to Newark as the play-by-play voice of the Devils on MSG Networks. Broadcasting within the three-team New York-Metropolitan area marketplace for the Devils from 1993 to 2011, Emrick stayed up to date not only on his primary team, along with the Rangers and New York Islanders. As a result, the shift from regional to national television became smoother for Emrick, and with it, the allocation of the time he spent discussing each team more consistent.

“You treated it like a network telecast and I was very comfortable shifting from regional games to network because you had fans of numerous teams living in New York,” said Emrick. “Whereas in Philadelphia, you made the assumption that most of the people that were watching… were Flyers fans.”

Over his years at ESPN, Emrick called two Stanley Cup Finals, something that would render itself into an annual occurrence once he joined Fox in 1995. From there, Emrick called 20 more Stanley Cup Finals with Fox, OLN, Versus and NBC Sports – providing the description throughout the final roadblock standing between one team and a championship. Television, being the visual medium that it is, not only requires an announcer to be aware of their audience, but also of the moment and what will best transmit the atmosphere within the arena to the viewer. Throughout the course of enduring moments that stand the test of time, including game-winning goals, penalty shots and highlight-reel saves, Emrick uses his words judiciously, following a tried-and-true philosophy that requires discipline from the announcer with the potential to put an indelible stamp on the action.

“Less is more. Especially with television, you have a lot of people that have qualified to be in trucks and operating cameras and placing microphones in arenas,” Emrick stated. “Just like you are qualified to be there to describe it, they are the best at their profession… You don’t have to do everything. You have a lot of help.”

Emrick worked his first of seven Olympic Games in 1992 while on CBS, calling the ice hockey championships. While he had to consistently learn names of new players and adjust to the cultural differences of the host country, the quadrennial worldwide showcase built on tradition has induced games that have helped grow the game of hockey on an international scale. One of his most memorable broadcasts emanated from the thrilling conclusion of a gold medal matchup between Canada and the United States from Vancouver, B.C. in February 2010.

The game drew 27.6 million viewers, the largest television hockey audience since Al Michaels was behind the microphone for the “Miracle on Ice” semifinal game between the Soviet Union and the United States aired on tape delay in 1980 from Lake Placid, N.Y. 

“Sam Flood, our executive producer at NBC, always told us [for big games] to broaden the brush,” said Emrick. “In other words, never try to talk inside stuff because we were going to have a lot of extra viewers, and you didn’t want to talk [about] inside stuff and have them feel like they were being left out. And so we basically let the game do the talking and did not try to do a lot of strategy or things like that.”

Part of a broadcaster’s job is to recognize their role within the greater production of a live sporting event. Sure, they are often omnipresent throughout the broadcast; however, they are hardly, if ever, supposed to be the main character. The job of the rest of the production crew is to adequately tell the story of the game, whether it be through camerawork, graphics or interviews. While they are not scripting the moments on the ice, the broadcast director coordinates the assorted roles to help the team’s vision of the end product come to life. It is a task that allows for creativity, but also requires evolution to shifting consumer trends – achieved through collaboration.

Down by one goal in the gold medal game, the United States pulled it’s goaltender Ryan Miller for the extra attacker, which led to forward Zach Parise tying the game with 24 seconds remaining in regulation time. Then in overtime, Canada forward Sidney Crosby scored the “Golden Goal,” giving Canada its first gold medal since the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I think I said, ‘…and Crosby scores – the goal to Canada,’ and then I said nothing for almost two minutes,” Emrick recollected. “I didn’t need to say anything because what we showed and what the people in our truck and the people operating cameras provided was the sound of the crowd and the microphones on cameras”

Over the years, Emrick has worked with numerous analysts, including Bill Clement, John Davidson, Bobby Taylor, Chico Resch, Doug Sulliman, Sal Messina and Eddie Olczyk. As a play-by-play announcer, Emrick ensured that his analyst would be implemented into the game, usually when he felt they could contribute to the broadcast or when he needed to take a breath. By including them in the broadcast, a greater ethos is established with the viewing audience and multiple perspectives are acknowledged.

“I think our business is analyst-driven,” said Emrick. “Those of us in play-by-play are there to enhance the game but not get in the way of it. It is when the play stops that you really learn about what has happened or what could happen in the future. Those of us who are describing the game don’t have time to throw that in, and if we did, our credibility is not nearly that of people who have actually experienced it, and that’s why analysts are there.”

Following the 2010-11 season, Emrick relinquished his role as the play-by-play announcer for the New Jersey Devils and continued to work as the national play-by-play voice of the NHL on NBC for the next decade. His final season as an announcer was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and once professional hockey made its return, Emrick found himself calling games remotely – something he had never done in his illustrious career.

Emrick officially announced his retirement from broadcasting in October 2020 after 47 years behind the mic calling over 3,750 hockey contests, including 22 Stanley Cup Finals, 45 playoff Game 7s and 19 outdoor games. Prior to his retirement, Emrick won the Foster Hewitt Award for “outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster” presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. 

Today, the NHL is in the first of new seven-year contracts with both ESPN and Turner Sports worth a reported $1 billion. For Emrick, the specific networks carrying the games do not mean as much to him as the continued worldwide dissemination of the game of hockey itself.

“I cheer for everybody who winds up being on the air doing games… because this is a game that is wonderful and needs to be continually promoted by whoever winds up with the rights,” said Emrick. “I’m not a businessman; I don’t have billions of dollars in my pocket.”

Following the conclusion of the 2010 gold medal game, sideline reporter Pierre McGuire interviewed Miller and Crosby, and the two athletes, despite being on opposite ends of the outcome, spoke about the significance of competing in the Olympics and how special it was to play the game on an international stage. Reflecting on that broadcast sequence, Emrick affirms that he had never been more proud to be associated with the game of hockey because of the eloquence, class and humility with which they spoke. Therefore, as ESPN and Turner Sports are in the midst of presenting the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs to millions of hockey fans around the world, Emrick hopes that they focus on telling the stories of the athletes – the primary reason for which people tune in to the games.

“The athletes are wonderful, and they have been all the way back through the first years that I started going to IHL games and getting to meet them for the first time,” said Emrick. “The number one thing that we have to sell is not only the speed of the sport, but more importantly, the guys who play it because they’re really good people.”

Whatever the future of hockey broadcasting holds, Emrick has undoubtedly become an integral figure in the history of the sport – all while never donning skates on an ice rink in his life. The half-a-century he covered hockey would not have been possible without his steadfastness towards becoming a professional broadcaster, avidity for the game of hockey and the group of people who allowed him to expatiate on the proceedings situated on a 200-foot sheet of ice. Emrick continues to watch hockey to this day and listens to the next generation of broadcasters be themselves while calling the action, the very advice Bob Chase conferred to him early in his career.

“It was the realization of a lifelong dream to get to do hockey games anywhere to anybody, but to be chosen to do national games was a great honor and responsibility,” Emrick stated. “I never took it lightly, and I always appreciated those who gave me a chance.”

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