Most people in sports radio feel pressure to do a good job. But there are added layers of pressure that many hosts don’t have to face. The pressure of knowing that your performance could greatly impact future opportunities for other people. The pressure from others that are expecting you to falter because of your gender. The stress of wanting to prove that the people who took an unconventional chance on you made the right decision. Not everybody faces those obstacles. It’s something that Kate Scott has successfully dealt with throughout her career.
Kate doesn’t back down from a challenge. Be the first woman to call an NFL game on radio? No problem. Be the first woman to call a football game on Pac-12 Network? All good. How about calling an NHL game for a nationwide audience? Roger that. Can you host The Morning Roast in a top 5 market? On it. Kate clears barriers like an Olympic hurdler. She’s basically the Lolo Jones of sports radio.
Joe Shasky and Bonta Hill are Kate’s radio partners at 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. Together they host a three-person morning show that began just a few months ago on October 12. In our conversation below, Kate talks about the new gig and what it was like coming over from crosstown rival KNBR, a place she worked at for six years. She also talks about helping people see things differently, a double standard for women, being competitive as hell, kicking ass, a pit bull, and naps. Enjoy.
BN: How’s the new show going?
KS: Well I’m having a blast. But I think as far as how it’s going it really depends on the day. Launching a three-person radio show, not in the midst of a global pandemic, where you actually are in studio together and able to more easily build chemistry and figure out timing and mannerisms, that’s hard enough in person. We knew each other a bit beforehand, but we’re still definitely figuring each other out in that sense. So you add on a layer of we’re doing it from three different locations over video call. I can’t tell you how many power outages we had in the first couple of weeks because that was when the fires were really intense here in the Bay Area. One of us was cutting out. The next day another person would lose power.
I had to go into San Francisco a few days because we did not have power whatsoever over in Oakland where I live and had to broadcast from a studio by myself in the city. It has been a lot. I’ll say that. But I’m still having a great time getting to slowly but surely know my partners in Joe and Bonta and be back on the radio getting to talk about the teams that I grew up cheering for and have loved since I was a little girl. I love working with Bonta and Joe and am stoked about what we’re building. It’s really exciting, but I would be lying if I said it’s been easy and smooth sailing so far.
BN: How would you describe joining The Game after working for the competition at KNBR?
KS: I think it’s been a good break since I’ve been on KNBR here in the Bay Area. We left everything on really good terms. I know that I wouldn’t be here being able to host a show in one of the top markets in the country if it wasn’t for the support and opportunities that I got because of my six years at KNBR.
The first couple of days were a little weird. I remember having a giant note right on top of my computer with The Game closeout because you just get so used to saying we’ll be right back on KNBR The Sports Leader. I just told myself the number one thing you cannot do is say that even though it’s second nature because I was there for so long.
The main reason I left KNBR was because I had been at the Pac-12 Network for about a year and a half doing play-by-play and it just became really difficult to function while trying to wake up at four in the morning, work a morning show, and then call games at night while I was supposed to be watching other games that I then needed to talk about the next morning at six. Just the stress of trying to do those two things at once caught up to me. I also told management there, who had always been so supportive, “You know guys I’m ready for more. I want more. I feel like I’m much more than an update anchor on the show that I’m on right now. I’ve called a couple of 49ers preseason games for you. I just called football on the Pac-12 Network. I want more”. They said “We know that you do and we think you’re ready for it; we just don’t have a spot for you right now”. I completely understood that.
That’s how we left it. I said “I love you guys. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am right now with the Pac-12 and everything without you, so thank you for everything”. Who knows what the future holds, but best of luck. That’s how we kind of left it. Now at The Game I just feel like because of what they gave me, I want to do my best and prove to them I am worthy of this hosting position and this slot. A lot of it is in large part because of you. Now we hope to kick your ass in a couple years [laughs] because I’m competitive as hell and I don’t think you last in sports radio if you don’t have really thick skin and if you also don’t really want to win.
There’s the added layer of going up against the show that I was on for the six full years I was at KNBR. I love those guys to death. I sent them Christmas cards a couple of weeks ago. All of my old KNBR co-workers — on-air, producers, executives — reached out after The Game announced I was joining their squad to say congrats and wish me luck. But at the same time, just like I’m sure they want to kick my ass, I want to kick their ass. That’s one of the layers of fun for me being at The Game now.
BN: When you talked about not saying the wrong station, the first thing I thought of was what the negativity and criticism is like being a female sports radio host. Knowing how some listeners will lash out if you make a mistake, does that cause you to go about your business any differently?
KS: I think so, yes. I think that for everything I do whether it’s prepping for my show or calling a game, I over prep because I know that there is a double standard when it comes to being a woman and being a man in this industry. It is assumed if you are a man that you know sports. Period. It is assumed if you are a woman, there’s a chance you might, but I’m going to listen really closely for you to prove to me that you actually don’t. So I over prep for everything.
A large part of that is because I feel a massive responsibility to my gender because I know how rare it is to hear a woman on a football game, or a hockey game, or on a morning show like I’m hosting in San Francisco. One of the most important things for me is that I am successful so that other women who want to do this can get the opportunity. That’s the big thing for me. And not just women, other non-white men, just people who aren’t the usual person who you’ve either heard call a game or heard on a radio show. I think that whatever I can do to help those who are doing the hiring start to think a little bit outside the box and say “Wow, I was terrified to give Kate this opportunity, but she’s doing okay and the feedback seems to be great. Maybe I need to continue to think outside the box when it comes to hiring other roles”. If I can help push that idea forward just a little bit then I’ll consider my career a success.
BN: When you have broken barriers as the first woman to call an NFL game on radio or the first to call a football game on the Pac-12 Network, what does that mean to you, and what do you think it means to other females?
KS: It means that I’m doing something right; that the prep and all the hard work that I have been doing behind the scenes for years is paying off. It means that I’m very fortunate to have crossed paths with a number of men and leaders who have been willing to take a risk and put themselves on the line to try something new. Whether that was Lee Hammer and Jenn Violet at KNBR. Whether that was Bob Sargent and the 49ers, the leadership of the Pac-12; I wouldn’t have gotten those opportunities without them being willing to take a risk. That means something to me as well and I have taken that responsibility very seriously and wanted to — similar to what I said about KNBR and Murph & Mac — prove to them that I was worthy of this opportunity and let them know just how much it means to be given the opportunity by doing really well on those games.
I’ve heard from a number of women after the football and hockey that it gives them hope and it motivates them and inspires them to maybe think that they could do something that they didn’t think they were capable of before. That means everything to me. I don’t do this for the notoriety. You know that I didn’t want to talk to you about myself today. I was hoping that you were calling to maybe have me opine about one of the great people I’ve worked with over the years. But that’s been one of the cool things for me; women who have done sidelines for years who have reached out and said, “Man Kate, play-by-play just sounds terrifying to me, but hearing you on that hockey game, you got me thinking maybe I should start looking at giving play-by-play a try in the sport that I’ve covered for so long”.
I’ve gotten messages from other women who were watching the game with their kids and said “My son thought you were awesome and now you have given my son this idea that hey, it’s not just men who call a sport, women can do it too, and now he might look at his sister in a different way”.
I’m sure that there are some women out there who hated it [laughs] and think I sound awful, but I try to focus on the positive. It seems like it’s been pretty well received by other women in this industry and even women who aren’t in this industry but who are just looking for something that’s outside the box, somebody taking a risk. Hopefully that has motivated and inspired them in whatever they do too.
BN: Some athletes say the losses hurt more than the wins feel good. But when you have people saying, “Hey my daughter is inspired by you and now thinks something is possible that she didn’t before”, I would imagine that means way more than Twitter trolls writing something crazy.
KS: Well I mean Brian, you know, the one negative comment you get about a show is always the one that sticks in your side and keeps you up at night. But over the years I have learned what you just said, focus on the good because that is truly what matters. If you can inspire one little girl or open up the eyes and minds of one young boy or one grown man, then it’s worth it to me.
It is a lot of work and I do put a lot of pressure on myself. I do take on a lot of responsibility when maybe I don’t have to but I just feel like it’s so important to help people see things just a little bit differently while doing what I love.
I’ve never taken any of these opportunities because I wanted to be the first or wanted to be considered a trailblazer. I’ve just done it because I’m always looking for that next challenge and how to get better and how to continually just be relentlessly self-critical and help get myself through that next challenge. If in the process that can inspire a couple of people along the way, yeah, just like you said, I have held onto those tweets and emails and when I’m having a bad day, you know for sure I look back and use those to remind myself that even though a lot of people on the text line today said that “you suck” and “you shouldn’t be on the radio”, there are a number of people that disagree. So remember that and keep going.
BN: What has been your favorite broadcasting experience over the years and what was your most frightening experience?
KS: Can they be one in the same?
KS: [Laughs] I think it was calling the NHL game for NBC back in March. It was utterly terrifying. I had never called a hockey game before. I grew up watching the sport, attending minor league hockey where I grew up, falling in love with the San Jose Sharks when they were the expansion franchise that launched and followed them. I knew the sport but there’s a massive difference between knowing a sport as a fan and sounding intelligent enough about a sport to call it for a worldwide audience of really well-versed hockey fans.
I only had two months to prep for it and it was in the midst of me also calling four different basketball leagues last year. I got the call in January while I’m calling Pac-12 men’s and women’s basketball, WCC men’s basketball, A-10 women’s basketball on the East Coast, and “Hey by the way in the middle of all of that, we’re going to need you to prep to call Blues-Blackhawks in two and a half months on national television. Are you interested?”.
Because of the previous experiences I had, I remember having a lot of fear when I called the 49ers’ games, having a lot of fear when I called football in the Pac-12, and all that experience had helped me realize you’re ready for this. You can do this. You know this sport. Have confidence today and just let go. Just really lean in and enjoy this. You have two analysts who are Olympic gold medalist who know the sport like the back of their hand. You have an incredible crew in the truck. Just be yourself and have fun.
I think it was the first time that I really just relaxed on a broadcast as crazy as it sounds and because of that just had a really great time. NBC was incredibly happy. Surprisingly to all of us the feedback on social media was incredibly positive. It was a heck of a way to start my hockey play-by-play career but I’m really hoping it’s not the last time I get to call it because it was a ton of fun and I love that sport.
BN: What do you do to just relax?
KS: [Laughs] What do you do, Brian? Do you have any recommendations?
BN: [Laughs] There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of pressure. What do you do to just unwind and, for lack of a better word, escape that type of pressure?
KS: I really struggle to do that if I’m being honest. I suck at relaxing. I try to be really good at everything I can, but my friends tell me I suck at relaxing. I did purposefully adopt a dog a year and a half ago — Piper the pit bull — because I needed something that would force me to put the phone down, force me to stop looking at the computer, and force me to get outside because that really is the one thing that relaxes me.
I love being outside whether it’s just a mile walk around my block, whether it’s going down to the park and playing fetch, whether it’s going for a long hike or going camping for a few days. There’s just something about being outside because I think most of our profession is being in little closet-sized studios, being in arenas, being inside that there’s something about being outside and just being in fresh air that really helps bring a little calmness and relaxation to my soul. The dog has really helped with that and if you have any other suggestions I’m all ears because I’m still working on perfecting that skill.
BN: Well I think you’re on the right track with naps.
KS: Yes, okay naps, scotch, and cigars. I do like to sit out on my back deck from time to time and have a little nip of scotch and a good cigar and just take some deep breaths and remind myself that I’m only 37 years old and to be where I am in my career, I’m doing okay. So it’s okay to take a deep breath and sit in that for a little while.
BN: Are there any goals you would like to cross off the list in the years to come?
KS: There are two for me. I’m aware that this could change because my goal coming out of college was to get to ESPN. I’m 37 and I still haven’t done anything for them. As I said a moment ago I’m starting to realize things have gone all right so far without reaching that goal. But I would love to call something at the Olympics. Being a kid born in the ‘80s — I know for some youngsters these days the Olympics don’t have the same cache — but every couple of years I just want to watch every sport that I can even if I have no idea what the rules are. There is just something about rooting for your country, getting to know the stories of people from other countries. Calling the Olympics in any event, I will teach myself the rules and I will learn how to call it. That’s what I told NBC after doing hockey for them in March. That’s something I would really love to do.
The sport I played more than anything growing up was soccer. I was a competitive soccer player and was planning to actually go and do that in college until I tore my meniscus my junior year of high school, which set my broadcasting career in motion.
Men’s or women’s World Cup would be an absolute dream. Getting to call matches, host a show, be a sideline reporter, or getting to be involved in any aspect of a World Cup would be a dream come true for me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”