Radio and television personalities have a few responsibilities to their viewers/listeners that are very critical. Yes, they need to inform you. Letting the audience know the latest information going on with the game they are covering. These folks also have a job to entertain, to keep an audience when a game is a blowout and to help the casual fan enjoy what they’re seeing or hearing. This applies to play-by-play announcers, booth analysts, studio hosts, and studio analysts. It takes a special skill to be able to keep tabs on a game and find ways to keep it light when the moment calls for it.
After careful consideration, I’ve constructed a list of the top 5 current personalities (play-by-play, game analyst, studio host and studio analyst) that are currently working. Entertaining can mean a few things among the people on this list. Humor is obviously one of the criteria. In the case of the play-by-play announcers here, the way they are able to work laughs into the broadcast without compromising it is critical. As far as the analysts go, it’s all about personality. I think you’ll understand better as we document the folks on this list. Remember also, this is a list of those currently working in the industry.
He is perhaps one of the most enthusiastic of the play-by-play announcers out there. His voice screams excitement, without screaming at you. Harlan is a wordsmith. He can weave in some of his catchphrases, right in the flow of the broadcast, but the point still makes it across the airwaves.
Whether it’s LeBron James dunking on someone, “with no regard for human life” or a play in a Ravens game featuring Lamar Jackson, where he escaped trouble. For that escape he was rewarded with a patented OHHHHH and a “HE IS HOUDINI!” I love his calls because while they are up there in excitement, Harlan always, forgive the sports cliché here, stays within himself. It’s not over the top.
Another reason he’s on this list is his ability to improvise, overcome and adapt. Like this gem from a year or so ago, during a Monday Night Football radio broadcast, when a runaway cat got loose on the field.
“Oh, and there a cat, a cat black has taken the field. A black cat is running from the 20 to the nearside the 10, from the 39 of Dallas here is a short throw down the middle caught by Engram. Caught at the 35 to the 30, now the cat running the other way and so is Ingram at the 25 near the 24-yard line of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s a catch-run of 15. Now the cat is stopped at the 50 … he’s at the eight … now he is at the five … he’s walking to the three, he’s at the two… and the cat is in the CDW Red Zone… now a policeman, a state trooper is on the field- AND THE CAT RUNS IN THE END ZONE! THAT IS A TOUCHDOWN!”
Gold, I tell you, gold!
Uecker is as much a part of Brewers lore as Bernie Brewer, who goes down a slide into a beer mug when Milwaukee homers. The guy has had an extraordinary run, not just in baseball, but in movies and television as well.
For those too young to remember, Uecker made numerous appearances on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson, who nicknamed Uecker ‘Mr. Baseball”. He starred in his own sitcom in the 80’s called ‘Mr. Belvedere’ and appeared in memorable commercials for Miller Lite beer. In one ad he exclaimed, ‘I must be in the front row’ a line uttered by many at baseball games. Of course, he is well known for his role in the movie ‘Major League’ where he plays baseball announcer Harry Doyle.
Uecker’s announcing style is not much different than ‘Doyle’s’, in that he always seems up beat. But it’s the stories that he tells, most are self-deprecating in nature, referring mainly to his playing career which wasn’t as spectacular as his post-baseball career. Here’s one from his Hall of Fame induction speech on July 27, 2003.
“My two boys are just like me,” Uecker told a crowd. “In their championship Little League game, one of them struck out three times and the other one had an error allowing the winning run to score. They lost the championship, and I couldn’t have been more proud. I remember the people as we walked through the parking lot throwing eggs and rotten stuff at our car. What a beautiful day.”
Uecker is beloved in his hometown of Milwaukee where he was recently celebrated for 50 years behind the microphone. At the ceremony he did have a thought for the final giveaway that would include his likeness.
“My last bobblehead, this is what I want,” Uecker said. “It’s going to be a box, the top will open, I will get up, and do my get up, get up, get out of here, and back down, close the cover and that’s it. That’s the way I want to go.”
Uecker is a baseball treasure.
The debate has been raging now for about 20 years. Was Charles Barkley a better player or broadcaster? If you watch him regularly on ‘Inside the NBA’ on TNT, you’ll likely vote for the latter choice. He’s about as real and as entertaining as it gets on television. That statement isn’t just limited to basketball either.
The former Philadelphia 76er, Phoenix Sun and Houston Rocket, played for 16 seasons in the NBA. He was an NBA MVP, 11-time All-Star and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, enshrined in 2006. While most know him for the career on the hardwood, some know him better for sitting behind the desk on set with, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal.
Barkley definitely keeps it real and entertaining. His opinions are without filter and his personality is endearing. He plays along well with everyone on the panel and even when he’s on a different show, hilarity usually ensues. Just like when he appeared on the inaugural Manningcast a few weeks ago.
When Peyton Manning asked, “Hey Charles, you ever get booed at home? Never happened to you, right?” Barkley quickly responded, “I played in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That was a regularity.” “You were lucky, Peyton. Everybody liked you. Eli knows what it’s like to get booed at home.”
Barkley appeared on the debut edition of ‘The NHL on TNT’ pregame show with Wayne Gretzky. The former NBA star is a big NHL fan and threw shout-outs to ‘his’ Tampa Bay Lightning on the show. But nothing was better than watching ‘The Great One’ shoot hockey pucks and arguably one of the biggest goalies ever on live television. Barkley learned how to hold a goalie stick with his blocker hand and learned what the ‘5’ hole was. He was able to stop 1 of Gretzky’s five shots.
Later in the evening, video surfaced of Gretzky in a hockey fight with Minnesota’s Neil Broten. Upon seeing Gretzky beaten in the fight Barkley yelled, ‘you lost to a guy with a perm? Are you serious?’ Remember it was the 80’s so the hairstyle of choice for many was the ‘perm’. Great stuff.
Barkley on air is charming and acts like a big kid, which is a lot of fun for everyone.
Who knew that Peyton Manning was such a fun-loving personality when he played in the NFL? We got a glimpse of it as he was getting ready to finish up his great career as a quarterback for the Colts and Broncos. Peyton became that ‘geeky guy next door’ spokesman for several companies and left us with some memorable lines from his commercials.
As a spokesman for Nationwide Insurance he had the ad where everything he said was in the tune of ‘Nationwide is on your side’. Like “Chicken Parm you taste so good…” or “that’s a first rate queso dip.” He was also known for a legendary Mastercard commercial where he plays a ‘fan’ of people doing every day tasks. Lines like ‘Cut that meat, cut that meat’ and ‘Charlie you’re my favorite accountant, come on you’re on my fantasy team’. Manning was seen leaning over a railing like some young fans that are seeking autographs from their favorite players.
The work he and his brother Eli are doing on the “Manning MegaCast” during some Monday Night Football games is fantastic. He and Eli are funny and play off of each other well. Peyton is genuinely entertaining and not afraid to put himself out there for ridicule. Eli continues to make fun of Peyton’s forehead and it’s all good. Peyton relies on his perceived personality to take advantage of most situations. People saw him as this, ‘buttoned up’ athlete, but now he’s a must-watch whenever he appears on his own show or any other for that matter.
Manning is almost like a ‘dad joke’ waiting to happen.
Then there is the granddaddy of them all, Bill Walton. Half the time I’m not even sure what the heck he is talking about, but I guess that makes it entertaining, right? Walton can be a play-by-play announcer’s worst nightmare, except most of, if not all of them, get it. They understand that Walton stands out in the crowd. I guess, literally (6’10”) and figuratively.
His rants are epic. They usually have nothing to do with the game he’s calling, whether it be basketball or baseball. Yes, he got a chance to call a baseball game in August of 2019. The White Sox and the Angels played in Anaheim and what ensued was the stuff of legends.
After a James McCann grand slam, he exclaimed, ‘What a fantastic turn of events if you love the White Sox, and I’m falling in love by the breath.’ Then after Mike Trout took Lucas Giolito deep,
‘That’s Trout? Swimming upstream, avoiding all the flies and sending one ricocheting through the universe,’ Walton said. Then there was the Walton everybody knows and loves, just stringing together words. ‘Woodstock. 50 years. ’79. Full moon. Waterfall. Exploding volcanoes. Baseball. White Sox. Angels. Summertime. No rain on the horizon. Greg Gumbel. Sam Smith. David Axelrod. Wow.’ Walton exclaimed. Ok, sure.
During the typical game called by Walton, there will likely be just as much discussion about non-basketball topics than basketball topics. Walton’s rants can drive some fans crazy, but most viewers love them. Take for example a game between Colorado and Oregon in February of 2020. Mark Jackson joined Dave Pasch and Walton on the call. Going to break, Walton exclaimed, ‘Get me some grass!’. I mean Buffaloes do graze on grass, but the double entendre works so well here. It continued after the break.
Jackson politely asked, ‘You said ‘Get me some grass.’ What kind of grass do you want?’ Walton replied quickly ‘I want Oregon grass! In Oregon, when you live here… what you do all the time is you cut firewood & you cut the grass. And then you gotta get rid of both of those, so you use them all.’
That is just one example of MANY that are out there if you search the internet. It’s awesome that his bosses at ESPN let him be himself. Remember, it’s Walton’s World and we’re just living in it.
That’s my list, hope it entertained you, as much as these five people entertain you and me, every time they open their mics.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.