The big question I had always asked myself listening to the late, great Bill King broadcast Oakland A’s games as a kid (usually instead of doing my homework or whatever chores my parents asked of me) was “How does he know all of this stuff?” Obviously, I knew that he saw what was going on in the field, but I always found it intriguing how he knew exactly how many runners Johnny Damon had thrown out from center field, or how many total strikeouts A’s pitchers had over the course of a weekend. This question arose every time I switched on my radio.
You might ask yourself the same thing I did every time you tune in to a radio or television broadcast: “How do they do it?” I finally found out the answer once I entered college.
You may know that, in addition to blogging for Caliber, I broadcast sports (football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball, to be precise) for the campus radio station, KALX. In a station of over 200 people, the Sports department is a little oasis of dedicated sports lovers who would gladly lose our voices to project our love for all things Cal Athletics for the world to hear. Well, I’m about to tell you all the tricks of the trade. Although my experience is on the radio side, I’ve been told that television broadcasts are run in much the same way.
Take Sunday’s Cal-Stanford men’s basketball game at Haas Pavilion. I had spent most of the week before staring at two pieces of paper, one with the names and numbers of the Golden Bears, and the other of the Cardinal, trying to familiarize myself with both teams. There’s a lot of studying done to ensure a successful broadcast. The last thing we as broadcasters want is to have a Rick Perry-style “Oops” moment while on air as we try to figure out who Number 23 is as he races down the court.
My broadcast partner, Josh, and I had agreed to meet about an hour before game time in order to get ready. I headed over to Haas Pavilion at the appointed time, and I was immediately greeted by an atmosphere not unlike one at Cal football games. Children were taking pictures next to the gigantic blow-up Oski as students decked out in Blue and Gold made their way to the student section right below where we would be sitting. It was a beautiful late afternoon as Cal fans, whether or not they were students, came out to cheer for their team.
After we made our way into Haas, we slipped into the media room, took the information packets that are made for members of the media, and found our seats. At Haas, the media sits in the front row of the upper deck, and today Josh and I would be sitting next to NBA scouts from four teams, including the Golden State Warriors. As students filed into the arena, chatting with their friends, we were busy at work, trying to figure out what we wanted to highlight while on air. This is where the packets come in. Both schools put them out, and they contain all the miscellaneous info about the players that you hear on the air. Moreover, since I was calling the play-by-play in the first half, I had to have something to introduce both ourselves and the teams when we went on.
Three minutes before game time, we were on air. I introduced both myself and my partner to our listeners, gave my introduction, and, before we knew it, the game was underway. And it did not start well for Cal. The Bears pretty much handed Stanford an early lead, missing easy baskets and turning the ball over early and often.Yet Cal, led by the team’s two main fixtures, senior Jorge Gutierrez and sophomore Allen Crabbe, slowly drained away the Stanford lead. Josh and I remarked on air about the sloppy play by both teams, with the Cal Media stat tracker giving us statistics to make our cases.
About midway through the first half, something sparked the Cal offense. Crabbe started scoring. Then Gutierrez. Then Justin Cobbs. And the rest of the team followed suit. And as Haas Pavilion went wild so did we. After one Allen Crabbe slam dunk, I, like the 11,000 others in the building, couldn’t contain myself; despite my best efforts to be objective, the excitement was too much to handle. However, Cal started cooling off and, as in a game of tug-of-war, Stanford grabbed the hot hand, and took a 33-32 lead into halftime.
For a casual fan, halftime is when the band plays and you go chat with your friends. For a broadcaster, halftime is when we analyze the first half stats and decide what to highlight in the second part of the broadcast. Moreover, it is the time to try to remedy the parched throats after over an hour of nonstop talking and yelling. As Josh was going to do the play-by-play, and I the color commentary in the second half, we had to decide what we were going to emphasize in our broadcast.
Josh decided to emphasize the defensive nature of the game. It made sense; both teams were missing more shots than they were making, and, as he said, “The best offense is a good defense.” Indeed, Cal’s defense was sharper than Stanford’s in the second half, as the Cardinal got into foul trouble and kept turning turnovers. On our left, the NBA scouts were not saying a word, but instead scribbling notes on certain players. Both Josh and I tried to decipher what they were observing, and the scout from the Atlanta Hawks peered over at us more than a couple of times. Maybe he was scouting us for the Hawks radio network. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?
Yet it was a nail-biter to the end. Both teams traded baskets (as well as turnovers). As Haas Pavilion cheered, Josh and I pumped our fists. While we tried to be objective, we cheered silently while on air and loudly during timeouts. When we are off air, broadcasters are among the most vocal fans in the building; we love our team just as much as the listeners do. As the clock slowly ticked away, Cal held on for a 69-59 victory, and pandemonium erupted in Haas Pavilion. While the students did not rush the court, we struggled to make ourselves heard over the roar of the crowd.
As we made our concluding remarks, Josh revealed what the Hawks scout wrote about Allen Crabbe: “He should stay another year.” Hopefully he takes their advice, so Cal students are treated to another season of his on-court antics.
Featured image courtesy of Haas Alumni Network (http://eastbay.haasalumni.org/)