We’ve been watching A LOT of sports lately. College football bowl games started the year, and a SUPER Bowl followed. NBA action highlighted a few screens but during the past three weeks, our nation’s eyes have turned to the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
That means there have been a lot of voices in your head. You know the ones I’m talking about. (No, unfortunately for fans like me, it’s not Bill Walton sharing a few historical nuggets that parallel Grateful Dead lyrics – thank you Pac-12 Network and ESPN).
In an era of instant and social media, fans critique postseason TV and radio talent as much as, if not more than they do athletes and coaches.
The good news is that we pedestrian critics have help from reporters, mostly columnists, whose jobs require them to tell us what they see and hear during broadcasts. They’re mostly experienced sports reporters who have worked to learn the nuances and inside business of TV and radio. I spoke with a few of them to find out what they value in play-by-play and color analysis.
Remember, their jobs are to share opinions, so you may think differently than them. And that’s ok. We just wanted to share their thoughts.
First on my docket is Ed Sherman, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, author of Sherman Report, an educator and book author. You may find him @Sherman_Report on Twitter.
I asked him what he considers quality play-by-play announcers and color analysts.
Good play-by-play announcers take you to another place
“Regarding play-by-play, I think you are looking for someone who brings out the excitement in a game. You need a great voice, enthusiasm and an ability to paint pictures of what is happening below.
“The viewer and/or listener should feel as if you jump on board with the play-by-play person and that you’re along for the ride. It’s really all about hitting the right notes.”
Sherman singled out Harry Caray’s days with the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s as the most exciting announcer he ever heard.
“Listen to his old tapes, and you still will get stirred up 50 years later. Caray truly felt the game.”
Color analysts should tell you something you didn’t already know
Sherman said he likes analysts to tell him something during a broadcast that he doesn’t already know. He also appreciates analysts who aren’t afraid to speak their minds about athletes, coaches or the sport. Among his favorites are Eddie Olczyk (hockey), Johnny Miller (golf), John McEnroe (tennis) and Chris Collinsworth (football).
Many analysts like as Collinsworth, McEnroe and Miller morphed into their mic-side roles after playing careers. But experiences on the field, court or in a front office only go so far when it comes to quality announcing.
Sherman said that it helps to have an analyst who is in his or her sports’ Hall of Fame because it lends credibility to their analysis. What truly matters most, however, is that they vibrantly, yet clearly articulate what happens in from of them.
“The networks won’t consider someone for the 18th tower (in golf) unless that person won majors and/or had a great career,” Sherman said. “However, in other sports, that doesn’t hold true. Olczyk was a good, not great player. So were Collinsworth, Harold Reynolds and others.
“At the end of the day, what counts is being able to articulate and explain the event. It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Return to this space in the coming weeks to read what other media that cover media think about what they see and hear on the airwaves. In the mean time, please feel free to tell us what you think. What makes a good play-by-play voice or color analyst for your favorite sports?