I’d worked with Lisa Byington a few times in my side gig as a stage manager on sports broadcasts but hadn’t had a real conversation with her until recently in the Milwaukee Bucks TV booth. Nearly two seasons in as the first full-time female play-by-play announcer on a major men’s sports broadcast team and namesake of a Big Ten broadcast award, I’d mostly watched her career on TV screens or from across the court.I learned in a short chat that Lisa is someone who appreciates her place in sports history – yet she is quick to respects each path others in the industry walk.
She doesn’t like to corner herself as a woman sports broadcaster but understands the importance of that tag, and the example she sets. When we talked about that and Big Ten’s Lisa Byington Award (see below), she was quick to note others in sports broadcasting who mentor women, and beyond that, women of color. She isn’t about “I” but instead, focuses on “we.”
As the NBA Playoffs crank into high gear, I hope you enjoy a little more about the lead voice behind the Milwaukee Bucks’ TV mic who among other accolades, is the first to do a few things:
- First full-time female play-by-play of a major men’s professional sports team (2021) — Bucks.
- First female play-by-play, NCAA men’s basketball tournament (2021).
- First female play-by-play, Big Ten Network college football (2017).
Gail • You were a print journalism major while a two-sport athlete (basketball and soccer) at Northwestern. What led you to turn your attention to broadcasting?
Lisa • “When I was a high school senior, the local Kalamazoo, Michigan TV station (WWMT-TV) did a feature on my dad and me. He was my high school basketball coach at the time, and we were in the midst of the best basketball season in our school’s history (made it all the way to the Final Four of the state tournament). The local reporter at this station, doing that feature, was there for my final high school basketball game, and got an incredible shot of me walking off the court for the final time, emotional, when my dad grabbed me and hugged me. It’s still to this day, one of my favorite all-time moments.
“Long story short, it made me realize … wait, a story on TV really touched me. Made an impact. I can do TV for a job?”
Gail • When did you realize that broadcasting was your calling?
Lisa • “That [high school tournament memory] stuck with me throughout college. I started in print journalism because I always loved writing, and that’s the direction I thought I wanted to go.
“As I continued my college career, I experimented briefly with some radio, and realized broadcasting was something I was more drawn to. It wasn’t really that much of a stretch. I had always gravitated toward public speaking (did forensics and debate in high school) and then spoke at our high school graduation. It took me until about my junior year to realize broadcasting was a better fit for me long-term than print journalism.
“I finished my bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Northwestern has an unbelievable one-year master’s program, so I stayed at NU for five years — got a bachelor’s in print, and a master’s degree in broadcasting.”
Gail • While you’ve notched a lot of “firsts,” from the outside looking in, it feels like you quietly work with the drive of an industry newcomer. Do you still feel like you have to prove yourself each time you’re on the air?
Lisa • “I honestly only think about being ‘the only woman’ or being a ‘first’ when other people address it. I fully understand the role it takes to be good at the job, so it becomes more normalized, but if I constantly thought about that every time I worked a game, I wouldn’t be able to do the job I was hired to do.
“Whenever I put on the headset, I am putting the headset on as a ‘broadcaster’ in my mind, not a female broadcaster.”
Gail • In 2021 the Big Ten and Big Ten Network announced the creation of the Lisa Byington Award which goes to the most outstanding female broadcaster for BTN’s Student U. Now in its second year, what have YOU learned from award applicants?
Lisa • “Good question. There are a lot of eager and excited young women out there, and I find that inspiring. I am excited for the future of broadcasting to see young female broadcasters more confident and bolder than my peers and I ever were.
“They don’t see limitations, and they aren’t afraid to speak up for what they believe in. That’s super exciting.”
Gail • Do you get involved in coaching the Lisa Byington Award winner?
Lisa • “For Year 1 finalists, I made sure to write one-page evaluations and personally called all of them to talk through some of my feedback. I also just wanted to hear what they thought about the business and their goals and answer any questions they had about the broadcasting world. For Regan Holgate, last year’s winner, and for the winners to come, I am always available to review their work and lend an ear in however way they want or need.”
Gail • In a self-serving question for my fellow publicity agents, how has PR, publicity and sports information helped you through the years? In what ways can we PR types be better when we work with media?
Lisa • “Sometimes it’s just making introductions to players and coaches throughout the years, or whatever the sports or levels. Background info is always helpful … providing feature clips that help tell the story of your team is super valuable as well.”
Gail • You’ve worked so hard, first as an athlete, then as a journalist/broadcaster. What do you do for fun?
Lisa • “I like to spend time with my two dogs and fiancé. I like to drink a good glass of wine and enjoy a great meal. I golf, walk, run, bike and do Yoga. I enjoy going to live theatre and supporting my nephews and niece in their activities.”
©Gail Sideman, gpublicity.com 2023