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A Look At Bill Roth’s Journey

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The delivery has changed, from the piece of furniture to the transistor to satellite signals and the internet, but the intimacy of radio is as intoxicating as ever. It is a disembodied voice, speaking in your ear, taking you somewhere that you would be otherwise unable to go.

The marriage of radio and football Saturdays is nearly as old as the medium itself. If intercollegiate athletics is the front porch of a university, then the play-by-play announcer, “The Voice of the (Your Team Here),” is the guy sitting in the rocking chair, pouring iced tea and inviting you to take a chair.

Bill Roth went to work at Virginia Tech at 22 in 1988 — yes, the Reagan Administration. That was the second season in Blacksburg for head coach Frank Beamer, who may have been the only man more closely identified with Hokie football than Roth. For 27 seasons, Roth served as “The Voice of the Hokies.”

He began every broadcast by saying, “From the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the hills of Tennessee, the Virginia Tech Hokies are on the air.” He ended every regular season with the cross-state rivalry against Virginia. Roth called a Cavalier game again Saturday, but it was against UCLA. Roth is the new Voice of the Bruins.

He sat in the press box of the historic Rose Bowl for the first time and called the remarkable debut of UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in the Bruins’ 35-17 defeat of the ‘Hoos.

It’s a safe bet that Roth is the only Pac-12 announcer who would easily slide into calling Virginia “the ‘Hoos.”

And so now the Bruins, knocking on the door. First down and goal to go for Rosen. From the left hash mark, the 18-year-old rookie, in his first game, takes the snap, flips it into the end zone. It is caught for the touchdown and the Bruins have taken the lead as Fuller scores the first touchdown of the season.

That voice intensifies the emotional connection that an alum has with his alma mater, that a resident has with his state university, that a young boy growing up in Pittsburgh has with the Pirates. That was Roth, who as a 9-year-old would watch the Pirates and do his own baseball play-by-play, cassette recorder in his lap, feet hanging over the edge of the couch, nowhere close to reaching the floor. He employed his 78-year-old babysitter as his color analyst.

“Well, Mrs. Donagan,” Roth recounted in a pre-adolescent squeak, “it looks like the Phillies are going to leave Steve Carlton in the game to pitch to Willie Stargell.”

“Um, Billy,” Mrs. Donagan replied, “would you like another Pop-Tart?”

Roth arrived at Virginia Tech a year out of the Newhouse school at Syracuse, where his buddies included Mike Tirico and Sean McDonough. And he stayed there, chronicling the rise of Hokie football from an independent to the Big East to the BCS Championship Game in the 1999 season — when Michael Vick and No. 2 Virginia Tech led No. 1 Florida State in the fourth quarter — through four ACC championships.

Roth won the state Sportscaster of the Year award 11 times. He has been elected to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. He became an institution. And then, with gut wrenched and tears emptied, he left.

“Virginia will always be home,” Roth said. “The people there are my closest friends.”

He left because most of his living relatives are in the Los Angeles area. He left because he didn’t want to wake up at age 70 and wonder about the opportunity he didn’t take.

“This is the winningest program in the history of college sports,” Roth said of UCLA. “This is the Yankees of college. It’s an unbelievable city. It’s a global market. I could have coasted to the finish in Blacksburg. I wasn’t ready.”

He no longer has to string together a network of 60 stations and tend to the care and feeding of each market. There are 180,000 Bruin alumni within the sound of his voice. UCLA games are broadcast on one station that reaches 20 million people.

That station is KLAC, home to the Bruins and the Dodgers. Roth is working on the same air as Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers who just announced he will remain with the team for his 67th season in 2016. Roth still has the cassette tapes he recorded of Scully’s NBC call of the 1979 World Series, when the Pirates beat the Orioles in seven games. But he doesn’t need them. He slips immediately into Scully’s musical cadence:

“HERE’s Wilver Stargell and, of course, he always makes the opposition a bit uneasy, especially in a situation like this. Game is tied in the eighth inning. McGregor rocks and throws. There’s a high drive, deep right field. Singleton at the track, at the wall, way back, it’s GONE! Pops has done it. Stargell homers. The Pirates have the lead.”

Roth, sitting in a restaurant near his new home in Marina Del Rey, snaps his fingers.

“I remember that like it was yesterday,” he said.

Bruins leading 7-6, going at warp speed. Rosen back to throw, fires, end zone, it is caught for the touchdown! TreMENdous throw by Rosen as he hooks up for the touchdown midway through the second quarter. Duarte, over the shoulder, a yard deep in the end zone and in a crowd. Spectacular catch!

The pace of Roth’s speech picks up with the pace of the play and slows down when the whistle blows. There is a musicality, a rhythm in his delivery, which is slightly nasal. His goal, he said, is to keep it conversational, as Scully still does, as Red Barber did before him. It is a one-sided conversation between announcer and listener, a bond that stretches as far as the signal. A generation ago, that signal needed a clear night and 50,000 watts of power.

To read the rest of this article visit ESPN where it was originally published

Sports Radio News

Don La Greca: ‘Howie Rose Was The Only Sports Talk Host As Passionate About Hockey As Me’

“When you look at the history of sports radio, the only person that I can think of that called games and was [as] passionate about hockey as I am that had a regular radio show was Howie Rose.”

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Don LaGreca has been working on Rangers radio broadcasts since 2005, and has served as the backup play-by-play announcer for the last few seasons, filling in for Kenny Albert when he is unable to be on the call. Because of Albert’s responsibilities in calling national playoff games on television amid the new media rights agreement between the league and its partners (ESPN and Turner Sports), La Greca has called more Rangers games of late, and received positive reviews.

Yesterday on The Michael Kay Show on 98.7 ESPN New York, Kay mentioned the compliments callers have been giving La Greca for his ability to call hockey games, some of whom credit him for introducing them to the sport.

“The one thing hockey is is underexposed,” said La Greca. “Because you hear a lot of people say, ‘Boy, I didn’t realize how much fun this sport is; how great it is to go to a game,’ because a lot of us don’t grow up around it.”

La Greca realizes that he is in a unique position being the co-host of a sports radio show and an NHL play-by-play announcer, giving him a responsibility to communicate and opine on the game of hockey to his listening audience at large. He considers himself the second person to have such a distinction – the pioneer of which, while he may no longer be calling hockey games, still frequently discusses the sport on Twitter.

“When you look at the history of sports radio, the only person that I can think of that called games and was [as] passionate about hockey as I am that had a regular radio show was Howie Rose,” said La Greca. “And Howie Rose has been out of the sports radio game for 25 years.”

Rose was with WFAN from its launch on July 1, 1987 as its weekday nighttime host. Additionally, he served in the same role as La Greca, backing up Kenny Albert’s father Marv on Rangers radio broadcasts – where, in 1994, he delivered the illustrious call of Stephane Matteau’s game-winning, double-overtime goal in game 7 that sent the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. One year later, Rose left WFAN to begin calling games for the NHL’s New York Islanders on Sportschannel, and did not host a sports radio show during his time as a lead hockey play-by-play announcer.

While there are other sports radio hosts in the New York marketplace that exhibit a passion for hockey such as Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti, La Greca is the only one who actively calls the games – akin to how Michael Kay is the only active New York sports radio host who regularly calls professional baseball.

“You don’t have somebody who is as close to the sport as I am to have this kind of forum, so maybe there are a few people like, ‘Hey, I’m a fan of Don. I really don’t like hockey, but he calls a few games so let me listen,’ and it kind of opened a door that otherwise wouldn’t have been opened” said La Greca. “….I don’t think it’s anything that I’m doing. It’s just an opportunity that I have, and it is humbling and it’s pretty cool to hear and I hope those people stick with the sport.”

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Sports Radio News

WFAN, WCBS Become New Flagship For Rutgers Football, Men’s Basketball

“The multi-year deal begins with the 2022-23 season.”

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Rutgers University and Audacy have announced an agreement that will make WFAN and WCBS the flagship stations for the school’s football and men’s basketball teams.

The multi-year deal begins with the 2022-23 season.

“Rutgers athletics is on the rise under Greg Schiano and Steve Pikiell in the Big Ten, bringing excitement and anticipation to Tri-State area fans,” said Chris Oliviero, Market President, Audacy New York. “WFAN and WCBS 880 will provide listeners with unmatched coverage of the Scarlet Knights and we are honored to add Rutgers to Audacy’s market-leading play-by-play portfolio.”

A 30-minute pregame and postgame show will air on WFAN for all Rutgers football games, while basketball games on WCBS will get a 15-minute pregame and postgame show.

Games will be able to be streamed locally on the Audacy app, and the company said both stations will promote the partnership on-air and digitally, in addition to on-campus events throughout the school year.

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Sports Radio News

Papa & Lund Make Andy Masur Defend BSM Column

“Masur wrote that Barkley’s personality, and his fit on the Inside the NBA set alongside Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith, makes him such a magnet for attention and the most valuable broadcaster in sports.”

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BSM columnist Andy Masur turned some heads with his recent piece on Charles Barkley.

Masur wrote that Barkley’s personality, and his fit on the Inside the NBA set alongside Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith, makes him such a magnet for attention and the most valuable broadcaster in sports.

Masur appeared on Papa & Lund on KNBR in San Francisco on Thursday and defended that stance about Barkley.

“He dishes it out and he can take it too, which is a quality that a lot of people don’t possess these days unfortunately in our business and out of our business,” Masur said. “I just think that if he says something completely outlandish and it doesn’t completely come through, he expects that he’s gonna get grief for it the next time they’re on the set together. And they usually deliver to give it to him.”

Hosts Greg Papa and John Lund both said you can’t deny Barkley’s personality is part of what makes him as popular as he is. Their issue lies in the fact that Barkley can be quick to say things that aren’t true.

Masur said it’s on Barkley’s TNT colleagues to correct him, which a lot of times they do.

“It’s a double-edged sword too because I think like you said, what we do as far as play-by-play and what Ernie has to do as a show guy, I don’t think that Ernie is in the same boat as we would be if our color commentator made a mistake,” he said. “But I think that Ernie has the ability to step in there, or Shaq, or even Kenny has the ability to step in there and say, ‘No man you’re wrong and here, look at the facts.’ I think that even is more entertaining sometimes too than just the fact that he’s throwing out things and trying to throw them against the wall and see what sticks.”

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