“It’s first and 10. Morris to block. It’s wide open. The rumbling Kelce taking it to the house!”
Kevin Harlan, longtime national sportscaster, is shouting, his baritone voice resonating with excitement. And there’s more to come.
“It’s goal at the seven. Smith, Charles, the block by Kelce. The dive for six!”
Wearing his signature blue blazer and with a handkerchief neatly folded in the breast pocket, Harlan is calling play-by-play for the Chiefs’ season-opening game against the Houston Texans as part of the CBS Sports broadcast team. His emphatic vocal cadence is familiar to anyone who has watched NFL football during the last 31 years.
It’s something the Kansas City-area resident has been doing since 1999.
On Monday, Harlan will be behind the microphone again to call the Chiefs’ game against Green Bay at Lambeau Field, a place with which he is very familiar.
At 55, he is at the height of a career that got its start when he was a kid in Wisconsin.
“I kind of caught the bug,” Harlan said. “I would listen to games late at night on the radio that would come in from all over the country. … I didn’t have headsets, so I’d cup my hand to my ear and pretend I had a hand-held mic. I would go pretend to call games in the bathroom to perfect my voice.”
Harlan has always been surrounded by football. His father, Bob Harlan, was president and CEO of the Packers for 19 years. The oldest of three boys, Kevin took a stab at playing football and hockey, but “I knew I didn’t have talent on the field.”
Instead, Harlan turned to describing sports. His first gig was at his Catholic high school’s 10-watt radio station.
“I really wanted to be a commercial pilot,” he said with a chuckle, “and here was a way I could travel and be around sports, which I love.”
Once he got his driver’s license, Harlan traveled outside Green Bay to call high school games.
“Sports is so exciting,” Harlan said. “It’s a story that’s not been happening. You’re telling the story as it happens.”
His dad remembers those early days.
“When he was doing games in high school, I would sit at home and listen, and when he got home we’d go over the notes I took and he listened very carefully,” Bob Harlan said. “Once he made up his mind this was for him, he was driven.”
Harlan attended the University of Kansas at the suggestion of then CBS broadcaster Gary Bender, a Jayhawk alumnus whom Harlan knew through his father.
“I flew down, looked at the school and loved the school — that was it,” Harlan said.
By his freshman year at KU, Harlan was already broadcasting pre- and postgame shows for football; later came basketball games broadcast for the Jayhawks Radio Network (1983-1984). One of his KU classmates was John Holt, now an anchor at Fox 4 in Kansas City. The two worked together at KLWN-AM and FM in Lawrence.
“When you’re working for pennies as young college kids, you form a real bond,” Holt said. “It’s so fun to see that we’re both broadcast survivors and still love what we do all these years later.”
Harlan worked part-time at KCMO, then an all-news talk station that carried the Chiefs, Royals, Kings and indoor soccer teams. He became an essential member of the KCMO team, according to then-sports director Wayne Larrivee.
“We were the first station in the NFL to do a two-hour pre show, and Kevin produced it way beyond expectations,” Larrivee said. “That’s how he got started with us, and we recognized his ability, talent.”
Larrivee, who now calls the Packers games for its radio network, was impressed with the young Harlan.
“He seemed like he was far beyond a college senior in terms of his maturity,” Larrivee said. “As good as he was on the air, he was as good off the air. He had a vision of where he wanted to go.”
Mary Anne Murray worked with Harlan both in Topeka and then again at KCMO.
“Kevin was always so much fun in the newsroom,” Murray said. “He worked hard, was very resourceful. It was clear from the beginning that he was destined for greatness.”
Just a few days after getting his diploma KU, Harlan landed his first “professional” gig as the official voice of the Kansas City Kings NBA team.
Then came four years of broadcasting NFL games for Fox Sports. In 1998, Harlan joined CBS’ NFL broadcast team as a play-by-play announcer; this will mark Harlan’s 31st consecutive year. In 1999, he became part of the CBS Sports broadcast team for coverage of the NCAA Tournament, which Harlan continued through this year.
So does Harlan have a preference between the two sports?
“I like each sport in its season,” he said.
Harlan did Chiefs radio broadcasts for nine years, a stint he loved. It was during that time that he coined his signature, “Oh baby! What a play!” The expression came out during a Monday night game between the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills.
During Harlan’s extensive sportscasting career, he has called preseason games for the Chicago Bears and Packers (he still does for Green Bay). He’s also called preseason games for the Chiefs (on KCTV-5) and the Jacksonville Jaguars, plus several Super Bowls.
Earlier in his career, Harlan was the voice of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves for nine seasons. In addition, he has called action for NBC Sports, ESPN and the Mutual Broadcasting System and provides the play-by-play voice for the NBA2K video-game series.
Harlan uses an enthusiastic, rapid-fire delivery no matter who has the ball. He gets tremendous satisfaction working in television but has a real fondness for radio.
“In TV, the picture is No. 1, the analyst is No. 2, the graphics and bells and whistles are No. 3 and play-by-play is fourth,” he said. “On the radio, the play-by-play announcer is the top dog.”
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Nick Wilson: Deshaun Watson Press Conference ‘Insulting’ To Local Media
“You — neither Deshaun, his lawyers, or anybody involved in this — get to dictate what those reporters get to say, ask, or think.”
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson met with the media for the first time yesterday since being reinstated by the NFL after the league ruled he was guilty of violating the Personal Conduct Policy due to improper sexual advances towards more than two dozen massage therapists. 92.3 The Fan afternoon host Nick Wilson called Watson’s press conference “trash” and “insulting” to local media.
Watson told reporters he would only answer football related questions from the assembled media members, which Wilson took issue with.
“You can’t bury this story simply by saying ‘I won’t talk about it’,” Wilson said. “It is insulting to the media who covers this team. This is not about Nick Wilson, I promise. This is about the beat reporters who cover this team. It is insulting — intentionally or not — to say ‘You know what, guys? I love y’all, but I’m going to dictate what you ask me’.
“You don’t do that. You dictate when you speak, your opening statement, or how you respond. You — neither Deshaun, his lawyers, or anybody involved in this — get to dictate what those reporters — who work very hard day in, day out covering this organization, covering Deshaun Watson, covering this town — get to say, ask, or think. That was trash.”
Co-host Dustin Fox added the whole job of the media is to bring information to fans, and Watson wouldn’t allow reporters to do that Thursday, and may never do that.
Gregg Giannotti: Biggest Issue With Craig Carton, Jon Jastremski Feud Is “Mole” At WFAN
“The thing that bothers me the most about this is the leak from within the building. Someone here is sending this audio out to a former listener…to cause problems.”
A feud has sprung up between WFAN afternoon host Craig Carton and former WFAN host John Jastremski. Boomer & Gio discussed the spat on Friday morning’s show, with Gregg Giannotti being troubled by a revelation.
During his New York New York podcast, a voicemail left for Jastremski asked about Carton’s comments, but the caller said a WFAN employee sent him the clip of Carton’s criticism.
“So that means we have a mole,” Boomer Esiason said.
“That right there is a problem,” Gregg Giannotti added. “‘We both have a mutual friend that still works over there’ and that person shared a link of Craig talking about JJ (Jastremski). So, clearly, that person is on JJ’s side and they’re still working here. That’s a mole! That’s someone going against the team! And I think know who that is!”
Esiason then asked if he knew the person, to which Giannotti said he did. He then asked if he would be upset by who it was, which Giannotti affirmed as well.
The show then played the final portion of Jastremski’s rant, which included him saying to Carton “I’m not listening to a crook. So you know what? Go take a f—ing hike.”
“Jesus!” Esiason exclaimed. “Good for JJ, though. Standing up for himself.”
“I like both of these guys. I do. I got respect for both of them,” said Giannotti. “Everybody doesn’t have to go to the jail, crook thing with Craig every single time. Do they? It’s low-hanging fruit. Everybody goes there. There’s no way he can defend himself in that way because everybody saying ‘You went to jail’ didn’t go to jail, and it’s not apples and oranges. But the business stuff is apples-to-apples.
“So when I hear that, I’m just like ‘Ok, you went there. Be a little more creative than that’. As far as I listen to legend things, please, nobody has given me worse advice in my life than Mike Francesa did. Nobody. I would still be out in the newsroom cutting Islander highlights if I listened to that guy. And the only reason why Mike liked JJ was because he didn’t feel he was a threat. The only people Mike likes is the people he feels non-threatened by. And that’s where that comes from.”
After concluding Jastremski’s rant was a “little over the top”, Giannotti then turned his attention to the “mole” inside the station.
“The thing that bothers me the most about this is the leak from within the building. Someone here is sending this audio out to a former listener…to cause problems. That — to me — is an issue. The guy on the voicemail said ‘We may or may not have a mutual friend that still works at the radio station’ and this guy just slammed the radio station. And he’s friends with the guy who slammed the radio station and then slammed Craig and this guy’s on their side?! And this guy that works here is on their side?! That to me is a major, major problem.”
Dan Dakich: Craig Carton is ‘The Way Talk Radio Should Be’
“If you’re being critical because you want to be the guy that’s always critical I don’t think you can do that either. I think you gotta be honest. And criticism comes with it.”
Craig Carton has prided himself on being one of those hosts who tells it like it is, especially when talking about New York’s pro sports teams.
That willingness to call a spade a spade and levy criticism on teams like the Jets and Giants, especially when things are not going well on the field, is something Dan Dakich has always seen as a recipe for success in the industry.
Interviewing Carton on Thursday on his Outkick show Don’t @ Me, Dakich praised the WFAN afternoon host for essentially creating a blueprint for how sports talk should be done.
“In Indianapolis I’m the bad guy right, because I say look the Colts stink, this regime is 46-49-1 – why are you telling me the GM is the best in the country – why are you telling me Frank Reich can really coach?” Dakich said. “New York’s different, though, right? I mean, New York they expect you to say look if you ain’t any good then you ain’t any good. Yu don’t sugarcoat nothing, and I think that’s the way talk radio should be.”
Carton noted that what’s key in how you critique a team or a front office, executive or owner is finding a balance. He said you can’t as a host be the ultimate homer and blow smoke up everyone’s behind.
“You have to be able to be critical when it’s warranted,” Carton said. “If you’re being critical because you want to be the guy that’s always critical I don’t think you can do that either. I think you gotta be honest. And criticism comes with it.”
Carton pointed out that the fan bases in both New York and in Indianapolis are ultimately the same, because at the end of the day it’s all about making sure you have competent people calling the right shots. He added that the organizations are the same too because of how sensitive they can be to criticism, which he said if they don’t like it, “too bad.”
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He works full-time as a multimedia specialist at the Virginia State Corporation Commission, while also putting in part-time work for News Radio WRVA and 910 The Fan in Richmond. Additionally, you can find Jordan contributing coverage of the Washington Capitals for the blog NoVa Caps. His prior media experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly and ABC 8News. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.