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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of A Broadcaster: Kevin Harlan

“Harlan has made some big calls in his career and has also gone viral for others. Why? Because he separates himself from other broadcasters with his personality and sense of humor.”

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Kevin Harlan

Whether he’s describing a cat scoring a touchdown, a drunken fan trying to do the same or a thunderous jam in the NBA eliciting a “with no regard for human life,” Kevin Harlan is always enjoying the moment. That you can count on. He can be seen on CBS and Turner Sports and can be heard on the Westwood One network. Being versatile and entertaining is the calling card for this much accomplished broadcaster. Harlan does a great job whether it’s on TV or radio.

Kevin Harlan

Harlan wasted no time in getting started in his broadcasting career. Right out of college in 1982, he became the TV and radio voice of the NBA’s Kansas City (now the Sacramento) Kings.  After spending a year as the basketball announcer for his alma mater Kansas, he stayed local and became the voice of Kansas City Chiefs. Harlan stayed there from 1985-93, while splitting time, calling University of Missouri football and basketball (’86-’89). Also, during that period, he was the play-by-play voice of the Minnesota Timberwolves for 9 seasons, starting in 1989 and going until 1998. 

Harlan is a mainstay on network television as well. He called the NFL football for NBC in 1991, college football for ESPN in 1992 and 93, NFL for Fox from 1994 until 97, and joined Turner Sports in 1996 to broadcast NBA playoff games, which he’s still doing. Harlan is also still active at CBS where he began working in 1998. He does NFL and NCAA Basketball for them. 

Like many of us that get into this business, we know at an early age for some reason that this is what we want to do. Harlan is no exception. In a conversation with The Athletic in December 2019 he recalled when the broadcasting bug bit him.

“I grew up listening to Jack Buck do radio and the Super Bowl. I listened to Jim Simpson’s call of Super Bowl I. I wanted to be a radio play-by-play network announcer. That’s what I wanted to be,” Harlan remembered. “I wanted to do national games on radio because I loved radio and still I love it more now than ever. So I’m living out my dream. This is what I dreamed of when I got in the business. I never thought about TV. I just thought about radio,” said Harlan. 

That mindset would change with just one phone call. After getting an offer to do an NBA team’s games on TV, he called Bob Costas for some advice.

“He said, ‘Take it. TV is where the business is going to be. You’ve got to do TV.’ I mean, he was adamant that I do it. There were four people I planned to call and when I heard him say that, he answered the question and I accepted the job,” Harlan told The Athletic. “TV has led to two years at ESPN, four years at FOX and now these 20 plus years at CBS. So that was good. But my heart is in doing radio and that’s why I got in the business. That was my first love. I’m living my dream every Monday night and every playoff game and every Super Bowl. My thirst for doing the biggest game is quenched with that.”

In 2010, he began serving as Westwood One’s lead announcer for Monday Night Football calling his first Super Bowl in Super Bowl XLV. He has broadcast 10 consecutive Super Bowls for Westwood, which is the most consecutively in radio, and television network history (Jack Buck broadcast 9 straight).

BEST KNOWN FOR

There certainly is a lot to choose from. Harlan has made some big calls in his career and has also gone viral for others. Why? Because he separates himself from other broadcasters with his personality and sense of humor. 

Harlan was on the mic for a Ravens and Bengals game last year. With the Ravens leading 28-13, quarterback Lamar Jackson used a couple of moves, leaving defenders in his wake. Harlan’s call: “Jackson takes it himself. Look at him dart back and forth- OHHHHHH! He Broke Ankles! Now he’s got an entourage! And he’s got a touchdown! HE IS HOUDINI! What a play! 47-yard touchdown run by the magical quarterback Lamar Jackson! WOW!” Wow indeed, a tremendous run and a tremendously entertaining call. The emotion isn’t forced, it flows within his style of delivery. 

From a Ravens walk-through to the end zone: How Lamar Jackson ran ...

In 2008, one of Harlan’s patented phrases was on display. He was calling the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals featuring the Celtics and the Cavaliers, when the Cavaliers’ Lebron James drove to the basket and threw one down.  Harlan’s call of the play: “Garnett comes out on LeBron. Now they switch and here’s Pierce again…a Smith screen. Posey will defend…OHHHHHH! LEBRON JAMES WITH NO REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE!”

I love that one. Truly, it was a creative, yet somewhat factual way to look at that play. If you listen back to it, again, there is nothing that seems contrived or forced. Such a skill to make these types of calls sound exciting, yet real. 

In December of last year, Harlan pulled off something that isn’t easy to do on radio or TV. He was on the CBS broadcast of the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs game. Ok, big deal. Here’s where it got interesting. He started to call the Miami Dolphins at the New England Patriots game in the Chargers vs Chiefs feed. Why? Well that other game had meaning for the Chiefs. A New England loss, meant the Chiefs would claim the #2 seed in the playoffs and a bye week. 

So, try to stay with me here, this was his call again, during a Chargers/Chiefs game:

“Meanwhile, Miami has first and goal down by four. And they’re at the New England four-yard line, first and goal. 29 seconds left. Here (in Kansas City) Butker kicks the extra point. And Fitzpatrick throws in the end zone, touchdown Miami! The Dolphins have just scored!”, he exclaimed. Only to continue, “Gesicki, the tight end, got a laser in the back of the end zone on a goal-to-go touchdown pass by Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to take a lead with 24 seconds to go! The extra point coming up for Miami, leading New England 26 to 24. And the crowd now knows it. … What a throw by Fitzpatrick, what a touchdown run by Williams, on the last weekend of the regular season in the NFL!”

You think you’re confused? His analyst in the booth Rich Gannon had to ask Harlan, “I’m getting confused, what game are you calling?”, to which Harlan responded with a very enthusiastic “I’m calling both games!”

It sounds comedic but so few play-by-play guys could pull it off. He knew what the game meant for KC and gave the fans a special treat, to be able to “watch” both games at the same time. Incredible. 

Harlan has a unique way of bringing humor into games, it’s not over the top, it seems to fit quite well. He also has a way of making something that is mundane, into a classic, even if it has NOTHING to do with the game he’s calling. 

For example, Harlan was on the radio call for Westwood One’s Monday Night Football coverage in 2016. He was doing a game between the 49’ers and the Rams when a fan ran onto the field. Normally, a broadcaster might say, ‘well we’ve got a fan on the field, that’s the reason you’re hearing the cheers, you aren’t missing anything…’. Not Harlan. The game itself wasn’t too exciting, so he decided to keep his audience entertained. 

The call went like this:

“Hey, somebody has run out on the field. Some goofball in a hat and a red shirt. Now he takes off the shirt! He’s running down the middle by the 50! He’s at the 30! He’s bare-chested and banging his chest. Now, he runs the opposite way. He runs to the 50! He runs to the 40! The guy is drunk! But there he goes! The 20 — they’re chasing him, but they’re not going to get him. Waving his arms, bare-chested; Somebody stop that man! Oh, they got him, they’re coming from the left — Oh and they tackle him at the 40-yard line! Whew, that was the most exciting thing to happen tonight.”

I listened back to this call several times while transcribing the words. Each time I think I laughed a little louder. This is brilliance. We are always taught when going into play-by-play, keep your audience entertained, even if the game isn’t doing it for you. Congrats on this, he gets an A. 

As the great Casey Kasem used to say, ‘The hits just keep on coming’ and with Harlan, yes, they do. Another beauty of a call came again on a Monday Night Football broadcast on Westwood One. The Cowboys were facing the Giants, when a black cat ran onto the field during the action in the 2nd quarter. Cue Harlan.

“Oh and there a cat, a cat black has taken the field. A black cat is running from the 20 to the nearside the 10, from the 39 of Dallas here is a short throw down the middle caught by Engram. Caught at the 35 to the 30, now the cat running the other way and so is Ingram at the 25 near the 24-yard line of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s a catch-run of 15. Now the cat is stopped at the 50 … he’s at the eight … now he is at the five … he’s walking to the three, he’s at the two… and the cat is in the CDW Red Zone… now a policeman, a state trooper is on the field- AND THE CAT RUNS IN THE END ZONE! THAT IS A TOUCHDOWN!”

Black cat on the Giants-Cowboys field makes purrfect NFL meme - CNET

Unbelievable. He even worked in a sponsorship read. This isn’t something that just anyone can do. Trust me on that. Brilliant. 

Harlan recalled the difference of the two calls to The Athletic, “I was in a completely different frame of mind with the drunk as opposed to the cat. The drunk in Santa Clara, the game was horrendous as you may recall. It was the third quarter and I think like 21-0. It was a boring game and my mind was more of a let’s have a conversation back and forth and we’ll just give a medium play by play as opposed to a real hard-driven play by play. We were kind of in that mood. My mind was a lot different then and that’s why it was more theatrics and kind of goofing around.” 

What about the cat?

“I was in a completely different frame of mind. Then the cat stayed there. And then they stopped playing. So now the cat became the story for that short little span and ran down the field and did what it did and then got into the end zone and they were chasing it. Then it finally left. And that was the conclusion that we’re back to the game.”

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

There is something just inherently likeable about Harlan. He always seems to be having a great time behind the microphone. While he may be known as a guy that will crack a joke from time to time, his play-by-play is extremely good. Accurate and descriptive with that authoritative voice. That combination makes Harlan an easy listen. 

The one thing you can always count on with Harlan is something enjoyable and entertaining is bound to happen during his broadcast. As we’ve mentioned already, it’s not necessarily going to be about the game. On that point, Harlan has a keen sense of the moment. His humor and silliness never comes at the expense of a good or close ballgame. He has such a good balance of facts and humor during a game, that no matter what the score you want to hear him. He’s that good. 

Watch: CBS announcer Kevin Harlan gives perfect call of Chiefs ...

There are many other network broadcasters that get a lot of accolades, and I would say they are well deserved, but don’t sleep on Harlan. This well-versed, knowledgeable and terrific broadcaster is second to none. 

Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of An Analyst: Drew Brees

“His early work is being met with mixed reviews, but what can really be expected of a guy that just stepped off the football field?”

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When you hear the name Drew Brees, you likely think of the guy that led the New Orleans Saints to the franchise’s only Super Bowl title in 2009. The NFL was his way of life for 20 years, but Brees decided it was time to walk away after last season.

Super Bowl XLIV: Saints vs. Colts highlights - YouTube
Courtesy: NBC

It’s never easy for a guy as talented as Brees to realize that the time has come to retire from the sport he loves. Luckily for him, Brees had somewhere to go to keep that connection alive. Networks were reportedly climbing over one another to secure his services as an analyst. NBC won the bidding and now Brees calls the network home. 

At NBC, he serves as an analyst on Football Night in America and joins Mike Tirico in the booth on Notre Dame Football broadcasts. NBC also plans to use Brees during their Super Bowl coverage and during future Olympics. 

ROAD TO NBC SPORTS

Brees was born in Dallas to parents with athletic backgrounds. His dad played basketball at Texas A&M and his mom was a former all-state athlete in three sports while in high school. Brees didn’t even play tackle football until high school, and his freshman year, he lettered in baseball, basketball and football.  It was said that he considered playing baseball in college, but after an ACL tear his junior year, most recruiters shied away from him. Brees overcame the injury and led his football team to a state championship with a 16-0 record. He was voted the Texas High School 5A Most Valuable Offensive Player in 1996. 

He received offers from only two schools, Purdue and Kentucky. He chose the Boilermakers. During his college career Brees set two NCAA Records, 13 Big Ten records and 19 Purdue marks. Even with all those accolades to his credit, he wasn’t taken until the first pick of the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. He slipped because of a perceived arm strength issue and his smaller than a pro quarterback stature (6’0”). 

After 5 seasons with the Chargers, they allowed him to leave via free agency. He joined the Saints in 2006 and led them to nine playoff runs, seven division titles (including four straight from 2017 to 2020), three NFC Championship Game appearances and the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XLIV.

In spite of all the doubters, Brees retired as the NFL leader in career pass completions, career completion percentage and regular season passing yards. He is also second in career touchdown passes. He also was the MVP of the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV victory. 

HOW IS HE DOING SO FAR?

Brees is a rookie again, and under the microscope in a high-profile job. His early work is being met with mixed reviews, but what can really be expected of a guy that just stepped off the football field? It’s one thing to be a good subject for an interview, it’s another to be the person on the other side of things and having to analyze and also interview. In his role on Football Night in America, he’s criticizing former teams and teammates that he just played with last season. Imagine that. 

“The Carolina defense completely shut them down today. There was no run game, they got after Jameis Winston,” Brees said. He then added: “These Carolina Panthers came ready to play.” That’s all he had to say, but in a few short sentences he’d said a lot about his former team. 

Not a bad start by Brees, who may still be trying to find himself and his style in the early moments of his new endeavor. I’m sure he was thinking and his bosses probably were too, if he takes a glancing shot at his team, that leaves every other team in the league open to his words. I get that, you have to be careful, especially as Brees points out he still has relationships with many of his former teammates. He’s still close to Sean Payton as well. Baby steps for an analyst, but important steps none the less.   

Drew Brees Stuns NFL Fans by Debuting New Hair on NBC
Courtesy: NBC

It’s all part of a lot of firsts for Brees in his post football career and new media gig. Opening week of the NFL season, his Saints put a whooping on the Green Bay Packers. Brees was watching it from a television monitor. Then last week, he had to call a college football game, Notre Dame facing his alma mater of Purdue. 

I went back to watch the NBC broadcast of the Irish and Boilermakers to get a better idea about Brees as a color commentator. There have been rumors that NBC would like to see him in this type of role going forward. I’ll break down what I saw and heard as I watched the game. 

I felt like Brees was still finding his way through a broadcast. He didn’t really have much to add as Mike Tirico set the stage for the game. Brees actually played in this rivalry so I would have thought the producer of the game would have liked him to speak to how intense it gets with the schools separated by less than 150 miles.

Tirico did a brilliant job early of asking Brees direct questions to bring him into the broadcast. There was some silence still in places where I’m used to hearing the analyst chime in. The early stages of the first quarter are fairly devoid of any commentary, Brees didn’t bring much through that point. Some of his early analysis was fairly generic, he started to explain how a near interception by a Notre Dame player resulted because the “pass in the flat, from the opposite hash, may be a 5-yard pass, but it’s in the air 35.” I was all ears, but then he ended with “lucky that pass didn’t get picked off.”

Look, there is a timing, not just in the game, but with the broadcast itself. Television, as I’ve explained a lot, belongs to the color commentator. He should be the star. When you have a rookie in that spot, he/she may tend to defer to the announcer, when they really don’t need to, or have to in these cases. 

Like any rookie quarterback, I thought Brees really improved as the game went on. Especially when it came to play calling and the work of the quarterbacks on both sides. After a Purdue sack, Brees said that “(ND QB) Coan needs to understand where the rush is coming from and feel it in order to make a play.” He’s been there and yes; he knows how to read a defense. 

It’s almost like a light switch went on in his head during the latter stages of the 1st Quarter and into the 2nd. He had some tremendous insight about Purdue being in third and short situations and knowing how many different play calls they could make in the situations Purdue faced. 

In the 2nd quarter, Brees had some excellent commentary about Notre Dame’s young quarterback Tyler Buchner. Brees, relayed what Brian Kelly told him during the week about what can be expected from Buchner. 

Brees explained, “They are not trying to rush him along, they’re not trying to give him more than he can handle, at this point. They want him to be able to play fast, play confident. Certainly, they see this kid’s upside and his ability to throw the ball, even though a lot of that’s happened outside the pocket thus far, both with the runs and RPO’s,” Brees said. “What I’m looking to see today is are they going to call some pocket passes with him, because if I’m Purdue’s defense all I’ve seen from Tyler Buchner thus far is him making plays outside the pocket, I haven’t seen him make a play from the pocket yet. Guys, keep this guy in the pocket…don’t allow him outside the pocket, let’s see if he can beat us from there.”

This particular bit of verbiage showed me a couple of things. He can relay and pay attention to what a coach is telling him about a particular player. In other words, he was doing his homework on a player that many Notre Dame fans want to watch and see him develop. Brees didn’t betray any type of confidence because as he continued, “what I’d like to see” turns it right back on his experience as a high-level quarterback. From this point of the game on, I was happy to see and hear more confidence in Brees. He jumped into the fray without Tirico having to “invite” him and his timing was so much better. 

There were a few times it sounded like Brees was back in the huddle, explaining how time management for Notre Dame was critical and that Coan needed to tell his team that they had lots of time to get a completion and with two time outs toward the end of the half, they could even afford to run the ball. Experience was talking right there and that’s what I want to hear from an analyst as a play-by-play guy. That gives our broadcast credibility. 

The most impressive thing about Brees in that game, by my count he only slipped up once and dropped a “we” when it came to Purdue. After a completion in the flat and some run after the catch he said, “we’ll take that every time!” Not bad and understandable. 

More and more reps, like he needed as a young quarterback will make Brees better as time goes along. 

DID YOU KNOW?

Brees still gets a copy of the Saints game plan? During an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, it was revealed that Brees stays in regular contact with both Jameis Winston and the Saints’ backup and gadget play quarterback, Taysom Hill.

“Are you an unofficial assistant coach?” Dan Patrick asked.

“I will say this,” Brees said laughing. “I did have the game plan for the (Packers) game in my hand prior to the start of the game.” It came directly from the Saints according to Brees. 

Brees got attention for a lot more than his work during week one. Apparently, his hair was the talk of the internet. Fans on social media were surprised to see Brees with a fuller head of hair, and noticed that his “hairline” has seemingly drastically improved in post-retirement life.

Drew Brees - Wikipedia

CONCLUSION

Brees has a future in the industry. Just like all those former players that came before him, repetition and learning the ways of the broadcasting world will serve him well. Brees has the background and credentials that make him a credible analyst, now he just needs to learn how to incorporate his thoughts within the structure of a broadcast. He’ll figure out how to make statements that are powerful, meaningful and understandable. It all comes with time. 

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy Of A Broadcaster: Rick Allen

“Not only is he high-energy, he’s accurate, smooth and has a very confident and commanding style.”

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In my “Anatomy of a Broadcaster” series, I’ve basically stuck to the Big 4 (Baseball, Basketball, Football and Hockey). I figured it was time to branch out a bit and tackle one of the more popular sports in America, NASCAR.

I have to admit, I’m not a huge racing fan, but many of you that read this column are, so let’s start our engines on this “Anatomy” by focusing on Rick Allen of NBC Sports. 

Allen fulfilling lifelong dream to call Verizon IndyCar Series race
Courtesy: NASCAR Illustrated

Allen grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska, and was an athlete in college. He was a walk-on for the University of Nebraska Track and Field team and was one of those great success stories. He wound up as a letter winner all four seasons, was a three-time All-American in the sport, winning two Big Eight Conference decathlon titles (1991–92). Not too shabby for a non-scholarship athlete. 

He received his bachelor’s degree of communications from the university. After graduation, he worked as a public address announcer for the University of Nebraska athletic department. He was heard on the PA system at Memorial Stadium, where the Cornhuskers football team played. This was a time where Nebraska dominated the football landscape and a 24-year-old Allen was in the spotlight, heard by hundreds of thousands of fans in the early to mid ’90s. His work at the school led him to racing. He was asked by a Nebraska Alum and donor to do the PA at a racetrack just purchased by the donor. Eagle Raceway is where it all started for Allen. 

ROAD TO NBC/NASCAR

Rick’s path to the booth was pretty unique. He never really intended to announce races when he was a student. But the opportunity afforded to him by the owner of the Eagle Raceway, set the tire rolling down the track for him. 

Allen recalled last year to a Nebraska TV station WOWT, “A NASCAR official came to me during my second year of announcing out there, and said send my demo tape in because FOX Sports and NBC Sports were taking over the broadcasts for NASCAR, and I didn’t know anything about NASCAR, so I didn’t send a tape in and about two weeks later they said hey you really need to send a tape in, they are interested,” said Allen.

From 2003 to mid-2014, Allen worked for Fox Sports, where his main duty was calling the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Racing Series on SPEED-TV and later Fox Sports 1. He occasionally covered Nationwide Series events as well.  

In December of 2013, it was announced that Allen would become the lead announcer for NASCAR on NBC starting in 2015. He actually started some work with NBC in 2014, hosting their daily studio show, NASCAR America while he was still at Fox. His last Truck Series race for Fox was in July of 2014. 

As part of the NBC family, Allen has been able to show his versatility as a broadcaster. He’s been called upon as a play-by-play announcer for the network’s coverage of USA Track and Field Indoor and Outdoor Championships. He also calls the Millrose Games, the Boston Marathon, and the World Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Championships on NBC Sports. Makes sense since he was a three-time All-America in the sport, right? 

In the racing off-season, Allen calls Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball games on the NBC family of networks.

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

I had to do a little research to find out why Allen is so good at what he does. Viewing several of his races and learning about his path, it wasn’t hard to figure out why. Allen first and foremost is a student of the racing game. Never intending to be in the position he is now, he had to work to familiarize himself with the sport and learn along the way. Not just about NASCAR but how to broadcast it. 

During the same interview I referenced earlier with the Nebraska TV Station WOWT, he recalled a race in 2003. It was a NASCAR Truck Series race and it was a three-wide photo finish. Exciting right? I should point out that this race was held at the Daytona Motor Speedway. Allen, feeling all of the excitement in the air and of the finish he just saw, almost made a big gaffe. He told the station that he almost proclaimed Rick Crawford the winner of the Daytona 500. Nope. Wouldn’t have been true. So, when you listen back to the call of the actual result of the race, Allen says, “Rick Crawford wins the Daytona”, and after a pause of 5 seconds or so, “250”.  All good. 

The other thing that struck me by watching some races over the years is his very confident and upbeat style. He’s taken some criticism for what some perceive as him “yelling” all the time. I felt it was appropriate in almost every situation. See, he’s working with Dale Earnhardt Junior and Junior is always upbeat in the booth. Earnhardt the former driver himself, knows a lot about the sport and is one of the most hyped-up analysts around. As a play-by-play announcer, you have to try and match that energy. Matching it without sounding completely phony is a tough chore. Allen pulls it off. 

Not only is he high-energy, he’s accurate, smooth and has a very confident and commanding style. He’s in control of his broadcast and while that amped-up style may not be for everyone, to me the sport almost demands it. These are cars traveling around a track, bunched up, going over 200 miles an hour. It’s exciting just to watch what is happening and the sounds of the track are loud and the announcer has to be able to relay the excitement in his voice. The broadcast team also seems to really enjoy each other’s company. That’s important. 

The educational style of the broadcast is interesting as well. Not having grown up myself as a racing fan, I was drawn to how Allen explains things. Even the novice gains some education and I don’t think the rabid fans get offended by the simplistic nature of some of the commentary. 

In an interview with “i80 Sportsblog” Allen explained that’s all part of NBC’s approach to their NASCAR coverage. “If you didn’t grow up in racing and get introduced to the sport via your family, how would you ever get introduced? Our goal is to explain it in an easy, conversational way.”

NASCAR on NBC crew wants to point out all that is at stake in the Monster  Energy playoffs
Courtesy: Hendrick Motorsports

Mission accomplished. 

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy Of A Broadcaster: Michael Kay

“Kay isn’t afraid to call it like he sees it, even if that means blasting the Yankees, an individual player or the opposing team.”

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Dreams do come true, just ask Yankees TV announcer Michael Kay. He grew up ten minutes from Yankee Stadium. He was a huge Yankees fan, so much so, that in Little League he’d wear number 1 for his favorite player, Bobby Murcer. Once he realized that a career as the Yankees’ first baseman wasn’t going to materialize, the dream turned to becoming a broadcaster for the team. To get there, Kay did all the school reports he could about the Yankees, so he could know all about them. Now many years later it’s his job to know all he can about the team. 

Sportsmedia column: Michael Kay braces for new world of MLB broadcasting
Courtesy: YES Network

Kay attended Fordham University and worked for the radio station WFUV, thinking it was the best place for him to pursue the dream. He was there with another guy that dreamed of a play-by-play career, Mike Breen, the voice of the NBA on ABC/ESPN. 

In 1992, the lifelong ambition became a reality as he joined John Sterling in the Yankees radio booth. He would spend a decade on radio, then transition to television with the advent of the YES Network. He became the main play-by-play guy for the network in 2002. So now, Kay is in his 30th year with the team as a broadcaster.  

ROAD TO YANKEES BOOTH

Kay started his professional career with the New York Post in 1982 as a general assignment writer. He had sports assignments from college basketball and the NBA, covering the New Jersey Nets. Kay worked himself up at the paper and received the Yankees’ beat writing assignment in 1987. 

In 1989, Kay left the Post for the Daily News, still covering the Yankees as his primary beat. Kay also served as the Madison Square Garden Network Yankee reporter starting in 1989. 

Kay left the Daily News to host a sports talk show on WABC in 1992, briefly returning to write “Kay’s Korner” for the Daily News in 1993, before taking the microphone job for radio broadcasts of New York Yankee games beside John Sterling. 

BUSY GUY

Kay manages to find time to do many things, aside from calling Yankees games. He hosts The Michael Kay Show weekdays from 2-6:30pm on ESPN Radio 98.7 FM and simulcast on the YES Network. The show started in 2002, the same year he started as the voice of the Yankees on TV. 

The show is now co-hosted by Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg. Kay and La Greca have been paired on ESPN New York since 2002, with the duo working to build a successful sports radio show in a tough market over the course of two decades. Rosenberg, the show’s third voice, joined in 2015.

In March TMKS moved up an hour to give Kay more time with the New York audience. But that means an extra hour away from preparing for that night’s Yankees game. Kay will look through his Yankees notes and other things to get ready for the game, during long commercial blocks on his radio show. If there is a game to call, Kay will leave the radio show anywhere from 5:45 to 6pm, with co-hosts La Greca and Rosenberg left to close out the show. 

He’s also the host of CenterStage on the YES Network. He interviews some of the biggest names in sports, entertainment and politics for the last two decades. Kay has even collected some of his favorite moments from on and off camera into a book “CenterStage: My Most Fascinating Interviews – From A-Rod to Jay-Z.”

CenterStage | Book by Michael Kay | Official Publisher Page | Simon &  Schuster

I’m not entirely sure how Kay manages this schedule. I know that the first time I was asked to host an hour-long pregame show before a game broadcast, the feeling in my stomach was not good. How could I do this show and get ready for a game that night? It meant getting to the ballpark earlier, using time between segments wisely and then getting some good exercise. I’d have to maneuver through the crowd from the home studio down the left field line, to the broadcast booth behind home plate. Stressful. 

My point is, for Kay to be able to call a Yankees game, after having been on the air already for 3-4 hours is something to marvel at. I’m sure he would tell you that a lot of the prep work comes from some of the topics on his show. He’s likely already up on the latest information regarding the Yankees and he’s pretty versed by then about what is happening elsewhere in the world of sports. Still, I admire his ability to be as busy as he is and still be sharp on his play-by-play. 

WHAT MAKES HIM SO GOOD

There is a conversational style by Kay that sets him apart from others. He doesn’t have that “typical” broadcasting voice, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He seems to speak to Yankees fans as a Yankees fan. Make sense? I mean he’s rooting for the team and he’s not pleased when they aren’t doing well. You can tune into a Yankees telecast and before you even see the score, you can tell by his tone, who’s winning and who’s not. Kay is a true hometown broadcaster and people in New York crave that. He’s happy when the viewer is obviously happy, and not when they aren’t. 

Having a highly rated sports talk show helps with that delivery. Hosts are supposed to have that conversational, passionate and easy to listen to style. You talk with your audience as opposed to talking “at” them. Sports talk hosts want to build that relationship with an audience, making them feel like the host is one of them so to speak. This holds true with a baseball announcer trying to develop that same relationship. Kay truly is one of them and while his style may not work for others, it definitely works for him. 

Kay is a throwback of sorts as well. There aren’t too many true “homers” left in booths across the country. Yes, broadcasters of local teams, scream and yell more when their team is doing well, but if their local 9 isn’t playing well, choosing the right words can be challenging. Not too many announcers have free reign to criticize their own club. Gone are the days of Harry Caray and Marty Brennaman who would frequently call out their own team and its players for a variety of things. Both had built up so much equity with the teams and fan base they were free to do and say what they wanted.  

Kay isn’t afraid to call it like he sees it, even if that means blasting the Yankees, an individual player or the opposing team. He sees it as being honest with the viewer/listener. As he told the Sports Media with Richard Deitsch” podcast, Kay doesn’t think there is anybody more critical of the team they broadcast than he is and he credits the Yankees for allowing him to do that.

“The reason I can do it is that the Yankees never say a word because they realize the value of honesty. If you are going to tell people the food stinks, then they are going to believe you when they tell you the food is great. There are so many people around the country that are blowing smoke constantly and I guess that’s what the fanbase wants. I don’t think that would play in New York. I think honesty plays in New York.” 

CRITICIZING AND BEING CRITICIZED 

In his 30-year career, Kay has done his share of criticizing. In April he went off on the Yankees for using an “opener”, Nick Nelson, in a critical game against the Rays. 

“You’re the best-looking guy at the party. Don’t try to be the smartest. Why couldn’t they start Michael King? Why were they getting cute by starting Nick Nelson, who gave up two runs and they never looked back? Why? Why were you doing that? In your organization, you don’t have another starter? It’s almost the same thing as what you did in the Division Series. You started Deivi Garcia and brought in J.A. Happ. Don’t try to outsmart the Rays!”

So, when you criticize you open yourself up for it to come back to you. He’s had back-and-forth run-ins with players on his own team, like Clint Frazier. Most recently as a result of commentary on his talk show, he’s gone toe-to-toe with Mets’ pitcher Marcus Stroman.

The funny thing is Kay claims he has thin skin. Again, speaking on the “Sports Media with Richard Deitsch” podcast he admitted to such. His inclination is to fight back, but sometimes it’s not the best way to go about it. 

Courtesy: ESPN Images

“People that criticize people do not like to be criticized. My skin is so thin, it is translucent. If I mess up a call and you say wow, Michael messed up a call. Bring it, I deserve it. When you say stuff just the way I do stuff or something that rubs you the wrong way, it bothers me. I don’t understand the meanness of it.” Kay told the podcast.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS/CALLS

Working for an organization like the Yankees lends itself to a broadcaster having some memorable calls. This is true in the case of Kay, who got to watch Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Tino Martinez, Mark Teixeira, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Aaron Judge and even Alex Rodriguez play many baseball games. One of Kay’s most memorable came in 2011. 

Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit came on a home run, July 9, 2011:

“The 3-2, that one’s drilled to deep left field, going back Joyce, looking up, See ya! 3000! History with an exclamation point! Oh, what a way to join the 3000-hit club! Derek Jeter has done it, in grand style!” 

If you’ve ever wondered, where his home run call, “see ya!” came from, well in 2018 he joined the Dan Patrick Show and explained the origin:

“I got this job 27 years ago, and at the time I was dating a young lady who, when she would get out of the car at the end of a date, she would say ‘see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya!’ And I said, ‘you know, I’m going to hijack that as my home-run call. So, I’ve been doing it since the very beginning of when I got the job in 1992.”

File:Michael Kay.jpg - Wikipedia

CONCLUSION

Kay is a multimedia superstar in New York and just keeps on going. His uniqueness is in his ability to juggle a top-rated talk show and call games for one of the iconic franchises in sports history is amazing to me. To actually be able to do BOTH jobs at such a high level sets him apart. Kay has carved out his own style and it works for both him and Yankees fans alike. 

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