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When Houston Froze, Armen Williams & Sports Radio 610 Didn’t

“We built a clear mission statement as to who we are and what we want to be every single segment and every single minute and every single second.”

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There is a reason we don’t associate the city of Houston, Texas with freezing temperatures and winter storm conditions. It typically doesn’t come close to resembling Antarctica in H-Town.

Well, things changed in a dramatic way last week as the city was ravaged by a storm that left millions of people without power or water for days. The focus shifted from the future of quarterback Deshaun Watson to simply finding ways to stay warm and eat.

Two Freezing Nights Before a Warm Up | Houston Press

SportsRadio 610 program director Armen Williams describes the week in specific detail. He tells some remarkable stories about how his staff worked through the storm. They basically double as the SWAT team of sports radio. I think Sean Pendergast might be on the 2022 US Olympic Cross Country Team and my money is on John Lopez continuing to broadcast through the Apocalypse.

Armen also talks about how the community rallied together — even during a pandemic — to help each other out. SportsRadio 610 provided some much-needed support for Kids’ Meals Houston. It isn’t a surprise that Entercom Houston was able to assist considering its Community Impact Report states they helped raise over $18 million dollars for the area in 2020. The tales of one wild week are below. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: Did your station lose power or go off the air at all?

Armen Williams: No, our engineering team at Entercom Houston is incredible. They always rise to the occasion during crisis and this one was no different. All of our stations were on the air the entire time during the storm. We have a backup generator and we never lost power at the radio station.

BN: Was that rare in the area?

AW: You know, I don’t know. I was so focused on my own station. I heard of other stations going off the air for a couple of days, but I haven’t confirmed it. We were just so focused on trying to stay on and take care of our own staff that I’m not really sure honestly what the radio landscape across the board looked like during those few days.

BN: For anybody that doesn’t live in that area, how would you describe what the weather crisis was like for Houston?

AW: They’re calling it the worst winter storm this area has seen since ’89, maybe ‘82. It’s the coldest, iciest winter storm we’ve had in over 30 years. The city and this area just aren’t made for that. Our houses aren’t built for that. We’re just not equipped to withstand that. As a program director, my number one goal during these times is to make sure that we’re on the air and putting together a good product. But in a rare time like this — there was a moment maybe Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning — I flipped the script. I thought to myself for one of the first times in my career, the on-air content today is not my top priority. I’ve got to make sure that all of my employees are staying warm, have a roof over their head, have food to eat, and if they don’t, how do I get somebody to them?

Probably by Tuesday afternoon, we had the majority of our employees without power, most of them without water. Only one person on our SportsRadio 610 staff had electricity throughout. Everyone including myself lost it at some point whether it was for one day or four days. We got to a point where it was just more important to make sure that everyone was in a spot that was safe and sustainable for the week.

One of our guys has three young kids — six and under — and they didn’t have power or water for four days. Our focus is turning to people like that. I’ve got to tell you that the listener behavior reflected that too. Monday was Presidents’ Day and on a national holiday you always have minimal listening. Tuesday, according to streaming numbers, was comparable if not lower than Monday and it kept going down until late in the week. That tells you too that the entire city wasn’t worried about whether or not their local sports station had a signal. The entire city was all in survival mode trying to take care of their families just like we were.

You’re taking your family and you’re all sleeping in your bed together just to help each other stay warm. You’re all going downstairs to the fireplace and everyone is just sitting around the fireplace for hours and hours, for days and days, until the power comes back on. You’re trying to find whatever non-perishable goods you might have in your pantry because at that time we couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t even pull out of our driveways, most of us, because they were iced all the way down.

BN: Who were some of the people from your station that were in a bad spot due to the weather?

AW: I am just so proud of the effort that the guys put into wanting to keep the radio station on for the community of Houston for those that were able to listen. Sean Pendergast in the mornings walked over two miles each way in weather below 20 degrees. He busted out his old ski jacket. He was walking in starting around four in the morning. The power is out, so it’s pitch-dark outside. The sidewalks are iced over so he’s literally walking in the middle of the road to get in. Landry Locker in middays did the same thing; walking in and out both ways for two or three days.

John Lopez on In The Loop — our midday show — this guy is incredible. He set up a generator at his house. During his show instead of powering his house, he used it to power his comrex so that he could stay on the air from his home. Literally during the show the upstairs pipe in his bathroom exploded. You could hear it in the background and the water busted through the ceiling and was flowing into his living room. He put his comrex on mute, told his wife where to go turn off the main water valve, unmuted himself and stayed on the air until the show was over. He didn’t go fix the pipe until after the show.

BN: [Laughs]

AW: If you want to talk about a professional radio savant, I don’t know how he did that. That was absolutely incredible to witness. I’m texting him going, ‘Dude get off the air.’ And he kept telling me, ‘No, I’m doing the rest of the show.’ I’ve just never seen the type of professionalism from these guys that they showed last week. Ron “The Show” Hughley, he didn’t have power for four days. He has three kids under the age of six. He’s been in the state of Texas for about a year now and they had the same story that many people had where they showed up at the hotel they had booked — the only one they could find — and their power went out as soon as they got there.

One of our producers, Tyler, didn’t have power for three or four days. One of our producers, Figgy, lived at the radio station during the week. He brought his wife up and his dog and lived at the radio station just so that he could keep us on the air. He worked through the majority of those days just to keep us on the air, producing multiple shows every single day during the week. There were definitely some unsung heroes, man, that did some pretty powerful things and have some great stories to tell.

When you asked the best way to put it in perspective for you, our country station put a poll up on Twitter and asked which was worse for you, Hurricane Harvey or this winter storm? Sixty-five percent of the people said this winter storm was worse than Hurricane Harvey. That puts it in perspective just how devastating it was during that time to not have power and water for the majority of Houston. 

BN: Wow, man. That’s wild. Are things pretty much back to normal now?

AW: Yeah. Friday was the first day that we had the full staff back. The majority of people who didn’t have water were starting to be able to take showers again on Friday. Then today you’re seeing listenership not quite be back to 100 percent, but for the first time in over a week, it’s almost there and it’s dramatically on the up. There’s no more ice on the ground. I would say nearly, if not 100 percent, of Houston has power. Most everyone has water back. There are some people just depending on availability of plumbers and where you’re located that are still working on getting their water back. But as far as our staff, it appears that we’re 100 percent back in working order.

BN: In terms of how the station sounded during that time, what direction did you give the staff as far as what to talk about?

AW: We built a clear mission statement as to who we are and what we want to be every single segment and every single minute and every single second. These guys in moments like this when it’s very fluid, they can still lean back on their mission statement and they know the direction of the content that we should project. But we did have conversations before each show during the week where I just reminded them, listen, your power and your water is out. It was a struggle for you just to find the microphone today, and you should tell that story because the majority of your audience is feeling the same way. Don’t ignore it, lean into it. Lean into the community. Let them know that we’re here for them. Let them know that if we can be an escape just for a little bit today, we want to do that. If there’s any way that we can help, shoot us a text to let us know what’s going on in your area, in your community. We definitely designated a large part of the content to that last week because everyone was going through it and it’s so rare where a phenomenon like this happened, but one of them definitely happened last week.

BN: To go from real life stuff to, “Hey, so JJ Watt and Deshaun Watson.” Was it awkward at all to turn the conversation back to sports during that time?

AW: No, because they’re so good at what they do, right? These guys, they are members of the community and so they have such a great feel of how much sports talk, how much Texans, Rockets, Astros talk Houston could handle, want to handle, or listen to during a time where everyone’s struggling. They did a really fantastic job of transitioning back and forth. It didn’t feel off because it’s just who we are.

We’ve had our ratings successes over the last two years because we have defined ourselves to the listener of what they can expect every time they come in regardless of the situation. They stuck true to that and for that reason I don’t think the listener found it odd at all. Ideally they found it welcoming, warming, and it was an escape in those moments. Again, the guys balanced it really well with talking about their own situations. Also giving some public service announcements of the local facilities that had opened themselves up if people were struggling to find a warm place to stay. They did a great job of balancing those things out.

BN: Do you guys have any charity efforts going on?

AW: Yeah, our market manager is Sarah Frazier. She’s one of the most tied in leaders to the community that I’ve ever seen. She already had her finger on the pulse and even by Thursday night when Houston was still mostly without electricity, she had targeted a nonprofit called Kids’ Meals Houston. They lost their entire food pantry with the electricity being out. They feed thousands of kids — six years old and under — every single day of the week. Without having any of their food, losing all of it last week, they’re in desperate need because kids in our Houston community were instantly going hungry.

Houston's Youth is having a “Hunger Free Summer” Thanks to Kids' Meals -  d-mars.com

Starting Friday morning we got together and all of our radio stations were running promos and digital advertisements letting everyone know how they can help make sure that we don’t have young kids in our community go hungry during this time.

BN: Did you, or have you ever, worked with local teams to get a charity event going?

AW: I have before. In this case it was really hard to communicate with people, Noe. When the power went out, cell phone coverage also went out and towers were down the majority of the time. I think there was a feeling of how can we as a team, with our eight to nine stations in the building, impact Houston in the quickest way possible, because it’s all about immediacy. These kids don’t have anything to eat right now. In this case it made the most sense to use our resources in house, not waste any time trying to get ahold of people to coordinate, and we just did our thing.

To your point, so did the local teams as well. They did their own advocacies as well. A lot of them actually mimicked and did things similar to Kids’ Meals and helped out Kids’ Meals as well. I think it’s also pretty neat when everybody does their own movements and then we can impact Houston in a wider and greater way as well.

BN: Coming from Albany and Denver, what’s the closest thing you can compare the storm to in terms of some wild scenario that was on your hands?

AW: I personally have never experienced anything like this. Everyone here compared it to Hurricane Harvey, but they said that this is even more different than a hurricane because more people were out of power and water longer than you normally are during a hurricane. Everyone here just talked about how they knew how to handle hurricanes, but they didn’t know how to handle this. I guess there’s been some winter storms in Albany and Denver that’s impacted the commute. I’ve spent the night at some radio stations when that happened, but the vast amount of houses that lost power and water in the city, I’ve never seen or experienced anything like that anywhere I’ve been. Pretty bizarre.

BN: Maybe the winter storm is a little like COVID where overall the situation sucks, but there’s some good that comes from it. What are some of the good things that came from the storm for your station?

AW: It’s another reminder even during the pandemic of our lifetime that we can come together as a community and we can help others. There are countless stories across Houston, across the state, across the country, of people helping complete strangers. You saw that in my neighborhood. I had neighbors knocking on doors of people they didn’t know and making sure that there weren’t any elderly, kids, or pets that needed warmth or comfort or food for that night.

It just brings us together as a society and maybe even more so during a time where we’ve had a year where we’ve been forced to separate. To see people mask up and operate without fear and go help other people; we feel it in the city of Houston. Today we are mentioning three to four times an hour asking for people to help us with Kids’ Meals Houston and the response has been incredible. We’ve had listeners put together hundreds of sack lunches for these kids at their house.

Armen Williams Named PD of Sports Radio 610 in Houston | Barrett Sports  Media

One of my hosts went to the grocery store and ran into listeners on the same aisle buying food for these kids. They bonded, they hugged, they took a picture together. It’s this moment that brought us all together. You’re right; we have to be better for it, or we’re going to drive ourselves insane. We’ve gotten closer. Also for the dozen people who spent several nights together at the radio station, they’re going to have stories to tell for the rest of their lives and memories of how they kept our radio stations on the air for all of Houston during that time. They should be prideful of that. The stories of individuals who did the same things during Hurricane Harvey, those stories still live today, and the stories that we have from last week will do the same thing.

BSM Writers

Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting

The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.

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Maryland Matters

As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.

For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.

While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements. 

While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized. 

Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.

People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.

First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.

The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues. 

None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.  

As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.

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Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans

Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.

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It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.

I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.

One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.

Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.

I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.

For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.

That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.

So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.

This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.

I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?

That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.

Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?

Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.

As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday. 

Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.

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Doc Emrick’s Love Letter is Hockey and… Language

The Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Doc Emrick developed his love for the sport and the art of the call early in life and never let go of either.

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LaFontaine, Indiana is a small rural town in the northeastern sector of the state with a population of just under 900 people. Located between the cities of Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, it is similar to the village illustrated in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” and its name, rooted in the French language, translates to “The Fountain” in English.

In the summer of 1955, the local Cub Scouts managed an organized softball league, and once children graduated to become a member of the Boy Scouts, they would transition to play baseball. One nine-year-old child in the summer of 1955 had the common realization that he would not likely make the major leagues since he was not considered an elite-level athlete. While he enjoyed playing the game, he enjoyed listening to the game on the radio even more, so much so that he wanted to pursue broadcasting as a career.

There would often be a softball or baseball game being played on a near-nightly basis in LaFontaine, with upwards of 100 people attending. The town ballpark had a public address system; however, it had no steady announcing presence, instead relying on adults to volunteer to provide the play-by-play for the spectators. For this prospective broadcaster with a nascent avidity for baseball, sitting behind the microphone and vivifying the action became something hardly perfunctory, but rather an inspired art form. It afforded him the chance to interact with his community and his friends as a familiar voice, and helped prepare him for what would become a 47-year professional career carrying out this very task, albeit in different settings for different audiences through different mediums, and primarily in an entirely different sport. 

Going to a Major League Baseball game from LaFontaine was quite the trek for the young Mike Emrick and his family; therefore, attending was often a once-a-year event that took place in the summer. Driving northwest through the corn fields for approximately 150 miles without the presence of super highways, he and his brother Dan, accompanied by their parents, would eventually reach their “Field of Dreams” in Chicago, Il., where they would take in an afternoon game. From the time he was young though, Emrick cheered on the Pittsburgh Pirates. He grew up listening to Bob Prince and Jim Woods call games of hall-of-fame outfielder Roberto Clemente on the wide-ranging KDKA radio signal.

Emrick had always had an interest in calling baseball games; however, that all changed one day in 1960. At the age of 14, he attended his first hockey game just before Christmas, a matchup between the visiting Muskegon Zephyrs and Fort Wayne Komets in Fort Wayne, Ind. The game ended in a tie, but Emrick was enamored with the game’s nuances, spontaneity and occasional fights nonetheless. While on the way to the car in a snow-filled parking lot to return home, he realized that this fast-paced game on ice would be the outlet through which his voice would be heard and passion for sport expressed.

“When I saw my first hockey game,” Emrick said, “overnight the whole idea changed from baseball to hockey. Then the question was: ‘Well, how do you get to do that?’”

Emrick closely followed the Komets after his realization, learning its players and the game of hockey listening on WOWO radio. While he was a fan of the team and enjoyed watching its hockey games at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, he was also there for another purpose in his quest to become a professional broadcaster.

“After I got my driver’s license at age 16, I would drive 40 miles on Wednesday nights to Fort Wayne and sit in corner sections of the old Coliseum… and do games into a tape recorder and try to get better at it,” Emrick recalled. “It was taking those games and using those sort of phony games; I used legitimate names of players because I would get a lineup and learn who they were. Then I would save the tape – and that was eventually my first audition that I sent out.”

Emrick grew up within a pedagogical household where great emphasis was placed on the proper use of the English language. His mother, Florence, was a home economics and physical education teacher while his father, Charles, was a high school principal, and the family owned a music store on the side as well. From the time he was in fifth grade, he received a salient piece of advice from one of his teachers about the inculcation and subsequent expansion of his vocabulary which he carried with him throughout his career.

“Once we used a word five times, it was ours for life,” Emrick recalled. “[My teacher] encouraged us to build our vocabulary, and so that was influential, I think, along the way.”

Emrick landed his first broadcasting job in 1973 as the radio play-by-play announcer in the International Hockey League for the Port Huron Wings (later renamed the Port Huron Flags) on WHLS radio for $160 per week. That job came after a series of rejection letters from a legion of hockey broadcasting outlets, the stationery located in a binder he keeps to this day.

The next season, despite nearly landing the Pittsburgh Penguins radio play-by-play job, Emrick added another job to his résumé by becoming the team’s public relations director and continued broadcasting games. While he had the will and determination to succeed and become an NHL broadcaster, his backup plan of becoming an educator was quite genuine in scope as his time in the minor leagues continued.

Shortly after he graduated from Manchester University in 1968 with a B.Sc in speech, and, one year later, an M.A. in radio and television from Miami University, Emrick’s foray into the world of college instruction began. Prior to working in Port Huron, Emrick resided in Pennsylvania, teaching public speaking classes at Geneva College and managing it’s 15-watt campus radio station. In addition, he volunteered to work as a correspondent for The Beaver Sun Times coverage of the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a season press pass so he could further immerse himself in the game of hockey.

One of Emrick’s mentors in broadcasting was Bob Chase, the Fort Wayne Komets’ play-by-play announcer for 63 years, and someone who had a profound influence on his career. Chase called hockey, along with various other sports including basketball and racing amid his time behind the microphone, and while there were many other announcers doing play-by-play professionally, Chase was representative of Emrick’s soundtrack of hockey.

“I was a college guy and befriended him and he was very kind to me and would listen to my work,” said Emrick. “He was the one person that I listened to because at the time there was not a national TV package for the NHL, and so he was about the only guy I had access to.”

Emrick sought after his Ph.D in broadcast communications to ensure he would have a successful teaching career if his broadcasting dreams fell through. While in the doctorate program, Emrick honed his craft and earned his nickname “Doc,” a pseudonym he was called throughout his broadcasting career. In fact, his dissertation was titled “Major League Baseball Principal Play By Play Announcers: Their Occupation Background And Personal Life,” and signed off by Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, his nonacademic advisor. Later in his career, he famously used 153 different verbs in a single game to describe the movement of the puck, including “squibbed,” “flagged” and “galloped” – an aspect of his broadcasting style, per se, that demarcated him from others in his profession.

“I always tried to use words that were hopefully interesting, but also I didn’t want to come across as talking down to the audience,” said Emrick. “I just wanted to use something that was creative and maybe amused people a little bit. Once one of those words was used, I tried never to repeat it the rest of that night because you don’t want to hammer people with the same one.”

Prior to the 1976-77 season, Emrick relocated to Portland, Maine to serve as the radio play-by-play voice and public relations director of the brand-new Maine Mariners in the American Hockey League – an affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers. After three more years of hard work in the minor leagues, he finally made it to the pros with the Flyers as its television play-by-play announcer for home games on PRISM cable beginning in the 1980-81 season.

Having worked in both broadcast mediums, Emrick knows that radio requires the announcer to evoke imagery within the mind of the listener, while television is centered on the announcer’s reaction to the already-cultivated picture. While he never broadcast a boxing match, Emrick uses an analogy within that sport to describe the difference between the two broadcast mediums.

“I’ve heard it described before, and it’s probably accurate, [as] the difference between a boxer leading or counterpunching,” said Emrick. “In radio you basically lead, and in TV you counterpunch.”

Regardless of the medium though, what truly makes a broadcast unique is in how effectively it goes beyond the action taking place on the ice. Being able to do that comes in one’s preparation and knowledge of the game, both of which Emrick possessed and continued to grow upon being named the inaugural television play-by-play voice of the New Jersey Devils in 1982 on the MSG Network.

“The legs that get you from one thing to the next are the identity of the players,” said Emrick. “I think that’s still the most important thing of any play-by-play description is… the ‘who’… because it’s the people who are competing that draw the audience, and you need to identify who it is.”

Emrick returned to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1982-83, first as a spot announcer, and upon his departure from the Devils in 1986, as an studio analyst on UHF telecasts. In the same year, he began his first of many years of national television work as the lead play-by-play announcer for NHL games on ESPN, working alongside former NHL forward Bill Clement.

Before the 1988-89 season, Emrick was promoted by the Flyers to be the team’s lead television play-by-play announcer, working with his analyst Clement for a majority of the time in both his regional and national obligations. Working in both roles simultaneously, he has had to be cognizant of his audience – meaning that the preparation for regional and national games, while similar in methodology, differed from one another in terms of the time devoted to each team.

“Usually with a national telecast, it’s 50-50 on how much you talk about one team or the other,” said Emrick. “With a local broadcast, it’s usually 70-30 or 80-20 because if there’s one team that is supplying all of your viewers or most of them, you go that way.”

Emrick’s presence on regional sports networks continued upon his departure from the Flyers after the 1992-93 season, as he returned to Newark as the play-by-play voice of the Devils on MSG Networks. Broadcasting within the three-team New York-Metropolitan area marketplace for the Devils from 1993 to 2011, Emrick stayed up to date not only on his primary team, along with the Rangers and New York Islanders. As a result, the shift from regional to national television became smoother for Emrick, and with it, the allocation of the time he spent discussing each team more consistent.

“You treated it like a network telecast and I was very comfortable shifting from regional games to network because you had fans of numerous teams living in New York,” said Emrick. “Whereas in Philadelphia, you made the assumption that most of the people that were watching… were Flyers fans.”

Over his years at ESPN, Emrick called two Stanley Cup Finals, something that would render itself into an annual occurrence once he joined Fox in 1995. From there, Emrick called 20 more Stanley Cup Finals with Fox, OLN, Versus and NBC Sports – providing the description throughout the final roadblock standing between one team and a championship. Television, being the visual medium that it is, not only requires an announcer to be aware of their audience, but also of the moment and what will best transmit the atmosphere within the arena to the viewer. Throughout the course of enduring moments that stand the test of time, including game-winning goals, penalty shots and highlight-reel saves, Emrick uses his words judiciously, following a tried-and-true philosophy that requires discipline from the announcer with the potential to put an indelible stamp on the action.

“Less is more. Especially with television, you have a lot of people that have qualified to be in trucks and operating cameras and placing microphones in arenas,” Emrick stated. “Just like you are qualified to be there to describe it, they are the best at their profession… You don’t have to do everything. You have a lot of help.”

Emrick worked his first of seven Olympic Games in 1992 while on CBS, calling the ice hockey championships. While he had to consistently learn names of new players and adjust to the cultural differences of the host country, the quadrennial worldwide showcase built on tradition has induced games that have helped grow the game of hockey on an international scale. One of his most memorable broadcasts emanated from the thrilling conclusion of a gold medal matchup between Canada and the United States from Vancouver, B.C. in February 2010.

The game drew 27.6 million viewers, the largest television hockey audience since Al Michaels was behind the microphone for the “Miracle on Ice” semifinal game between the Soviet Union and the United States aired on tape delay in 1980 from Lake Placid, N.Y. 

“Sam Flood, our executive producer at NBC, always told us [for big games] to broaden the brush,” said Emrick. “In other words, never try to talk inside stuff because we were going to have a lot of extra viewers, and you didn’t want to talk [about] inside stuff and have them feel like they were being left out. And so we basically let the game do the talking and did not try to do a lot of strategy or things like that.”

Part of a broadcaster’s job is to recognize their role within the greater production of a live sporting event. Sure, they are often omnipresent throughout the broadcast; however, they are hardly, if ever, supposed to be the main character. The job of the rest of the production crew is to adequately tell the story of the game, whether it be through camerawork, graphics or interviews. While they are not scripting the moments on the ice, the broadcast director coordinates the assorted roles to help the team’s vision of the end product come to life. It is a task that allows for creativity, but also requires evolution to shifting consumer trends – achieved through collaboration.

Down by one goal in the gold medal game, the United States pulled it’s goaltender Ryan Miller for the extra attacker, which led to forward Zach Parise tying the game with 24 seconds remaining in regulation time. Then in overtime, Canada forward Sidney Crosby scored the “Golden Goal,” giving Canada its first gold medal since the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I think I said, ‘…and Crosby scores – the goal to Canada,’ and then I said nothing for almost two minutes,” Emrick recollected. “I didn’t need to say anything because what we showed and what the people in our truck and the people operating cameras provided was the sound of the crowd and the microphones on cameras”

Over the years, Emrick has worked with numerous analysts, including Bill Clement, John Davidson, Bobby Taylor, Chico Resch, Doug Sulliman, Sal Messina and Eddie Olczyk. As a play-by-play announcer, Emrick ensured that his analyst would be implemented into the game, usually when he felt they could contribute to the broadcast or when he needed to take a breath. By including them in the broadcast, a greater ethos is established with the viewing audience and multiple perspectives are acknowledged.

“I think our business is analyst-driven,” said Emrick. “Those of us in play-by-play are there to enhance the game but not get in the way of it. It is when the play stops that you really learn about what has happened or what could happen in the future. Those of us who are describing the game don’t have time to throw that in, and if we did, our credibility is not nearly that of people who have actually experienced it, and that’s why analysts are there.”

Following the 2010-11 season, Emrick relinquished his role as the play-by-play announcer for the New Jersey Devils and continued to work as the national play-by-play voice of the NHL on NBC for the next decade. His final season as an announcer was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and once professional hockey made its return, Emrick found himself calling games remotely – something he had never done in his illustrious career.

Emrick officially announced his retirement from broadcasting in October 2020 after 47 years behind the mic calling over 3,750 hockey contests, including 22 Stanley Cup Finals, 45 playoff Game 7s and 19 outdoor games. Prior to his retirement, Emrick won the Foster Hewitt Award for “outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster” presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. 

Today, the NHL is in the first of new seven-year contracts with both ESPN and Turner Sports worth a reported $1 billion. For Emrick, the specific networks carrying the games do not mean as much to him as the continued worldwide dissemination of the game of hockey itself.

“I cheer for everybody who winds up being on the air doing games… because this is a game that is wonderful and needs to be continually promoted by whoever winds up with the rights,” said Emrick. “I’m not a businessman; I don’t have billions of dollars in my pocket.”

Following the conclusion of the 2010 gold medal game, sideline reporter Pierre McGuire interviewed Miller and Crosby, and the two athletes, despite being on opposite ends of the outcome, spoke about the significance of competing in the Olympics and how special it was to play the game on an international stage. Reflecting on that broadcast sequence, Emrick affirms that he had never been more proud to be associated with the game of hockey because of the eloquence, class and humility with which they spoke. Therefore, as ESPN and Turner Sports are in the midst of presenting the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs to millions of hockey fans around the world, Emrick hopes that they focus on telling the stories of the athletes – the primary reason for which people tune in to the games.

“The athletes are wonderful, and they have been all the way back through the first years that I started going to IHL games and getting to meet them for the first time,” said Emrick. “The number one thing that we have to sell is not only the speed of the sport, but more importantly, the guys who play it because they’re really good people.”

Whatever the future of hockey broadcasting holds, Emrick has undoubtedly become an integral figure in the history of the sport – all while never donning skates on an ice rink in his life. The half-a-century he covered hockey would not have been possible without his steadfastness towards becoming a professional broadcaster, avidity for the game of hockey and the group of people who allowed him to expatiate on the proceedings situated on a 200-foot sheet of ice. Emrick continues to watch hockey to this day and listens to the next generation of broadcasters be themselves while calling the action, the very advice Bob Chase conferred to him early in his career.

“It was the realization of a lifelong dream to get to do hockey games anywhere to anybody, but to be chosen to do national games was a great honor and responsibility,” Emrick stated. “I never took it lightly, and I always appreciated those who gave me a chance.”

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