Deitsch Tweet Makes Me Wonder – ‘Why do we work in play-by-play’?

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch recently tweeted a link to a report on that referenced the starting average salary for a Journalism School Graduate was a shade under 41k per year. Here’s the tweet in question:

It started an immediate firestorm. Numerous re-tweets and responses to Deitsch’s tweet followed, with stories of ultra-low salaries, from minimum wage salaries, outrageously low day rates, and claims that they’re not even close to that amount after 10 years in the business. These 140 character stories are easily searchable if you’re on Twitter.
The initial post has since been updated by the author, Andrew Beaujon, who further elaborated on the methodology of the study, which certainly interested me as my main profession is in Market Research. When he explained a couple of interesting points, such as the salary was a Mean Salary vs. a Median Salary, and that the salary was tied to the journalism major, as opposed to those who actually work in journalism. So essentially, if you have a journalism degree, but you’re working in corporate PR, that salary would be counted as part of the study. The article does a great job at explaining the methodology, so I will not elaborate any further on this point.

What I personally found interesting were some of the follow-up tweets from those who are struggling to work in this industry, sports broadcasters in particular. After reading them, and their tales of ultra-low wages, it made me wonder, “Why do we do this?” It’s certainly not for the money-at least not for the vast majority of us. As many of you who follow this blog understand, I work as a freelancer. As far as side income goes, it’s pretty nice if I consider my several side jobs. However, if I attempted to pay my mortgage on my broadcast income, needless to say I would be living in a cardboard box before too long.

My first paid gig after college was a one-week stint calling the 1995 Little League Regionals for three radio stations in Bristol, Connecticut. I made a whopping $250 for the week (I think I called about a dozen or so games). Fortunately, my hotel room was also paid for. The only other memorable moments for me in regards to that gig was that Mickey Mantle passed away during my one off-day, and that Toms River, NJ won the regional (which was aired on WOBM). The team also featured future MLB player Jeff Frazier (his stay in MLB, with Detroit in 2010, was brief). His younger brother Todd however is a pretty good outfielder with the Reds. I also ate a lot of KFC that week, mainly because I could walk there from the hotel. My broadcast partner was a local guy who learned his craft in the military, and I can’t for the life of me remember his name.

Oh yeah, I also remember that the mom of the pitcher from Connecticut was kicked out during one of the games that I called. She was berating the umpire from her seat on the first base side of the bleachers, to the point where I was embarrassed for the poor kid on the mound. The Connecticut State Champ that year happened to be from Shelton, which is minutes away from my home and the town where I work my 9-5 job. Of course, in 1995 I still lived in the Bronx, and was nine years away from moving to Connecticut.

But in a nutshell, the previous two paragraphs is why I work as a play-by-play announcer, certainly not for the money, but rather the enjoyment of calling games and the great memories that I’ve accrued over the years. I certainly have some great memories of the “regular” jobs that I’ve had over the years, but they’re not nearly as interesting or as much fun as working in sports.

The three seasons I worked for the River City Rascals provided a lot of fond memories on and off the field and in the press box, while I’m convinced that my two seasons with the Danbury Trashers would make quite a book (I’ve even been approached to tell my story of the Danbury Trashers, and I’ve resisted—quite frankly because what I’ve been asked to write about really wasn’t my experience with the team. It remains to this day, the best work experience I’ve ever had).

Currently, in my six plus seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, I’ve been able to see numerous players move up to the National Hockey League with the New York Islanders, and it has also allowed me the opportunity to help get other great freelance gigs including the Big East, MSG, the New York Islanders themselves, and even the NHL. And by working in a freelance capacity, I’ve been able to find a full-time career that I enjoy as well and is much more lucrative than many full-time roles in minor league sports.

Like many other play-by-play announcers, I still hope to reach the majors (the NHL in my case) in a full-time role, but regardless of whether that happens, I have enough great work memories to fill several lifetimes—many more than I would have had only sat around in an office from 9-5. For now, that’s more than enough to keep me going.

Don’t be afraid to exit your ‘comfort zone’

One of the things that I noticed over the years working in pro hockey is that players often have a meticulous routine to their lives, especially on game day.

Not unlike a military boot camp, a pro hockey player has a pretty standard routine on a game day, and some players are more particular than others. There are certain activities that are common to all players, from the pre-game skate (even with an optional, the players usually still have to show up at the arena, regardless of whether they take the ice) to the pre-game meal (pasta and some sort of chicken) and of course, the pre-game nap. Once the players reach the arena, the routine is still similar, but can vary a little bit based on personal preferences (not ALL players take part in two-touch for instance).

As broadcasters, we’re also creatures to routine as well, which isn’t always a bad thing. From how we prepare, to how we set up our gear, when we conduct pre-game interviews, etc. I’m sure that if we examined ourselves, while they might be different, we can probably concede that we follow some sort of routine.

I think routine is important, and it’s something I’ve written about before—consistency. But they also say that variety is also the spice of life, and maybe there’s something to that in terms of our broadcasts. Sometimes when we’re so mired in a routine, the creative flame within us loses a little bit of spark. If you’ve listened to some of your recent broadcasts and you think that something is missing, or you’re not “growing” in your ability in the way that you were hoping for, change it up!

Jay Murry over at STAA recently wrote an interesting piece on how he made some adjustments in his prep routine, and they’ve paid big dividends in his work. Sometimes thinking differently on how you approach your broadcast might trigger something new for you that will add a different flavor to your broadcast, or even make something that was difficult a little bit easier.

Also, it doesn’t have to be a radical change, it can certainly be smaller—just something to mix it up a little bit to give you some extra spark when preparing for your next broadcast, or trying something a little bit different on the show (one idea that I’ve toyed with but haven’t tried is conducting an interview with two non-US players in a foreign language, where one handles the translation for the other—with the hopes that it will provide some levity, as well as maybe a different insight from a player not as comfortable in English when compared to their own native tongue). Maybe that change can be something to add a little more social media to your broadcast, or for those who really do a lot of social media tie-ins on a radio call, maybe it’s the opposite and dialing it back—doing it “old school” for a night instead.

Next time you’re getting ready for a broadcast, try to do something a little bit different, and see if it works.  It might be that little change that propels you forward to something that might help you become a better broadcaster.

Broadcast demos – an inexact science

This is what many people call the “silly season” for minor league baseball announcers. Starting around October, and concluding over the next month or so, there’s the annual “broadcaster shuffle”. Basically it’s a combination of events that lead up to a decent number of job openings, both public and unadvertised. As a hockey broadcaster, my silly season usually begins not long after the Stanley Cup is hoisted.

Depending on your level of experience, you might be searching for an entry-level gig or something a little higher up the broadcasting food chain. With some exceptions, the climb up the minor league sports ladder isn’t unlike what a player goes through when trying to reach the major leagues, start off in Class A (or lower) and hopefully one day reach the major leagues. Unfortunately, the odds that one of you reading this will actually be calling MLB games (or choose the highest level of your sport) are quite slim.

Unlike ballplayers, your odds of getting a job at a higher level aren’t as easily quantifiable as those who take the field for a living. There simply isn’t a statistic that a GM can look at to determine that you’re the best fit for their broadcast opening. The GM can look at a variety of things, but ultimately it’s a judgment call.

Without getting into the discussion of “it’s who you know”, or whether the job includes other responsibilities (like sales or media relations), the number one thing that you have as a broadcaster is your demo. Previously, a demo simply meant your best clips on a reel (or cassette, or CD). Today I consider a “demo” really to be the full package of what is sent to an employer. Depending on the request, it still could be a hard copy of your audio (or video) on a CD/DVD as well as a printed resume, but more often than not it’s an online presentation.

My definition of demo includes audio tracks (or video if it’s TV), resume file, and any other clips that might be worthwhile to show an employer (written clips, game notes examples, recommendations, etc.) housed in one location (a website, either your own personal website, or a hosted solution like the ones offered by sites like STAA).

The Internet provides great flexibility in how you can present your demo. But for purposes of this blog piece, I’m going to limit the topic to the audio tracks that represent one section of your overall “demo”. This is a topic that has been discussed before but in regards to when we were limited to hard demos. In the “olden days”, when you had to present your work on a cassette or CD, it was very important to offer careful consideration over the order of your tracks. However, what I’ve noticed today with many demos is that because we’re freed from these shackles via the Internet, some broadcasters are now making a major mistake with how they present themselves. Basically, just because you can present an abundance of content on your demo, it doesn’t mean that you should.

I’ve always believed that a demo is meant to tease the hiring manager into wanting to hear more. The goal is to get a response from the person responsible for hiring the opening, and if you give them too much (and they stick around long enough to listen), your chances of receiving a call for a phone or in-person interview is reduced, unless you really blow their doors off.

As a result, while I’ve offered a little bit more then I might have in the cassette/CD era, I stick with some of the same philosophies that I’ve had for a long time with my demo:

  1. Lead with a highlight track, preferably short—no longer than about 90 seconds.
  2. Keep the highlights to the sport you’re applying for. Have separate highlight tracks based on the sports that you call.
  3. Avoid a music bed under your highlights, it’s distracting. Let the GM hear you and what you bring to the table, not a false dramatic moment from the music.
  4. Have a mid-range track available. For hockey, I use a few minutes of continuous play-by-play starting from the beginning of a power play (a faceoff) and concluding at the end of the period, and the clip runs about 4:30. For baseball you might want to have a full ½ inning of work.
  5. It’s easy for me to send a whole period or game if requested, but it’s not something I offer up front unless specifically asked to do so. If a MLB team requests a full game up front for example, then certainly provide it. If a GM provides certain rules or requirements, provide what they’re looking for.
  6. I also include an interview as well, since it’s generally a requirement for any job that I end up with, that at a minimum you would have to do some sort of pre-game coach or player interview.

So to summarize, in my contention, “less is more”.

What’s on your demo? Do you agree or disagree? The one thing about demos is that it does seem that everyone has their own opinion, and the lack of continuity over how GM’s review applications certainly makes this an inexact science.

It’s all in the name, or is it the number—or is it both?

We’ve discussed game prep quite frequently on this blog, but one area that is a key to the success of any play-by-play announcer, especially on radio, is that they know the names of the players.

There’s nothing more frustrating when you’re listening to a game on radio, and the play-by-play announcer has trouble identifying who has the ball (or the puck). Even worse (in my book) is when the announcer tries to cover that up simply by identifying the number of the player. The only thing that might drive me more nuts is when I tune in, and it takes forever to get the time and score.

In some cases, the lapse is simply a mental one. The announcer simply can’t get the name out of his mouth, although it’s in his head. It’s happened to me, and if you’re a play-by-play announcer reading this, it’s likely happened to you as well. There’s not much you can do except to forget it and move on.

But there are a number of other announcers who simply do not put in the time to effectively memorize the names and numbers of the players who are participating. I’ve experienced this frequently in listening to some other broadcasters, who often work for the club and strongly focus on “their guys”, while not effectively preparing for the other team. It creates for a poorly structured broadcast in my view.

Some of this is understandable. When you work full-time for an organization, you’re usually piled high with many other tasks outside of broadcasting the games themselves. Simply having the time in the day to effectively prepare for a broadcast can be a luxury for some.  Last month I discussed the importance of developing a routine for broadcast preparation. Memorizing names and numbers is an important part of this, and just as I mentioned previously about utilizing a standard process that fosters a routine for your overall game prep, the same applies here when memorizing.

There are a number of ways to commit this information to memory, and what works for some broadcasters might not work for others. I know of a number of people that write out flash cards. Personally, I can’t stand flash cards, and they do not work for me. Ultimately, you want to find a process that works for you.

When I see a team for the first time, I do three things to help me commit these “new” players to memory:

  1. Write out my scorebook as I normally do the night before the game. As I write, I focus mostly on the number of the player and their last name. Most of the time you’re simply referring to the player by their last name, and if I can get that in my head, the rest of the information (first name, position, etc.) comes along pretty easily.
  2. Watch these players play. Not everyone can do this, but I have a luxury of being able to watch every game in the AHL. It’s definitely helpful to listen/watch a call, and as the players are being identified in the broadcast, it just further cements that name/number identification.
  3. Broadcast the warm-up. For basketball and hockey at least, the players are on the court/ice well before your broadcast time and it gives me an opportunity to envision calling the game while they go through their routines. Now I’m actively saying the names of the players that you’re about to broadcast, which further helps me remember them.

Ultimately, the easier you can recall player names, the smoother your broadcast will sound. And while your memorization “style” may differ, I strongly suggest trying out my 3rd point above, if it’s not something you normally do, as early as your next broadcast. It would be great to know if broadcasting the warm-up was something that helped you in your broadcast.

Hockey Interviews – Stepping stones for broadcasters and players

First off I will take a minute to introduce myself – my name is Nate Lull and I am
the play-by-play broadcaster for the NCAA Division-1 Men’s Hockey program at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. The Golden Griffins play in the Atlantic Hockey Conference with other schools such as RIT, Air Force, and Holy Cross (to name a few).

I have a little experience in the American League from an internship I had with
the Syracuse Crunch organization while I was working on my master’s degree. One
of my main responsibilities was to conduct interviews with players and coaches
and then use the sound for our pre-game and intermission reports. Most of the
players I worked with had plenty of media experience and it made interviewing
relatively easy. Lob up a softball question and they would give you a full
answer – life was great!

After my time in Syracuse I entered my first full-time broadcasting job with
Canisius. Early in my first season I realized that one of the hardest parts of
my job is interviewing young college players. Most of them have little
experience with having a microphone in their face. Their answers are short and
they are beyond nervous. On top of that we often have players from other
countries that are not only nervous but also struggle with the English
language. All of these factors led me to compile a list of key areas I like to
focus on when working with college players. I often tell players that if they
can get used to interviews now it will only get easier for them down the road
in their pro careers. I believe this list works well for broadcasters at any
level – but especially for those of us calling games at the college level or in

Environment: If possible I try to take the player to a private area (even if it is just around the corner away from the other players) If you can get them one-on-one and their teammates aren’t making faces at them they can focus and the nerves melt away.

Set them at ease: Some guys see a microphone and think they are live on the air – I try to reassure them that I am just recording it and I can most likely clean up any fumbles before it hits the air. After they do a few of these interviews – doing a live one seems easier.

More Questions: I never bring a list of questions to an interview – but I always try to have back-up questions in mind – that way if the player gives short answers – there isn’t an abrupt end to the interview because I wasn’t prepared ahead of time.

Listen: Always listen carefully during the interview – broadcasters are
always so worried about the next question they want to ask – they forget to
listen to what the player is saying. Something they say might take the
conversation in a whole other direction – that’s the beauty of it.

I have worked with several players over my time at Canisius on their interview
skills and several of them have told me after they left that the first
“pro” interview they did seemed easy – just because they weren’t as
nervous as the first time I put a mic in their face.

I am glad I was able to help these players out and that they were able to help
me too. Conducting an interview is different every time – so I am always
learning and working on my skills. Wherever this hockey journey takes me after
my time at Canisius – I plan on continuing to put a little extra effort into my
interviews – learning more with each one.

Nate Lull is the play-by-play broadcaster for the NCAA Division-1 Men’s Hockey program at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.