Tell me a story, not just what happened – the importance of a storyline

One of the things I didn’t learn about in terms of calling games until a little bit later in my career is about storyline, and how important it is during a play-by-play to include it somewhere as part of your call.

We studied under Marty Glickman at Fordham, and a main focus of his education was to really dive in and teach us the nuts and bolts of play-by-play. And as such, one had to learn how to walk before they could run. Marty told us how to walk well and carry a strong stride, and one example of this was when I had asked a number of Facebook friends who also had studied under Marty about their remembrances and the majority of them immediately brought up time and score.

Time and score is the most basic, and important part of a play-by-play. On radio it’s important to give the time and score frequently, as it’s usually the first thing a listener wants to know when they turn on a broadcast. And as we know, radio listeners are generally passive, meaning that they’re often doing something else in the background while they’re listening.

However, there is more to a play-by-play than just a straight description of the on-field activities. There’s storyline, which is something I learned indirectly from Vin Scully simply by listening to his broadcasts. To me, Vin is simply the best ever at not only calling the game of baseball, but also the best ever at establishing storyline on a radio call. And if you don’t believe me on this, listen here and tell me if you disagree.

Television is much different, and there are more avenues available to present the storyline both within and outside the game itself. However, on radio, it’s up to the play-by-play announcer to deliver this all through their call, without the assistance of a producer and director calling the shots.  On television, there is a luxury of having visuals either to support the storyline presentation, or allow the announcers to steer the discussion to further the storyline because viewers can still see what is happening on the field.

A play-by-play announcer on radio has to do all of this as well, but solely through their words, AND they still have to present a vivid description of the game taking place on the field (or on the ice in my case). It’s certainly a much different challenge when compared to television, but the approach at least in terms of preparation is somewhat similar even though the delivery is quite different.

When I prepare for a radio broadcast, I tend to look at the storyline in two parts. There’s a general storyline for the game itself, and then there’s the storyline for how this one game fits into the season. I think most of us are pretty good at reviewing a storyline for the game itself, but the more challenging piece is furthering the season long storyline within each game. Baseball lends itself more naturally to this, but is more of a challenge in other sports that have a faster pace and fewer stoppages (like hockey).

Additionally, in some cases, there is also the storyline of a season series between two clubs, such as the game I will be calling on Wednesday night in Hartford between the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Connecticut Whale. There are inherent storylines involved in a fierce rivalry between two teams that play each other 10 times a season versus two teams that might meet twice a season.

So if you’re a young play-by-play announcer and reading this, remember that storyline should be a very important part of your preparation, even if you’re calling a standalone high school event. There should always be more to your preparation approach than simply memorizing the names and numbers of the players and the important stats. In regards to the broadcast itself, remember that you’re not just telling the story of what is happening in the moment, but also that this game is just one chapter of a book that spans across a full season of play.