Hi, everyone. Last week I began writing about public-address (PA) announcing, which I’ve done for over 20 years, and I would like to continue sharing information about my experience, I hope you find it helpful. In my previous post I talked about this work as an option to explore for voiceover artists, whether as a self-development tool or as a possible income stream. In my case it is both.
I had actually spent almost two full seasons working as a spotter for Jon Morris, the PA guy at my high school before I took over the mic. In addition, I had attended many Ohio State football games and listened to the style and rhythms of two excellent college announcers, Ron Althoff and Bob Kennedy. I had an idea of what to do, but not much clue on actually doing it. So I showed up at that first game in 1996, and just dove in.
Three things I learned the hard way, right away. One, mis-pronouncing a student’s name over the air is an efficient way to get to know that student’s parents – and to learn the correct way to say their name after the fact. Two, I didn’t have a natural ability to know what to say extempraneously, so I sounded like a broken record of a bad parody of a cheap sportscaster – saying the same desperate cliches over and over, and in a timid manner. And three, it’s hard to read the small print on those rosters they print in the program, especially if you don’t have much light where you’re sitting.
How to remedy this? One, start taking the time to go over the rosters early and meet with a coach or administrator for correct pronunciations (more on this issue at a later time). Two, create a binder with printouts, announcements, and a help sheet, in order to standardize what I would say in situations that kept repeating (which led to a series of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets that I have maintained for over 20 years). And three, make the print BIG and bold, and organize how it looks on your page – right now I prefer Arial font size 16 or even 18, and arranged so I can find things quickly.
Taking these steps did two things for me immediately. First, it reduced nervousness, because I felt better the more prepared I was. Second, it gave a sense of professionalism to my announcing. Not only was I more prepared and confident inside, I sounded more prepared and confident on the loudspeaker.
Over the next ten years (1996-2006), I did this for football, basketball, and track and field, and each year I reviewed my performance, vocal technique, style and rhythm, and the files I used. Each year I would look at what I could do to improve and be more professional – in my voice, in my game mechanics, and in announcing sheets.
Voice – trust me, you don’t need a classic disc jockey voice to do good PA work, as long as you take the time to make yourself understood (a quality PA system never hurts) and you do it the right way. I have met other announcers with twangs, growls, and high-pitched voices, but who get the job done correctly – and I’ve shamelessly borrowed from them when I hear something I can use. I’ve seen one young man with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair with work athletic events with competence. He doesn’t have the smoothest voice, but he takes his time, he pronounces his words correctly, and he works consistently. I remember watching him and thinking “there’s a guy with a pro attitude”.
Game mechanics – more than once I’ve listened to an announcer who has a phenomenal “radio” voice, but doesn’t mesh it well with the game or sport – either by talking at the wrong time, or not getting the necessary information about a play out there quickly. Whether it’s football, basketball, baseball, track, or field hockey, an announcer needs to say only the basic info (name, yardline, points, foul, how many outs, first place, etc.), and say it during a time when there is no action.
Help aids – over the years, I’ve developed and refined my announcing sheets, always with the goal of making my job easier, which helps me sound more professional. My football sheets are printed in “portrait” orientation, while my basketball roster sheet is in landscape. While other announcers might hate it, it makes sense to my eyes.
Finally, after ten years on the job at my high school, my persistence paid off. An official from a community college in Columbus came up to me after a basketball game, said he liked my work, and asked if I was interested in working college games as a paid announcer. I immediately said yes, and I’ve worked there for the last ten years. As I said, pay for PA announcers can have a great range. In my case, the hourly rate works out to roughly $15 per hour at that level. I know voice artists strive for a slightly higher overall rate, but this job as the added benefit of getting to watch games from “the best seat in the house”, not to mention more chances to improve and be seen by other potential employers.
Can you get paid at the high school level? Yes, but there are probably fewer opportunities, depending on location. When my wife went to work at a Columbus city school, their athletic director asked her if I would help out at football games and basketball games, and offered to pay me. Believe it or not, I declined his offer and chose to work as a volunteer, because of my wife’s position at the school. However, I have been paid for working the Columbus city league boys’ basketball championship, and I’ve had another ongoing paid gig working an invitational track meet for another high school where their coach sought me out to work for him. In those situations where I have no personal relationship with the school or league, I believe I should be compensated fairly for my work, and I will make sure I discuss it with those officials ahead of time.
But when I first went into PA announcing, it was more about doing something interesting than it was about doing something I could get paid for – and I went into without much help. Many times I’m expected to come up with my own script, although it’s easier on my if an administrator has their own script prepared ahead of time. Would it have helped me develop quicker if there were training or resources for PA announcers? I’m glad you asked.
Probably the premier organization for sports PA announcers is NASPAA (https://www.naspaa.net/). They have a ton of information, training courses, links, and features on announcers at all levels.
In addition, some NASPAA members will sponsor local training seminars. In my case, I mentioned Bob Kennedy, who is the current PA guy for the Ohio State Buckeyes football team. Bob, whose smooth voice is also on the radio airwaves in central Ohio, is also a NASPAA clinician. He coordinated a football announcer seminar about four years go in Columbus, and I signed up along with nine or ten other students. I would say 90% of the material covered I had already learned on my own, but that additional 10% helped me refine what I do on the mic even more. We got to compare notes, speak to football referees about how best to work with them during a game, and learned things about each other’s styles and experiences.
I’ll stop here for a moment to thank Bob Kennedy, because he is a true voice pro. A year or two before the football seminar, I cold-called him through Ohio State, because I felt stuck in a rut as an announcer, especially during football games. Bob got the message, returned my call, and we spent about 45 minutes talking about philosophies and techniques of the craft. He was very friendly and supportive, and I was able to take some of the ideas he gave me that I still use today during football games. I had a second chance to thank him for that conversation when I attended the announcer’s clinic.
Whew! That’s a lot for now, so I’ll give the keyboard a rest. Next time I’ll discuss some of the more interesting things I’ve learned and experienced as an announcer. There have been some notable gaffes, of course. But there also have been some very gratifying personal moments with players, opposing fans, coaches, officials – and my family.
Until next time, just remember that anytime you get paid for talking, it’s a good thing! Take care.