TOM: Preparation – you need to make sure you’ve dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s. Your on-air crew will have prepped all week on the opponent’s stats, injuries, etc., but your support staff needs to be doing the same thing. Is the imaging ready and current? Is your pre-production edited and ready to go? Are the broadcast lines (ISDN and POTS) ordered and tested? Have you communicated to your on-site engineer that they need to be set up and connected no later than 1 hour before the broadcast start time?
Execution – Is your board op prepared with all the info they need (pre-recorded interview info, highlights, etc). Communication with the crew on game site is crucial both before AND during the broadcast.
GIFF: As someone who has produced play-by-play events for many years, what are some of the detailed items that elevate a broadcast from good to great?
TOM: It’s the small things:
Great production – You’re PxP talent is doing their best so why not surround them with the best. The production is the first thing your listeners hear. I tend to image our sports broadcasts like rock radio. It builds excitement before the talent even says a word.
Use of highlights – Too many broadcasts forget to take advantage of this. You can tell your fans how that play happened OR you can let them hear it for themselves again. We like to build broadcast opens that use highlights from previous games to help set the stage for that day’s game.
Good equipment – You can have the best talent in the world but if you have them using mediocre gear it will show. It’s the old saying “You get what you pay for.” You don’t have to break the bank but invest in a good headset, mic and mixer. Flash recorders have really become affordable as well. Do yourself a favor and get a good one and make your pre-produced interviews sound as good as your live stuff.
Great prep – Build a format structure for your pre-game ahead of time. This doesn’t mean script your show, just have the structure of where you want to go and how long each segment should take. Then be ready to be flexible if need be. I encourage talent to put together bullet point thoughts and not full scripts.
GIFF: You talk about using highlights. We’ve all heard highlights on-air that were too loose, upcut, too long, or used for sound’s sake. What are your guidelines for editing highlights?
TOM: As a standard we capture and archive:
- Our team’s scoring plays
- Defensive takeaways (int/fumble recovery)
- Any offensive play in the air or on the ground of 30 yards or more
- Any game-changing play at the end of the game
A good highlight should be 12-15 seconds in length, 20 seconds max. I only like an analyst to be in the highlight if he gives a “verbal explanation point” (“what a play”……”that’s the way it’s done,” etc.). I like using highlights in postgame coming back from breaks to help set up a postgame segment. My biggest pet peeve is the PxP voice setting up his own highlights. If you have a strong analyst, they should be doing that segment in the postgame.
GIFF: What are the differences between working on play-by-play events at Learfield vs. for a radio station or directly with a team?
TOM: My role with Learfield is different than when I produced the Dodgers Radio Network. Learfield Sports produces the radio networks for 43 schools. Since we aren’t a 24-hour radio station operation, we can focus on the production of our play-by-play product and weekly coaches shows. I think this allows us to laser focus our attention on the little things that make a broadcast great. Of course the flip side is handling the workload for 43 schools, which can become even more excessive when football overlaps with men’s and women’s hoops and hockey.
In the end I think we have an advantage in producing play by play broadcasts because it’s our specialty.
GIFF: There are a lot of aspiring play by play announcers looking for advice. What insights or guidance are you willing to pass along to them?
TOM: First and foremost is CALL GAMES! Take your recorder up to the top of the bleachers at a local high school or college event and call the game. Nothing beats repetition. Make sure you’re “painting the picture” for the listener. It sounds cheesy but the best PxP announcers do exactly that………they paint the picture. When I listen to demos I close my eyes and try to visualize what the talent is trying to tell me.
Fans really only care about a few things:
- What’s the score?
- Where is the ball?
- How much time is left?
Outside of this is a bonus. They like insight about the player or a good stat but essentially they want the basics. Good talent gives them what they want and sprinkles in a little of the rest. If you’re working with an analyst you’ll need to perfect the back and forth or “the dance.” In football, for example, the PxP voice should call the play, the analyst should jump right in with the “why” and as soon as the team breaks the huddle the analyst needs to be done and the PxP voice needs to jump in with the next play. Those are the basics.
Contact Tom Boman: email@example.com, 573-556-1294 office