More Bruce Barker Sports Radio Play By Play Tips

Radio Consulting

Bruce Barker

Welcome to 10 more sports play by play tips from Bruce Barker, who has been in sports radio for 30 years as a reporter, sportscaster and play by play announcer for Toronto Phantoms of the Arena Football League, Calgary Cannons of Pacific Coast League baseball and Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Jr. Hockey League.

Today, the key word is FLOW

Flow is what you need to make your play by play an easy job to do. I will admit it does take time to get into that rhythm, but if you do your homework each and every game it will come along in time.

Hockey is a great example because you can do a chart of the forward lines and defence pairings. Many football guys have a depth chart sitting right next to them in the booth. Also, when you work with a colour commentator, let them do their job and try not to cut them off.

Many are former players and trust me, their knowledge can enhance your broadcast. Once you get the chemistry with them it will be better. But never ever cut them off unless, of course, it is a game winning touchdown pass.

As I always say, listen to games on the internet or radio as many times as you can. Write down notes from the play by play team you listen to and you will agree that the flow of the broadcast is one of the most important things on the air. – Bruce Barker

Football Play by Play Tip

I want to talk about football play by play. The key to any football broadcast is your SPOTTER in the booth. My good friend Conan Daly is the spotter on the Calgary Stampeder broadcasts. He is the one who gives you stats on the fly and also what down it is along with what yard line the ball is on.

When you are concentrating on the play going on down at the field, this assistance is key to a good broadcast. Fans want to know it is 2nd down and 5 on the Argos 35 yard line. But if you are talking with your colour commentator or doing a sponsor mention your spotter is your best friend.

Football broadcasts are a lot of fun to do because the pace is a lot slower than hockey. I have fond memories of doing the Toronto Phantoms arena football games. It was a sport with no running game and I am sure the listeners got sick of me saying: “Pat O’Hara back to pass” 150 times a game. But if that is what happens in the game, that is what you call!

So always trust your spotter. They can be your best friend and a life saver to your broadcasts at the same time. – Bruce Barker

Here is a baseball play by play tip

One thing you cannot do when calling a ballgame is anticipating what will happen. Many times I have heard someone call a home game then out of the blue say the ball is caught by the outfielder BEFORE IT HAPPENS! Trust me, you have to let the play develop before you call it. What if the outfielder DROPS the ball after you say he caught it?

Jerry Howarth of the Blue Jays is one of the best to listen to as his hooking … hooking … hooking … foul is the best way to call a ball which could be a home run or in this case a foul ball.

I used to work with a play by play guy calling the Calgary Cannons broadcasts (I was the colour man) who tried to call baseball like hockey and it just did not work. Even one of the visiting players stopped us on the way out of the park to say he was in the dressing room listening to the game and said he was confused about what was going on out on the field.

So let the play develop. Then call it as it happens. This makes for a better broadcast and puts less pressure on the one doing the play by play. – Bruce Barker

The home run call in baseball

Jerry Howarth of the Blue Jays has “there she goes …” as his signature call while others use “going … going … gone” which is still one of my favourites. Remember the movie The Natural with Robert Redford, the call was “goodbye Mr. Spalding” because they made the baseballs in that era of the game.

The key is when you call a home run, just make sure you do not steal another announcer’s signature call. The home run is the most exciting play during a ball game and since I grew up listening to the legendary Ernie Harwell in Detroit, I became a fan of the round tripper at an early age.

To this day, I still call a grand slam the “EL KABONG” or “GRAND SALAMI” from listening to those calls in the 1960’s. So whatever name you come up with for calling a homer, make it a good one! Also, make sure you add some excitement to the call to make it your personal signature to the game. – Bruce Barker

Intermission Interviews

One of the things I do not like when listening to an interview during intermission of a game is when the announcer starts off with: “I know you have been asked this before … but …” How do you know that everyone listening has heard what your guest has to say? Just ask the question!

If your guest is a so called expert let them do the balance of the talking as your audience wants to hear what they have to say.

A key is to set up your guest with at least your first couple of questions before you go on the air so they can think about what they are going to say. This is important because I have heard a few awkward interviews when the guest and the interviewer are not on the same page. Those pauses on the air make my skin crawl as you know how they both feel.

Also, if you have a rookie to interview, give them a visual to concentrate on. I tell them that we are sitting in a Tim Horton’s having a coffee and just talking sports. Trust me, that makes the person not even think that there is a microphone in front of them. – Bruce Barker

Try not to OVER STAT fans during the broadcast

I know you get tons of information in the media notes provided by the team but recently I listened to a baseball game and heard a lot of statistical talk that really had no place on the broadcast. To be honest, who cares if Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays hits more home runs in games with the temperature over 75 degrees or that a pitcher has better luck on Sundays at home than he does on the road due to the fact he likes eating pancakes.

Some might find this interesting but the bulk of your listeners do not. I make a habit to sprout less stats and more about the game as you have to remember on the radio you are the eyes and ears of the fan who is listening to the game.

I am not saying do not include important stats in the broadcast. But don’t make it sound like you are giving your listeners enough numbers to go to their local sports bar for trivia night. Trust me … stats for stats sake is not that interesting! – Bruce Barker

Don’t be the Rambling Man while the play is going on

Whenever I scan the dials and pick up various games in both hockey and baseball, I hear a lot of guys rambling on and on instead of describing the action. And I hear a lot of just plain old conversations between the play by play and the colour commentator.

For example, the play by play guy in Tampa talks about the weather being 87 degrees outside before they played Boston in the Stanley Cup semi finals. Then the colour commentator goes on for five minutes about the weather while you can hear the play on the ice in the background. There were a few interjections of play by play but if I want a forecast I will go to the Weather Network, not a hockey broadcast.

Then one day, I was listening to a baseball game from Seattle and the two in the booth were talking about various restaurants on the road when the team travels. Then all of a sudden I hear MARINERS HOME RUN! As a listener I was going to throw my radio out the window because they never even said who hit the homer.

So remember, THE GAME IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR BROADCAST. The rest is just window dressing. – Bruce Barker

 Don’t shout during the broadcast

To all of you aspiring play by play announcers out there I have two words for you: DON’T SHOUT!!! I have been listening to a lot of sports radio and for some reason the announcers feel that they have to yell the play by play and not just simply announce the game.

Sure I would be louder if I called a game winning home run or goal but one day at the Memorial Cup in Mississauga, I had the game on in the background and heard about four screaming goal calls. When I got back to the game I thought one team was up 4-0 but nope, it was a 2-2 tie.

When I call a game, you really know when the team I am working for has scored versus the opposing team as that should be the case, and yes, you do have to announce when the other team scores, but you do not have to call it like a game winner in the 7th game of the finals.

Also, with the technology out there today when you yell into a microphone trust me someone out there loses an eardrum so don’t blow out your voice or someone’s speakers when calling  a goal or home run! Enthusiasm yes. SCREAMING, NO!!!! – Bruce Barker

Teamwork! Teamwork! Teamwork!

This tip is the result of my play by play assignment  in Camrose, Alberta doing play by play for the Pembroke Lumber Kings at the 2011 RBC Cup National Junior Hockey Finals. I was hired by the station in Pembroke, Ontario to do the play by play because their regular guy could not make the trip out west. So I went to the first game of the tourney blind as a bat because I didn’t know any of the players on the team!

So head coach Sheldon Keefe gave me one of his injured players, Matthew Boudens, to be my colour commentator. He was a huge help. What also helped was that prior to every game all the play by play announcers met over coffee to to discuss how to pronounce the names of the players. That made everyone’s job a lot easier.

And when it came to intermission guests, Hockey Canada was there with their fine media staff arranging guests so I could give Matthew a few minutes to catch his breath. This was a perfect example of relying on someone to help you make it a better broadcast and trust me TEAMWORK is the main way to make it a great broadcast. I am living proof of that one!!!! – Bruce Barker

Don’t make radio listeners wait for the score

One of the things that frustrates me when listening to a game on the radio is not hearing the score. So many times I end up yelling at the radio WHAT IS THE DAMN SCORE?

Remember, you have to tell the listeners what is going on and the word that you have to keep in your head is RESET. For example in hockey, all you have to say is 12:45 left in the first period and Montreal leads the Bruins two to one.

It takes about three seconds and people listening get two important pieces of information: how much time is left in the game and who is winning! It’s important to do this because people tune into the game on the radio at different times. They should never be more than three minutes away from finding out the score. And trust me, when I call a game I am sure that I reset about 25 times a period because I’m the one describing the action to the listener.

A few years ago I was driving the three and a half hours from Edmonton to Calgary and listening to a game where the play by play guy went for 17 minutes without telling me the score. Seventeen minutes! I will admit I ended up screaming at my radio a few times. Be the  AUDIO SCORE CLOCK … tell me the damn score every few minutes. – Bruce Barker

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