Sports play by play is reality radio on steroids. This encompasses everything that makes a great radio announcer who has no script. Play by play announcers speak at the speed of a puck hit by a slap shot, a baseball hit by a slugger or a football or soccer ball kicked into a net.
You gotta be an adrenaline junky who loves traveling with a pack of jocks on a bus from one small town to the next…wherever hockey, baseball, football, soccer or lacrosse is played in Canada and the United States.
The play by play announcer shares the dream of the players who hope one day to be in the big leagues. The goal is as elusive for the play by play announcer as it is for the players on the field or skating across the ice.
At kowchmedia we believe you should chase your dream, whether you perform on the field, a skating rink or in a broadcast booth calling the game as it unfolds. That is why we asked Bruce Barker to share his experiences and play by play tips on how to make that dream a reality.
Bruce Barker has been in sports radio for 30 years as a reporter, sportscaster and play by play announcer. He covered the 1992 & 93 World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays, the 2004 Stanley Cup finals with the Calgary Flames and the 2006 finals with the Edmonton Oilers.
He was play by play announcer for Toronto Phantoms of the Arena Football League, Calgary Cannons of Pacific Coast League baseball, Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Jr. Hockey League and the in arena voice of three National Lacrosse League teams (Toronto Rock, Calgary Roughnecks and Edmonton Rush). Bruce also holds the distinction of being the final public address announcer at Toronto’s famed Maple Leaf Gardens when he called the Toronto Rocks 15-14 win over Rochester in the 2000 NLL Champions Cup Final in May of 2000.
Bruce is currently the News and Sports Director at MYFM 95.5 Kincardine, 90.9 Port Elgin and 99.7 in Goderich, Ontario. His blog, Barks Bites and play by play tips have been a regular feature on this website.
We hope Bruce Barker’s tips help play by play announcers across North America to get a shot at the big leagues
Stats during a hockey broadcast are deadly boring
I am a firm believer in the less you say on a hockey broadcast the better the experience is for the listener. Trust me, you do not have to spout out 35 minutes of stats because even the most ardent hockey fan does not care if Phil Kessel scored more goals on Friday nights in Montreal or that Carey Price stops 45% of the shots from outside the blue line when he plays in Calgary.
If it does not pertain to the game you are calling I would leave out the so called stats. You can still do a quality broadcast by not making it sound like a sports gambling show from Vegas by doing all of the pre-game numbers. Remember to have fun while calling a game because trust me, the day it becomes a job is the day I quit. – Bruce Barker
Don’t talk over your partner
This is something I hear too often: talking over your partner on a broadcast.
It is a game you are calling, not a tug of war for the microphone. I am a firm believer that if we got paid by the word I would be like Vin Scully of the Dodgers and not have a colour guy. But this is a teamwork situation so that is why you have to share the mic.
The listener gets frustrated when there are too many people talking at the same time. So let your partner say what they have to say and then you do your part. If it does get bad have a meeting with your partner to air things out. NEVER … EVER ARGUE ON THE AIR! That is totally unprofessional.
You need to find a good balance because the colour commentator is there to accent your play by play calling. And just like mom says, play well together or someone will be going to time out. – Bruce Barker
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What’s the score … who’s winning?
This came up over lunch with friends in Buffalo. Their complaint was that play by play guys DO NOT mention the score or the time remaining enough on a broadcast. Remember the golden rule that you might be in the arena and can see the Jumbotron and score clock but the person listening to the radio cannot, so you have to tell them every couple of minutes.
Here is an example of how you should do it on the broadcast:
4:15 left in the first period and the Leafs lead the Sabres 3 to 2
That gives the listener all the info they need in under five seconds. One of the guys at the lunch said he didn’t hear a score or time left in the game for more than 12 minutes. That is so frustrating for someone who just tuned into the game broadcast. They’re shouting at the radio: What’s the score? Who’s winning? You might think you are sounding like a broken record but your listeners will appreciate it. – Bruce Barker
Never talk about inside topics the audience knows nothing about
Here is a big tip, especially if you use a friend as a co-host.
Do not talk about INSIDE topics that only you and the co-host know. I heard this on the weekend and I wanted to rip the radio right out of the dash in my van. The play by play guy and the colour guy were talking about a boys night out (which had no bearing on the game by the way) and the talk was only important to the two guys talking. When you do this, you isolate your audience.
Also, do not call a player by his nickname. If you have new people listening to the game they will have no clue who you are talking about.
But back to the talking about things that make the listener scratch their head. Trust me, no one cares about how you did on the golf course or where you and your buddy went for a beer. If you stick to the game at hand and topics that pertain to the game or the team, it will make for a much better show on the air. – Bruce Barker
When calling the game don’t say US or WE
Well I heard another item on a hockey broadcast that made me angry. The play by play guy kept calling the team he works for WE and US throughout the course of the game.
Here is a big hint: you are not out there on the ice so therefore you are not part of the team in the game. Do you wear a uniform with your name and number on it? NO. Are you sitting on the bench to get into the action? No.
So do not refer to the team as if you are part of it. Sure you might be getting your pay cheque from the team as many have the play by play guy as a team employee and not one from the radio station involved. But during the call of the game you can say that THEY are losing or not playing great but please, please, please stay away from the we and us terms when talking about your team. I have been in this business for close to 35 years and not once have I seen a play by play guy score a goal from the press box. – Bruce Barker
Don’t talk over the national anthem
Whenever I hear this it makes my blood start to boil! It is in regard to the NATIONAL ANTHEM during a broadcast. The way I see it there are only two ways to go. One is to let the anthem play and just use your microphone to pick up the singer in the arena or go to a station break and come back after the anthem is finished.
I’ve heard on more than one occasion the announcer talking OVER the anthem, and that my friends, is not only a huge NO NO but a major sign of disrespect.
I for one, let the anthem play on the games I call because it adds to the broadcast. But if I ever hear someone again talk over O Canada or the US anthem I will call them the next day and let them have a barks blast. – Bruce Barker
If you cannot pronounce it … don’t say it
Well I heard something that made my blood boil. It was an announcer saying a player was traded for ON DICLOSED draft picks. Well my friends, the word is UNDISCLOSED. It is a word that we use frequently. I was in shock when I heard him say the word that way.
Later in the broadcast another new word came out of the play by play guys mouth. He said he never had a FUNNER time than he did in the playoffs last season. If the broadcast was not coming from Michigan and was a three hour drive for me, I would have jumped in the car and driven right to the game to pull the guy out of the broadcast booth.
Pronunciation is one of the keys in our business and when I heard those two words I almost needed some blood pressure medication. There was an old saying in the world of broadcasting which is if you cannot pronounce it … don’t say it. I just wish this guy had heard of it before going on the air. – Bruce Barker
Learn to pronounce player’s name before broadcast
I can’t believe I’m discussing how to pronounce things again! I heard the play by play guy from the Buffalo Bisons call one player three different names during the broadcast and his colour commentator did not even try to help him out. It was brutal!
Before the game write down the player’s name phonetically so when it comes to the broadcast you say it correctly. I was listening to the third inning and he was still hacking up the player’s name.
Trust me it only takes a few minutes during your pre-game prep and it sures makes your broadcast sound a lot more professional. It sounds like a little detail but trust me, to your listeners it is a huge deal. So do the work beforehand and save the hassle during the game. – Bruce Barker
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