Bob Costas Speaks Out

The following are excerpts from ASA President Lou Schwartz' interview with NBC sportscaster and ASA Advisory Board member Bob Costas on September 30, 1999, while Costas was in New York for an autograph signing at the NBC experience store.

Lou Schwartz: "When did you first decide that you wanted to become a sportscaster?"

Bob Costas: "I think the notion first entered my mind when I was nine or 10 years old because the announcers at the time - Mel Allen, Red Barber, Marty Glickman, Lindsey Nelson, Vin Scully - were as much a part of the game to me as the players. They were the soundtrack of the game. All of them had very pleasing styles and I wanted to be like them."

LS: "How did you start and when did you get your first break?"

BC: "I went to Syracuse University because I knew they had a strong program in journalism and broadcasting. I worked at the campus radio station. That was my first on-air experience."

LS: " I'm sure there were hundreds of students who wanted to get on the air. Why do you think they chose you?"

BC: "I guess I had some aptitude for it at the beginning. Certainly I was raw but the way campus radio stations are set up, they're designed to give as many students as possible an opportunity. They were not tremendously selective, so I had a reasonable shot at it. I gained a little on-air experience that way and then I did some minor league hockey in my senior year at Syracuse. My big break came about a year after I was out of school, going to KMOX in St. Louis, one of the greatest radio stations in the country to broadcast pro basketball, the old ABA Spirits of St. Louis. That break put me in the orbit of respected KMOX broadcasters like Jack Buck, Dan Kelly, Harry Caray and Joe Garagiola. The list is long. It's a premiere station so that got me some notice. From there I got some network assignments and one thing led to another."

LS: "You are one of the few sportscasters today that broadcasts such a wide variety of sporting events. What do you enjoy doing the most?"

BC: "I enjoy baseball play-by-play and hosting the Olympics."

LS: "Do you find they generate the most excitement?"

BC: "I think those are the ones that are most suited to my style. I have an anecdotal and observational style and those assignments give me more room for that."

LS: "Is there a particular sports event that you covered during your career that you enjoyed the most?

BC: "Hosting the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 was the favorite assignment I've ever had."

LS: "You will soon be broadcasting the baseball playoffs and the World Series. How do you prepare for such major events that will be seen by millions of people?"

BC: "I think you try to prepare all season long by following the story lines and the pennant races. In the days preceding the first broadcast, you get a barrage of materials from your researchers and statisticians and you kind of try to pull it all together and edit it in your own mind in terms of what's pertinent and interesting and what's not. There is such an overload of information now that its important not just to have information but to be discerning about what's appropriate and how much of it to use and when to use it. So that's part of what I do."

LS: "Before you start, do you have an outline of the things you would like to say or certain areas that you want to cover?"

BC: "No. I go through the information that I have and, in addition to the conversations that I have with the managers before the games, I just pull out whatever seems interesting. Sometimes when you've done that you can find a pattern in a series of notes and observations that tie together. But I don't go in with any preconceived notions."

LS: "There are so many youngsters that write to us who want to be sportscasters. What advice would you give them?"

BC: "I would say that you need to get as well rounded an education as possible for two reasons. One, the greater your frame of reference, the more interesting you'll be as a sports broadcaster. But secondly, not all those sportscasting dreams come true. People's interests change or they find they don't get a break or they find they don't have the particular aptitude required to become a broadcaster. If they put all their eggs in one basket, they're going to be disappointed. I would say get as broad an education as possible so you have some options. In terms of pursuing a broadcasting career, you want to get as much hands-on experience as you possibly can. You can't learn to be a broadcaster in a classroom. You can only learn it by going on the air or by sitting with a tape recorder and learning from your own mistakes."

LS: "It's very difficult to start. As you know, I used to own a small radio station in Geneva, New York, and we used to have 10 to 20 individuals that would work for $25 a play-by-play assignment. How does someone even get to that point and what do you suggest a person should do to get the hands-on opportunity?"

BC: "That's one of the things about a sportscasting career, unless you're extremely lucky and get a big break early, you have to be prepared to go to almost any market in the country for relatively little pay and build a resume. You have to send out your tapes and your applications to dozens and dozens of stations. If you want to be a sportscaster, I think you're better off taking a job doing high school basketball in Decatur, Illinois, than you are taking a job as a weather man in Boston. The only way to learn to do it, is to do it."

LS: "I understand that you were a great fan of Mickey Mantle's and that you carry around his baseball card. What is your fascination with Mickey?"

BC: "I think it's just whoever your favorite baseball player is. It might be Willie Mays or Stan Musial. For somebody today it might be Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa or Cal Ripken. It's just whoever you're first favorite baseball player is when you were a kid, it kind of sticks with you."

LS: "What do you want people to know about Bob Costas?"

BC: "My notion of sports broadcasting is that it's a combination of enhancing and enjoying the drama and excitement of sports, but at the same time there should also be a place for journalism and commentary. I don't think that they are incompatible. I think that you can be a fan as a broadcaster, not rooting for one team or the other, but a fan of the sport and try to capture the enjoyment and emotion of it, but at the same time take a clear-eyed view of some of the issues involved. I think that good broadcasting should be a combination of those two."

LS: "You are one of the few sportscasters that has had so many diversified assignments at NBC. Are there any assignments that you really didn't enjoy?

BC: "I have enjoyed everything I've done. There are some you enjoy more than others but there hasn't been an assignment that I didn't enjoy."