My first baseball broadcast on radio didn't last long. In the second inning of a semipro game, one of the players fractured an ankle while trying to break up a double play, and since the team only had nine men in uniform, the game was called. The forty fans jumped into their cars, Dick Enberg tried to say good-bye gracefully, and the one-man band unhooked wires, packed equipment and wondered if Red Barber really started this way.
At that time, I was working my way through Central Michigan University. The summer radio job paid one dollar an hour, and my first baseball game netted me a total of two dollars, including travel time.
All of this is a preface to the subject: How does on become a sportscaster? I have received hundreds of letters from young men and women who want to know how they should prepare themselves for work in broadcasting sports. Obviously, there is no set formula. And certainly, I can't recommend the exact course that I took because I had never really planned to make sportscasting my full-time livelihood (I prepared to become a teacher, and taught and coached for four years at Cal State University-Northridge before going into full-time broadcasting).
However, here are some guidelines. These are factors which seem, in retrospect, to have been most fundamental in my career:
1. I have been an avid sports fan all my life. I went to games, read books, devoured sports pages, listened to broadcasts. If you aren't an enthusiastic fan, you should probably consider another occupation. This job is not particularly easy or as glamorous as it might appear, and if you don't enjoy sports, you would not only be unhappy, but you would also probably offend those listeners who are sports zealots, and who are extremely knowledgeable.
2. I received a college education - not, admittedly, with the intention of becoming a sportscaster. But it has proven invaluable. Broadcasting involves writing, informing, entertaining, and educating, and you can't help but be better qualified to meet the challenge with four years of college education. An obvious major is communications, radio-tv, or journalism, but often young people overlook the importance of a physical education minor. If you wish to become a well informed sportscaster, the P.E. training offers important foundations for both major and minor sports.
3. Once involved in broadcasting, I practiced constantly. A portable tape recorder is an invaluable asset. Go to a little league game, a high school or college game, and practice calling the action. You can even practice at a major league game. Sit in the upper deck (you may feel a bit conspicuous at first) and start polishing your approach. I used to turn down the TV sound and sharpen my play-by-play calls in my own living room.
4. I was willing to start at the bottom. I had no choice, of course, but many people today seem unwilling to accept the fact that a training program is helpful and that those experiences are part of growing up. Just as most ball players need minor league seasoning before coming to the majors, so it is with broadcasters. This allows a young announcer to make mistakes in front of the least critical audience, we all make them. It's best to have honed your talent so as to make fewer and fewer as you ascend toward larger markets.
5. I listened, all my life, to sportscasters. As my interest in the profession sharpened, I listened more critically. It doesn't pay to totally copy someone's style, but being a good listener, you can generally pick up a healthy set of do's and don'ts. If you hear or see something that fits your style, employ it.
6. Radio is a true test of a sportscasters talent. And that's about it. When you analyze it, the formula is about the same as it would be for any endeavor; there just aren't many substitutes for education experience, preparation, hard work, and a real love for what you are doing. If you think sportscasting might be your thing, I wish you luck. May it be as richly rewarding for you as it has been for me.