The Care and Feeding of High School Sports Announcers

Just like camera operators, sports announcers are born not made. Ask a professional announcer at what college he learned the craft and you will usually get a good laugh. Most will tell you they learned in high school by turning off the TV sound! They then begged a 500-Watt station to give them a shot at doing local high school games and the rest is history.

Televising sporting events is the ideal format for teaching the art of television production. You do not have to write any scripts or coach the actors. It is much more interesting than repetitive studio drills. The pressure of a live event teaches students to think on their own while working as a team.

However, sports’ announcing is usually not the forte of most high school television production instructors and good student announcers are a rare commodity. Knowledgeable students may not be members of your production classes or video club. Your first task may be scouring the bushes to find qualified students. The best place to start the search is with the coach of the particular sport. The ideal candidate is an underclassman so that once trained you have their services for a few years. After you have found them, give them lots of perks but make it clear that one of their primary responsibilities is to recruit and train the next crew of announcers.

Most sports productions t air live or on tape delay. This places additional responsibility on the announcers and the training they receive. Home viewers will tolerate sloppy camera work or other poor production values. However, one slip of the tongue by an announcer and you can spend the next morning in the principal’s office! Consequently, the instructors have to train their announcers not only in the techniques of the craft but also the resposabilites.

Announcing a live "non-commercial" broadcast is much more difficult than doing a "professional" telecast. If you can do it in high school, you can do it anywhere. High school announcers have several strikes against them:

First, the announcers have no commercial breaks to give them a break and a chance to plan their approach for the next portion of the broadcast. There may be times during a live broadcast that an injury time out requires them to adlib for quite a while. An exercise for the entire production team should be to plan what to do if a serious injury stops the game for an extended period. As exciting as it may be, it might not be good public relations to show the Life Flight helicopter landing on the field. A "We will be back shortly" graphic might be more appropriate. Even during live broadcasts, your production planning should be to stop the tape during breaks in the action. The director needs to make the decision to stop the tape and cue the announcers so they can finish their current thought. The goal is to have the taped version of the game appear seamless as if there had been no break. The announcers should not mention the upcoming break or the listeners would hear, "We will be right back. Here we are again."

Second, high school announcers usually do not have pre-produced packages. Also, they do not have a truck full of junior assistants compiling statistics, feeding them information and creating graphics.

Third, many school productions are not equipped to provide "instant replays" which requires the announcers to give a oral replay of important plays.

Students usually do not respond well to a list of "Thou Shall Not…" but in this case there are a few that they should understand are grounds for firing! They should understand that the following also apply to the "real world" and there is no better place to learn them than in school.

Thou Shall Not…

  1. ..Use any profanity what so ever!
    The accidental slip gets you in trouble. Many announcer has lost his job when he received a shock when touching a microphone to his lips as uttered, "G*$ D*&^!" My advice to would be announcers is to eliminate any four letter words from your personal vocabulary. An announcer should be articulate enough to find a host of more appropriate words with which to communicate!
  2. …Make negative personal references.
    Her friends and family may not consider what you think is a "cute" comment about you ex-girlfriend as such.
  3. …Make up funny names for players.
    A name is a very personal thing, If it is the nickname they go by in the community that’s fine.
  4. …Make disparaging remarks about the opponents.
    "Trash talk" is for the locker room but not on the air. Even if your local cable serves only your school district, the relative of an visiting player may be watching.
  5. …Criticize the coaching staff (even if they are lousy.)
    They have enough problems!
  6. …Make comments about people in the stands.
    It is appropriate to mention the presence of "celebrities" such as the principal or the president of the school board. However, respect the privacy of the general public. If a teacher gave you a less than favorable grade on the last the test, the broadcast booth is not the place to tell the world. (Try studying harder!)
  7. Emphasize player errors or show injured players
    Remember that these are student players and announcers should refine from criticizing their mistakes. (If you do, they may explain it to you rather painfully on the loading dock after school!) "The defense was offside" will suffice rather than "Johnson jumped again!

There are numerous broadcasting techniques that even talented student announcers need to learn. This is tricky to do at times because they may know much more about the sport than their instructors.

During the heat of broadcast is usually not the appropriate time for "instruction." Use the IFB intercom for "gentile reminders" rather than long lectures. Instructors should take the time to analyze the tape of the event with the announcers in private to avoid embarrassing or humiliating them in front of their peers (no matter how much they may deserve it!) Afterwards, have them participate in reviewing the tape with the rest of the crew. Often they will delight is pointing out their own mistakes to the others.

Points to Consider

  1. Define the announcer’s duties.
    The sports announcing "team" usually consists of a "play by play" and "color" announcer. Adding a third person as a "commentator" has been know to work but can also lead to conflicts.
    Ideally, the voices of the two announcers should be easily distinguishable by the audience. This is one place where a person with a unique or unusual voice can shine - i.e. Howard Cossell or Myron Cope.
    Novice high school students have the unfortunate tendency to be both the "play by play" and "color" announcer at the same time. They both try to describe the winning touchdown run and then comment on it. In the process, they "step" on each other, which distracts their train of thought and annoys the audience.
    The best solution is to have the announcers alternate their duties on a quarterly basis and hold them to it!
  2. Remember this is television.
    As the British would say, "Don’t tell me the bleeding obvious!" The announcers should have a conveniently located monitor to watch the video side of the production. The goal of good announcing is to tell the viewers what they have not seen.
    Novice announcers, tend to do a "radio" play-by-play, which would be fine, if this were radio. During a play, the play-by-play announcers should inform us of the player’s name and the technical name of the play.
    They should also keep an eye on the monitor and tailor the commentary to compliment the visual image.
    Never, ever say, "As you can see on the screen!" Where else do you think the viewers will be looking?
  3. Remember to give the Score
    Channel surfers want to know the score. Most high school production facilities do not have the facilities for a continuous score graphics. If standard graphics are available, show a score graphics on a regular basis. If graphics are not available, the announcers should give the score at every break in the action or change of possession.
    For close basketball games, give the score at every other basket because most viewers are not doing the math. If your switcher has a "level key" effect, you might try installing an old camera as a scoreboard camera. You may need to build to construct a "matte box" to crop the display so only the score shows. Even if you can not air this camera, display it on a monitor by the graphics operator so they can keep the score graphic current with out having to wait to hear it from the announcer.
  4. Dress the part
    Some believe that an announcer should be heard but not seen. Hopefully they will also receive a few minutes of on camera fame. This may take the form of a pre-game standup report from the field, an "announcer cam" in the booth or half time interviews. They need to understand that they not only represent themselves but also are public ambassadors for the school district.
    Even if they never appear on camera, they should be recognizable as announcers by members of the school community who attend the games. Particularly in football press boxes, they are interacting with members of the professional press and media. Good impression here can lead to future professional contacts.
  5. Be Prepared
    Many high school announcers tend to "wing it" because this is how the professionals appear to do it. In reality, the pros have spent hours researching and rehearsing their introductions and "packages" within the show. Creating packages such as interviews with players and coaches can make for interesting class production projects. The announcers and the entire television crew should rehears the introduction several times before the game begins.
    Halftime is not a time to run to the refreshment stand and party (and hope you make it back to the booth in time!) This time should be used to work on a summation of the first half and the intro to the second half.
    Do not be afraid to ask coaches and players for interviews in the days before the game – it is part of their job and as teachers they are usually cooperative. Call the office of the athletic department of the opposing school for team rosters and learn the player’s names and numbers. Nothing says "unprepared" more than not knowing the players. Feel free to ask their coach for an interview. However, do not ask for interviews on game day.
  6. Do not rush you delivery
    The ball is only in pay for one quarter of the average football game and half of a basket ball game. There is plenty of time to comment on the proceedings. During many of the game’s most exciting times, it is best to keep quiet and let the images and crowd noise tell the story.
  7. Develop your own style
    Sport’s announcers have spent countless hours watching their favorite sport. Just as fans have their favorite players, announcers should have their favorite play callers. Professional sports productions are televised primarily for their entertainment value. The announcers usually publicize themselves more than they do the players.
    Listen to college games to really learn the craft. Keep a notebook handy and write down any phrases and statements that you can add to your repatwar.
    Record a Keith Jackson broadcasting a college game and analyze his incredible choice of words and descriptions. He invented the "one word sentence." "Touchdown!" As he summarized a game with UCLA, "Ohio State comes west, plays on grass at night and wins!" You cannot add or detract a word.
    Announcers should not make value judgments! They should use more verbs and fewer adjectives. The viewer should be the one that makes that call. Instead of saying, "That was a fantastic catch!" one should describe it, "He leaped over the defense, made a fingertip catch while keeping his toe in bounds!"