Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Rant: Enough, Already, With the Gimmickry

I entered the University of Minnesota in the fall of 1992 with a plan. I was going to join the campus radio station, study journalism, get a degree in fewer than four years, and replace Al Shaver as the play-by-play man on Minnesota North Stars' radio broadcasts.

Well, as it turns out, I did work in campus radio - for about two months, I changed my major after seeing the employment prospects for new grads working in radio was something like $12-grand a year, and the North Stars left for Dallas in the spring of 1993. It's a good thing I didn't pursue my radio broadcasting ambitions, since I did not have a gimmick.

In many respects, the emergence of ESPN over the past 30 years has changed the way we watch sports. Most of this has been good; some has been not so good. Case in point: If one watches SportsCenter on a nightly basis, seldom does an announcer get through a highlight package without some cutesy catch phrase or some over-stated drama. Gone are the days of an announcer simply narrating a highlight package, followed by some level-headed analysis of the game. It still occurs on ESPN, occasionally, but not all the time.

Not to pick on ESPN solely, TV and radio broadcasts of games have become ridiculous. Let's examine hockey for example, and some samples of actual working broadcasters in action:
  • Mike Lange, Pittsburgh Penguins - I simply believed I was the only one who was perplexed of whether I wanted to cry or wind my watch in a given situation. Thanks to Lange, I now know I am not alone. His voice is good, but the cheesy lines ruin it. I'm sure Penguins' fans have gotten used to it, however.
  • Randy Moller, Florida Panthers - It sounds like someone kicked him when he lets out his primal screams after rare Panthers' goals. The movie references make one wonder if he screamed "We've got a man down, dude!" after Keith Ballard nearly decapitated Tomas Vokoun a few weeks ago.
  • Dave Mishkin, Tampa Bay Lightning - Winning the Stanley Cup is exciting; screaming like this sounds like the WWE.
These three examples prove everything that is wrong about radio broadcasts today. Lange has been around for awhile and is certainly the better announcer among these three, but one expects Gordon Bombay to appear at any time to order the Ducks to form "The Flying V" at any time when hearing one of his kitschy sayings. As for Moller and Mishkin, one has to throw them a bone for trying to keep things exciting for dead teams in dead hockey markets. However, the stupid movie references (why any motorboat reference is allowed on a team's radio broadcast is beyond me, anyway) and primal screams make them sound like carnival barkers.

Radio broadcasters are the last of a bygone era. The great thing about radio is that a good announcer paints a picture of the action for a game a fan cannot see. He (or she) has to be descriptive and creative. The excitement level much be matched by what is going on in the game, and good ones show plenty of emotion. However, having to resort to gimmicks is essentially telling the audience that "the game needs MY ramp-up and I am going to be the show." This should have no place in today's game.

However, announcers like Moller and Mishkin represent the future of radio broadcasting, and guys like me represent the past. I'm sure fans in the South Florida and Tampa Bay markets have become used to the movie references and screaming and probably have even grown to enjoy it. That's a shame. The games should stand on their own and shouldn't need snake oil salesmen adding their own inane comments.

Give me Al Shaver on radio and Tom Mees on TV, and I'll even start following the NHL again!

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