Carolina on My Mind: June 2010
From “Holy Cow” to the “Catbird’s seat”
By Brad Muller, '92, Alumni Association senior director of communications
Most of you know who Bob Fulton is. Whether you were fortunate enough to hear the legendary “Voice of the Gamecocks” during his 43 years as the University of South Carolina’s radio play-by-play announcer, or if you are of a younger generation, you probably have heard about him. With more ways than ever before to now see your favorite team as opposed to dialing them in on your radio, it’s my hope that what I like to call the original social media site for sports will live on for generations. Yes, radio!
It’s amazing to me how fans associate radio broadcasters with their teams. Most sports fans in the Southeast, and perhaps elsewhere, have heard of University of Georgia broadcaster Larry Munson. I grew up listening to Phil Rizzuto calling New York Yankees games. He wasn’t the greatest play-by-play guy, but he was “the guy.” Most fans have their favorite. From Mel Allen to Red Barber, Harry Caray to Skip Caray to Pete Van Wieran, or Jack Buck and Ernie Harwell. The list goes on.
All of them had a very distinctive style. The good ones put you at the stadium, even when you were miles away. Long before online sports forums and chat rooms, you could tune in the game and engage in great conversation with family and friends without having to just stare in the direction of the TV. I remember listening to Bob Fulton broadcast a road football game for Carolina when I was a freshman in 1988. I could see our players through his voice.
I’ve had the pleasure of working in sports radio play by play for nearly twenty years. I still enjoy listening to and learning from other announcers as they tell me what’s going on. Of course I listen to a lot of Carolina sports on the radio, and even if I’m at the game or watching it on television, I still like to have the radio on to hear our guys tell me what they’re seeing. I’m sure it drives my wife crazy as she tries to carry on a conversation, and I reply with something that has nothing to do with what she had asked. I like Todd Ellis’s passionate “Touchdown Carolina” calls when the Gamecocks score, and I’ve enjoyed Andy Demetra’s ability to paint a picture during Carolina baseball games this spring.
In a time where television and the internet bring us more sports visually than ever before, it made me wonder if excellence in radio broadcasting would soon be a lost art. There’s something to be said for someone who can really paint a clear picture of what’s going on, so that even if you’re outside raking leaves while you listen to a game, you still feel like you’re there. Those broadcasters are still out there, but I just hope this isn’t the last generation.
Scan your radio dial on a Friday night in the fall and try to pick up local high school football broadcast. You may have to switch over to your AM dial. Yes, there still is AM radio. Some are not very good. Some aren’t bad at all! In addition to knowledge of the game, I like to hear announcers with passion.
Television and radio play-by-play are different in a lot of ways, and some of the all-time great calls have indeed been on television. The “Miracle on Ice” voiced by Al Michaels helped etch one of the greatest moments in sports history. Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit World Series home run for Dodgers in 1988 led Jack Buck to claim “I don’t believe what I just saw.” Those are among my favorites that I had the pleasure to see on television as they happened.
Russ Hodges had the famous radio call of the “the shot heard ‘round the world” for his exclamation of “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant” back in 1951. Have you ever heard University of California announcer Joe Starkey call the end of the famous Cal-Stanford football game in 1981?
To me, radio is special. Even in the early days of television, sports were better on radio. Advances in technology, including instant replay appearing in the 1963 Army-Navy football game all the way up to today’s 60-inch high-definition TVs make for an enjoyable viewing experience. Doing play-by-play for TV is certainly an art in its own right that requires a lot of research and in-depth homework to use as discussion points since you don’t really have to tell the audience what’s happening simply because they can already see it!
So sports on the radio or even the internet are more reserved for when fans are in their cars or perhaps at work. Sadly, radio classes are no longer offered in abundance or even at all in some university journalism departments around the country. I understand that today’s generation of students is probably more interested in being on ESPN’s SportsCenter than on radio, and the technological innovations may help dictate what would better serve the masses in terms of education. While I didn’t have any specific sportscasting classes when I was at Carolina, I did have a couple of great instructors in Dr. Kent Sidel and Mr. Ferrell Wellman who sparked my interest in radio and encouraged me to go for it.
Charles Bierbauer, Dean of USC’s College of Mass Communications and Information Studies and a well respected television and radio journalist, recently told me that radio has become a very localized venue.
“The good thing about radio sports is that you could imagine the game,” Bierbauer says. “It’s inventive and creative and dependent on the individual. I would say the same thing about local radio newscasts. There’s not a lot of that any more. I sort of miss that. There is still a place for sports radio broadcasts if you have a following for that particular team. It’s what it’s come back to because it’s something you can do well. To be effective, and I think this applies to newspapers as well, what they need to do is be hyper-local, and really tell you what’s happening in your neighborhood. So it comes back to a grassroots level.”
Sports on the radio can still be a great thing if you have people who can tell stories and characterize sounds, sites and even smells with a description. So perhaps that’s the answer to keeping a great tradition alive. While it may be difficult to squeeze classical training of radio sportscasters into a more technical curriculum, I am somewhat encouraged by Dean Bierbauer’s take on my nostalgia.
“It would be nice to take time to develop that capacity again for broadcasters to be storytellers or to learn that narrative process,” Bierbauer says. “If you can do that, you can add pictures to it later (with television). In the early days of CNN, anyone who was good at doing things on the fly probably had a radio background.”
So if you happen to see me and there’s a game on the radio where we are, please don’t think I am being rude if I don’t respond to you right away. The voice in the little box is taking me out to the ball game.Do you have a favorite announcer or favorite call by an announcer? Tell me about it.