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Broadcasting Tips from Bob Carpenter

I get frequent requests of “I’m interested in broadcasting and play-by-play ... what do I do?”  So I worked up this outline to give you some real suggestions on the best things to do.
 
High School

If you’re in high school, take as many English, Writing and Speech courses as you can.  I think it’s easier to become a good talker on the air if you’re grounded in the basics of reading and writing.  Speech classes are good because they get you up in front of your peers in a pressure-packed situation and you have just a few minutes to get your story across.

 
College

Pretty much the same and, of course, pick a good college with a broadcasting/journalism degree.  Don’t concentrate on just TV; take Radio and TV courses as radio is a great basis for everything.  A professor of mine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City always preached “economy of words;” that is, saying as much as possible in as few words as possible.  Writing for radio and TV is good for that.  My degree is in Radio-TV-Film but my minor was English.  I would suggest at least a minor in English to improve writing and communication skills.  I even had an attorney tell me that smart law school graduates these days don’t know how to write!  You can fall in love with Radio and TV and all the electronics gadgets they feature these days, but there’s no substitution for good old-fashioned command of the English language!

 
Outside School

Have a good, portable disc player/recorder so you can attend sporting events, practicing your play-by-play with a real event in front of you; much more effective than watching on TV.  Do it frequently, and keep up-to-date tapes/discs so you can always have your best at hand if a job situation arises and you need to shoot off a tape/disc to someone quickly.  Also, keep a resume updated for the same reasons.  Listen to your tapes as soon as you can after announcing an event, then give it a few days and listen again to see if you pick up anything new.  Critique yourself, and be honest.

 
Interviewing

when you’re interviewing someone, don’t try to impress them and your audience by launching into a 30-second diatribe before you ever ask a question.  You’re not the focus; the guest is!  Nothing is worse than listening to an interview and the interviewer takes forever to ask a question of the subject.  If you have facts and figures you want to drop in to make the interview better, that’s fine.  But, let the subject take the interview in a certain direction before you enhance it.  He/she will like you better and so will the audience, and when you’re done, everyone will be better for it.

Keep your questions short, and ask follow-up questions after a good answer … that’s where an interview can be great!  How does this happen?  Listen to your subject; you will be surprised how many great follow-up questions you can come up with that the subject will trigger in your mind if you’re listening instead of planning your next question.  If you have a list of questions, don’t feel you have to stick to it verbatim or in order.  Be flexible, and don’t have an agenda.  Let the subject be the star!

 
Play-By-Play Basics
My 4 P’s:  Proper Preparation and Pacing will keep you emPloyed! The more you do before air time as far as knowing your teams and players, the better you’ll be during the game.  Reading and research are very important; I can usually tell when an announcer has just shown up without preparing and “phoned it in.”

Pacing is the most critical aspect of being a play-by-play announcer, or news anchor, etc!  Some men/women have better voices than others, and it’s your delivery and pacing that will make people notice you.  In baseball, if you’re too descriptive on a double play and the crowd reacts to the out at first before you ever get the ball there, you’re behind.  The same in basketball, if the crowd reacts before you have the jumper in the hoop.  The crowd noise doesn’t lie!  Remember economy of words, like hoops:  “Smith brings it into the frontcourt, Smith passes to Jones, Jones looks underneath for Brown and Brown shoots, he scores!”  Why repeat every guy’s name?  How about this:  “Smith brings it into the frontcourt, bounce passes to Jones, a look underneath and he finds Brown, up and in, and that’s 20 for Andre Brown!” So much more description in the same amount of time!  The listener/viewer has to get comfortable with you, so sounding rushed and hectic, not to mention behind the action, is unacceptable.
The best compliment I get from people is when they meet me and say I sound the same in person as I do on the air.  There are many who don’t because they’re too rushed or wild.  And when something great happens, don’t go wild and become unintelligible; staying under control is a must.

Your play-by-play can be as good as you want it to be, so work hard on preparation, get along with your analyst (I worked with dozens at ESPN in 18 years and it has to be a team effort), pace yourself and be ready for the great moments, and you’ll be just fine.
 
One More Thing...

…get “ya know” and the syllables “uh” and “um” out of your vocabulary, NOW!  These things are an epidemic on talk radio or when a TV anchor has to ad-lib a breaking news/sports story without teleprompter.  Watching election night on local TV or listening to live “team coverage” on radio has become a painful experience with the hundreds of “uhs” and “ums” uttered by teleprompter-smooth anchors and copy-dependent reporters.  Be smooth without a machine telling you what to say.

Good luck!

Bob Carpenter