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41 for 41: Ranking ESPN’s top 41 studio personalities in its 41 years on-air; Top play-by-play voices too

 

ESPN’s top 41 studio personalities in its first 41 years 

Based on being identifiable, distinct, time in grade, personality, visibility, influence, contribution, popularity and cogency

Today, September 7th, ESPN turns 41. Yes, on this day in 1979, the all-sports network limped on the air, one of the very early national cable program providers.

There were tons of skeptics when it did. But like other progressive developments in world history, pioneers get it in the back. The industry at the time thought the idea was preposterous.

ESPN and its early anchors, interviewers and game voices couldn’t possibly have foreseen what great successes would come of the nation’s first all-sports network. They went at it out of conviction and passion, not riches. In time, the rest came.

These are the 41 top men and women who contributed to the enormous growth of ESPN. A few were there at the beginning to lay the foundation. There were others in the middle years to solidify the cornerstones set by the pioneers and then were those who arrived in the last decade or two to carry the mantle of sports media leadership to new heights.

Chris Berman Signs Multi-Year ESPN Extension - ESPN Press Room U.S.Information is the currency of sports fans, yet it’s the talented on-air personalities who present the scores, news and highlights; some with flavor and gusto, others in pleasant, workmanlike fashion. There are the opinionated, the stylized, the annoying, the interviewers and the reporters. We list the top 41.

Since 1979, ESPN has covered a kaleidoscope of sports. The talent, both men and women, have represented all ends of the spectrum. There’s always been a mix of opinions, those whose takes are guarded and tend to work with blind obedience and others who are brash and whose comments are inflammatory. There are those who are wordy and those who orate with eloquent brevity. There are the brash, the angry and the judgmental and others who maintain a passive stewardship of the microphone over which they’re presiding.

One thing for sure. In 41 years, failure at ESPN is not an option .

We separated the studio and reporting personnel from the play-by-players and sideliners.

Here you go. ESPN (Television)

1. Chris BermanTime is the overseer of all things, a lifer (above)

2. Dick VitaleInviting, , neighborly, energetic and inspiring

3. Tony KornheiserBastion of reasoning, curmudgeon

4. Mike WilbonTackles thorny issues, less guarded

5. Stephen A. SmithBombastic, a mix of toxic opinions, polarizing, overpaid

6. Dan Patrick Slick, flashy, wears the trappings of success, cocky 

7. Keith OlbermannBrilliant, creative, at odds with the trappings of success

8. Scott Van PeltMidnight at the oasis, A perky voice of reason

9. Mike TiricoComfortable, humble, ubiquitous, overexposed

10. Linda CohnIndefatigable, upbeat, focused, reliable, cogent

11. Bob LeyForerunner, heady, committed, later found his niche

12. Steve Levy Syrupy, versatile, entertaining, nonchalant

13. Suzy KolberWarm, prepared, imperturbable, comes quietly, leaves quietly

14. Robin RobertsBright, pioneer, paved way for those who followed

15. Stuart ScottClownish, stylish, more engaged, less contained*

16. Roy FirestoneInterviewer galore, irreplaceable, appointment viewing, missed

17. Karl RavechA pious disciple of routine, gets job done with no fuss

18. Chris FowlerInformed, silky-smooth, does best work away from booth

19. Jay BilasThinks like a lawyer, talks like one, emotionally distant

20. Tom JacksonOmnipresent, never overbearing, synonymous with the fall

21. Dan Le BatardImaginative, unpredictable, thinks out of the box

22. Kirk Herbstreit Talks enough for the other 40 on this list, shush already

23. John Saunders Pleasant, insouciant, imperturbable*

24. Rich EisenCurious, reportorial instincts, tranquil

25. Rece DavisSon of Alabama, but no strong southern twang, a fixture

26. Tim Brando Resonant, comfortable in the studio and in the booth

27. Barry MelroseIrreverent, spontaneous, funny, made for TV

28. Tom RinaldiProfessorial, textbook interviewer and staunch reporter

29. Dick Schaap Heady, observant, thought provoking, natural newsman*

30. Mike GreenbergPolished, grew popularity across ESPN platforms

31. Mel Kiper Jr.  Synonymous with NFL draft, gets 15 minutes of fame yearly

32. Tom Mees 18 early and decorated years, died tragically*

33. Jeremy Schapp Chip off the old block, throaty, has dad’s vocal cadence

34. Trey WingoThe TV side worked for decades, ESPN Radio didn’t

35. Hannah StormSteady, vet, smooth, class

36. Chris MeyersSolid in studio, friendly and sound play-by-player

37. Jamele Hill–  fiery, brash, lightning rod for criticism

38. Mike GolicBrawny, husky voiced, survivor

39. Maria TaylorFresh, energetic, bold

40. Charley Steiner Son of radio, tousled hair, hearty laugh

41. Kenny Mayne Wry mouthed, deadpanned and steady

*Deceased 

 

Top Major League Baseball Voices

1. Jon Miller

2. Boog Sciambi

Top Versatile play-by-play Voices

1. Sean McDonough

2. Jim Simpson

Top NFL play-by-play voice

1. Mike Patrick

2. Mike Tirico

Top NHL play-by-play voices

1. Gary Thorne

2. Steve Levy

Top college football play-by-play voices

1. Brent Musburger

2. Ron Franklin

Top college basketball play-by-play voices

1. Dan Shulman

2. Dave Pasch

Top NBA play-by-play voices

1. Mike Breen

2. Mark Jones

Top Sideline reporters

       1. Erin Andrews

       2. Lisa Salters

 

 

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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