The tables of broadcast voices will sometimes turn over as quickly as those in restaurants. Through a score of years, for sure. The one constant is change. Here one decade, gone the next.
Ring out the old and ring in the new. The 2010s are in the books. The 2020s are here. A look at then and now, followed by 25 observations covering the decade of the ’10s, how TV changed and where it might be headed in the ’20s.
No one has knocked off the very top yet. Think the big football voices for instance. Joe Buck, Al Michaels and Jim Nantz are still in place. But other changes are palpable.
A baker’s dozen of national broadcasters prominent in 2010 but not in 2020:
Dick Enberg* (One of the all-time network greats, who left the big stage for the Padres)
Brent Musburger (Excelled in studio and booth for five decades, brought a sticky edge)
Jon Miller (Presided with a traditional rhythm on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball)
Verne Lundquist (SEC, college basketball, NCAA’s, NBA, NFL; Gave up all but golf)
Chris Berman (An ESPN original, constantly visible on flagship; Relegated to a tentacle)
Craig Sager* (Longtime Turner sideline reporter; Colorful part of the NBA TV tapestry )
Bob Ley (Did whatever was needed in ESPN’s early years, then grew Outside the Lines plus)
Stuart Scott* (Somewhat polarizing, yet unique sounding studio host)
John Saunders* (Longtime ESPNer who worked both studio and play-by-play)
Mike Patrick (A four decade pro’s pro, play-by-player at ESPN)
Ron Franklin (A deep ESPN voice that emitted a sense of urgency on football and basketball)
Tom Hammond (One of network TV’s all-time pros, from horseracing to the NBA and Notre Dame)
Jim Lampley (Originally the first ever sideline reporter for ABC, later the lead on HBOs boxing)
A baker’s dozen of those with limited visibility in 2010 to prominence in 2020:
Stephen A. Smith (Left ESPN, went to Fox, returned to ESPN and is now ubiquitous)
Tony Romo (Exploded onto the TV scene with CBS’ NFL package after leaving the Cowboys)
Scott Van Pelt (Successful and visible then, now a constant as ESPN’s lead late night voice)
Alex Rodriguez (Mistakes aside, has turned into an entertaining ESPN/Fox baseball voice)
Tracy Wolfson (Grew through the ranks, Captures personal emotions, a big event CBS fixture)
Dan Le Batard (A star in print, Creative and provoking on radio, earned visible reps on ESPN)
Brian Anderson (A pleasant delivery made for network TV. Paid his dues, now on TNT/CBS)
Shaquille O’Neil (Never shy, did acting and voiced ads, now a part of TNT’s Inside the NBA)
Kevin Burkhardt (It wasn’t that long ago that he sold cars; Now on Fox’ NFL and MLB broadcasts)
Boog Sciambi (Unique and an unpredictable charm; From radio to ESPN’s MLB telecast)
Charles Davis (Ex-college footballer, worked locally and regionally now on Fox’ #2 NFL team)
Paul Finebaum (Soft spoken college football scribe turned his expertise into an ESPN seat)
Maria Taylor (Just out of school in 2010, now anchors some of ESPN’s NBA coverage and more)
What else happened over the last ten years?
- Unlike 2010, the preponderance of viewing today is on mobile devices.
- Cord cutting is real. ESPN had 100 million subscribers in 2010. It’s down to an estimated 82 million today. That’s an 18% drop. Fees from cable providers are down and advertisers pay less for fewer viewers.
- NBA, NHL and NFL radio announcers are being shoved into the nosebleeds or the corners of stadiums. Radio stations have declined precipitously in value. The great WABC Radio in New York was recently sold for $13 million. At its peak, the station was worth six times that amount.
- The best in class, Sports Illustrated, fired most of its writers in October. Print continues to die a death of a thousand cuts.
- Legalized gambling is beginning to change the way games are covered.
- Today, there are 22 sports voices 80 or older. Record set: Hubie Brown covering the NBA on network TV at 86. We’re living longer.
- In the 2010s, there were experiments calling games from studios. It’s not a widespread practice yet.
- There’s The Athletic which requires a paid subscription for local sports coverage. With print suffering locally, there’s no shortage of applicants for positions with The Athletic.
- With an exception here or there (e.g. Boog Sciambi), network television no longer has traditional play-by-play voices. They’ve turned into simplistic, dull, set-up announcers.
- Media tentacles and platforms are endless. There are so many. They include, ESPN 3 and ESPN+.
- With attention spans limited, long form TV interviews have migrated to podcasting.
- Will network television ever again experience a Vin Scully, Bob Costas, Jack Whitaker or Howard Cosell?
- We lost some great national broadcasters in the ’10s like Dick Enberg, Keith Jackson and Whitaker.
- The sports verticals like MLB Network, NFL Network, NHL Network and NBA Network are not as indispensable as they were when they were born. Streaming video and the immediacy of information on mobile are at our fingertips.
- Dick Ebersol of NBC, David Hill of Fox and David Levy of Turner no longer run the sports divisions.
- College radio stations are no longer the only platform for college students to gain experience. Students get their reps presiding over video streaming of sporting events.
- Parents, family and friends can watch just about any event they’d like. They’re produced on a shoestring budget and streamed worldwide, from D III colleges to high school and from basketball to archery.
- In the last ten years, the Pac-12 Network, the SEC Network and the ACC Network were born.
- We now have rules experts who help guide us through the ponderous and terminal experiences of football and basketball replay.
- It’s 2020 but we don’t have a medical expert yet to help viewers understand injuries and project how long it takes to bounce back from something temporary like a cramp or something more severe. With betting allowed, it would be a bigger help than ever.
- It’s 2020 and we still don’t have a broad menu of audio channels to follow games on network TV. We should have more than just the traditional option, the usual network announcers. Can’t we seamlessly tap into home voices, road voices, public address only, analysts only and more?
- It’s 2020 and Brent Musburger still hasn’t been honored by either the Naismith or Pro Football Hall.
- It’s 2020 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame still hasn’t honored Howard Cosell with the Rozelle Award for broadcast excellence. The first face of NFL primetime television, Howard is still not in the Hall. Why?
- Network broadcaster today who are unlikely to be behind their microphones in 2030: Ages then: Marv Albert (88), Al Michaels (85), Dick Stockton (87), Hubie Brown (96).
- Who not to count out, somehow and somewhere in 2030: Ages then: Jim Nantz (70), Kevin Harlan (69), Dick Vitale (90), Brent Musburger (90), Woody Paige (83), Bill Raftery (86).