The originator of the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” is in dispute. An internet search shows that the phrase was first used by many people.
Decades ago, before the advent of televised sports, there was a good case that could be made about how important a voice was to attract listeners to the call of a game that they could not see.
But since the advent of televised sports, some people, including me, feel that no matter how good the voices that describe the play-by-play and analysts remarks are, the voices are secondary to what viewers can see on their TV screens.
But despite the fact that viewers can mute the announcers’ commentary and see what is transpiring on the field, broadcasters salaries on major networks today are in the millions of dollars, even though what they say, what they think has no bearing on the outcome of a game. Thus, in my opinion, a picture is worth much more than a thousand words. It’s worth millions.
An August 28 article by Richard Deitsch in The Athletic, about the subject of announcers’ criticism, told a funny story about a football player when he was a young NFL quarterback. The QB decided to change his throwing motion after reading criticism of his technique in the newspaper. That quarterback was Tony Romo. Deitsch is ahead of the game.
“I remember reading in the comments section of the newspaper in my second year or so, there were people saying, ‘He throws it too low, he’ll never make it,’” Romo recalled. “So I went and tried to throw higher-arm because some guy wrote an article or said it in the comments. I mean, how dumb, right? It’s like that guy had no idea what he’s talking about. What’s said is not always reality.”
The writer said that the anecdote came up during an interview with Romo regarding the criticism he received during his 2022 broadcasting for which he is among the highest paid announcers, making about $18 million annually.
When Romo took off his football helmet and replaced it with a mic, joining CBS in 2017, he was greeted by media watchers as the greatest talent to enter the announcers booth since the invention of the box on the wall. That was because he brought an excitement to his analysis, unmatched by many other commentators with the exception of John Madden. And his pre-play predictions thrilled the viewers, until they didn’t. Like an old movie that has been seen on TCM many times, Romo’s act lost its originality.
Romo response to the criticism of his work was that’s the way the media is trending to an agenda driven, clickbait world, and that he says only further amplifies criticism.
“And guess what? There are agendas. People like clicks. I mean, that’s a real thing. And I think they should. I think it’s all a positive. Talking about it, it helps all of the NFL. Our job is to go out there and perform like we’ve done and try to always do our best. I think we’ve done a great job with that. You’re looking at a very talented group here. Like all things, we’re going to go and try to put our best foot forward. … You don’t go by what some people might say. [CBS executives] love our team. They know how talented this group is. I think they appreciate our skill set, and we do theirs, Romo said according to a Sports Illustrated article of August 29.
But to this media observer the criticism of Romo is only the tail of the story. Years ago, before every sporting event from a Little League game to a World Series or Super Bowl was televised, there was a good case to be made that voices played the most important role in sportscasting. Not so today.
In those days, listeners depended on broadcasters’ description of events. Story telling, instead of analysis was what attracted listeners. Arguably, the best of those story telling broadcasters was Bill Stern, whose weekly shows was a “must hear”” for sports devotees.
Today, a good argument can be made that the voices on a telecast are not as important as were those during the days that radio was the king. People would set their schedules to listen to the radio broadcasts of Walter Winchell or the TV commentary of Walter Cronkite and Ed Murrow.
I don’t know of anyone who today tunes in a sporting event because of the announcers. Television commentators come and go, but fans still tune in to watch the televised action. The only sports announcer during my lifetime that could keep me from tuning out a run away game was John Madden. And that was not because of his excellent analysis. He was truly an entertainer. Watching his mish-mush diagrams of plays on the chalk board, accompanied by his often humorous commentary, was worth the price of admission – the commercials.
He took his job seriously, but unlike any other sports broadcaster I’ve heard, he didn’t think that the survival of our planet depended on the completion of a pass or a walk-off home run. Soon Tony Romo will put on his first or second-guessing hat. Is he worth $18 million a season? That’s not for me to say. But what I can say is that I would welcome any criticism of my work if I was paid a fraction of what Romo is making.
I can also say that all things being equal I’d rather hear John Malden’s commentary, Howard Cosell “telling it like it is” (before his Monday Night Football days), and Bob Costas not being afraid to speak the truth than any of the current sportscasters I’ve heard.