NBA playoffs on TNT: Audio volume is too low; Chris Webber on Marv Albert; Reggie Miller on Kevin Harlan

Hearing game announcers in loud arenas has been a challenge; Marv Albert and Mark Jackson make strong comments

david halberstam round profile

TNT: Please turn down the audio of the crowd mic

TNT does a wonderful job producing its play-by-play telecasts. There’s rarely, if ever, an issue with its video presentation. The crew’s work is generally unassailable. Viewers are given outstanding shots of the fast paced action, dazzling plays, circus-like shots and replays.

But during the current series between Milwaukee and Toronto, TNT’s audio has been a noticeable issue. At times, game voices, Marv Albert, Chris Webber and Reggie Miller can’t be heard. ESPN which also puts three announcers at courtside has no such problems. Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson are heard just fine.

I’m not the only one noticing this shortfall. Others concur.

In fact, one of the top broadcasters in America told me off the record that he’s amazed. “Some networks prefer to run crowd noise at such high levels that it drowns out the commentators.” A good audio man, he said, could tweak things so that fans can hear the voices behind the microphones. I must say that Tuesday night in Milwaukee, game four, the audio was better. There was seemingly a better audio mix of announcers’ voices and the arena’s natural din.

There’s another contributing factor. There are three microphones open at all times, all absorbing tons of ambient noise. And when the crowd revs things up, it adds to the noise pollution. I also assume that the networks have microphones placed elsewhere around the building, exacerbating the situation.

There’s only one man in the Turner stable whose sound always resonates clearly, Kevin Harlan. His sonorous voice can stir the dead.  I’m told that Kevin who works from August through mid-May (NFL and hoops) takes off the entire month of June and spends it with his family in a Wisconisn cabin. I understand that no cell phones are allowed.

Great pure sports voices through the years on network television

Think of the network announcers through the years with the best pure voices. Shooting from the hip, I would say that Harlan joins Charlie Jones (NBC), Don Criqui (NBC and CBS), Ray Scott (CBS), Keith Jackson (ABC), Verne Lundquist (CBS and Turner), Ron Franklin (ESPN), Tim Brando (ESPN, CBS and Fox), Jon Miller (ESPN), Vin Scully (CBS and NBC) and Mel Allen (NBC).

Chris Webber on Marv Albert and Reggie Miller  on Kevin Harlan

When I asked both Webber and Miller on the media call what it was like working with Marv, Reggie at first chuckled awkwardly and Webber immediately chimed in, “They’re like an old couple,” he said, referring to Reggie and Marv. Reggie then said to Chris, “You’re stirring the pot.”

Webber went on, saying that he loves picking Marv’s memory for tales of the old days, Wilt Chamberlain against Bill Russell and other historical recollections. (Marv in fact broadcast a Russell-Chamberlain encounter in the 60s). The former Michigan star added that because Marv’s knowledge of the league’s history is so rich, he’s well prepared for any blowout. “Marv’s the consummate pro who can also bring levity and history to a broadcast.”

Reggie heaped praise on his prime partner, Harlan, praising Kevin for his preparation and note-taking. Miller did say that Marv has great contacts around the league.

One of Albert’s many great strengths is developing excellent analysts in his years as a play-by-player.

Turner and ESPN studio show ratings

You would think TNT’s studio show is appointment viewing, no matter your opinion of  the irreverent panelists and the imperturbable Ernie Johnson. In checking though this week with Sports Media Watch, I was told that the quartet of Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley often produce a lower rating than the ESPN team of Michelle Beadle, Chauncey Billups, Jalen Rose and Paul Pierce. I was quire surprised. (By the way, Jalen is the estranged son of the late NBA and Providence shooting guard, Jimmy Walker. At his father’s funeral in 2007, Rose said, “I was hurt, saddened, and selfishly disappointed that we never got a chance to meet.” Jimmy was 63 when he passed.)

The Warriors radio broadcasts

Shush already!

A number of years ago, Warrior management almost dumped longtime television color commentator, Jim Barnett, a former Golden State player.  But there seemed to be a groundswell of activity from fans and Barnett was retained. Jim’s been on television for the team since the mid 80s and does a nice job.

During the playoffs, when the team’s local broadcasts give way to the networks, Barnett moves over to do color on radio with Tim Roye.  The problem is that Barnett doesn’t stop spewing comments, long and short, some insightful and numbers, no matter the relevance. He has to learn to pick his spots on radio. Between in-game sound bites that Roye inserts and Barnett talking freely, it’s hard at times to follow the game .

On television, years ago, Barnett worked with Greg Papa, one of the best all-around play-by-play voices in the nation. For some political reason, Papa was not renewed years ago. Some say it was backstabbing by Bob Fitzgerald who the club brought in to succeed Greg.  Fitzgerald can’t shine Papa’s shoes. Too bad.

marv albert

Strong comments:  Marv Albert

Marv Albert on Kawhi Leonard’s game seven shot, the series winning four-hopper that knocked out Philly: (paraphrasing) “Perhaps the biggest shot in NBA playoff history.”  He then referenced the eye-popping, implausible performance by colleague Reggie Miller in the 1995 playoffs against the Knicks.  Marv is generally prudent about heaping excessive praise. He uses words like great sparingly and rarely stamps lofty performances with words like ‘best or greatest.’ So his unusually high praise resonated with me.

One of the only other times I remember Marv doing so was when a young LeBron James had a dazzling and dominant playoff performance against the Pistons. In game five of the ’07 Eastern Conference finals, James scored 29 of the Cavs’ 30 points in a spellbinding 16 minutes. The Cavs won in double overtime. Marv was gasped as was anyone watching.  He called it the greatest playoff performance he’d seen. And he has seen a few.

As far as great  playoff shots, how about the Lakers’ Jerry West who threw up a 60 footer against the Knicks in the final seconds of regulation in game three of the 1970 NBA finals. It forced  overtime. Just six seasons ago, the Heat’s Ray Allen hit a shot that stopped the Spurs from winning a championship. Then there were big ones by Robert Horry.

Strong Comments: Mark Jackson

Former Warriors coach and 1988 NBA Rookie of the Year: “Put  Draymond Green on Portland and they win the series (over the Warriors)!”



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 and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Myron Rushetzky
Myron Rushetzky
4 years ago

I’m glad you brought up the commentators vs. crowd noise issue. But, I have lots of complaints with ESPN’s coverage of college basketball, especially women’s college basketball. The commentators are always drowned out by the crowd noise. I find it very, very frustrating.