Nepotism? Top network voices, many known names, got young breaks; One announcer first sold cars
Not all had connections, Kenny Albert, Greg Gumbel, Joe Buck, Al Michaels, Kevin Harlan, Noah Eagle and Sean McDonough did
The impending announcement of the callow Noah Eagle getting the Los Angeles Clippers radio job at 22 got us to think. How did other broadcasters fare at the outset of their careers? Eagle’s dad Ian does work for CBS, Turner’s NBA package and the Brooklyn Nets. Many who got early breaks swelled into national prominence.
This list of broadcasters will give you a pretty good glimpse of the lives of national announcers, prominent and otherwise, who are still working to grow their careers.
- Kenny Albert, Fox and Rangers, became a full-time statistician for his dad Marv on Rangers broadcasts at 14. He called his first NHL game for the Islanders as a fill-in on radio at 21. After graduating from NYU, he took a job as the voice of the American Hockey League’s Baltimore Skipjacks while still filling in on Islander games. He would do Washington Capitals broadcasts at 24.
Connection: Father Marv; Uncles Al and Steve were also broadcasters.
- Marv Albert, Turner, was a ball-boy for the Knicks as a high schooler in the 1950s and cultivated a student-mentor relationship with New York broadcast icon, Marty Glickman. At age 21, Albert filled in for Glickman on a Knicks game. Later that year, Albert left Syracuse and would finish his degree at NYU. It allowed him to work for Glickman as a researcher and an occasional broadcaster before becoming the Rangers’ voice on radio at 24 in 1965.
- Adam Amin, ESPN, did his first professional broadcasting as a student at Valparaiso, working for an independent minor league baseball team. Before and immediately after finishing school, he did regular freelance work, calling high school and college sports in the Midwest while continuing to call independent baseball in the offseason. He joined ESPN at 24.
- Brian Anderson, CBS and Turner, played college baseball and sought an opportunity to broadcast minor league ball. He landed his first job with the then AA San Antonio Missions. He would spend nine non-consecutive seasons with the team honing his skills. Now the TV Voice of the Brewers, he also does baseball and basketball for Turner and CBS
Connection: Older brother Mike was a pitcher with a brief stint in the Major Leagues.
- Jason Benetti, ESPN and White Sox, worked part-time for baseball’s Chiefs after graduating Syracuse University, then served as the lead voice of the Single-A Salem Avalanche at 23, returned to Syracuse as the Chiefs lead announcer, called basketball for High Point University while pursuing a law degree which he earned from Wake Forest. ESPN hired him at 27. A remarkable story, Benetti has not allowed cerebral palsy temper his pursuits.
- Mike Breen, ESPN and Knicks, moved from Long Island to Poughkeepsie, where at 24, he would get his first professional play-by-play opportunity as the voice of Marist basketball. Breen’s long stint with Imus in the Morning began when he was 27.
- Joe Buck, Fox, called one inning of a Cardinals game on his 18th birthday. Did AAA baseball for the Louisville Redbirds, then joined the Cardinals broadcasts at age 21, leaving Indiana U without graduating. Buck started calling a regular NFL schedule for Fox at 25.
Connection: Father Jack was a longtime baseball and football broadcaster at both local and national levels.
- Kevin Burkhardt, Fox, was a car salesman in his late 20s, after struggling to advance as a radio voice in New Jersey, calling minor league baseball and high school sports. Even while selling cars, he continued to send his tapes to sports stations and landed freelance positions in his early 30s. In time his career swelled, beginning as a host on SNY in New York.
- Bob Costas, MLB Network, had already worked as a minor league hockey announcer by the time he finished up at Syracuse. His first job out of college would lead him to his adopted hometown, St. Louis. At 22 he was hired as the voice of the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis and at 24 he called NFL games for CBS.
- Joe Davis, Fox and Dodgers, broadcast professionally before finishing Beloit College, calling high school and college sports, primarily volleyball. He also announced independent minor league baseball. He finished college a semester early to become the voice of the AA Montgomery Biscuits at 22. His fast track career now has him with Fox and as the TV voice of the Dodgers.
- Ian Eagle, CBS, Turner and Nets, worked as a producer at New York all-sports WFAN after graduating Syracuse’s Newhouse School. He got his first regular on-air job at 23, hosting a baseball show. He became the Nets’ radio voice at 25.
- Doc Emrick, NBC, wanted to pursue sports broadcasting as a career from an early age, but spent his early 20s as an educator. He earned his master’s degree in radio and TV at Miami of Ohio and landed a teaching gig at Geneva College in Western Pennsylvania. He was 27 when he started broadcasting minor league hockey.
- Chris Fowler, ESPN, got his first TV job as a senior at Colorado University, working both on- and off-camera with the NBC affiliate in Denver. ESPN picked him up at the age of 23 as a college sports reporter. He became the face of College GameDay at 28, three years before ESPN started putting the show on location outside football stadiums.
- Greg Gumbel, CBS, did not immediately pursue a sportscasting career after college. He worked in sales for a pharmaceutical company. He was 26 when a tip from his younger brother Bryant led him to successfully apply for a weekend sports anchor job in Chicago.
Connection: Younger brother Bryant was the first into media, and had a glittering career at NBC in and out of sports.
- Kevin Harlan, CBS and Turner, was viewed as a prodigy beginning in high school. He worked in commercial radio in a variety of roles while at Kansas, and became the announcer for the NBA’s Kansas City Kings at age 22.
Connection: Father Bob was president of the Green Bay Packers, serving 19 years in that role.
- Gus Johnson, Fox, worked at local TV stations in Texas and Alabama and got his first national gig with ESPN at 24 hosting Black College Sports Today. CBS picked him up at 28.
- Sean McDonough, ESPN, became the voice of the AAA Syracuse Chiefs after finishing up his sophomore year of college. After graduating, he worked Ivy League football telecasts, initially as a sideline reporter. He got the Red Sox TV job at 25 and it would be a quick rise to the top from there. He became CBS’s lead baseball voice at 29.
Connection: Father Will McDonough was a Boston Globe sportswriter who would also have a long career as a reporter on television, including NBC.
- Al Michaels, NBC, worked as a gofer for the ABC show The Dating Game after getting his degree from Arizona. At 22 he was hired by the Lakers as their color commentator, but Chick Hearn preferred working alone and Michaels was released. At age 23 he called games for AAA’s Hawaii Islanders. In 1971 at age 26, he landed as the lead voice of the Cincinnati Reds.
Connection: Father Jay was a talent agent who helped broker the AFL’s TV deal with ABC in 1960. Jay worked closely with TV sports pioneer Roone Arledge.
- Jon Miller, ex-ESPN and now Giants worked for small FM stations in the early 70s before the FM band had any critical mass. At age 22 in 1974, he was hired by the Oakland Athletics at but lasted only one season. He then covered other sports here and there before he landed with the Texas Rangers at age 26 in 1978. He’s been in baseball since.
- Jim Nantz, CBS, finished his degree at Houston after which he stayed in town, working as a fill-in weekend sports anchor for the CBS affiliate. After a year, he became the weekend sports anchor at the Salt Lake City NBC affiliate and also did BYU football game and some Utah Jazz TV work. He joined CBS at 26.
- Vin Scully, ex-CBS and NBC and Dodgers, got his big break at 21 in 1949 when he filled in on a college football game on CBS Radio. Working under severe conditions in Boston, he impressed CBS Radio Sports Director Red Barber, who months later hired him as part of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ broadcast team the following season. He was all of 22. Scully was with the Dodgers for 67 seasons.
- Joe Tessitore, ESPN, bounced around as a TV sports reporter after college, starting in Dallas and passing through Albany before settling in Hartford a few days before his 24th birthday. He became the sports anchor at the CBS affiliate there two years later.
- Mike Tirico, NBC, was viewed as a sportscasting prodigy while at Syracuse and became the sports director of the CBS affiliate there while still a student. ESPN hired him at age 24 for SportsCenter, though Tirico didn’t do regular play-by-play for the network until he was in his early 30s.
Great piece, Mr. Baskin. YOU have a future, too!
I thought of something Skip Caray said. He said that having a father in the business obviously helped, but he added that he didn’t have a great voice or face, and while being Harry’s son helped, if he couldn’t do the job, he wouldn’t have been kept around. I think that’s the way to look at it–a break doesn’t hurt, but if you get the break, it’s what you do with it that counts.