Commentary

Part II – Another weekend of college football; More announcers -15 additional telecasts critiqued

From the familiar names, Mike Tirco , Sean McDonough ,Tim Brando and Todd Blackledge to the unfamiliar; The fine and the not so fine.

On Saturdays, a few announce crews are distinct. Others are a blur. College football on TV has ballooned into vocal chaos. Distinguishing one announcer from the next takes a seasoned ear. 

During the weekend of September 29th, I had an opportunity to watch chunks of 27 college football telecasts.  A TV marathon, 30 hours of watching college football: 27 broadcasts critiqued ; Good announcers and some not so good

This weekend, I had a walk in the park, only 15 games. As a result, I was a little less bleary eyed by Sunday morning. Again, I reviewed just pieces and stretches of broadcasts; anchored by the known and the unknown. 

I couldn’t get the PAC12 Network on DirecTV or my PC which is too bad. I was hoping to watch Roxy Bernstein whose work on basketball I’ve enjoyed. I also wanted to see how Ted Robinson is doing. Ted’s always been solid but I’ve always felt that he lacks the strong, open-hearted personality that’s needed to bond with viewers. 

Here we go:

Brian Custer, Ben Leber; UCLA @ ColoradoBrian has done boxing and has worked for SNY in New York. For the most part, he has a pleasant voice, good modulation and captures dramatic plays smoothly. He worked with Jen Hale, whom he addressed on-air as a ‘southern belle.’ But late in the game, he unnecessarily concocted a gravelly, throaty delivery to  underscore a point or two. It wasn’t that gentle on the ears. Leber, the former Chargers’ linebacker was solid. It was obvious that he knew the game. He worked well with Brian. Ben was enthusiastic and took advantage of teaching opportunities to explain plays in simple, pedestrian terms. When he did turn up the jargon, describing a back-peddling player as having ‘migrated backwards,’ he needled himself with a vocal version of an apologetic shrug.
Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge; Syracuse @ ClemsonMcDonough can essentially write the textbook on how to do play-by-play of a college football game. It would be a glorious glossary; one that would serve as the perfect instructional manual for budding broadcasters. On each of his broadcasts, Sean proves that doing a mistake free broadcast is possible. His voice cadence in perfect. It calibrates in lockstep with the vicissitudes of the game.  His pausing is immaculate. Blackledge is superb too. The more I hear him, I’m convinced that a strong argument can be made that he’s college football’s best color commentator. Todd isn’t prone to pontificating like Kirk Herbstreit. Todd augments, complements, helps viewers understand the game and what they can anticipate next.
Anish Shroff, Ahmad Brooks; WVU @ Texas TechIt sounds like Anish is talking to a friend which makes the viewer feel relaxed. But he lacks polish. I like his energy and natural enthusiasm. He’s another SU guy who sounds personable. Shroff though needs work on his crispness and intonations. He also said something that I’m still trying to figure out.  I replayed it, so I know I heard it.  He referenced a player who he said was “the Ringo Starr of the triumvirate,” whatever that means. Is he also part of the  band’s drum line?  Brooks was poor. Shroff in fact had to clear up Ahmad’s lack of knowledge of the rules. Not good.
Bob Wischusen, Brock Huard; Arkansas @ Texas A & MBob is more of the Brent Musburger school of emoting and opining. Wischusen has a distinct voice and is right on top of things. When the ball popped loose in the end-zone after a player had already crossed the goal line and the referee indicated TD, he alertly pointed out that there was no overruling it. I had no opinion of Huard which isn’t necessarily good. I watched but can’t remember any one thing he said. So, he left no impression.
Brandon Gaudin, Glen Mason; Indiana @ Rutgers
Gaudin is blessed with a voice that makes the TV speaker vibrate. As such, he should adjust his level down a decibel. Otherwise, his voice just doesn’t wear well over a long broadcast. Mason made some good points about how deep drops by the QB require a stronger offensive line. He also nicely used a couple plays as teaching moments to explain legal picks and sucker plays.
Doug Sheman, Dustin Fox; Nevada @ Air ForceSherman is smooth and well prepared. When the camera was focused on players and the opportunity availed itself, Doug captioned it immediately with a quick thumbnail profile. Yes, he’s another SU Guy. Not surprising. He can occasionally be a bit verbose or talk too much between plays. At times, he spewed headache-inducing numbers without the help of graphics.  It’s TV,  no need to keep talking. Let the picture tell a thousand words.   Fox added little, other than repeating some of the obvious. There was-little depth. Dustin did share a relevant story though about playing in high altitude. When he was with the Bills and played in Denver, Fox recalled running back a kickoff, returning to the sideline and feeling like he had just gone through an exhausting ten play drive.
Tim Brando, Spencer Tillman; Texas @ Kansas StateBrando is beyond superb. His call is magnetizing. He brings a big voice, confidence and an enthusiastic personality to the booth.  He has good chemistry with the former back Tillman with whom he worked for many years at CBS. Spencer chimes in seamlessly, opens up freely and is good at breaking down players’ strengths and weaknesses. Brando will tell you that play-by-play announcers should know enough about the game to say something significant in the hope of stimulating the commentator to add a comment that’s even beefier.
Beth Mowins, Anthony Becht, Rocky Boiman; Florida State @ LouisvilleMowins is a breakthrough broadcaster who’s knocked down historical firewalls for women. She deserves tons of credit. Her call has also improved vastly since starting. But sorry, her voice is nasal and scratchy, making a long broadcast tough to digest. It would help if she used her voice in a narrower range. Lee Strasberg would preach, ‘Instead of screaming, make believe you’re trying to reach someone vocally, way down at the other end of the hallway.’ Beth has redeeming qualities; good pausing, a warm laugh, a good interaction with her on-air teammates and a decent call of the game. She’s also well prepared, sprinkling in interesting anecdotes. Saturday, the camera had a shot of her in the booth, where she  playfully fussed with Becht’s off-kilter pocket square. It showed the friendly and neighborly side of both announcers.
Evan Lepler, Takeo Spikes; Rice @ Wake ForestAnyone who calls frisbee can’t be too bad and Evan was pretty good. Very smooth. Had to watch this game online. He was as good as a handful of the guys I heard over the air. Spikes, the former NFL linebacker talked a mile a minute with enough energy to make coffee nervous. Lepler let him just go on.
Rich Waltz, Aaron Murray; Cincinnati @ ConnecticutThese guys had a maddening job; a blowout in an empty stadium of a moribund football program. But Waltz’ baseball experience gave him an opportunity to employ storytelling to hang on to the few viewers yawning at home. Murray, the former QB lacked an effusive personality needed in a blowout, yet he still sufficiently broke down players’ qualities, good and bad. But more personality is needed in a 49-7 rout.  Rich was an acquired taste in his days with the Miami Marlins. He’s not standard fare by any measure and doesn’t have the cadence, staccato and dulcet sound expected of a play-by-play announcer. Waltz does come across as intelligent and well prepared. Saturday, as the game got uglier, he must have exhausted his bag of game notes. So he referenced Cincy basketball, plugging the program’s new hoops arena which the Bearcats will open against Ohio State. Even the fueled carnival barker Gus Johnson couldn’t hype this dreary game.
Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, South Carolina @ KentuckyI liked the Midwesterner Hart. He religiously set up plays from scrimmage and called them economically. He told the audience that C. J. Cunard, the Wildcats’ 6’5” 250 pounder grew up on a dairy farm and ‘he’s a big beefy guy.’ But the broadcast crew was drowned out by the hyper public address man at the stadium who couldn’t stop emptying his lungs. All I could think of is how the iconic Kentucky voice, Cawood Ledford would turn over in his grave listening to this avoidable ear-piercing cacophony.  One of the color commentators drew a diagram of a play so quickly, talking a mile a second that I got dizzy. I had no clue what he was trying to explain and I can’t imagine that 90% of the audience did either. He babbled while scribbling on the telestrator with hurried urgency that if I wouldn’t have known better, I would have  thought that I was on a Manhattan street corner watching some con man shuffle his deck of cards in an impromptu rip-off of three card monte.
Roy Philpott, Tom Ramsey; Iowa St @ TCURoy has a good sound; it’s pleasant. He was well prepared with player profiles. Doing Clemson baseball likely helped him grow his skill-set to weave in stories and human interest angles. Ramsey didn’t feel compelled to talk at every stoppage. That’s good. I didn’t feel like I was getting hit across the ears at every lull. He occasionally resorted to stats, yet also made plausible comments like, “When you pass down the middle, you’re asking for trouble.”
Aaron Goldsmith, Brady Quinn; BYU @ WashingtonGoldsmith clips his phrases elliptically, in snippets, almost laconically. Yet when he says something, it’s with the speed of an auctioneer. Quinn is engaging, doesn’t overbear with too much info. His tempo takes an acquired taste. The ex-Irish QB though is growing nicely in the booth. He’s one of these guys that you’d like to sit next to while watching a game in the stands, especially if you’re interested in some finer points of football from a QB’s perspective.
Mike Tirico, Doug Flutie; Stanford @ Notre DameI could never figure out where Tirico’s greatest strength lies, in the studio or manning a play-by-play mic. He’s very good doing either. As a first timer at the Olympics, he was a comfortable listen from half a world away; considering that he was succeeding arguably the best ever in Bob Costas. It’s unfair to compare Mike to Al Michaels.  Al’s greatest body of work is play-by-play. Michaels would excel coming out of a deep sleep. Tirico built his reputation in the ESPN studio before earning a strong presence doing play-by-play. With Costas scaling back, you might say, Mike today is the best sports TV generalist. One crucible that he hasn’t yet faced is long form probing interviews where Bob’s brilliance glittered. As for Flutie, he is sound. Doesn’t get in anybody’s way. He lets the game breathe and talks only when he has something significant to stay.
Mike Couzens, Kirk Morrison; Toledo @ Fresno StateMike is another NY area kid by the way of Syracuse U. He’s well trained and was sufficiently prepared. Morrison played seven seasons in the NFL as a linebacker. The two also talked hoops, promoting the ESPN telecast of the Lakers’ first pre-season game. Morrison has the Lakers advancing to the Western Conference finals; for whatever that’s worth. Couzens did a fine textbook job and Morrison was adequate.
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David J. Halberstam
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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