Mike Lange – The longtime iconoclastic voice of the the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some of the other broadcast crazies in Western, P.A.
At the end of 2021 season, Mike Lange called it a career.
Among sportscasters, the Penguins’ community and those who assiduously follow the NHL, his name is well known. Mike Lange first called Pittsburgh’s hockey games in 1974. The season thereafter the club was in bankruptcy and could guarantee him no broadcast job. So he did soccer in Washington, DC (Diplomats) before the Penguins resurrected themselves in 1976.
At that point, he began doing a simulcast and the role continued popularly through 2006. Lange served as the lead play-by-play announcer for the Penguins’ radio and television simulcast. Mike never missed a broadcast. For whatever reason, he was dumped from TV, yet continued on radio through the end of 2020-21 season. It was then that he called it called it a career.
When asked during a one-hour television interview about his early influence of announcers. he identified Bill King who could do just about any sport and actually did in the Bay Area for almost half a century, particularly MLB, NBA and the NFL.
Raised out west, it is said that Lange fell in love with hockey as a student at Sacramento State. Apparently, a buddy convinced Mike to tail along with him to a hockey game while in college. Once seated, he immediately fell in love with the NHL. One thing led to another before he was announcing for the Phoenix Roadrunners and later the San Diego Gulls.
Al McCoy steered Mike a bit when Lange didn’t have more than a few bucks in his pocket. In the late 60s and early 70s, the NHL out west was limited to Los Angeles and the San Francisco area. McCoy was already well connected in the Valley and helped him get the minor league hockey gig that he gave up. Phoenix is still with the Suns fifty year later. McCoy’s been with one NBA club longer than any other announcer has been with theirs. He’s also done minor league baseball with the Phoenix Giants and Arizona State football.
Pittsburgh has had its bunch of on-air characters in addition to Lange. During the Terry Bradshaw years, there was Myron Cope whose accent was redolent of Western Pennsylvania. He was a newspaper columnist and had a popular radio show. Cope popularized the Terrible Towel reminiscent of the 1975 and 1976 Steelers championships teams.
No Bucs’ fans will forget, “All we need is a bloop and a blast.” It is said that at the old Chase Hotel in St. Louis he was challenged by members of the media to dive into the pool from his room and he apparently did. One of his shtick too doing a game would be seeing him eat an apple and reading a book.
In the 40s through lots of the 50s, Rosey Rowswell called Pirates games. Born in the Midwest, Rosey too had a strange way of calling a home run: ‘Get outta the kitchen, Aunt Minnie, and open the window, here it comes,’ followed by the sound of smashing glass.
- Split country? In Boston, the local ESPN Radio station is top ranked, nothing above it, music or any format for that matter. In Miami, there are four sports stations. none is anywhere on the charts prominently. Go explain!
- Some of these TV networks can make a steak of chopped liver. ESPN said that its NBA ratings were up 26%. Much of my livelihood was in broadcast ad sales and management. You rarely see, unsold network TV spots. Networks can present any set of audience figures to advertisers to get the order!.
- ESPN assembled an excellent team for the NBA telecasts. The word assemble means lots of voices. On the floor, Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were a fun, entertaining and informative watch. JVG hits viewers unpredictably, disgorging whatever is on his lips, raising unpredictable subjects. The threesome produces chuckles from viewers and the trio overall seem to enjoy one another’s company.
- When the league started and the DuMont Network launched NBA telecasts in the early 1950s, Marty Glickman and Lindsey Nelson shared the microphones. NBC then got the rights but the coverage was very limited. Just a couple games of the championship series. It was also before the 24 second shot clock.
- Breen was handicapped by Covid and couldn’t work the entire schedule of the title series. Mike’s been behind the mic since 2006 and has already been drawing comparisons to Marv Albert. He’s excellent but not as instantly identifiable with the NBA, not yet.
- For instance, it might have been in game # 1, it took me thirty seconds or so to know that Breen was out for some illness. It must have been pretty debilitating. When he came back, Mike began making errors, something he rarely does.
- Terry Smith, longtime Angels radio announcer, calling a Mike Trout homer: “It’s trout of here!” Smith did Minor League ball in Columbus, Ohio before hitting the big leagues.
- The New York Times did a well deserved piece on Celtics’ TV play-by-player, Mike Gorman, still beloved in New England. At 76, he’s now chopped down the number of games he covers. Boston’s season ended with a whimper, falling to Golden State, losing its last three games after leading the championship series 2-1 in games. Gorman began building his legacy under the charismatic Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt.
- In Beantown, this fall, we’ll watch Gorman’s 42nd Celtics’ season. The record is still alive and it belongs to the wonderful Al McCoy, (see above). who started in the Valley of the Sun in 1972. McCoy became a major figure. Al was also a simulcaster, meaning his voice was on both TV and radio. In the old days, Chick Hearn did it with the Lakers, Bob Blackburn and Kevin Calabro in Seattle, Hot Rod Hundley in New Orleans and Salt Lake City, Bill King in San Francisco, Charlie Slowes in Washington and John Sterling in New Jersey with the Nets.
- Pat Riley on a TV interview dubbing an amazingly advanced Dr. J: “He was an alien.”
- Dave Mishkin, the Tampa Bay Lightning radio announcer, goes about his business in his own customized fashion and cadence. He doesn’t sound very much like he’s doing Dan Kelly-intonations. Dave’s voice level is quite flat and he doesn’t get emotionally pumped unless stimulated so by a game-pumping play. Still, in all, he does a decent job. It reminds me of Marv Albert on Rangers’ radio. He was officially named in 1965.