Featured THE HALBY'S

The 2019 Halby’s: From Sportscaster of the Year to the voices we lost; From the best to the forgettable

Lots of good, Disappointments too; Network television, National talk radio and some team voices; Never a dull moment

 

Second Annual: The Halby’s: 2019 Sports broadcast Awards and Recognition

John Madden, Howard Cosell, Vin Scully and Bob Costas

At the outset, let’s revisit Sports Broadcasting’s Mount Rushmore which we unveiled last year. For their lifetime achievements, the faces of Bob Costas, Howard Cosell, John Madden and Vin Scully are carved indelibly into figurative stone.

Of the four, Cosell passed in 1995. Scully is retired and recently celebrated his 92nd birthday. Madden, with whom Vin worked NFL games on CBS, is 83 and lives in retirement in Northern California. John still doesn’t board airplanes. Costas does baseball for MLB Network and is badly missed for his unmatched studio work and probing interviews.

 

2019 Sportscaster of the Year

Jim Nantz (CBS)

A trifecta for the ages: A Super Bowl, Final Four and Masters, all filled with drama and heartfelt history. Nantz stamped February through mid-April with crisp captions and inspiring stories. The 60 year old veteran had the most memorable ten weeks of his career. By the measure of this condensed stretch alone, Nantz’ bio now merits the distinction legend.

 

In-Memoriam

Edward Aschoff (ESPN), Jim Bouton (various), Rod Bramblett (Auburn), Nick Buoniconti (HBO), Don Chiodo (Central Michigan), Chet Coppock (various talkie), Ron Fairly (Giants/Mariners), Bob Fouts (49ers), Don Imus (WFAN), Dan Jenkins (SI), Greg Mace (Harrisburg, Pa), Fred McLeod (Cavs), Lou Palmer (ESPN), Earle Robinson (Detroit talkie), Mike Sands (Jackson, Ms) and Jack Whitaker (CBS/ABC)

Don’t confuse fame or popularity for talent. Here we go:

By Sport:

Golf Broadcaster of the Year Jim Nantz  (CBS) The Gold standard. Heralded Tiger’s Masters victory as the sport’s voice, as no one else can. (Dan Mason)

Golf Analyst of the Year  Brandel Chamblee (Golf Channel) Nobody stirs it up more than he does. His ongoing rift with Brooks Koepka and his witty and biting insight always make for good television. (Dan Mason)

Golf Reporter of the Year  Joel Klatt (Fox)  He was my surprise of the year at the U.S. Open. Klatt handled the interview chair like someone we’ll likely see on golf broadcasts for decades to come. Joel’s 37. (Dan Mason)

 

MLB, Network play-by-play Voice of the Year  Boog Sciambi (ESPN) Sticks to play-by-play, a walking encyclopedia of the game, different, appeals to both younger and older sets alike and is more a conventional play-by-play voice than the insipid set-up men who can’t identify a breaking ball from a fastball. Boog’s also irreverent and unpredictable. He has just about everything that’s needed to do baseball.

MLB, Network Analyst of the Year Alex Rodriguez (ESPN/Fox) Vibrant, enthusiastic and instructional, A-Rod shares the psychology of the game. Put the off the field indiscretions aside for a moment. There are those on-air today or in the past who were alcoholics, inveterate gamblers, sexually deviant or hooked on drugs. Look it up. Give the man a break. Appreciate his work for what it is, entertaining.

MLB, Best Network Studio show  (Fox) Host: Kevin Burkhardt: Analysts: Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Frank Thomas. Fun group of ex-players who blend storytelling, analysis and their personal experiences. 

MLB local Voice of the year  Marty Brennaman  (Reds) He went out with a flourish after 46 seasons in the booth. It can be argued that Marty turned into the most influential baseball figure in Cincinnati history.

 

NBA Play-by-Play Voice of the Year Mike Breen (ESPN) Doesn’t overdo it. Arguably the most knowledgeable play-by-player of the sport he covers. Played and reffed. He might not have the flair that Marv Albert had in his prime but makes up for it on depth and being less unbending on old-school rigors of play-by-play.

NBA Network Analyst of the Year Hubie Brown (ESPN) The bionic man of the NBA is 86, still sharp and tough as nails. Smokey Robinson: “Everyone is blessed with a dream. Some people discard it. Some people never realize it. Some let it carry them through life.”

NBA Studio Show  (Turner Host): Ernie Johnson, Jr; Analysts: Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neil. Unquestionably the best sports studio show on television, one that intersects humor, good-natured ribbing, outlandish opinions and a warm, lovable host.

NBA Local Voice of the Year  Ralph Lawler  (Clippers) Retired after season, yet went into his last act with a head of steam. Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

 

NHL Network Play-by-Play Voice of the Year  Mike Emrick (NBC) At 73, paces himself well, limits himself to one or two games a week before the playoffs. Still captures the excitement of the sport and follows the play exceptionally. Doc continues to showcase his trademark vocabulary on every broadcast. (Jake Baskin)

NHL Commentator of the Year  Brian Boucher (NBC) Ex-Philadelphia Flyers goalie delves into the mindset of both goalies and shooters and doesn’t rely on buzzwords or cliches. Rewarded with promotion to #1 Inside the Glass position on NBC, and will call his first Stanley Cup Final on TV in 2020. (Jake Baskin)

NHL Studio Show of the Year (ESPN) Hosts: Linda Cohn, John Buccigross, Nabil Karim, Steve Levy; Analyst: Barry MelroseIn the Crease, ESPN+’s nightly recap show, has become must-watch viewing for any hockey fan. (Jake Baskin)

NHL Local Play-by-Play Voice of the Year John Forslund  (Carolina) Gets plenty of national work but shines brightest locally. Excitable but never over the top. Knows both when to let his analyst talk and when to take control of a broadcast himself. (Jake Baskin)

 

NFL Play-by-Play Voice of the Year  Al Michaels (NBC) The best is still the best which he’s been for over 33 years. Uncle Al’s still going strong at 75. He’s never intrusive and stays off the microphone when required. Michaels is the master of letting the game come to him, no scripts!

NFL Analyst of the Year  Tony Romo (CBS) Still the rage of the football public. Romo is an analyst, an aficionado and a prognosticator with impressive accuracy. Works well with team leader Nantz.

Sideline reporter of the year Tracy Wolfson (CBS)  Tracy is soft-spoken but a bulldog when necessary. After the completion of the ’19 Super Bowl, her feistiness and determination were unforgettable. She elbowed her way through a gaggle of media on the field to interview Tom Brady.

NFL Studio Show  (CBS) Host: James Brown  Analysts Boomer Esiason, Bill Cowher, Nate Burleson and Phil Simms are easy-going, enlightening, opinionated and not abrasive.

NFL Local Play-by-Play  Greg Papa (49ers) Out for a year after 21 seasons with the Raiders, Papa took over the 49ers and has been an immediate success. Has the whole package. Loved by fans, Greg paints a graphic description on radio. He is vibrant and emotional but contained. Greg is not reluctant to criticize when warranted. 

 

College Basketball Play-by-Play Voice of the Year  Tim Brando (Fox/Raycon) Finished up his decades of an ACC affiliation with Raycom. Has a distinct, uplifting sound. Combines a pleasing rhythm, a warm and distinct voice, a hearty laugh an occasional strong opinion.

College Basketball Analyst of the Year Steve Lappas (CBS) Witty and energetic. Captures a game from a variety of lenses, a coach’s, a teacher’s, a quipster’s and is a broadcaster who’s emotionally engaged.

College basketball analyst in the studio  Seth Greenberg (ESPN) Ex-ACC coach has fantastic depth, knows teams’ personnel like the back of his hand and is cogent.

 

College football Play-by-Play Voice of the Year Sean McDonough (ESPN) Silky smooth, no one calling games today inflects his voice better. Sean sprinkles broadcasts with anecdotes and humor, he’s comfortable being casual or serious and is invariably well prepared. Blessed with a wonderful analyst, Todd Blackledge. 

College football Commentator of the Year  Gary Danielson No inane commentary, amusingly giddy, student of the game, ex backup quarterback, polarizing, gripping and instructional.

College football Best Studio Show: Big Noon Kickoff Fox  Crew is insightful. The show is nimbly hosted by understated Rob Stone. Analysts are Brady QuinnReggie Bush, Matt Leinart and they’re helped significantly by former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.

 

Individual Awards and Recognition: 

Best overall studio host Ernie Johnson (Turner) Gentle, laid-back, prepared and importantly reins in his cohorts when required. Ernie is also a capable baseball announcer.

Best Overall raw voice Kevin Harlan (CBS/Turner) Sepulchral, sonorous and uplifting. His rich timbre fills more than a couple rooms. Harlan also continues to entertain unpredictably. Underused on CBS’ NFL coverage.

Anniversary/Remembrances Broadcast Greats:  Ray Scott, Lindsey Nelson and Curt Gowdy would have turned 100 in 2019

Best Swing-man, Studio/Play-by-Play combo Steve Levy Can do virtually anything from radio to television play-by-play, particularly hockey and football. He’s comfortable in the studio talking any sport or engaging a reporter, no matter the subject.

Indestructible and unbreakable Al McCoy (Suns) At 86, he’s still doing Suns games on radio from the nosebleeds, home and away!

Most Improved Commentator of the Year Grant Hill (CBS) Credit Nantz and Bill Raftery for engaging him on his strengths.

Mighty with the pen and easy with the microphone  Tom Verducci  His mind is always running. He told us that even when he’s doing a baseball broadcast for MLB Network or Fox, he’s thinking about his next article for Sports Illustrated. He writes poetically and voluminously.

Mileage King  Kenny Albert  (NBC, Fox, MSG)  He can do every sport efficiently but baseball isn’t his forte.

Miscast:

Greg Gumbel (CBS) Belongs in studio fulltime. Can be sleep inducing as a play-by-player. Perfect demeanor for the studio.

Chris Fowler (ESPN) Gotten better but is still learning on the job. He lets Kiirk Herbstreit roam freely. Chris is still a very good studio man. Move McDonough and Blackledge team to #1

Network comeback Broadcaster of the Year Dave O’Brien Solid broadcaster who was laid off by ESPN a few years ago. Dave was appointed lead play-by-play voice of the ACC Network which ESPN manages. He’s excellent on baseball, football and basketball.

Rookie of the Year Co-winners Kevin Brown (Rookie eligible) Still getting in his early reps. Does football for ESPN. It was also his first season in the Major Leagues. Kevin does radio for the Orioles. The co-winner is an up-and comer, 35 year old Brendan Burke who showed his wares doing Islanders telecasts. He impressed early and has done NHL games for NBC Sports Network.

Studio personality of the Year Scott Van Pelt (ESPN) Late at night, he’s a welcoming diversion for viewers and good company when winding down. 

Versatile Play-by-Play Voice of the Year Brian Anderson (Turner/CBS) Seamlessly moves from baseball locally to network and from college to the NBA. Does football well too.

Veteran Network Play-by-Play Voice of  the Year Dick Stockton (Fox) At 77, Stockton paces himself nicely calling the NFL for Fox.

National Talk Radio 

Most Annoying Dan Patrick (Fox) Not for his lack of knowledge, his interviewing skills or silky smoothness. It’s his didactic tone, holier than thou presence, name dropping and pedantic treatment of those poor souls in the bullpen. Patrick talks to them like children in third grade. Class:  “What did we learn today?” Please!

Most entertaining Chris Russo (SiriusXM): Down to earth, smart, impassioned, always brings a smile to listeners’ ears.

Headiest Colin Cowherd (Fox): Sees the sports world from a broad almost philosophical lens; logical, cogent and never gropes for the right word. 

Most Creative Dan Le Batard (ESPN) Broadcasting’s gain is print’s loss. Blends depth, novelty and feistiness. Never a dull moment. Also has a big heart.

Most soft toned, influential voice Paul Finebaum (ESPN) Almost never raises his voice. Professorial, Paul’s takes on college football in general and the SEC in particular are viewed reverentially by both the hoi polloi and the well heeled.

Memorable media quotes in this publication

  • Hall of Famer Vin Scully on his viewing experience watching baseball today, “They (today’s TV baseball analysts) spend an awful lot of time on how to throw a certain pitch. I’m basically simple minded. If I’m watching a game, I don’t need to know how to throw a certain pitch.
  • ESPNer Boog Sciambi ”To sound like a baseball voice of 50 years ago does not work today.”
  • Legendary women’s pioneer Lesley Visser on sideline reporters: “It’s kind of become a metaphor for ‘female dumping ground’”

Various – Good and Bad:

Book of the Year

That’s What I’m Talking About  by former ESPNer, Roy Firestone covers so many of the colorful personalities he interviewed. (Magic Turtle Press, 2019)

Distressing News of the Year

Sports Illustrated

There were wholesale layoffs at Sports Illustrated this past October, a magazine that enjoyed so much reverence for decades. Beautifully written lengthy pieces and features are likely behind us forever.

Drowning in money

Stephen A. Smith

Reportedly signed a $10 million a year renewal with ESPN. Not bad for a onetime writer who likely started his career at a few hundred dollars a week. Upon hearing this, Peter Vecsey: ” I gagged on my Metamucil when I read what ESPN is supposedly paying him.”

End of a remarkable streak

John Sterling

For health reasons, John Sterling, 81, the Yankees’ radio announcer ended a 31-season streak of not missing any of the Bronxites’ games.

Global Issue of the year 

ESPN’s official ban on talking politics on-air. This subject erupted after host Dan Le Batard criticized President Donald Trump for telling Democratic Congresswomen, “Go back to where you came from.” On ESPN, political talk is only accepted when it pertains directly to sports.

Is anyone listening? 

Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer do the Thursday night games for Amazon Prime customers. Has anyone heard them?

Injury Updates. Is there a doctor in the house? 

Network have rules experts at their beck and call. How about a doctor when there’s an injury who can take viewers on a quick journey of what could have gone wrong and what healing measures might follow?

Inspiring broadcaster  – Missed

Bob Costas (MLB Network) Yes, he’s wonderful on baseball for the MLB Network. But Bob is missed as a thought provoking studio host and probing interviewer, roles at which he excelled for decades on NBC. 

Irrepressible Spirit 

Dick Vitale (ESPN) Opinionated, contagious energy, a great champion of college basketball, one of ESPN’s critical pioneers, still relevant and raises charity for those who need it.

Kaopectate Award 

Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN) Does he ever shut up? Kirk’s turned into a running ad for the diarrhea medication. Goodness! Most of what freely rolls off his garrulous lips are inanities or gibberish. I can only think of the great broadcast coach Marty Glickman listening and being tempted to throw his remote at the set. Kirk’s incorrigible. 

Last Man standing from Super Bowl I 

With the death of Jack Whitaker, Tom Hedrick, is the only person alive who called the first Super Bowl in 1967. He worked the national radio broadcast on the CBS Network with the late Jack Drees. He later taught some of the best at the University of Kansas. The one who immediately stands out is Kevin Harlan.

Media business News story of the Year   

CBS and the SEC will not renew their partnership after the 2023 season. CBS will set a record, four seasons of being a lame duck! At that point Brad Nessler will be 67 and commentator Gary Danielson, 72. Verne Lundquist, the memorable voice of the package, will then be 83.

Media fight of Year

Mets manager Mickey Callaway, pitcher Jason Vargas and Newsday’s Tim Healey got into it in New York. Vargas threatened the writer and Callaway ordered him out of the clubhouse.

Misnomer of 2019 (Network Baseball – The ‘play-by-play voice’ has turned into a ‘set-up’ man)

Traditional baseball play-by-play announcers hardly exist on network TV anymoreThe play-by-play voice is being silenced. An art is dying a death of a thousand cuts. Networks are breaking an unbroken tapestry. Soon, the title will be officially and sadly christened, set-up announcers. The muted set-up man has been born, an outgrowth of a Twitter rule. Limited utterances!

National Anthem Performance of theYear  

In Toronto during the NBA Finals, Canadian Alessia Cara galvanized the crowd and the country. Everyone in the building sang in perfect harmony word for word. The NBA had arrived in Canada and a proud country celebrated.

Needed for basketball  

Like in football, college and pro basketball referees should be miked so that viewers will know what’s being reviewed, what’s being adjudicated and what’s going on. 

 Nepotism at work

 A 22-year old got an NBA play-by-play job.The last fellow that young who was hired for a lofty NBA gig was Greg Papa, a true prodigy who continues to prove it through a robust career. The Buffalonian was 22 when hired to call Pacers games. Noah Eagle who’s good but not strikingly precocious was hired by the Clippers to do their games on radio. This isn’t some hamlet. It’s Los Angeles, the country’s second biggest market. Noah will do fine and is off to a good start. His dad is Ian Eagle.

Network TV option missing 

Viewers deserve more audio options, home radio, local radio, Hispanic, public address announcer. Only one audio option in 2019 is insufficient.

Newsmaker of the Year  

Back from retirement didn’t seem to work out perfectly for Mike Francesa. He’s been a constant subject of New York’s sports media critics.

Next best NFL player who’ll make an excellent analyst

Greg Olsen, demonstrated on Fox during a bye-week that he’s confident, smooth-tongued, understands the depth of the game and can express himself clearly.

Numbers of the Year

In 2019, there were 121 announcers aged 70 and over; 22 are 80 or over

On a meteoric broadcast rise 

Maria Taylor is smart and talented. Just a couple years ago she was obscure. ESPN keeps giving her more assignments based on merit.

On the rise too

Adim Amin is solid on basketball, football and yes on baseball too. Should move up a depth chart crowded with talent.

Retirement of the Year – Networks 

Bob Ley, an ESPN original, who did so much early on, then moved into specialty reporting. He later was known for his interesting work Outside the Lines.

Revival. Really? 

ESPN revived Chris Berman’s football act on ESPN+. Has anyone heard him? 

Sandy Koufax and Jim Brown Award 

Retiring, not overstaying his welcome and not waiting for his wares to get stale, Rick Peckham, 64, announced that he’ll put away the mic at the end of this season. He will retire as the television voice of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Strong statement 

Dick Vitale (ESPN) believes that beleaguered Rick Pitino deserves another shot to coach.

Still inexplicably missing from the Halls of Fame 

Brent Musburger, Naismith Hall, and Howard Cosell, Pro Football.

Unexpected shakeup? 

(CBS Golf) In a golf TV stunner, CBS fired Gary McCord and Peter Kostis and announced that veteran coordinating producer Lance Barrow is being reassigned after the 2020 season.

Unwanted trial lab (Red Sox Radio) The revolving door experiment in Boston where fresh announcers were shuffled in and out of the booth, series by series, doesn’t resonate with me. I think it’s rather asinine. Not a shot at any one announcer who partook but how does it build bonds with fans? They’ll first need a scorecard.

Happy New year and here’s to a great 2020!

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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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Rich Podolsky
10 months ago

Kirk Herbstreit’s gushing over Ohio State early in the Clemson game was so annoying you wanted to listen without sound. he shouldn’t be allowed to do their games and David is correct, Fowler shouldn’t let him roam free taking over broadcasts.

Michael Green
10 months ago

I was just listening to a Christmas gift, Pat Hughes’s two-CD program about Bob Costas, and he included an interview that Costas did with Curt Gowdy, who said that when he worked with Paul Christman, the producers would be yelling at Christman to talk more. Christman told Gowdy, I am going to talk only when I have something to say. Gowdy said with the proliferation of technology–and the interview was 25 years ago–there’s now a replay or something after every play and the analyst says something. Well, he said, better to say something smart in 50 chances than talk 100… Read more »

Denise
Denise
10 months ago

I totally agree 1000% NBA Local Voice of the Year Ralph Lawler
I only wish Ralph Lawler would come back to the announce the Los Angeles Clippers Basketball games. 2019-2020 It is just not the same without him – I miss him so much BINGO! He will always be the BEST!

Kent Sterling
Kent Sterling
10 months ago

Agree with many of your awards and always enjoy your perspective. One of the reasons analysts overtalk is they are not managed. I don’t mean they are managed badly – I mean there is no one listening or critiquing whatsoever. The result is babbling. One issue I have is with your assessment of Vitale’s statement about Pitino. That’s just a guy stumping for a buddy – not a strong statement. A local play-by-play voice worth mentioning for his consistent excellence is Mark Boyle with the Pacers. He preps relentless and always delivers for a very loyal audience. He’s done it… Read more »

Craig Prager
Craig Prager
10 months ago

Seth Greenberg works for ESPN, not Fox Sports.