As Summer Fades, A Clinic For Public Announcers

Some have never called a game; others have been doing it for years. On one Saturday in mid-August, high school and college PA announcers will learn the tricks of the trade. The PA clinic at Hudson High School, in northeast Ohio, will include lessons on the "philosophy" of announcing.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Soon, at high schools across the country, Friday nights will once again sound like this.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Mr. JEFF KURTZ (PA Announcer, Kent State University): Number 24, Jesse Hilber on the return for the Wildcats, tackled by number 77, Larry Pelk. Ball spotted at the Wildcats…

BLOCK: And already, football players are out on the field scrimmaging. But the players aren't the only ones who need practice.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The announcer you just heard is Jeff Kurtz. And he was demonstrating his craft at a clinic that he runs in Hudson, Ohio.

Dan Bobkoff of member station WCPN went to see what it takes to be the voice of the game.

DAN BOBKOFF: So, you want to be a PA announcer? Jeff Kurtz says there are a few things you need to know.

Mr. KURTZ: You are not a radio guy. You're not a play-by-play announcer. You're not a color man or a color woman. You're a public address announcer.

BOBKOFF: Kurtz is the announcer at many Kent State University games. That means he's the voice for the fans in the stands. On this Saturday, he's in the Hudson High School library training announcers young and old, experienced and novice on the finer points of the craft.

Mr. KURTZ: I'm going to need people to come up in pairs. One of you will serve as a spotter and one will serve as a public address announcer.

BOBKOFF: Among the most enthusiastic and the youngest is 13-year-old Jordan Walker. He's the first to volunteer to call a practice game off a videotape.

Mr. JORDAN WALKER: Hooper takes the snap. He hands it off to Smith. And he's tackled at around the 35 yard line. Thank you very much.

Mr. KURTZ: All right. Let's give him a round of applause.

(Soundbite of applause)

BOBKOFF: Clearly, this kid Walker is going places. He's already calling youth baseball games and wants this to be his career.

Mr. WALKER: One, I talk a lot. And, two, I like sports. So I'm thinking, okay, I probably don't have much of a shot at being an athlete because that's like a one in a million. So why not still be at the games for free and get to call the games and actually get paid to be at the games?

BOBKOFF: But most of the men and women here happily do it for free.

Mr. JIM MUNDT: Best seat in the house.

BOBKOFF: Jim Mundt of Maumee, Ohio, has been calling high school games for 40 years. He says the announcer often gets the best view and a guaranteed ticket.

Mr. MUNDT: Either through heat or cold, or rain or snow, you're there and that's great protection. What more of a comfort seat is that?

BOBKOFF: Mundt has been to every clinic he can get to. They're offered by the National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers. And he says they really help him refine his skills.

There's the practical advice, like make sure your roster is taped down in case there's a gust of wind; keep a bullhorn in case the power goes out and write the names of the players phonetically, or else you'll get some angry parents coming to your booth. But clinic leader Kurtz says some professional sports announcers are becoming showmen.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

BOBKOFF: He's more of a purist. He says an announcer at a high school game doesn't need to be boring, but shouldn't attract attention.

Mr. KURTZ: Because the focus is supposed to be on the student athletes and on the game, not on all that extraneous stuff.

BOBKOFF: And as the announcers practice at this clinic, some like Andy Mark(ph) are mindful of how hard it is.

Mr. ANDY MARK: He's looking past, throws to the right side (unintelligible). Oh, I can't tell where the ball went.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARK: I can't tell what happened or not.

BOBKOFF: Kurtz's last piece of advice is one broadcasters of every stripe should remember: the microphone is always on.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland.

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