I was the public address announcer at Washington University in St. Louis from 1999 until 2003, primarily for basketball and soccer games. While not quite Michael Buffer, I was left to my own devices to give player introductions, hit in-game highlights, coordinate halftime music, read promotional materials, and everything in between.
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For our teams, I'd ask the new players at the start of the season and just memorize it. There are a bunch of other items to learn each game, so if you can knock out the consistent stuff it makes it easier. For the visitors, you'd typically get the roster or media guide a bit before the game. On the "Joe Smith" types, no further effort required. Otherwise, before tip/kickoff I'd hit up the SID (sports information director) from the visiting school and ask how to pronounce each name. If possible, I'd also reach out to the player his or herself during warm-ups, because sometimes you get conflicting reports and it is better hearing it from the player. Then I'd write out the difficult names phonetically on my crib sheet, which was the one page roster for that game plus tracking boxes I drew in at the top/sides for tracking fouls, time-outs etc-- I'd try to give relevant situational information when announcing those events. If you messed a name up, you'd always know as the player would glare over, or (better) laugh, during the starting lineups. One team in particular, from Colorado for some reason, had a bunch of Nigerian players so I'd really focus before that game in getting the phonetics right on my sheet so I could just look down and sound it out quickly. I found that the names you'd mess up were always due to lack of preparation, such as a name that looks easy on paper but could be pronounced a few different ways and you didn't focus on it pre-game.
Absolutely, but you got used to it quickly. Also, this was college, so it took a bit of willpower not to use your powers in completely inappropriate ways, e.g. an oblique reference to girls or buddies in the crowd. You need to get comfortable with the mic and the system in general before you dive in, because if you think you sound weird you'll be thinking about that and miss something you are supposed to say. Once it goes live the announcing action happens faster than you'd anticipate just watching a game, so those kinks need to be sorted out in advance.
In short, not a ton. Since I was a student, I made half the pro hourly rate, which was $12.50/hr, so estimate $25/hr or less at D-III. I was on work study, so $12.50 an hour was killing it, especially for something this fun. I think minor league and local college guys get between $25 and $50 an hour depending on the profile of the gig. The pro guys that are known can make six figures (I'm positive Bob Sheppard made over $100K), but since this is a dream job for some and a side job to begin with the teams have all the bargaining power.
In terms of PA announcers, the best were distinctive voices that did the job straight but with a personal touch - for New Yorkers I'm sure that was Bob Sheppard, who I had the pleasure of hearing in person in old Yankee Stadium before he passed. For me, it was Rex Barney, who was the Baltimore Orioles PA guy during my childhood and my announcing role model. I did a drawn-out "Thankyoooouuuu" at basketball games in honor of him, and he also had this great ploy where if a fan caught a foul ball clean he'd say "Give that fan a contract" and the usher would come down with a novelty one day contract to hand over. In terms of play-by-play guys, I'm drawn to the types that focus on adding value or information that is actually useful, not platitudes or personal history. Nationally, I think Charley Steiner on ESPN falls way under the radar for play-by-play, especially for college football. I unfortunately watch a lot of Os games living in Baltimore now, and Gary Thorne, who does some national stuff as well, is top notch -- clear voice, concise commentary with additional info as needed, not as a matter of practice. Not every game is going to be the '80 US/USSR hockey game and you can't announce as such -- I was watching a soccer game recently where the commentator called out how poorly played it was. That was refreshing. The worst are the guys you can tell don't prepare. It is a job, and if you don't spend time learning the team, roster, strategy and concepts behind what is happening on the field it shows up. I'll defer to the good people at FJM, god rest that website’s soul, instead of naming names.
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I was the announcer for boys basketball games at my high school as a senior (high school sports are a must-do for young aspiring announcers -- an easy resume builder), and when I arrived on campus I heard through friends that the athletic department was looking for someone to assist with PA in the fall. I started with a few soccer games. They previously had a professional announcer from the local area hired for hoops, as those teams drew a good deal from the community (the women's basketball team won its fourth consecutive national championship in 2001, during which time the team won 81 straight games). The professional announcer prior to my tenure serendipitously stopped my freshmen year and, after a brief trial period at the annual winter invitational tournament, I was in for basketball as well.
Leaving college ended my announcing days and I went to grad school from there. The confidence in public speaking and focused preparation for games has helped in my career and the great thing about announcing is that there are always opportunities if you look for them, even if it is a local game. I haven't fully retired the vocal chords just yet.
My basketball announcing was limited to public address, not play-by-play. The women's team during my announcing time won two D-III national championships and lost a total of five game in my four years, so the crowd was large and energetic with or without my loudspeaker ramblings.
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