Sports broadcasters, or sportscasters, for radio and television stations select, write, and deliver footage of current sports news for the sports segment of radio and television news broadcasts or for specific sports events, channels, or shows. They may provide pre- and postgame coverage of sports events, including interviews with coaches and athletes, as well as play-by-play coverage during the game or event.
Sports announcers are the official voices of the teams. At home games it is the sports announcer who makes pre-game announcements, introduces the players in the starting lineups, and keeps the spectators in the stadium or arena abreast of the details of the game by announcing such things as fouls, substitutions, and goals, and who is making them.
Sports Broadcaster and Announcer Careers History
Radio signals, first transmitted by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895, led to early experimentation with broadcasting in the years preceding World War I. After the war began, however, a ban on nonmilitary radio broadcasts delayed radio’s acceptance. In 1919, when the ban was lifted, hundreds of amateur stations sprang up. By 1922, 500 were licensed by the government. Codes and domestic broadcast wavelengths were assigned by the government, which created a traffic jam of aerial signals. Eventually, more powerful stations were permitted to broadcast at a higher wavelength, provided these stations only broadcast live music. This move by the government quickly brought entertainment from large, urban areas to the small towns and rural areas that characterized most of the United States at the time.
In the early days of radio broadcasts, anyone who operated the station would read, usually verbatim, news stories from the day’s paper. Quickly, station managers realized that the station’s “voice” needed as much charisma and flair as possible. Announcers and journalists with good speaking voices were hired. With the arrival of television, many of those who worked in radio broadcasting moved to this new medium.
Corporate-sponsored radio stations weren’t long in coming; Westinghouse Corporation and American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) raced to enter the market. Westinghouse engineer Frank Conrad received a license for what is viewed as the first modern radio station, KDKA, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. KDKA broadcast music programs, the 1920 presidential election, and sports events. The next year, Westinghouse began to sell radio sets for as little as $25. By 1924, the radio-listening public numbered 20 million.
Meanwhile, as early as 1929, Vladimir Kosma Zworykin, a Soviet immigrant employed by Westinghouse, was experimenting with visual images to create an all-electronic television system. By 1939 the system was demonstrated at the New York’s World Fair with none other than President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaking before the camera. World War II and battles over government regulation and AM and FM frequencies interrupted the introduction of television to the American public, but by 1944, the government had determined specific frequencies for both FM radio and television.
In 1946, there were 6,000 television sets in use; by 1951, the number had risen to an astonishing 12 million sets. The stage had been set for a battle between radio and television. In the ensuing years, expert after expert predicted the demise of radio. The popularity of television, with its soap operas, family dramas, and game shows, was believed by nearly everyone to be too strong a competitor for the old-fashioned, sound-only aspect of radio. The experts were proved wrong; radio continues to flourish.
The national radio networks of the early days are gone, but satellites allow local stations to broadcast network shows anywhere with the equipment to receive the satellite link. The development of filmed and videotaped television, cable, and satellite transmissions, broadcasting deregulation, and an international market through direct broadcast satellite systems has drastically changed the face and future of both radio and television.
Today’s sports broadcasters in radio and television have all these technological tools and more at their fingertips. Want to see an instant replay of the gamewinning three-point shot by Kobe Bryant? As the sportscaster describes it, a technician is playing it back for the viewing public. Have to travel to Costa Rica for a business trip, but hate to miss that Yankees game? No problem. A sportscaster is giving the play-by-play to an AM network station that is, in turn, sending it via satellite to a Costa Rican client-station.
The Job of Sports Broadcasters and Announcers
One of the primary jobs of most sportscasters for both radio and television stations is to determine what sports news to carry during a news segment. The sportscaster begins working on the first broadcast by reading the sports-related clippings that come in over the various news wire services, such as Associated Press and United Press International. To follow up on one of these stories, the sportscaster might telephone several contacts, such as a coach, scout, or athlete, to see if he or she can get a comment or more information. The sportscaster also might want to prepare a list of upcoming games, matches, and other sports events. Athletes often make public appearances for charity events and the sportscaster might want to include a mention of the charity and the participating athlete or athletes.
After deciding which stories to cover and the lineup of the stories that will be featured in the first of the day’s broadcasts, sportscasters then review any audio or video clips that will accompany the various stories. Sportscasters working for radio stations choose audio clips, usually interviews, that augment the piece of news they will read. Sportscasters working for television stations look for video footage—the best 10 seconds of this game or that play—to demonstrate why a certain team lost or won. Sometimes sportscasters choose footage that is humorous or poignant to illustrate the point of the news item.
After they decide which audio or video segments to use, sportscasters then work with sound or video editors to edit the data into a reel or video, or they edit the footage into a tape themselves. In either case, the finished product will be handed over to the news director or producer with a script detailing when it should play. The news producer or director will make certain that the reel or video comes in on cue during the broadcast.
Frequently a sportscaster will make brief appearances at local sports events to interview coaches and players before and after the game, and sometimes during breaks in the action. These interviews, as well as any footage of the game that the station’s camera crews obtain, are then added to the stock from which sportscasters choose for their segments.
Usually, the main broadcast for both radio and television sportscasters is the late-evening broadcast following the evening’s scheduled programming. This is when most of the major league sports events have concluded, the statistics for the game are released, and final official scores are reported. Any changes that have occurred since the day’s first sports broadcast are updated and new footage or sound bites are added. The final newscast for a television sportscaster will most likely include highlights from the day’s sports events, especially dramatic shots of the most impressive or winning points scored.
In televised sports news the emphasis is on image. Often sportscasters, like other newscasters, are only on camera for several seconds at a time, but their voices continue over the videotape that highlights unique moments in different games.
For many sportscasters who work in television, preparing the daily sportscasts is their main job and takes up most of their time. For others, especially sportscasters who work in radio, delivering a play-by-play broadcast of particular sports events is the main focus of their job. These men and women use their knowledge of the game or sport to create a visual picture of the game for radio listeners with words, as it is happening. The most common sports for which sportscasters deliver play-byplay broadcasts are baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. A few sportscasters broadcast horse races from the racetrack and sometimes these broadcasts are carried by off-track betting facilities.
Sportscasters who give the play-by-play for a basketball game, for example, usually arrive an hour or so before the start of the game. Often they have a pregame show that features interviews with, and a statistical review of, the competing teams and athletes. To broadcast a basketball game, sportscasters sit courtside in a special media section so that they can see the action up close. During football, baseball, and hockey games sportscasters usually sit in one of the nearby media boxes. Throughout the game sportscasters narrate each play for radio listeners using rapid, precise, and lively descriptions. During time-outs, halftimes, or other breaks in play, sportscasters might deliver their own running commentaries of the game, the players’ performances, and the coaching.
A sportscaster who specializes in play-by-play broadcasts needs to have an excellent mastery of the rules, players, and statistics of a sport, as well as the hand signals officials use to regulate the flow of a game. Some sportscasters provide play-by-play broadcasts for several different teams or sports, from college to professional levels, requiring them to know more than one sport or team well.
Some sportscasters, who are often former athletes or established sports personalities, combine two aspects of the job. They act as anchors or co-anchors for sports shows and give some play-by-play commentary. They may also provide their television or radio audience with statistics and general updates.
Sports announcers provide spectators with public address announcements before and during a sports event. For this job, announcers must remain utterly neutral, simply delivering the facts—goals scored, numbers of fouls, or a time-out taken. Sports announcers may be sportscasters or they may be professional announcers or emcees who make their living recording voice-overs for radio and television commercials and for businesses or stores. Sports announcers usually give the lineups for games, provide player names and numbers during specific times in a contest, make public announcements during timeouts and pauses in play, and generally keep the crowd involved in the event (especially in baseball). Baseball announcers may try to rally the crowd or start the crowd singing or doing the wave.
Sports Broadcaster and Announcer Career Requirements
Graduating from high school is an important first step on the road to becoming a sports broadcaster or announcer. While in school, take classes that will allow you to work on your speaking and writing skills. Classes in speech, English, journalism, and foreign languages, such as Spanish and French, will be helpful. You may also find it helpful to take courses in drama and computer science.
Educational requirements for sportscasting positions vary depending on the position. Competition for radio and television sports broadcasting positions is especially fierce, so any added edge can make the difference.
Television sportscasters who deliver the news in sports usually have bachelor’s degrees in communications or journalism. However, personality, charisma, and overall on-camera appearance are so important to ratings that station executives often pay closer attention to the taped auditions they receive from prospective sportscasters than to the items on resumes. Prepare for the job by learning a sport inside and out, developing valuable contacts in the field through internships and part-time or volunteer jobs, and earning a degree in journalism or communications. It also should be noted that the industry is finicky and subjective about looks and charisma.
It is not as crucial for sportscasters who deliver playby- play broadcasts for radio stations to have the journalistic skills that a television sportscaster has, although good interviewing skills are essential. Instead, they need excellent verbal skills, a daunting command of the sport or sports that they will be covering, and a familiarity with the competing players, coaches, and team histories. To draw a complete picture for their listeners, sportscasters often reach back into history for an interesting detail or statistic, so a good memory for statistics and trivia involving sports history are helpful.
A nice speaking voice, excellent verbal and interviewing skills, a pleasant appearance, a solid command of sports in general as well as in-depth knowledge of the most popular sports (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey), and an outgoing personality are all necessary for a successful career in sportscasting.
In addition, you need to have a strong voice, excellent grammar and English usage, and the ability to ad-lib if and when it is necessary.
Exploring Sports Broadcaster and Announcer Careers
High school and college students have many opportunities to investigate this career choice, but the most obvious way is to participate in a sport. By learning a sport inside and out, you can gain valuable insight into the movements and techniques that, as a sportscaster, you will be describing. In addition, firsthand experience and a love of the sport itself makes it easier to remember interesting trivia related to the sport and the names and numbers of the pros who play it.
If you do not have the coordination or skill for the sport itself, you can volunteer to help out with the team by shagging balls, running drills, or keeping statistics. The latter is perhaps the best way to learn the percentages and personal athletic histories of athletes.
An excellent way to develop the necessary communications skills is to take a journalism course, join the school’s speech or debate team, deliver the morning announcements, work as a DJ on the school radio station, or volunteer at a local radio station or cable television station.
John Earnhardt from the National Association of Broadcasters has this advice: “Write about your school’s sports teams for your school newspaper or hometown newspaper and read, read, read about sports. Knowledge about the area you are interested in reporting about is the best tool for success. It is also necessary to be able to express yourself well through the spoken word. Speaking before an audience can be the best practice for speaking before the camera or on a microphone.”
Finally, you can hone your sportscasting skills on your own while watching your favorite sports event by turning down the sound on your television and tape-recording your own play-by-play deliveries.
Most sports broadcasters work for television networks or radio stations. The large sports networks also employ many broadcasters. John Earnhardt says, “The main employers of sports broadcasters are sports networks that own the rights to broadcast sporting events and the broadcast stations themselves.” Radio sportscasters are hired by radio stations that range from small stations to mega-stations.
Sports announcers work for professional sports arenas, sports teams, minor league and major league ball teams, colleges, universities, and high schools.
Because sports are popular all over the country, there are opportunities everywhere, although the smaller the town the fewer the opportunities. “Larger cities generally have more opportunities because of the number of stations and the number of sports teams that need to be covered,” Earnhardt says.
Although an exceptional audition tape might land you an on-camera or on-air job, most sportscasters get their start by writing copy, answering phones, operating cameras or equipment, or assisting the sportscaster with other jobs. Internships or part-time jobs will give you the opportunity to become comfortable in front of a camera or behind a microphone. Of course, contacts within the industry come in handy. In many cases, it is simply an individual’s devotion to the sport and the job that makes the difference—that and being in the right place at the right time. John Earnhardt adds that knowledge is key as well. “It obviously helps to know the sport you are reporting on—first, one needs to study the sport and know the sport’s rules, history, and participants better than anyone,” he advises.
Put together an audiotape (if you are applying for a radio job or an announcer position) or a videotape (for television jobs) that showcases your abilities. On the tape, give your account of the sports events that took place on a certain day.
In the early stages of their careers, sportscasters might advance from a sports copywriter position to become an actual broadcaster. Later in their careers, sportscasters advance by moving to larger and larger markets, beginning with local television stations and advancing to one of the major networks.
Sportscasters who work in radio may begin in a similar way; advancement for these individuals might come in the form of a better time slot for a sports show, or the chance to give more commentary.
Sports announcers advance by adding to the number of teams for whom they provide public address announcements. Some sports announcers also may start out working for colleges and minor leagues and then move up to major league work.
Salaries in sportscasting vary, depending on the medium (radio or television), the market (large or small, commercial or public), and whether the sportscaster is a former athlete or recognized sports celebrity, as opposed to a newcomer trying to carve out a niche.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the average salary of radio and television announcers is $35,600 as of 2005.
Sportscasting jobs in radio tend to pay less than those in television. Beginners will find jobs more easily in smaller stations, but the pay will be correspondingly lower than it is in larger markets. The average salary for a radio sportscaster, according to a 2001 survey by the National Association of Broadcasters and the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association, was $53,300.
Salaries are usually higher for former athletes and recognized sports personalities or celebrities, such as ex-coaches like John Madden. These individuals already have an established personality within the sports community and may thus have an easier time getting athletes and coaches to talk to them. Salaries for such recognizable personalities can be $2 million or more per year.
Sportscasters usually work in clean, well-lighted booths or sets in radio or television studios. They also work in special soundproof media rooms at the sports facility that hosts sports events.
Time constraints and deadlines can create havoc and add stress to an already stressful job; often a sportscaster has to race back to the studio to make the final evening broadcast. Sportscasters who deliver play-by-play commentary for radio listeners have the very stressful job of describing everything going on in a game as it happens. They cannot take their eyes off the ball and the players while the clock is running, and this can be nerve-wracking and stressful.
On the other hand, sportscasters are usually on a firstname basis with some of the most famous people in the world, namely, professional athletes. They quickly lose the star-struck quality that usually afflicts most spectators and must learn to ask well-developed, concise, and sometimes difficult questions of coaches and athletes.
Sports announcers usually sit in press boxes near the action so they can have a clear view of players and their numbers when announcing. Depending on the type of sport, this may be an enclosed area or they may be out in the open air. Sports announcers start announcing before the event begins and close the event with more announcements, but then are able to end their workday. Because sporting events are scheduled at many different times of the day, announcers sometimes must be available at odd hours.
Sports Broadcaster and Announcer Career Outlook
Competition for jobs in sportscasting will continue to be fierce, with the better paying jobs in larger markets going to experienced sportscasters who have proven they can keep ratings high. Sportscasters who can easily substitute for other on-camera newscasters or anchors may be more employable.
The projected employment outlook is one of slower than average growth, as not that many new radio and television stations are expected to enter the market. Most of the job openings will come as sportscasters leave the market to retire, relocate, or enter other professions. In general, employment in this field is not affected by economic recessions or declines; in the event of cutbacks, the on-camera sports broadcasters and announcers are the last to go.