(PROGRAMMING) Sportscaster Ted Robinson
Ted Robinson was the kid whose relatives always asked his parents, "Is he okay?" They came to the house and Ted would be in his bedroom, broadcasting a Mets game with the sound down. At age 11. The ensuing decades have never brought normalcy to Ted's life. Fortunately, he has found homes as the radio voice of the San Francisco 49ers, tennis, Olympics and swimming announcer for NBC, football/basketball announcer for Pac-12 Networks, and play-by-play/host for the Tennis Channel. I sat down with Ted to get an insider's view of life as a sports commentator.
Most people nationally know your work with NBC doing Wimbledon and the Olympics. Which gig do you like the best?
The greatest sporting event I ever covered was the 2008 Wimbledon classic between Federer and Nadal. Nothing moves me more than a medal ceremony at the Olympics, watching adults tear up as their flag is raised. But, the most satisfaction is connecting with a great franchise's fan base, as in the 49ers-Saints 2012 playoff. Finally, the greatest EVENT I ever called was a Papal Mass at Candlestick Park in 1987. Sports can't touch the emotions of 65,000 spilling out as they see their Holy Father in person.
You're now the radio voice of the San Francisco 49ers and you used to broadcast the San Francisco Giants. Which do you prefer, radio or TV?
Baseball on the radio is an announcer's greatest challenge. A game lasts three-and-a-half hours with about 10 minutes of action. How an announcer fills the expanse of nothing creates legends. The greatest sports announcers of our time have almost all called baseball. Yet, the NFL is America's premier sports experience. There is no greater scrutiny than calling a significant NFL game. And radio presents a unique test as every NFL play is televised. Through my work with the 49ers, I have learned that the legacy of the NFL lives through radio. Yes, we all watch the games as they happen. But, after a game, do you ever hear the network TV calls? NFL Films, the documentarians of pro football, use the local radio calls! It's a source of great pride and insures the viability of team radio broadcasts to the NFL franchises.
Many of the greats like Vin Scully and the late Bill King said certain sports broadcast better on radio and some others worked better on TV. Agree?
Basketball is the perfect example. Bill was an extraordinary basketball announcer in an era when few games were televised. Today, every game is televised and the sport is completely visual. Trying to accurately portray basketball on the radio often feels fruitless. Candidly, I struggle to listen to a basketball game. Baseball is a radio sport, an accompaniment to daily work/activity. Who sits in front of a TV and is glued to a three-hour ballgame? Most people float in and out, hoping to catch the key moments.
You grew up in New York and got to listen to the likes of Phil Rizutto, Bill White, Marv Albert and the like. Who was your mentor?
Marv Albert was the model for anyone of my generation. He started on radio, also in a time when TV was still blossoming, and held our attention with his amazing vocal skills. Marv taught me about inflection, pacing, emphasis, and tone. He was a brilliant radio play-by-play announcer who was also a gracious help to me in my early years.
Your view of the sports broadcasting business?
The biggest change is our world's move from aural to visual. I can listen to a broadcaster for about 30 seconds with my eyes closed and predict, fairly accurately, if they ever worked in radio. It's the Marv factor. Radio teaches us to communicate, to be heard AND understood. It teaches us to use our voice. Content excluded, Rush Limbaugh is the greatest practitioner of radio today. Rush uses his voice expertly. I fear that training is lost amidst today's video/Internet world. Live sports is a lifeblood for AM radio. I hope radio continues to provide, through sports broadcasting, the much-needed training ground for future generations of communicators.
When you listen to as much of the sports play-by-play broadcasters as I do, you tend to hear a lot of "homers" -- most notably, in baseball -- your 're pretty much known, Ted, as a straight-up non-homer. Your thoughts?
First commandment I learned in this business: no "We" or "They" and no "Us" or "Them." An announcer's most basic charge is to earn the trust of listeners. Those who listen must believe you're accurate and fair in your words. I cringe when I hear "homers" although I know some markets demand that approach. In fact, I once interviewed for a major league job and was asked by a leading executive in my interview, "Can you bleed (the team's color)?" By far the most uncomfortable interview moment in my time -- and a job I was better off not landing.
Is there something about sports broadcasting in general that the public should know, but doesn't?
There are two types of sportscasters. Those who love the games become play-by-play, analysts, or reporters, myself included. "We" love sports. "We" love being at the stadium. "We" learn to respect those who play and manage, even if we don't always agree. Those who love to be "on the air" become studio anchors, talk show hosts, or, in a general umbrella, pundits. There is a sad trend towards volume in the sports talk arena, usually at the expense of content. I try to listen to the games when I'm home. Those are the people with knowledge and perspective in their presentation.
Rich Lieberman is a veteran SF Bay Area news blogger covering radio and TV since 2001.His media blog, "415 Media" (http://www.richliebermanreport.blogspot.com) is the #1-read industry sheet in SF.
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