Why do people talking about sports on television have to talk so darn much?

In my nearly thirty years producing sporting event telecasts I engaged in a constant battle with many of the men and women wearing microphones. My side of the fight proudly used the battle cry, ” less is more, let the pictures tell the story, shut the hell up.”
The other side retorted, “we need to set the scene. We played the game, we’re the experts. We are the eyes and ears for the viewer.”

In my mind I won every argument and I left production meetings absolutely certain I had gotten my point across. Then we hit the air and the folks wearing the headsets mutinied. Almost every single time i’d spend minutes on end repeating a mantra, “shhh, shhh, shhh. Hush. Stop talking. Shut the F up!” It drove me crazy as a producer. It pisses me off as a fan. My advice to every single announcer comes in the form of a challenge. Watch your favorite sport or favorite team as a fan and I dare you to not yell at least once at the man or woman on the other side of the screen to shut his or her pie hole. Do it, try it, I dare you. Unless of course you’re lucky enough to watch Vin Scully! Then just sit back and enjoy.

Good commentary should indeed set the scene, provide information to help clarify or explain the situation and advance the story. What good commentary does NOT do is tell us something we can see with our own eyes. TV is a visual medium, if you want to do radio play-by-play, go work in radio. I often told a colleague, good friend and great broadcaster to think about what he was going to say, not only the actual words but whether or not what he was about to say added anything to the story. Then use 20 per cent fewer words to say it. “Talk 20 per cent less” should be painted above the monitors in every announce booth at every sports event in America. Even that percentage, for some “talkers”, wouldn’t be enough.

The best in the business know they are at their best when they are NOT talking, either letting the players speak for themselves ( in golf ) or the moment speak for itself ( in every sport ). The best in the business are few and far between. I guess the rest don’t know any better or just don’t care. Fans and viewers don’t need or want a baseball play-by-play person to tell us that pitch “was off the plate” . We’d prefer a golf announcer not think they have to tell us “that putt came up a little short”. I have eyes, I have a 60 inch, big screen, HD TV with a sound system that I don’t use because you can’t shut up.

The events these days should be more informative with the sound up. Sadly many are better enjoyed on mute. What these ubiquitous “pronouncers” (as a famous producer used to refer to them) don’t seem to understand is that when they constantly run their mouths, we the viewers, the fans, get cheated out of the experience. Their bloviating takes center stage and the chatter of the players, the roar of the crowd, the rustling of the leaves, the whistle of the wind, gets shoved aside. 

When you go to a game do you want some washed up, once upon a time .220 hitter and his broadcasting school graduate buddy sitting in the seats on either side of you blathering the whole time? When you go to a golf tournament do you want a retired touring pro and an 8 handicap with perfect hair right behind you yapping every second? Of course not. You’re like me, you just want to watch the game or the shot. Why is that so hard for tv people to understand? Just let it breathe once in a while.

The great Don Ohlmeyer once broadcast an entire NFL game using NO announcers. I used a similar blueprint for a golf broadcast a few years ago. Both things should be attempted again, more than once. I understand that approach could put people out of work but I don’t care. This isn’t about too many people making too much money while they ruin my viewing experience. This is about preserving the rights of the fans, the masses. Give me back my game!

I used to scream “Please shut up” all the time in the truck. Now I say it from the comfort of my couch. Very few listened then, nobody listens now.

About Keith Hirshland

My name is Keith Hirshland and I am a four decades television veteran who has spent time both in front of and behind the camera. During nearly forty years in broadcasting my path has crossed in front of, behind and alongside some of the best in the business... And some of the worst. Many of those people I count as friends while others wouldn't make the effort to spit on me if I was on fire. This television life started early watching my Mom and Dad found, fund and run a local affiliate TV station in Reno, Nevada. As a teenager approaching adulthood I worked for them, first as an on-air sports reporter/anchor and later as a director and producer. Jobs in the industry took me across the country and then to many places around the world. Sports is my passion and putting it on TV has been my business. Production credits include auto racing, baseball, basketball, bowling, college football, field hockey, soccer, volleyball and water polo but the majority of my time "in the chair" since 1990 has been invested in the game of golf with both ESPN and The Golf. Channel ( I was one of the first forty people hired by TGC in 1994 ). I am a fan and I watch TV sports as a fan but I also have hundreds of thousands of hours watching from inside a production truck. I think that makes me qualified to comment, my hope is you agree. I have written two books, Cover Me Boys, I'm Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat), a memoir that is a tribute to my parents, the hard working, creative people who started ESPN2 and The Golf Channel and a look back at my life in television. My second book is a novel, Big Flies, and is a mystery that tells the story of a father and a son with four of the world's most notorious unsolved robberies as a backdrop. I look forward to sharing new thoughts about golf, golf television, sports in general and the broadcast industry with you. The views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They are not connected to nor endorsed by any other person, association, company or organization.
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