The 30% Solution

Words, empty as the wind, are best left unsaid.”

Homer

 

I watch a ton of sports on television. It used to be my job, it’s always been a passion. Lately it’s a chore. Oh, I still love the sports. I still look forward to the events. But, more often than not, for me the folks charged with providing the play-by-play and analysis make watching the contests less and less enjoyable. I am a firm believer in the statement made by the great Don Ohlmeyer when he said, “nobody tunes in to a sporting event on television because of the man or woman who is announcing” (although I must admit I have turned on random Milwaukee Brewers games to hear my pals Brian Anderson and Bill “Rock” Schroeder). One further review my guess is I would’ve flipped to those games anyway.

I’ve worked with hundreds of announcers, many of them I convinced to become broadcasters and trained. Some have gone on to fabulous careers while others weren’t so fortunate. All of them would be better on the air if they said less. This is a drum I have beaten in this forum before but today’s missive is not so much about the number of words uttered by announcers at ball games and golf tournaments all over the world but the words they choose to utter. As we are so often reminded, in today’s politically correct world, words matter.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, many, if not most, professional announcers and analysts have stopped making sense. Simple ways of describing the most common actions have given way to a word salad bar fit for any of the country’s best buffets and restaurants. For some reason the folks in charge of describing the action to us fans on couches all over America have decided instead to show us they all own a copy of the Sports Phrase Thesaurus. For different reasons, again unbeknownst to me, the producers responsible for providing oversight during these telecasts have allowed this abomination of the English language to occur. Allow me to offer some examples from sports broadcasts I watched some or all of this weekend:

Football

“He put the ball on the ground.” In other, fewer, more exact words, “he fumbled”.

“He can really elevate.” Just say “jump” it’s two fewer syllables.

he is so good in space” and “he operates in space”. Minimal syllables I’ll admit for but this phraseology makes absolutely no sense.  I am pretty sure the analyst means the player is good at “getting open” and once he’s there, he’s good too. These folks are athletes, not astronauts.

“He has the ability to run downhill”. Does this mean he doesn’t have the ability to run uphill? Does this replace the other worn out phrase, “he knows how to run North and South”? Aren’t college and professional football fields flat?

Baseball (heard every night and almost every inning during this year’s postseason)

He has to expand the strike zone”. I’m pretty that means the pitcher wants the hitter to swing at balls as well as strikes. So just say that! I mean the strike zone isn’t actually be expanded regardless of what the pitcher wants. And of course conversely:

“The hitter can’t expand the strike zone.” Got it, don’t swing at bad pitches. And as was said of one Los Angeles Dodger batter…

“He can really manipulate the ball”. I’m no genius but I’m going out on a limb to say this particular announcer means the guy can “hit”.

 

When you talk a lot on television I understand the need to find different ways to same the same thing. But I offer up a better solution (when I say better I mean better for me!). Just. Don’t. Talk. So. Much. There, I said it. It was easy. Sports events on television are at least 3 hours long (counting halftime, game breaks, injury time outs, and, in baseball, endless visits to the pitcher’s mound to discuss strategy and change arms). Some of them are even longer. I used to tell all my announcers, “that means there is more than enough time for everyone on the team to say more than enough words.” But still most, if not all, find it necessary to say something, anything after every play, every shot, every pitch. And for goodness sake stop stating the obvious. It’s a visual medium, we can see what you see. It’s all simply not necessary and, in fact, it is bad television.

If you’re an announcer. If you’re reading this. Please, as a courtesy to the millions of people who watch sports on television… Speak 30% less. And when you do speak, use words and phrases that actually mean what you are trying to say. Here’s another idea: record your work. After you record it actually watch it and then tell me, in all honesty, if you were able to sit through even a half, a quarter, or a few innings, without hitting the mute button.

Follow these simple suggestions and you’ll be a better broadcaster. And a more popular one too. You’re welcome.

 

 

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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One Response to The 30% Solution

  1. Lee Diffy, Formula 1 announcer, case in point. Just hush up for a minute, the race is the drama, you don’t have to be. And, screaming at the beginning of every Grand Prix, “It’s time to bring the action!” Might as well be Darrell Waltrip, boogity boogity boogity……

    Liked by 1 person

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