Announcers: Who's the Best?
by Glenn Dickey
May 19, 2005

ANNOUNCERS ARE the public face of teams, but there’s no clear definition of what their role is.

Teams often want their announcers to be clearly partial, as Mike Krukow is with the Giants and Ray Fosse with the A’s; both played for the teams for whom they are now broadcasting. The announcers for college teams are even more pronounced rooters, as anybody who’s listened to Joe Starkey on Cal games or Bob Murphy on Stanford games knows.

None of them compare to the worst homer I’ve heard, Monte Moore, when he was broadcasting games for the Charlie Finley A’s. Moore’s style was much different than Krukow’s or Fosse’s, though. While Krukow and Fosse always try to put a positive spin on what their teams are doing. Moore took it personally when an A’s player did something wrong, and he would be sharply critical.

Even with those limitations, though, an announcer can be informative. Moore knew the game quite well, and Murphy knows everything there is to know about Stanford athletics, which may or may not be a good thing. Krukow is the best evaluator of pitchers that I know. I can learn from his broadcasts, and I often ask him about specific pitchers.

At least some bias is understandable because the audience is local and almost all of them will be rooting for the home team. They want more information about their team, and they want more emphasis on what their team is doing.

Within that framework, though, an announcer can still give a fair account of a game. No one could ever doubt where Lon Simmons’ sympathies were, but even a non-Giants or 49ers fan could enjoy his broadcasting. Hank Greenwald was the same with the Giants, on radio.

Bill King used to rail constantly at the officials when he broadcast Warriors games, which certainly showed his bias, but he was also a brilliant basketball announcer – and the best I’ve ever heard on football, for the Raiders.

Now, King and the underrated Ken Korach do an excellent job on A’s broadcasts. King’s postgame wrapup is so complete it almost makes it unnecessary to listen to the game, and Korach is always on top of the action, with an abundance of information and a knack of knowing just when to insert it without interrupting the flow of the game broadcast.

SOME ANNOUNCERS move back and forth between radio and television easily. Jon Miller does it seamlessly and Krukow and Duane Kuiper are good in both mediums. Although I think his best work has been on radio, Greg Papa has also been effective on TV. Papa has also shown a remarkable flexibility, doing A’s, Giants, Warriors and Raiders games.

Even if they sometimes work TV, though, most announcers prefer radio because it enables them to tell the story.

On telecasts, announcers have to be constantly aware of what the cameras were showing. For instance, during a Giants-Nationals game on Mother’s Day, the cameras were constantly seeking out mothers with their children. In one especially effective moment, the camera showed a young girl, perhaps 4-5, who grabbed for a foul ball, only to see it bounce away. Heart-broken, she buried her head in her mother’s lap until a Fox Sports Bay Area employe brought her a baseball – the FSBA people always keep a couple in the booth, just in case – and brought a smile to her face.

That kind of thing is almost more important to the broadcasting network than the game itself, as are the constant commercial announcements.

Interestingly, when NFL games were first televised, the home radio announcers were used, on both sides. If, for instance, the 49ers were playing the Chicago Bears, either here or in Chicago, there would be separate telecasts with the 49ers announcers, Bob Fouts and Gordy Soltau, doing the game telecast seen in the Bay Area and the Bears announcers doing the game telecast seen in Chicago. That followed the model for the radio broadcasts.

That system was quickly dropped, though, for the national telecasts which are outside the purview of this discussion. National telecasters seek to be as impartial as possible – which doesn’t stop fans from thinking the announcers are biased against their team – and the national telecasts are a selling tool for the NFL, not individual teams.

Because most games are on television, local radio broadcasts are not so important to NFL teams as the radio broadcasts for baseball teams. Fans tend to plan their Sundays to watch their teams on TV and go to radio only when home games are blacked out, as has been true for most Raiders games and may be for at least some 49ers games this fall.

Baseball has always been a great game for radio because you can listen to it while driving, working in the yard, etc., and you can leave it for a time and pick it up later, which is why smart announcers update the score frequently for those listeners coming back to the game. Red Barber used to have an hourglass in his booth and when the sand all ran down to the bottom, in about three minutes, he’d announce the score and turn the hourglass upside down again. Among the local announcers, I think Korach is the best in giving updates.

In one sense, though, baseball is the hardest game to broadcast because there’s so much time when nothing is happening on the field. That’s when announcers have to fill with stories from the past and present, and when it’s a lopsided game, that’s a special challenge. But at the same time, that can also be entertaining for listeners, if the non-game material is good. What made Simmons so good was that he has wit, and his unscripted wise cracks were terrific.

SO, WHO’S the best now?
On football, I’d give the nod to Papa, whose rapid-fire delivery is reminiscent of King in his Raiders days. Papa gives a vivid description of the action, and he’s always on top of it. He also does most of the work because the color man, Tom Flores, is there only because of his Raiders ties, as Fosse is with the A’s telecasts, and doesn’t have much to contribute. Again, there’s a similarity with King, who mostly wanted his color men to stay out of the way so he could give the listeners everything.
On baseball, I like both the King-Korach team on the A’s and the Krukow-Kuiper team with the Giants, because both teams have an easy camaradie that comes across on the air. Miller is popular with many fans and media, but I find his style too theatrical, and it takes away from my enjoyment of the broadcast. But that’s me, always the contrarian.

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