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Gameday Preparation From A Broadcaster's Perspective, Part 2

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Kevin Ray walks through what it takes to prepare to do the play-by-play for a basketball game broadcast.

Kevin Ray in action. (Photo by Ryan Malone)
Kevin Ray in action. (Photo by Ryan Malone)

In our first look at preparing for a game broadcast, I touched on how long on average the preparation takes for a typical game. You also got a firsthand look at one of the game boards I use for my broadcasts, as well as one of the tools of preparation and that is the game notes.

Knowing the players and personnel competing is just a small part of getting ready. A broadcaster relies on more than just themselves in order to prepare. Game notes, as you saw from the example in Part 1, provide the most current and up to date information on a team and individual players.

Talk to any broadcaster and they will tell you that a great set of game notes is like gold. The people who put those notes together are usually a part of the media relations staff for a team. Often times they are interns and starting level positions with a more experienced person in charge of the department. Their jobs are not glamorous by any means, but they are certainly appreciated by broadcasters in all sports. So what is it about these game notes that are so important?

It's all about the numbers in most cases. During the course of a broadcast, you'll often times hear the play-by-play person or color analyst reel off several stats about a team or player. This is what many fans love and live for. The sports junky can't get enough of stats.

For instance, player X has been in a real funk the last 5 games, shooting just 5 of 33 and has turned the ball over an average of 4.5 times per game. Little bits of information like that are woven into the broadcast so that the listener or viewer has the very latest information. Most fans can't stay on top of all the stats for all the players, so it's up to the broadcasters to make sure the fans know as much as possible.

That's even more true for the visiting team. The diehard fan knows a great deal about their team, but when a visiting team rolls into town, knowledge of the visiting team and its players may be limited.

While game notes provide the most current and up to date information, a team's media guide is also another very important tool for a broadcaster. The media guide holds all of the historical information about a team and its players and is a key component in preparing for any broadcast.

The media guide has a breakdown of each player's statistics and personal information for each year they've been in the league and also has key personal information that may reveal little known information to the fans that can be extremely useful during a broadcast.  An example might be a player having been an All State Volleyball or Track athlete in high school or even a multi-sport star in high school. You might also find that a mother or father competed professionally in a given sport as part of the player's bio. 

In addition to the game notes and media guide, another important source of information is the Story clips. Ordinarily these are available on game days only in the media room.

The story clips are a collection of stories about the team or individual players. These are compiled by the media relations staff and are photocopies of stories found in local or national newspapers, off the internet or the team's website.

While the game notes and media guide provide the core statistical information, the stories oftentimes help inject more human interest information or a closer examination of a player's success or struggles. The story clips might be 40 or 50 pages of information to sift through, but you might find that one truly interesting note that can help complete your broadcast preparation.  

Tom Leander, who is a good friend and play-by-play television voice of the Suns, has his own system and for him, keeping a file on each team is essential to his preparation.

Leander says, "I keep a file for each NBA team that is loaded with articles and notes compiled over the past year, along with old roster boards and notes for each particular team (going back as far as eight years). These files are my lifeblood. I am constantly cutting out articles, notes, anecdotes, etc., to stay current with each player and each team."

The final piece of preparation for any broadcaster is the face to face discussions they have with coaches and players. Post-practice interview sessions, gameday shootarounds and pregame chats can all provide just another piece of information for a broadcaster that they add to the list or file.

Is there a difference between preparing and doing a radio broadcast versus a TV broadcast? The answer is yes.

The biggest difference is that on radio you need to be the eyes and ears for the listener. You're the artist who must paint the picture, and the more detailed you can be, the clearer the picture is for the fan listening. On television, you have the support of the picture/video to deliver a portion of game broadcast, so there's less specific game detail needed. On TV, you also have the graphics that can be flashed up on the screen to show a viewer about a player's or team's recent trends.

Listen to a radio broadcast compared to a television broadcast of the same game and what you'll often find is that on radio there's less time to inject some of the human interest stories because you're describing all of the details of the game as they unfold.

A television broadcast allows the broadcaster to tell a story, oftentimes while a play is going on, while in radio you rely on dead ball situations or timeouts to incorporate some of the more personal information about a player or team.  In radio, it's only you, your color analyst (if you have one) and perhaps the engineer who operates the equipment, as well as the technical director back at the studio.

On a television broadcast, there are several people who are all wired into the broadcast feed. You have your talent, a stage manager, producer, director and stats person. The play-by-play person and the producer are in constant contact with one another during a broadcast. A producer will relay to the talent about certain graphics that they will be seeing. They will alert them of when a play will be replayed and if there's something they should look for and they are the person who counts the talent in and out of commercial breaks. 

Doing both radio and television, I have a great respect and appreciation for each and I enjoy doing each because of how different they are. But at the end of the day,  the preparation for any broadcast is the same. To most fans, it may seem like all that information that comes out is just somehow magically transported from our minds across the airwaves, but I hope this story has helped give you a completely different understanding of how much goes into preparing for just one game. 

I do it because I love what I do, but also because I want the fans to have as much information as possible and the best listening and viewing experience possible. I know, it's a tough job... but somebody's got do it.