John Kelly Jr. is currently the TV voice of Men’s and Women’s Basketball for the US Merchant Marine Academy.
He is currently entering his third year on the call for US Merchant Marine Basketball Academy at Kings Point, New York.
John Kelly Jr. also is a freelance broadcaster for the NJ Spartans of the Major League Football and does voiceovers for Star Cast Productions for their HS Hockey Team’s Highlight tapes.
John Kelly Jr used to do Television Play By Play for MSG Varsity Network in New York for High School Hockey, Football, Basketball, Lacrosse, and Volleyball. Before that he did Play by Play for Marauder Radio Network for St. Peter’s Prep Football, Basketball, and Hockey from 2009 until 2013.
How long have you been in broadcasting and how did you get your start?
I have been in Broadcasting for 6 years since I graduated Fordham University WFUV in 2009,
My start was at Fordham University and I am grateful for that. With very little broadcast experience prior to Fordham and also being a Transfer student I was at a disadvantage at getting on the air early on. My Mentor, Bob Ahrens is very well respected in NY sports market. He preferred to give freshman on-air experience first because he had more time to work with them.
That did not discourage me at all. I began my career at WFUV as an engineer on the One on One sports show Saturdays at 1pm. I also covered the NY Dragons of the Arena Football League. I got to follow them all the way to Philadelphia and used each and every beat report to improve my pacing, sound, and storytelling.
Finally, I saw a WFUV email for Updates needed on a Fordham Football Game. Of Course I responded and said ill fill in. I performed well on those Updates and gave my mentor enough confidence to do them again for their afternoon sports show every Saturday at 1.
After delivering on updates in the fall I was offered color for Fordham Football vs. Bucknell. That was my first live broadcast over FM radio. I will admit I was nervous and excited. I was Excited because I knew how to stop the Triple Option which Bucknell Ran and Nervous because I wanted Bob to trust me down the road for future broadcasts. He did and that led to future opportunities as a co-host on one on one and for the 2009 NFL Draft.
My first broadcast went fine and the game was entertaining despite Fordham fell in OT. After that the doors opened for me to fill in. During my time Ryan Ruocco of ESPN had left and a lot of other major talents focused on Play by Play and left their other duties open.
This allowed me to fill in as a beat reporter for the Devils, Knicks, Giants, The Barclays, and for the NY Liberty’s outdoor game at Arthur Ashe Stadium. I also was the beat reporter my Senior Year for the New York Islanders and got to cover Spring Training with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
When did you know it was what you wanted to do?
When I was in High School I knew I wanted to be a sportscaster. Indirectly I have called games just for the sake of it. Whether it was calling my Saturday Soccer games instead of playing defense to calling my NCAA Video games I knew I wanted to do this for a living.
I grew up with many famous calls on College Football Saturdays from listening to Tony Roberts do Notre Dame Football to Keith Jackson’s “Hello Heisman” to Brent Musberger’s “Holy Buckeye”. The ability to dramatize the situation at hand in my opinion is what makes a great broadcaster and I wanted to master that moment and be a part of it.
What sports do you currently broadcast?
I currently broadcast Basketball for the US Merchant Marine Academy on Web stream. I have do football internet radio games for the NJ Spartans. I also call Hockey games for HS teams highlight reels.
I have also broadcasted internet radio Football and Basketball for St. Peter’s Prep and rivals. I have also done TV play by play for HS Volleyball and Lacrosse during my time at MSG Varsity.
Who do you look up to in broadcasting?
My broadcasting Idol is the famous Doc Emrick of NBC. I grew up with him as a diehard Devil fan in New Jersey. I love him the most because of his energy. He brings the heat which I want on hockey broadcasts.
Hearing him say phrases like “SCORE!!!” and “HIT THE POST WITH THE SHOT!!” with his high pitched voice always fired me up. His preparation beyond the game for players and his recall of other levels of hockey is outstanding. Sometimes I cannot believe he knows the two AHL teams for the current teams he is broadcasting. He is the major reason why hockey is one of favorite sports to broadcast.
Is there anyone you emulate or have borrowed from to shape your own style?
There are 5 guys that I have emulated and have borrowed from to enhance my Football, Basketball, and Hockey Play by Play.
For me I am extremely technical coming from Fordham where Marty Glickman and my mentor Bob Ahrens emphasized description and score and time on radio. I am a high energy guy but at Fordham so I wanted to find guys that could incorporate it with play by play radio description.
So for Football radio play by play I emulated Bob Papa the radio voice of the New York Giants. His directional play by play for passes and runs and the way he sets up of the play is a tactic I continue to use today.
For Basketball Play by Play on radio Ryan Ruocco of ESPN Radio is an outstanding talent and saved me on how to call basketball on radio. His description of the right wing, right glass, middle red paint, and right to left and the jersey descriptions were outstanding. When it comes to score and time Ryan is great at giving it right after a basket is made. I continue to listen to him and emulate him on every call.
For Hockey Play by Play energy Doc Emrick has always been someone I have emulated since I was little. When it comes to Hockey on TV I want my audience to be on the edge of their seat. He has taught me the tactic of pausing after a player shoots. It has helped my calls sound cleaner. I emulate how he controls his energy too which is something I try to work on. I also try to sprinkle little tidbits like him about players. It could be something about their home town, family, or off the ice accomplishments.
Still, Kenny Albert, radio of voice of the New York Rangers, saved my hockey play by play life by providing me the structure to call it right on the radio.
His use of the “left and right wing”, “Across the Ranger Line”, “Near and Far Corner”, “Left and Right Point” is all I listen to with hockey play by play. The directional changes he does are outstanding like “Staahl behind the Ranger net, Rangers going right to left”. Since hockey is such a fast game I continuously listen to Kenny to make sure I am doing it right.
Also Kenny’s anticipation on radio is outstanding for a fast paced game. His phrase like “Gaborik over the Capital Line on right wing to the circle” allows you to paint the picture for the listener without getting your tongue twisted focusing always saying right or left circle all the time.
Kenny is also excellent at inserting recaps into his call by saying “Devil and Flyers tied at 2 all four goals scored on special teams”.
When it comes to describing the crowd and setting the scene I have emulated Vin Scully over the years. His descriptions of the crowd on their feet and their emotions during a baseball game are outstanding. He also is great a letting the crowd noise fill in a major moment like he did on his call of Henry Aaron’s record breaking homerun.
You’ve done both radio and TV broadcasts in your career, is there one you prefer over the other?
I prefer Radio Broadcasts because I enjoy painting the picture for the listener and it was the play by play I learned exclusively while I was at Fordham. With Radio the Play by Play Guy controls the game and it’s his job to set the scene to the listener when the game is on the line.
I do enjoy television and am not knocking it at all. However, for a television broadcast to be successful there are so many crucial elements to make it look and sound good to captivate your audience. Also, it is a true team effort all around.
Unlike Radio, your audience can see the play on their televisions. So your director and the guys in the truck need to be on the same page in order to get the proper shots to create that excitement for your viewers. As a play by play guy you are weaving more storylines into your call since your analyst has more control and constantly looking at your monitor to either talk about a graphic or talk about a player or coach or person on screen.
At the Merchant Marine Academy I actually mute my Microphone so I have enough time to set up the graphic or allow my one camera guy to focus in on a player. In the big leagues the truck does that for you.
At the end of the day with Radio my focus is the call on the field, court, or ice. And every dead ball setting up the promo.
How many hours do you spend preparing for one game?
I am a stickler on Preparation from the colors of the jerseys and numbers to the up to date stats of every player. It is crucial for me to know these things so I can think of them day in and day out before the broadcast.
For Merchant Basketball depending on how many games are in a week I spend upwards 6 to 7 hours a night getting starters, stats, facts, information on the conference, and crucial storylines relevant to each and every broadcast.
The Merchant Marine’s sometimes have three games in a week with a Doubleheader on Saturdays. I’ll actually write out the starters out for the doubleheaders the previous weekend in sharpie colors and leave it blank. Then make a copy of those blank starters in case their stats change later. I do this every time I have three or more games in a week so I can allow that 6 to 7 hours prepping for the game.
For Football it starts on Monday and until the night before the game sometimes since I mostly did high school I would prepare close to ten to twelve hours between getting rosters, starters, stats, and finally putting them to paper.
I prep for NJ Spartan games almost for 4 days before the game.
Preparation is key to being your best on every single broadcast.
Where is your favorite place to call a game?
METLIFE STADIUM for a NJ High School Football Championships. You can really see the field well for Football and be able as a radio guy able to describe the play better. You have all that space for your notes, crowd mike, and mixer like you don’t get in NJ HS press boxes.
I have also called some amazing State title games there like Old Tappan and Wayne Hills in 2011 and PC and Bergen Catholic in 2012. Of Course when I worked for Marauder Radio Network I did St. Peter’s Prep’s 2013 State Title game and another one of theirs freelance in 2014.
The ability to view that gorgeous press area and the acoustics from 2,000 to 5,000 people cheering in a stadium built for 80,000 plus is exhilarating.
What is your favorite on air story you can share?
My first year with Marauder Radio Network 2010 with broadcast friend and collegespun.com writer Matt Hladik. St. Peter’s Prep Basketball played Oak Hill a major Basketball powerhouse that had 4 D-I players on their team including former Kentucky player Doron Lamb. No one gave St. Peter’s Prep a chance and they were able to upset Head Coach Steve Smith and Oak Hill.
The best part about this broadcast was because television timeouts from the first game took so long the scheduled 8pm broadcast was bumped to 10pm.
I was raw as a play by play guy back then and had a rough first half call. The second half call though was a lot better and got better as the game got competitive. Doron Lamb had 49 points and Prep’s Guard and former Xavier Player had 33 points watching them duke it out was unreal.
The final call was amazing and I set up score and time and description perfectly.
To be with Matt as the clock stuck 1 am and see St. Peter’s stop the final inbound is a memory I will never forget.
What advice could you offer to aspiring broadcasters or those just starting out?
Well my advice to aspiring broadcasters and ones starting is can be summed up in two parts. Those two parts are from a professional level and an emotional level.
From a professional level you need to constantly be working on your craft and improving yourself broadcast after broadcast. In two weeks I will be practicing basketball play by play and hockey play by play in my apartment to prepare myself for this season. I have my tape recorder out already and I will be listening for two months to make sure I am recapping, score and time, following the ball, sprinkling in stats and storylines when it matters.
For young people and aspiring broadcasters out there you need to be practicing all the time. Your reps are what matters and that is what I am telling you above. I am at over 100 broadcasts now and I am still trying to improve. I wasn’t settled in or even close to it at broadcast number 30. Focus on knowing the players, getting acclimated with the speed of the game, score and time, recap, and description if on the radio. Also, I did Marauder Radio Network unpaid to improve. Sometimes, that is the best way to get exposure, build a reseme, and obtain contacts. Marauder Radio Hockey tapes got me the job at MSG Varsity.
For each rep to count make sure your broadcasts are in a professional environment. If you are doing High School or College Games make sure the conference has a website and the coach is cool with giving you starters and stats. Rich Hansen at St. Peter’s Prep, SIDS Sean Ihauz and Joe Guster at USMMA, and the NJ Spartans are excellent at doing these very things. As a young or aspiring broadcaster every rep is key to improving so make sure your audience you broadcast is on the same page with you in that area
Every game matters and crappy pregame info will harm your call. Also, avoid broadcast environments that will waste that preparation time you’ve done or harm your chances to improve as a broadcaster.
When I was in the HS lots of people offered me games that I had to turn down because they had no idea how to get stats, shoot the camera, and get press space. One former professor I had in grad school at Fairleigh Dickinson who I won’t mention really ruined my calls by doing these same things. If people don’t want to express the same professionalism as you then you need to avoid them.
Reach out to other broadcasters to critique your tapes. Fordham gave me the luxury of having Seattle Mariners voice Dave Sims’s email. Make sure your emails aren’t all about you. Dave Sims helped me a lot with improving. Also Manhattan and USMMA Football Broadcaster Jaden Daly critiqued me and liked me enough to refer me for the USMMA Basketball job I have now. Professional input helps.
Even if one guy doesn’t talk to you keep reaching out on twitter or facebook to talk with them.
From an emotional standpoint stay positive and keep at it. There are ups and downs but if you stay positive, do a good job, and show people your true talent you will get opportunities. Also, have fun because broadcasting games is an awesome time and if you get paid to do it consider yourself extremely lucky.
Be sure to follow John and the Merchant Marines all year round on twitter: John Kelly Jr Twitter