Thanks for joining us for another edition of PBP Stories. Today we are fortunate enough to talk to New Mexico State University radio/tv play by play voice Jay Sanderson. Check Jay out on twitter: twitter.com/sanderson_nmsu
How long have you been in broadcasting?
I got my start in broadcasting when I was 17 years old. During my junior year in high school at Douglass High School (a small rural high school in Kansas), a friend and I joked that we should get our own TV sports show. We watched sports on TV together all the time, and that was when SportsCenter became what it is with Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann. We thought it would be cool. Over time, it evolved from a joke to something we decided to pursue.
The city of Douglass had its own local cable access channel that played rotating graphics with community announcements. There was no video element. Matt and I called city hall, got on the agenda for the next city council meeting and made a presentation asking for an hour each week on the city channel. Much to our surprise, they said yes.
After the meeting, we said “ok, now what?” We had no camera, no editing equipment and absolutely no clue how to make a TV show. Fortunately, the principal of the high school, who had minored in journalism while he was in college, also had an interest in broadcasting. When he got word of what we had accomplished, he called us to his office, told us the school would purchase all of the necessary equipment and create a TV broadcasting program. The principal taught the class for the remainder of the school year, and we all just kind of learned as we went. The next year, the school offered the class to all students, brought in an alumnus, who was the weekend anchor at one of the Wichita TV stations to teach the class. He was there 2 hours a day, taught the class and then went back to work.
Looking back on it, it is an unbelievable stroke of good fortune for all of those things to happen for us, and I’m so glad it did. I fell in love with the work and knew I had found what I wanted to do with my life.
When did you know that it was what you wanted to do?
I had some idea at a young age that I was into broadcasting. My grandmother loves to tell the story of how during one of the games of the 1985 World Series – Kansas City vs. St. Louis – my family and I are ALL die hard Royals fans, which is very hard to be! – I sat in front of the TV and called play-by-play of the game. She says that I had no idea anyone was hearing me, so much so my grandfather muted the TV and listened to my call. While, I think some of the stroy has evolved over the years, especially now that I’m actually in the business, I don’t doubt that I did it. I have always paid attention to what the announcers said during games and how they said it. I think the broadcasters of my youth shaped me and what I wanted to become.
How much time do you spend preparing for a broadcast?
The preparation time, obviously, depends on the sport. For football, I’ll spend an exorbitant amount of time getting ready. 25+ hours at a minimum and usually a lot more. There’s just so much information available for football and there are so many different layers to the game as well as the calling of the game, that it’s so vital to be prepared. Growing up, Kevin Harlan was the voice of the Kansas City Chiefs, the team I grew up loving. He is so good and it was such a treat to listen to him. He’s ultimately prepared for games. Now Mitch Holthus is the voice of the Chiefs. I’ve been lucky enough to learn from Mitch in a one-on-one setting and I’ve seen how he preps for football. I follow their model and spend a lot of time doing little things, like watching video of the next opponent to get a feel for what they do and who the key players are. Video study helps a lot. So football is incredibly involved.
For basketball, I probably spend 8-12 hours in preparation. Again, I look at film whenever I can and then I pour through the game notes, talk with SIDs, coaches, and other broadcasters. I look for stories. It’s so easy to just throw stat after stat after stat during a basketball game, but I’d much rather tell a story. Shooting percentages mean nothing, unless there’s a story to be told. For example, it means nothing that a player shoots 42 percent from the field. However, if he is a senior shooting 42 percent, and during his junior year he shot 17 percent, now that tells a story. So I look for a good story or two for each player in the game. I also look for story lines to develop for each team. You may not get any of them in, at least you may not remember you did, but if you take the time to develop some stories, and lock them in your brain, they’ll subconsciously come out during your call without even realizing it. That’s why prep is so important.
Baseball is similar, especially from the storytelling perspective. For me, preparing for baseball is similar for basketball, although, I don’t spend quite as much time in game prep, because the nature if the game is that it’s every day. You’re going to remember things about your team more readily day by day over the course of the season. The most of my prep comes before the first game of a series to get myself familiarized with the opponent.
What sports do you currently broadcast?
Right now, I call volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball all on TV. I’m also our fill-in for football.
Who are/were the people you look/looked up to in broadcasting?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have some outstanding mentors in broadcasting. My main influence is the man who taught our high school class, Jim Kobbe. Jim was a TV anchor and reporter who did some play-by-play on the side, and is unquestionably the best writer I’ve ever worked with. It will be very difficult to find someone who is ever a better writer than he. Jim is no longer in the business, but I still visit with him and get his feedback about my work.
As I mentioned, I have also been blessed to live in markets that broadcast professional sports with some outstanding play-by-play men. The Kansas City Royals have been called for 45 years by Denny Matthews, a Ford C. Frick Honoree in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His insight, knowledge and style of calling baseball is underrated nationally. He, in my opinion, is second only to Vin Scully in terms of ability to call a baseball game and make you feel like you’re there.
Kevin Harlan and Mitch Holthus have been the voices of the Kansas City Chiefs in my generation, and there aren’t many football people better than those two. Of course, Harlan has gone on to national prominence, and Holthus is as knowledgeable about the game of football, from an Xs and Os standpoint as you’ll ever hear, but yet, that doesn’t get in the way of a call. He is also great on TV basketball calls and is working for ESPN in the Big 12 during football’s off season.
How did the New Mexico gig come about?
It came out of nowhere. I was on my way to a high school football game last September when I got an e-mail from Jon Chelesnik and the Sportscasters Talent Agency of America (STAA – staatalent.com) telling me of the opening. Because I was getting ready for a game, I didnt think much about it at the time. After the game was over, however, I got home, reread the e-mail and sent in my application. In my head, I told myself, “well, I’ll just throw my hat in the ring and see what happens.” I hit send, the e-mail went out and I really didn’t think too much about it. I was stunned when I received a phone call the following Wednesday asking to schedule telephone interviews. I interviewed with two different people, they went well, and I got a follow up phone call the next day to offer me the job. So I went from not thinking about it much on a Friday to having a division-I job the following Thursday. It all happened much faster than I ever imagined it would, but I guess it was just meant to be.
Is there anyone you emulate, and if so in what way?
I don’t know if there’s any one person I try to emulate. I got to where I am by calling a game from my perspective. I dont want to be Vin Scully, I don’t want to be Al Michaels. I want to be me. I listen to a lot of different announcers as I travel around and I try to identify what I like about their call and what I’m not so wild about. If I think there’s something they do with their call, I may try to add it to a call of a game on occasion to see how I like it, but those times are rare. I’ve learned traits and characteristics from those I consider great – like the description of Kevin Harlan. I strive for that kind of description, but I don’t try to be him.
What is your favorite on air story you can share with us?
Asking what a favorite on-air moment is like asking ‘what is your favorite breath of air.’ I feel like God put me on this earth to be a broadcaster, and I enjoy every single second I get to do this for a living. That doesn’t just include the time actually on the air. That’s the cherry on top, so to speak. I love the prep, I love learning about people, I love getting to tell their stories. I love the wins, I love the losses. I love everything about my profession. Being an announcer is a visceral experience for me. I love it deep down to my core, every bit of it.