How To Become A Sportscaster
Think you could be a sportscaster? This is an inside look at what it takes to get there, how you stay there, and what to expect along the way.
To begin with, some explanation is necessary. Sports broadcasting in the USA has evolved into a rather unique profession. Beyond the expected journalistic qualities a broadcaster should bring to the job (covering “just the facts”), there is also an “edge” that has been developed by many sportscasters in recent years. An edge that includes “editorializing,” and offering opinions, oftentimes in a loud, boisterous fashion. And above all, the opinion does not have to be a popular one, nor does it have to be considered “right or wrong.”
In this country, we have a rather nagging tendency to over-analyze, criticize and complain about our sports teams and athletes, especially when they aren’t winning, because of the ultimate premium placed on the word “championship.” Nothing much is gained by putting up the good fight. There is only one winner, and everyone else loses. Which is why there’s a lot of complaining from fans, and also from those who make their living following these teams and athletes.
It is this latest trend toward editorial broadcasting in covering sports that has created even more volatility in an already unstable profession. If you’re looking for a 9-to-5, leave-the-job-at-home, stress-free environment – sports broadcasting would not be your first choice. Or maybe even your last one. So, why do sportscasters do what they do? It’s a great question.
Unless you happen to have been a professional or scholarship athlete, a high-level coach or an administrator, gaining work-experience is what it’s all about. Not that ex-jocks, coaches or general managers know what they’re talking about (many don’t), but they do have first-hand knowledge of their particular sport at a top level. And if they have any kind of public notoriety, good or bad, and can put two words together in a sentence, media bosses will take the jock over a journalist most of the time. For the ratings. Good ratings are always important, while poor ratings can eventually mean loss of job. If you know your stuff, but cannot portray your knowledge in an informative and/or entertaining manner, it will be hard to survive.
You are not an athlete, however. To gain that experience, volunteer your time at the local newspaper, radio or television station in the form of an internship. Most internships are unpaid, low-level “grunt” work, but they can help you get your foot in the door. If you are a student, study journalism, English, speech communication, creative writing and any other subject that encourages and develops creativity. You’ll need to be creative, if you want to get, and keep, this job.
After long hours, days, weeks, months and even years studying and/or preparing for an opportunity, maybe you finally catch a break. And if you do, you are one of the lucky ones. This is the part of the job process that weeds out most “wannabe’s.” A typical beginning “paid” broadcast job isn’t usually in your chosen field (in this case, sports broadcasting), but more likely it will be a radio board operator shift, or a sales position, or perhaps an associate producer position, rather than on-air. Perhaps you’ll get a traffic or news reporting position, or a shift as a disc jockey, hoping for an opportunity to move into sports at a later time. Whatever it is, a starting salary isn’t much. Hourly wages can begin at close to the minimum wage, but even then you’re lucky. An hourly wage means overtime, and there will be plenty of that. If you’re a salaried employee, forget it.
Here begins the long, tough climb up the professional ladder of sports broadcasting. Just getting to the ladder is often an achievement in itself. This is where “luck,” and “being in the right place at the right time,” and “who you know” all come into play. “What you know,” doesn’t always mean you’ll get a better job. Sports broadcasting, perhaps more so than news reporting, is a subjective position. Managers who hire sportscasters are generally looking for a “feel,” or a certain “look” from an individual, or a “sound.” It matters little whether you can actually perform the duties of the position. If you don’t look, sound or feel right, you won’t be hired.
Still interested in sportscasting? Admittedly, it is a tough, ego-bruising profession, where getting the job done doesn’t necessarily mean keeping the job. Why do sports broadcasters, or any other seemingly sane individual, choose this line of work?
For the competition?
The love of sport?
The glare of lights?
The public notoriety? Yes to all. It can be intoxicating.
For the money?
Sports broadcasting is not as much a profession, or a vocation, as it is a way of life.
Those who have managed to maintain their careers for any extended period of time will tell you “they’ve always done this.” Years, fortunes and relationships have all been spent along the way in the pursuit of excellence. What they don’t tell you is that to stay employed, they’ve had to learn the art of adaptation to any set of circumstances that has come their way. They’ve learned how to be relentless. They’ve learned how to be creative in keeping and creating additional job opportunities. And, they’ve learned not to take “no” for an answer.
So now you know. But that bozo on the 11 o’clock news says there is no way the Yankees will repeat as World Series champions this season. The idiot on the radio thinks soccer is boring. You think, “I could do that!”
Go ahead. Admit it.