With limited space in the press box for college baseball games, it is not unusual for a student radio station broadcasting during NCAA baseball tournaments to be seated in the stands with fans.
That was the case during the 2011 NCAA regional baseball tournament when the Huskies played two games at Clemson, with Chris Jones ’13 (CLAS) and Andrew Callahan ’13 (CLAS) of WHUS broadcasting the game back to Connecticut while sitting in the bleachers next to several Clemson season-ticket holders. The Huskies won both games that day to advance to the next round of the tournament.
“After the doubleheader was over, [the fans] said we did a good job because we gave respect to Clemson,” Jones says. “One of the things we took away was that we weren’t being biased even though we were doing the game for UConn.”
Jones and Callahan are completing two years as co-sports directors for WHUS, where they have worked to improve the quality of the dozens of broadcasts of intercollegiate sports aired on WHUS 91.7 and streamed online at whus.org each year. From the early part of the football and soccer season in August through the baseball and softball season in May or June, WHUS broadcasts all football home games and the majority of men’s and women’s basketball games, with exclusive radio coverage for men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s ice hockey, as well as baseball and some softball games. Many of the broadcasts are also used as the soundtrack for Husky All-Access online streams of the games for the Division of Athletics.
During their tenure, Jones and Callahan have developed a formal training program for the student broadcasters who soon discover that calling a game in real time is not as easy as it might seem because much of the work that goes into a broadcast is in the preparation before the games begin.
“Some kids would show up with maybe half a page of notes, and they don’t have anything to add to the broadcast,” Jones says. “They’re just making general statements about what’s happening on the court. We want everyone to do as much as they need to do to be prepared so when Stefanie Dolson ’14 (CLAS) [of the women’s basketball team] gets another double-double, you can say it was her third one in the last five games. It just helps the broadcast flow a lot more as opposed to just saying, ‘Nice pick and roll move.’”
We get to broadcast major Division I sports. I’ve been able to go to two women’s Final Fours. Not many college students can say that.
Callahan says he spends hours each week reviewing game recordings, taking detailed notes to share with on-air broadcast teams in an effort to provide constructive criticism of their work. He also prepared a 22-page handbook with information and tips for both play-by-play and color commentary announcers; a section on setting up, operating, and troubleshooting the compact remote broadcasting equipment the students must carry to each game; as well as sample media information that is typically provided by each team’s sports information staff. The handbook also includes guidelines for dressing appropriately for each sport – a WHUS polo shirt and slacks will suffice for most soccer games, jacket and tie are preferred for football and basketball games, and shorts are permissible during baseball season – as well as travel tips for road games.
Callahan says one of the challenges in training new broadcasters is having them get comfortable calling play-by-play action for basketball and ice hockey, two fast-moving sports, so that they can be regularly assigned a game. This year, about a dozen students have rotated calling games at home and on the road. All broadcasters rotate through covering ice hockey games because it is the sport that presents the most difficult play-by-play calls and often requires the most from the students in terms of first learning about the game in order to understand what they are doing. This arrangement also zeroes in on those willing to put in the effort to prepare in advance and demonstrate their interest in getting on the air, including monitoring a game broadcast and running promotional spots or music during breaks in the action from the WHUS studio.
“You have to work your way up and show everyone that you respect the process and are willing to put in the time and effort to get better,” says Josh Baron ’13 (CLAS), who broadcast the 2013 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four game from New Orleans with Callahan. “I have learned to treat this like it is a full-time job. You have to take your preparation seriously and put a lot of work into it if you want to be good.”
Jason McMullan, program director for WHUS, says the efforts of the two students to improve the sports department can be heard on the airwaves.
“It’s still a teaching station, and we have brand-new producers who have never done this before, but you really can’t tell if you listen to the broadcast,” McMullan says. “I think that’s a testament to the strength and continuity of the department over the last two years, particular the level of the training and coaching and mentoring they’re getting. It’s paying great dividends both for the department and WHUS. I couldn’t be more proud of the work they’re doing.”
John Ponziani ’13 (CLAS) says the guidance provided by Jones and Callahan has eased the transition into broadcasting for those without much experience.
“When you sit at the media table at Gampel Pavilion or the press box at Rentschler Field and see the players out on the field or the court, it’s impossible not to have fun,” he says. “Chris and Andrew have done a great job of helping new guys who may be intimidated by that scene and carry them through.”
Adds Carson Dunn ’13 (BUS), “We get to broadcast major Division I sports. I’ve been able to go to two women’s Final Fours. Not many college students can say that. Since I have the opportunity, it would be just downright wrong not to turn it into something special on the air.”
Coaches and student-athletes have offered support to the WHUS crews, the sports directors say, providing information before games and then being available after games for interviews. Head baseball coach Jim Penders ’94 (CLAS), ’98 MA says he meets each Monday morning with Jones to discuss the week’s upcoming games.
“He’s got great questions and is very well prepared. That’s what we talk to our players about, being prepared for every game,” Penders says. “I don’t get to hear him, but I can tell how good the broadcasts are from the feedback I get from longtime fans and former players. Particularly with Chris this year and last year, I’ve been getting great compliments from guys I played with. Coach [Andy] Baylock [former UConn head baseball coach] is a regular listener, and he raves about the broadcast. That speaks volumes about what a professional job they’re doing.”
In addition to helping to improve game coverage, the duo has worked with the WHUS programming staff to schedule long-standing sports talk shows hosted by students and community members during times when games are usually aired, to limit pre-empting the music and public affairs programming that makes up the bulk of the station’s broadcast schedule. Each week they send out a list of game broadcasts so that DJs and program hosts are aware of when they may not need to prepare for their show.
Jones, a journalism major, and Callahan, a psychology and communications major, each say they had no intention of getting involved in radio, but have learned much from the experience that will help them in the future.
“There are innumerable things you pick up on, like arranging travel, to arranging setup at sites,” says Callahan. “But the No. 1 takeaway for me is that your actions, specifically as an intermediary between sports and the people who love them, have more effect than you ever know. We get that from emails of people who are blind and listen to our games. It’s not the biggest thing in the world, but for that time when you do a good job, that’s a nice thing to know.”
“One of things I’ve learned the most is how to carry myself, especially when you’re on the road,” adds Jones. “When you’re at a game you meet other media people and see how they act toward you. We try to stress being open-minded and treating other people with respect and acting as a professional.”
Last year, Jones and Callahan held a dinner for the WHUS sports staff to honor all members of the staff, with a special nod to graduating seniors, much like the Senior Day events for student-athletes. The two spoke about everyone individually, and the staff added their own comments.
“One of the things I said,” Callahan recalls, “is that the entire year we’ve been covering teams’ play, but at the end of the year, we became a team. I felt that was true because of the work we put in and others put in. To be a part of that was special.