Loud, fast and urgent—that’s the way many people are trying to get our attention. I prefer calm, measured and understated.
Newscasters and sportscasters are the worst.
The evening news is delivered rapid-fire, and the first and loudest news is always “breaking.” There is always an urgency in the anchor’s voice, as though the story will reveal the world is coming to an end.
Sports talk shows feature guys who speak at twice the rate of a normal conversation. Sports broadcasters treat the sport as though they’re reporting news of a battlefield.
Not long ago the news was delivered slowly and deliberately by anchors like Cronkite, Huntley, Brinkley and Howard K. Smith.
And gone forever is the broadcasting of Vince Scully, who reported a baseball game as though he were having a calm conversation with a friend.
Recently, sports broadcasters bemoaned the loss of Scully, but few if any imitate his delivery, which would be the best form of flattery and compliment. (One exception to this trend is Los Banos native Paul Loeffler, who reports Fresno State football, basketball and baseball games, like Vince, in a calm, measured and understated delivery.)
Why can’t we have news and sports presented to us in a reasonable way? It’s clear people like that approach, that style, because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t hear so many tributes to Scully.
Recently a San Francisco radio station fired a sports talk fellow who talked calmly and replaced him with a guy who talks three times as fast as the broadcaster he replaced. I get frustrated and annoyed with this new guy, to the point of turning off the radio. Why does he have to talk so darn fast?
Even a veteran respected baseball announcer like Jon Miller has succumbed to a new form of broadcasting, not in this case talking fast but reporting the game as though it were the trading floor of the stock market.
Miller, as well as his broadcast partner, continually tells his audience of the speed of each pitch (e.g., 95 miles per hour) and whether it was a four-seam or two-seam fastball, the speed of the ball as it left the bat (e.g., 105 mph), where the fielders are in their shift for the particular batter, each batter’s OPS, each pitcher’s WHIP, and, of course, the pitch count, pitch by pitch, etc., etc., etc.
What’s missing from Miller’s current delivery, and what he used to do more often, is the human element. Who are these young men (anyone under 40 to me is young), what’s their background, what’s their demeanor on the mound, in the field or in the batter’s box, and maybe what other ball players do they remind him of?
What’s also missing is occasional silence. Not every second has to be filled with words. Scully was famous for shutting up after a really big moment in a game and let the crowd noise tell the story.
Scully was also good at understatement. He didn’t use words like huge, amazing, unbelievable often, maybe not at all. And he never said, like one Giants broadcaster, “he’s a real good pitcher.” He always used correct English, and he let big moments of the game reveal how important they were, realizing the listeners were smart enough to understand the game.
And although Scully did broadcasts of Dodgers’ games, he never went overboard by telling the audience how darn good they were. As a Cub fan like me knows, the Dodgers have been darn good for a long time.
Whenever I was in southern California and tuning in a Scully broadcast, I actually grew to like the Dodgers and the individual players on their team (Koufax, Drysdale, Garvey, Russell, Gibson), even though another part of me hated them for beating up on my Cubs.
Scully was so good at this, and so was my friend Jerry Howard, who admired Scully and broadcast the Toronto Blue Jays games on radio for decades. How I long for the return, the reincarnation or the next generation of Vince and Jerry. (At least I have Paul Loeffler, whose broadcasts I can, unfortunately, no longer get on my radio.)
So why is this happening on sports and news shows? I’m guessing because some folks—the announcers, their bosses, the guys in the corporate office?—believe this is what people want.
Maybe it’s because they believe that people have short attention spans, so to get their attention, they need to talk loud and compress what it would normally take 30 seconds to say into 10 seconds. But I don’t think this is what anybody really wants.
Sure, young folks can get short, fast “takes” on social media or TikTok or whatever else churns their butter. But even for young folks there’s a limit, I believe, to the amount of machine-gun rapidity they can take or want.
On my car radio I have buttons for a news station, a sports station and a public radio music station (91.7, KXJZ) that plays classical music during the day and jazz in the evening.
And so often that music station will be the third button I’ll punch, after trying the first two buttons, because I become exasperated with the delivery of the other two stations. I like KXJZ not only because they select good music, but also because their announcers talk slowly and calmly in what I would describe as a gentle and mellow delivery.
That’s the way Vince Scully presented the game. Fans of Scully talk about having a transistor radio next to their pillow when they were young when Vince was broadcasting a night game and falling asleep to his comforting voice.
And, like other good baseball broadcasters, Scully would connect today’s game with memories of previous games, sometimes games played years or decades ago.
That’s what baseball is, more than football or basketball, a game of stories and memories, of real people playing the game, not a bunch of robots generating statistics and creating individual loud and fast highlights.
So I continue to hope that someday I’ll be able to hear weeknight news and baseball games delivered again in a calm, measured and understated style. But maybe that’s like hoping someday I can buy a candy bar for five cents.