On The Dial: The (Other) Game Is On The Air

Vikings Rally at MOA 25
Vikings’ radio play-by-play announcer Paul Allen on the right – Photo by Randy Stern

Football season has arrived. Hockey and basketball are just weeks away. Are you ready?

Well, your radio is ready. Maybe your ears will be, too.

Unlike baseball, these three major North American professional team sports have found a better home on television than the radio. Radio was a necessity decades ago, but not so now.

Still, radio is a driving force is sportscasting. The sports talk shows often induce debate on the air and inside your vehicle. But, it is the broadcasts of games and events that will capture your attention away from your television screen. No need to look at your phone to know the score – just listen to the game live!

There are places on this continent where some have turned down the audio on their television set for the famed voices of the radio broadcast of their favorite teams. True fans know who is in the booth and which frequency to dial in.

One example is right here in the Twin Cities – well, the entire state of Minnesota. Paul Allen is the play-by-play voice of the Minnesota Vikings. Whenever P.A. takes the microphone, you get what some people term as a “homer” – a broadcaster who loves his local team and it shows on the broadcast.

You know Paul Allen for his emotional calls. Hew ripped on Brett Favre at the 2009 NFC Championship when the quarterback gambled to keep the Super Bowl dreams alive for the Vikings in the face of the New Orleans Saints. You also may recall his call of the “Minneapolis Miracle,” where the Vikings advanced to last season’s NFC Championship on a pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs.

The Vikings fans love P.A. He is unfiltered sometimes, but he is the voice of the Vikings fan. You stay on the Viking Ship because of P.A.

Paul Allen was not the first radio voice that got my attention listening to other sports. Growing up in Los Angeles, we were fortunate to have some of the greatest voices in sports radio. Vin Scully was equal to none as the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers for 67 seasons. However, there was Chick Hearn telling the story of the Los Angeles Lakers and Bob Miller who introduced us to the National Hockey League with the Los Angeles Kings.

Hearn broadcasted 3,388 consecutive Lakers game from 1965 to 2001. He bore witness to championships during the Showtime era and the Shaq-Kobe era. Love them or hate them, you still listened to Hearn, as he introduced new terms to the basketball audience. “Slam dunk” started with Hearn. So did “air ball.” We commonly use these terms today for both college and professional basketball.

When KLAC switches from country music to the Lakers game, Hearn was the first voice you heard. Through his rapid delivery, you “saw” Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant come through your radio. It would be fitting that Hearn’s last time on the air was a Lakers championship in 2002. As Shaq would say, “can you dig it?”

Miller’s role in sports radio was one that helped change Los Angeles. He first appeared on both television and radio for the Kings in 1973, at a time when Los Angeles had no clue they had a hockey team playing in The Forum. The Kings and Lakers wore the same colors, but it was obvious which team was more dominant when the Rams’ season ended and the Dodgers’ returned to Vero Beach for Spring Training.

Years of patience made Miller a legend. There were some elevated moments that marked his career. Miller had the privilege to call the Triple Crown Line, the arrival of Wayne Gretzky and company, and the two Stanley Cup Championships towards the end of Miller’s run behind the microphone.

It would be Miller’s call on both radio and television that would bridge this winter sport to sunny Southern California. We Losangelinos were educated in the fine art of icing and off-side calls. We saw the Kings as part of the lives of many who brought the game of hockey to local ice rinks and brought the team and the sport to the level of the Dodgers and Lakers.

In the Bay Area, there were two voices that rang out more than others outside of baseball season. The Raiders had Bill King with his handlebar mustache and a style that mimicked the team he called. The 49ers and the University of California – Berkeley had Joe Starkey. You may recall his call from the end of the 1982 “Big Game” between Cal and Stanford where a kickoff return from the Golden Bears encountered the Stanford marching band. That is still a Bay Area legend.

Today, radio can still be the home of great voices in football, basketball, and hockey. The New Orleans Saints now have an entertaining duo in the booth. Joining former Saints running back Deuce McAllister is another former Saints player Zach Strief. Strief replaced the longtime play-by-play announcer Jim Henderson, who retired at the end of the 2017 season.

Another fun duo to listen to is the Carolina Panthers team of Mick Mixon and Eugene Robinson. I happen to love Robinson’s commentary in the booth, as it is fitting for the Panthers’ style of play – exciting, knowledgeable, and funny.

Lastly, Chicago fans enjoy the voice of John Wiedeman, as he calls the Blackhawks games on WGN radio. A lot of hockey radio voices follow the action and raise the excitement level on every shift. Wiedeman has that distinctive voice that speaks to Blackhawks fans – in a Chicago tone made for the sport.

Though football, basketball, and hockey have become television-oriented sports, one must remember that its broadcast roots are in radio. Perhaps there is a radio broadcaster you would rather hear than the TV announcers. In that case, go ahead and turn down the audio on your TV and turn up your radio for the best local experience around.

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