Five Key Differences Between Announcing and Broadcasting
This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of “The Voice“, the official newsletter of the National Association of Sports P.A. Announcers (NASPAA). Photo credit: Anita Y. Tsuchiya.
Five Key Differences Between Announcing and Broadcasting
By Anita Y. Tsuchiya, CPAA, Salt Lake Community College and University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Raise your hand if this has happened to you. Someone asks what you do, and you reply, “I am a P.A. Announcer for local sports events.”
“Oh, really? That sounds cool. Are you live streaming or on the radio?”
The confusion is understandable. The line between broadcasting and announcing has blurred, in no small part due to the explosion of social media. Nearly anyone can record highlight clips and entire games, produce podcasts or video commentaries, and upload everything to YouTube to create their exclusive sports channel. Personality driven play-by-play and color broadcasters dominate mainstream radio and TV broadcasts. Because video recordings of actual P.A. announcing during live events are far fewer on YouTube, even savvy sports fans are not aware of any differences. Adding to the confusion, the terms “announcing” and “broadcasting” are sometimes used interchangeably.
So, it is no wonder that inexperienced P.A. Announcers may slip into broadcasting mode without even realizing it. To help remember the key differences, follow these five recommendations:
- Be the event host, not the entertainment.
- Get it right the first time.
- Mind the game clock.
- Be considerate of your captive audience.
- Say more with less.
Be the event host, not the entertainment
Misunderstanding what an announcer does is probably the most common mistake made by inexperienced announcers. To people watching or listening to an event via streaming, TV or radio, good broadcasters are part of the entertainment. They have their own style; they even have their own fans. The broadcasters’ play-by-play and color commentary is a running dialogue, or a monologue if there is only one. The experience is a bit like listening in on a conversation among friends.
The announcer, on the other hand, is like a tour guide for the people present at a live event. They want to know who is in the starting lineup, where the restrooms are, what sorts of concessions are available, and who scored a goal. Sponsors want to be acknowledged for their support of the team and have their products advertised. Operations staff wants to make sure safety regulations are clearly stated. Officials, coaches and athletes want a reminder about how much time is left, how many fouls have been accrued, and who is substituting in or out of the game.
Get it right the first time
The big challenge for an announcer is the speaking window, which is more constrained than that of broadcasters. In many sports, announcers are not allowed to talk over the action. For example, in volleyball, announcements for points, service and substitutions should be finished before the head referee blows the whistle and gives the “service” hand signal. In softball, the announcer is prohibited from speaking from the time the home plate umpire signals “pitch” until the “dead ball” indicator. Goals and assists in soccer or hockey are announced during the stoppage of play following a goal and before play resumes.
These time constraints mean announcers must clearly and succinctly make the right announcement, the first time. In other words, try not to end up having to announce a correction. Four or five bodies jamming up the crease can make it virtually impossible to see who scored a goal in ice hockey. In this case, it is better to wait until the referee skates over to report the goal to the official scorekeeper. If you missed the head referee’s hand signal during a volleyball match, it is better to say nothing than announce the wrong call–because remember, coaches and officials are listening too!
Another reason to avoid announcing corrections has to do with audience expectations. As mentioned previously, announcements function as navigational guides for the people in attendance. Imagine how annoying it would be to listen to the GPS repeatedly give instructions to go a specific direction followed a few moments later by instructions in the opposite direction.
Mind the game clock
Unlike broadcasters, announcers are on a short leash with the event timing schedule and official game clock. Broadcasters speak more spontaneously, following the flow of action. Aside from pre-game shows and media breaks, they can be flexible about when to insert game information or marketing promotions.
Most pre-game, in-game and post-game sequences include precisely timed marketing, promotional and official announcements. For example, a soccer program may promote its 25th anniversary with a marketing giveaway during the 25th minute of the half. The announcer may provide play-by-play for a fan competition during the halftime intermission. On the operations schedule, the announcer cues everyone to stand up and remove their hats for the National Anthem. In soccer, the announcer announces the official game clock times for the one-minute warning, followed by the ten-second countdown to end the half.
Be considerate of your captive audience
Both broadcasters and announcers strive to be accurate, professional and positive. Your voice is what people rely on to get the right information, whether it is about game stats or guest services. It is important to remember that in either role, you are a public-facing representative of the organization hosting the event.
With so many media choices available, it is hard to imagine being forced to listen to a sports broadcast you dislike. But that is precisely the situation for fans at a live event. As the announcer, you have a captive audience who cannot switch channels and, short of using earplugs, hit the “mute” button. Announcing should not be a dry recitation of the script that sounds like a 4th grader being forced to read aloud in class. Your role is to make announcements that are informative and pleasant sounding.
As an announcer, chances are a good percentage of your audience are family and friends of the athletes. So make sure you check name pronunciations and use whatever marks you need to announce them properly. After all, Brajdi Cekrezi’s mother did not fly all the way in from Thessaloniki, Greece, to hear her son’s name mangled during the starting lineup announcement.
Say more with less
Good announcers say more with fewer words, relying on voice inflection and timing to make their announcements enjoyable. They create a shared experience with their audience, whose reaction they can hear as well as see. For example, during a round-robin tournament, points and scores should be announced with the same tone for all teams to avoid sounding partial. However, it is natural and expected to announce the first place champions enthusiastically. When announcing the MVP who was selected by votes during the tournament, you can provide a bit of suspense by pausing briefly before naming the winner.
If you forget everything else on the list, remember this. Speak clearly. Speak slowly. The acoustic environment for stadiums and auditoriums is usually less than ideal—filled with dead spots, background noise and bad loudspeakers (the equipment, not the announcer!). Your listeners cannot put on noise-canceling earbuds or turn up the volume like they could for a live broadcast. They cannot rewind 30 seconds to hear who assisted on the last goal or what the player trivia question was, as they might if listening to a recorded broadcast. If play is stopped due to hazardous weather conditions such as lightning strikes, it will be your calm, steady voice that will help people get to safety without creating a panicked mob.
Most of all, remember to have fun. This last quality is one shared between P.A. Announcers and broadcasters. Raise your hand if this is you. You do what you do for the love of the game.
Anita Y. Tsuchiya, CPAA, announced her first event in 2014 as a weekend substitute for the Salt Lake Community College baseball program. When the original P.A. Announcer left midseason, she announced the rest of the home games, including eight games in three-and-a-half days for the post-season championship baseball tournament. Currently, Anita is the P.A. Announcer and sound-effects operator for Salt Lake Community College baseball, softball, men’s and women’s soccer, and backup announcer for men’s and women’s basketball (NJCAA DI). She also announces Westminster College volleyball (NCAA DII) and announces and emcees for University of Utah women’s soccer (PAC12, NCAA DI).