By Brad Salmen
The year was 2005. Natalie and I were living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where I worked as a sportswriter for the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette.
One of my beats was the Michigan Tech men’s and women’s basketball teams, where along the way I became well acquainted with Mitch Lake, a veteran radio broadcaster who called the games on WKMJ. I was joking around with him at halftime one game, when he asked if I wanted to join him for the second half as the color commentator.
Sure, why not, I told him. And sure enough, he pulled out a spare headset, and minutes later was introducing me to the listening audience.
“Well fans, we have a special treat for us today,” he said. “Joining me for the second half is Mining Gazette sportswriter Brad Salmen. Brad, welcome aboard.”
<Insert deer-in-headlights.gif here>
The realization that I was live, on the air, and totally unprepared came washing over me like a crushing wave. I honestly don’t remember what I stammered out, but I’m sure it had listeners at home wondering if Mitch was doing some sort of bit.
The second half began, with a nice pass for an easy basket for Michigan Tech. I vaguely remember Mitch calling the action, and pausing to turn to me expectantly, waiting for my brilliant analysis.
My response, unfortunately, is not a vague haze. It is one of those embarrassing memories seared crystal clear into your brain, the kind that haunts you for the rest of your life. The kind that your brain likes to bring up and taunt you with at odd times for the next 15 years just for fun, like in the shower, where you mumble what you should have said, leading to your wife knocking on the bathroom door asking who you’re talking to in the shower.
Oh you don’t have those types of haunting memories? It’s just me? Oh.
Anyway, what my brain came up with, after an agonizing pause, was, “That was a nice play.”
That’s it. “That was a nice play.” Insightful, descriptive commentary, brain!
I’m sure, at that moment, Mitch was kicking himself for inviting me on the air. But as the half wore on, I started feeling more and more comfortable, and by the end of the game was starting to enjoy myself. After that initial synapse misfire, I did well enough that Mitch invited me back on the air for the next game, and we went on to work six seasons together calling Michigan Tech basketball.
I can truly say it was one of the more enjoyable endeavors of my career, as it included two trips to the women’s national tournament. Mitch and I got along well, and more importantly worked really well together, with solid on-air chemistry.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and my radio broadcasting career was put on hold when I moved to Minnesota in 2011. The fond memories always stuck with me, though, and when the time came for me to move on from the ED Sports Editor position, I put some feelers out to the local radio stations asking if they needed any help this fall and winter.
Joel Niemeyer, the sport director at KDUZ/KARP, took a chance on me. Quite literally, actually, as try as I might I couldn’t find any clips from my time at WKMJ, so he was taking my word for it that I had any experience.
He offered me the chance to do color commentary for the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity football game Oct. 10, with veteran broadcaster Steve Friendt.
Pretty much nobody outside my immediate family knew about it. I didn’t announce it on Facebook or even our family GroupMe, as I knew I would be nervous for my first time back in the booth, and didn’t want any additional pressure.
Sure enough, for the first 10 minutes or so, I was pretty shaky. But Steve’s a good guy, easygoing and laid back, and soon it was just like old times, and we fell into a rhythm.
I did well enough that Joel offered me additional football gigs this season, including some DC games. I was still riding that high, when I got an email from Brian Johnson at DCHS.
We have an opening to do the play-by-play for the Charger Game Day football broadcast against New London-Spicer, he said. Are you interested?
For those of you unaware, Charger Game Day is the video broadcast of DCHS sports. It is run by Justin Larson, the district’s Technology Integration Specialist.
As any parent or fan of girls swimming and volleyball will tell you, we are lucky to have him.
With no fans allowed (girls swimming) or few fans allowed (volleyball), Justin and his students have risen to the occasion to put on what can only be described as a top-notch operation. The girls swim meets have featured high-resolution video, student/athlete interviews, the whole nine yards. The volleyball games have featured the same high-quality video, with play-by-play announcers.
Thursday’s New London-Spicer game, the first home game of the season, would be Charger Game Day’s first foray into football. With only 250 fans allowed into the stadium, this meant that hundreds of fans who normally would be in attendance would be tuning in on Youtube to watch the game online.
DC’s first game at Holy Family was similarly broadcast on Youtube, with the host school providing the video and play-by-play. I’ll politely say it could have been better, and leave it at that.
I knew the video/audio quality of Thursday’s broadcast, with Justin at the helm, would be high caliber. But would the announcing be the same?
Truth be told, I had never done play-by-play before – I’ve only ever been the color commentator. I was nervous, so I called in the big gun for help: Jerome Lindquist.
Jerome and I have known each other for years, since we played for the Saints together some 20 years ago. More importantly, he’s done a number of radio broadcasts for DC football games, and I knew he would be a steadying presence in the booth.
As game time approached, I dove into preparation. I pulled up stats, printed out stat sheets, read game articles, everything I could think of to be as prepared as possible. I even printed out an initial script for right when we got on the air, so I wouldn’t stammer out something that would haunt me for the next 15 years. Not this time, brain!
Jerome and I arrived early, got set up, spread out our stats and notes, talked about our approach, riffed a little pregame intro, and waited for the signal. Ten minutes before game time, we were on the air, and away we went.
Two-plus hours later, we were done. The Chargers won, 34-18, and I think we did a decent job of describing it.
A couple days later, Justin gave me a copy of the video, and I sat down to watch and take notes. Here are some observations:
- Calling the game on Charger Game Day is a bit different from radio. The biggest difference is there were no commercial breaks, which actually makes things harder than I expected. During radio broadcasts, you get a chance to take a break during the commercials, but on Game Day we had to fill in all the down time ourselves.
- My opening was a little wooden, but not too bad. I’m still glad I wrote out an intro, as it gave me some confidence to get rolling.
- I had every intention of keeping stats during the game. As color commentator at the LPHT game, I was able to keep rushing/passing/receiving stats that actually ended up being pretty close to the official totals. But as I started play-by-play, it was a quick “nope, not going to happen.” I did manage to keep scoring plays.
- I say, “ah” a lot, I need to work on that. Also, instead of saying “taking the snap, and handing off”, I said “taking the hand off, and handing off” at least three times.
- I also noticed I called the game as if it was a radio broadcast, instead of video. The viewers probably didn’t need to hear me say, “Eli Gillman under center,” when they can see it themselves. I also kept repeating the score and time left in the quarter, which is good for radio, but unnecessary when the scoreboard is in the corner of the screen.
- I’m so very glad Jerome was alongside me. He was a pro. Calm, funny, and brought a personable presence with a local touch. He was reading texts and chats from the Youtube stream throughout the broadcast, and needling friends and community members, which was great. Some gems:
- “Bonni Halverson checking in, we must be doing a good job as she gave us a thumbs up. As [husband] Marcus will tell you, she’s a hard woman to please.”
- [After the cannon went off following a Chargers touchdown] “Sounds like we finally got a competent cannon guy, taking advantage of Nick Corbin being in Florida.”
- “Back when Paul Halonen was playing that end, it was just a swinging screen door.”
- [After I misread the score, looking at my scoresheet instead of the scoreboard] “A Macalester education, ladies and gentlemen. That’s what you get for 100 grand a year.” (The other guys in the booth, Darren Olson, Mark Herman, and Mike Lhotka, got a kick out of that one).
- Jerome also did a halftime interview with Activities Director Perry Thinesen that I think was very informative, as they talked about all the changes in the school and MSHSL due to Covid.
With the help of Tristen Pieti, Mason Schroeder, and Sydney Nelson running the cameras, and Zach Morris running the board, the audio and video turned out great. And while I cringed every time I heard myself trip over a name or otherwise awkwardly call a play, all-in-all I think we did ok.
Holy Family could learn a thing or two.