Broadcast Boot Camp Emphasizes Audio
By Dan Daley
Sportscaster U is a broadcasting boot camp at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. It’s a compressed version of a three-credit sports-broadcasting course initiated and taught by Syracuse radio play-by-play announcer Matt Park and fellow Syracuse alum and ESPN announcer Dave Ryan, both also adjunct professors at Newhouse.
The inaugural Sportscaster U was held last summer in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association. Four players, including Eric Snow and Adrian Griffin, signed up for the three-day, $5,000 hands-on course. Another session for more NBA players is planned for later this summer, but the star graduate thus far is Phoenix Suns’ center Shaquille O’Neal, who recently took an intensive two-day customized curriculum designed specifically for him. (His specialized curriculum cost him $17,000.)
O’Neal is prepping for his own television variety show, Ryan says, and was seeking generalized on-air speaking and visual techniques, including taping mock standups, scripting material, and conducting interviews. (He even scored the first on-camera interview with former Duke point guard Greg Paulus, who just announced his decision to play football for the Oranges this fall.) But Ryan says he’s getting a lot of interest from athletes of all types who are nearing the end of their playing careers and considering broadcast for Act II.
Audio plays a major part in the curriculum. Ryan and Park introduce their students to the audio crewmembers, who give them a quick rundown on microphones and mixers. In Newhouse’s Studio A news set, wireless lavaliers and IFB give aspiring on-air talent a SportsCenter feel. But the real sound challenges are with handhelds, Ryan says. “They tend to be very directional, and you have to practice pointing them. People have a tendency to want to keep the network ‘flag’ up high on screen, but, if it blocks the mouth of the [interviewee], it’s very distracting to the viewer. And you have to keep it steady and pointed towards [the source.]”
Another freshman lapse is wearing a headset and using a handheld simultaneously, he says. “They think, ‘Hey, I can hear myself fine,’ and they forget they have a ‘stick’ in their hand and don’t put the handheld up to other person.”
But the biggest lesson talent can learn when it comes to sound is the same one any good musician could teach you: the value of when to lay out. “That’s the biggest issue right there,” says Ryan. “Learning to show restraint.” Definite no-talk moments include the snap in football, any pitch in a baseball game, the faceoff in hockey, and any time the basketball is in the air. “There’s so much great natural sound in the mix. Use it,” he says, noting that the Men’s Lacrosse Championship he did play-by-play for last month was the perfect example of how natural sound paints the picture. “We had the goals and the coaches and referees all miked,” he recalls. “It’s amazing how much sound is out there.”
Ryan figures there’ll be growing demand for Sportscaster U and other types of education for on-air talent. “There’s more sports broadcasting than ever before,” he says. “More games and more media outlets from local to regional to national and network, and then there’s the Internet. Somebody’s got to do the talking.”