National Radio Day: the Tips play-by-play Legacy


National Radio Day generated a thought pattern with me over the course of today: what do broadcasters mean to you? How to they add value to your listening experience?

The beauty of this medium: it’s relationship driven, from the lips of play callers to your ears. If you can’t “be there” at the game, or want to add to your in seat experience, the radio airwaves to your earbuds enhance the human desire for a timeless added texture to sport. The sound of skates slashing into the ice, the “clack!” of a stick, and the roar of the crowd – supplemented by dulcet tones of who represents you on the radio – leaves you feeling complete from the experience.

Hey, it’s what 2.5 hour appointment listening is all about.

In other words, your favorite play-by-play announcer is like a best buddy, hanging out with you at a barbecue or in the living room, enjoying the game on the couch. All that separates you: your listening device.

Human beings have emotional attachments to different announcers. They come with different voices, pitch, and team colors. My purpose here is to celebrate the predecessors (I’m lucky to have a relationship with all of them) of Everett Silvertips hockey on the airwaves.

What are they up to?

345342359KEITH GERHART (2003-07): The OG play-by-play announcer, his brand delivered highlight after highlight with energy. I didn’t arrive in Everett until eight years after his departure. Still, you’ll always be captivated by his warmth, relatability, and passion.

He resigned from his post after the 2006-07 season to return to Indiana and focus energy on a consistent lifestyle with family (his wife accepted a teaching post, and both are originally from the midwest). Now: his boys are active in sports – baseball, basketball, and tennis are in the cycle. They’re enrolled in school again, with no health concerns to report.

And about Gerhart, the broadcaster that just can’t get away?

“It’s funny you mention the bug (to get back into it),” said Gerhart. “I definitely am (looking) and seeing if I can call football or basketball for our local high school. We have some contacts there and it will be internet only, but need to see if we can pull it off.”

“I definitely miss game days in Everett: getting to the rink early in the morning, preparing media notes, watching the morning skate, talking to the fans really quick right when the doors open at the arena, the goal horn, fans rising to their feet and screaming loud when the Silvertips score. It’s always special.”

As his catchphrase borrowed from Hawaii Five-O went, “Book ’em, Dan’O.”

Rosen_Jon smJON ROSEN (2007-11): If there was ever a fitting young voice looking for his break, surroundings to understand and become comfortable with the work environment, and acumen to accelerate the Silvertips exposure, Jon was a fit to a “T.”

After leaving his play-by-play chair of two seasons in minor league baseball with the Class-A High Desert Mavericks (author’s note: I preceded him there in 2004; the hockey sports world is a small world!), Jon succeeded Keith with arguably, a challenge ahead: take the torch from an original voice who bonded with this fan base for four seasons.

Not easy.

Jon accomplished it with professionalism off air, a deep-thinking approach to creatively elevate the Silvertips profile in the Puget Sound, and a razor sharp, energetic command in his play-by-play delivery. He was the soundtrack to Murray, Harper, Froese, Gudas, Dailey, and the Kid Line. He stepped down from his post – like Gerhart – after four seasons to pursue work in his native Los Angeles hometown and struck gold.

Rosen’s work has deeply documented two Stanley Cup titles for the Los Angeles Kings – breakthrough milestones for one of the most recognizable franchises in the NHL after 45 years of waiting – and was seen frequently on the Kings TV flagship Fox Sports West as a rinkside reporter, served readers as Insider at http://www.lakingsinsider.com, worked the play-by-play chair for several key matchups for Big Ten Network and Winter Olympics hockey coverage, and added “NHL play-by-play” to his resume over the course of two seasons with the Kings, particularly when legendary TV voice Bob Miller was sidelined due to illness.

Jon’s time with the Kings reached the finish line this summer due to the pandemic, but he still misses Snohomish County and the first place he visits when returning (last seen at the 2018 WHL Championship Series): El Paraiso Mexican Grill.

“Just the ethos of Snohomish County and area – not just Everett, the satellite communities too – it’s a good, cohesive place to raise a family,” Rosen said on air, in the season finale of the Silvertips Hockey Show. “When we went and visited schools, hospitals and libraries, you got to know people and – despite any kind of differences, there’s an easy way to create a bond because of how friendly, down to earth people are around here.

“I love the city of Everett deeply; I had a wonderful time there – it’s a resilient place, hard working place, and has character.”

Huntington_TravisTRAVIS HUNTINGTON (2011-15): Hey, there are several qualities that come to mind when required to make a connection with somebody. Warmth, transparency, and energy are a few of them.

All fit the bill for Travis Huntington, who took the torch from Rosen with a smile on his face that almost never seemed to leave. Ask anybody in the Silvertips front office, or who crossed paths on the hockey side: with Travis, it’s like Christmas Day was every day.

Travis’ departure (much like Gerhart – pursuing work closer to family in his home state – Colorado) left several days for him to work with me, easing into the role because my first day on the job was on one of the busiest of the year – training camp. Not exactly the recipe for slow and methodical.

His last day: Travis was given a curtain call for many players and coaches he worked shoulder to shoulder with in his four seasons – in the dressing room after a preseason game in downtown Everett. Austin Lotz and Carson Stadnyk lept out of their stalls to bear hug him.

That told me a lot of his ability to connect with anybody, and the impact he made. Those qualities are worth their weight in gold. Before arriving and watching highlights on the Tips website, I was mesermized by his brand of play calling for every Scherbak snipe. After I arrived, he never considered any question as a stupid question, and made you feel welcomed. We both love listening to The Black Keys and the office was filled with music in the first several days.

He’s good people, and could be back on a mic soon.

“I definitely miss painting that picture for the fans and would love to get back on the call at some point, in some capacity,” said Huntington. “Until then I’ll call games in my own head as I watch them on TV!”

The pandemic has raised challenges, but as always, his glass half full approach is the perfect help.

“My family is fortunate to be doing well through all this craziness,” said Huntington. “A little stir crazy at home, but no real complaints compared to what many are dealing with. I miss the camaraderie in the organization and the excitement of game days. That feeling of anticipation when the music comes on in the arena and the game is about to start (is incredible) – and all the great people I met in Silvertip Country!”

They are the voices you know, helping build a legacy, with familiar sound, energy, and warmth.

As a guy who’s tried his hardest to maintain their legacy, I am grateful for them. I know many friends here feel the same way.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton has served five years as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 15 years in the game.  Tweet at him here.

Thank You, Bob. We Smile Because It Happened.


“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

Remarkably and fittingly, those words were used by a similar Los Angeles play-by-play legend to wrap up his career. As we can smile because Vin Scully happened, we can now officially smile because of another career that happened, involving a name synonymous with a legendary listening experience:

Bob Miller.

He called it a career today after 44 years of one job, 3,351 games, and 57 amazing total years in broadcasting – many incredibly, with the Los Angeles Kings as THEIR VOICE. That’s a long time (especially in broadcasting!) to call one place, “home.”

Gazing live at the Kings livestream coverage of his announcement, the day became reality that we never wanted to see happen. I can’t believe it’s over, like you. But rest assured, as a guy who grew up listening to him from my living room television and later, extremely privileged to develop a relationship with him, I smile with you because he happened. Offering this summary for a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame for 17 years, he just didn’t have a career. He delivered an experience.

 

Case in point? Try Wayne Gretzky’s 802nd goal, breaking Gordie Howe’s all-time record:

“…. Robitaille with Gretzky the trailer …”

Your ears percolate.

“… Gives it to Gretzky … RIGHT SIDE TO MCSORLEY …”

 Your eyes bulge.

“… back in front to Gretzky … HE SCORRREES!!!”

As the Great Western Forum goal siren screams, and the crowd roars, your heartbeat races.

… Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record book is now complete! He’s the all-time leader in points, assists, and now with his 802nd goal … the all-time leading goal scorer – IN THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE!”

That’s what makes legendary hockey play-by-play guys so legendary. You don’t just listen, you FEEL IT.

Bob made you feel it. Growing up in the Los Angeles area during the years of my adolescence – and sharing similar  occurrences with fellow hockey fans – we were spoiled to get that experience for a whopping five decades. Bob’s voice delivered and unfolded the game as it was natural: rapid, pulsating, sharp, and electrifying. He is the vocal soundtrack to Wayne Gretzky in silver and black, to Marcel Dionne in purple and gold, to Drew Doughty and two Stanley Cup championships.

I’m certain to share this sentiment with countless individuals privileged to wear a headset for a living: he is the individual who single handedly inspired me to get into hockey, behind the mic.

Bob’s attitude, honesty, humility, and friendliness are among the most important tools in his communication skills tool belt. He shared the game with many listeners, viewers, and friends as if it was an up-close and personal experience. And when you finally got the chance to meet him, he made you feel more than just up-close and personal: he made you feel like a longtime friend.

I’m proud yet fortunate to know Bob Miller for more than just a distant inspiration. I’m proud to know him as a mentor and friend.

Bob’s name still stands on my resume as a reference, and went above and beyond to phone the Stockton Thunder for a recommendation when I pursued (and landed) my first broadcasting job in hockey. As many fellow friends in the business can attest to, he was always willing to pick up the phone when you called his house. Whatever he was in the middle of, he was always willing to give you 5-15 minutes of an intimate and warming conversation, whether to catch up or provide solid, raw, and unfiltered career advice.

He taught me more than just the basic mechanics of handling the flow of play-by-play and preparation: he taught me about the value of being approachable. In the long run, you never know who you may meet, and use that valuable experience to “pay it forward.”

As an intern for the Los Angeles Kings in their media relations department for the 2000-01 (the “Deadmarsh beats the Red Wings”) season: I was 19 years old going on 20, inexperienced, full of ambition, willing to learn and eager to meet people, but swimming treading water in the real world trying to hang with the polished, big boys of the NHL. At first, it can be intimidating. In the end, it was rewarding. As a guy who would sit with you at the press table to chat, Bob was one of the those who made the experience rewarding.

We kept in touch. Later in college, my first legitimate feeling of having a shot to hang around in this business was after he listened to an old cassette of my rag-tag hockey demo work*, and replied with a formal typed letter of his critique, concluding with “I firmly believe you have a future as a play-by-play announcer.”

(*read: I spent 15 years living and going to school in southern California, where the college hockey options aren’t exactly robust as compared to their midwest/northeastern region brethren, so I connected with a youth roller hockey league to record several play-by-play demos from a series of games from the rafters).

He was a year removed from being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was my hockey broadcast hero growing up. For a college age guy, that felt like hitting the career lottery.

Phone call after phone call, he would ask about my progress, and remarkably was willing to provide an interview for my senior thesis at Azusa Pacific University which included an amazing story surrounding the famous game 7, 1993 Kings/Maple Leafs series in the Campbell Conference Finals that had the 5-4 final and ending reminiscent of a high-speed chase movie scene (long story short: he signed off and exhaled, head dropped to the Maple Leaf Gardens booth desk like a fighter at the end of a prize bout. The stage manager asked if Bob was okay. Bob said “I’m fine … just exhausted. It’s over.”).

Tagging along with my Dad, Greg, to a Kings game in 2007, three seasons into my career, and introducing Bob to my Dad (thus, a bucket list item for two male heroes to meet in that booth) is a bonafide life moment.

We still keep in touch to this day.

As he predictably responds with a humble tone of gratefulness, I still make a point to close every phone call with gratitude of our relationship, reminding how much he inspires people and the universal level of respect for him that knows no boundaries. More than just a model citizen to providing feedback, constructive criticism, and advice, he is a legitimate role model.

It’s easy to have a conversation with Bob and pause for a moment while someone new enters the circle for an autograph, photo, or merely kind words they want to share. The one thing I notice with Bob: he never forgets to ask “what’s your name?” when meeting a stranger. I took that with me, like a golden rule of communication skills.

He is the definition of “down to earth.” He is an inspiration.

He toiled for nearly four decades before getting a chance to call a Stanley Cup title for the Los Angeles Kings. There’s nobody who maybe handled the waiting period with a sense of balance and patience like Bob, but you had to feel for his endurance through even the most recent “lean years” (the Kings missed the playoffs from 2003-09) before he got a chance to call the one phrase that Kings fans waited all of their lives to hear:

JUNE 11, 2012, STAPLES CENTER: “The Los Angeles Kings are indeed the Kings of the National Hockey League. They are the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions!”  

For so much disappointment (and Kings fans, you remember the illegal stick at Montreal in 1993?), and even small trepidation for Adam Henrique’s late second period goal in Game 6 to make it 4-1, later that summer in 2012 I remember Bob once telling me, “you could sense that it was finally ‘going to happen’ when Trevor Lewis made it 5-1. You could finally exhale.”

No more playoff demons. Bob finally got his Cup call, a ring, and a memory he was waiting for a long time. He even justifiably added a riveting encore two years later – all fitting rewards of endurance for a model citizen who happened to make one of the greatest livings of all-time in the history of play-by-play.

Bob made it a fine career. You sir are a gentleman, role model, and an exemplary storyteller. I carry many of your examples as reminders in my journey, now handling play-by-play in the Western Hockey League with the Everett Silvertips.

So here’s to you, exhaling at the end of a fine career.

We smile because you happened.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.