Voices of the Game

Admirals correspondent Jay Nutt goes one-on-one with Argonauts play-by-play announcer Mike Hogan

TORONTO – Everyone hears voices.  They’re part of our communication system, and also the soundtrack to our favourite moments.  Some voices connect with us more than others – without Morgan Freeman, it’s just a film about penguins, or another credit card advertisement.  In sports broadcasting, we all have voices that we love bringing the game into our living rooms, vehicles, or kitchens.

As a chef, my career has seen me go from the being the fry guy listening to every voice in the kitchen, to becoming “the” voice in the kitchen, dispensing orders and bits of wisdom in equal parts (at least that what it sounds like in my head).

As a writer, I’ve discovered that finding a voice with which to write requires a little more work.  I’m a fast reader and my impulse is to write as fast as I read, so I try to emulate some of my favourite speakers’ rhythms and cadences to my words on the page.  My essays about life in the country with my dogs and canoes benefit from how I imagine Stuart Mclean from Vinyl Café would read them.  When I focus on sports, I prefer to draw on the way that longtime sports columnist Stephen Brunt narrates his own pieces.

My friend, Steve, who’s also a chef, as well as a talented photographer, writer and massive sports fan, joined me for the Argos’ home opener against Saskatchewan.  After the game, as chefs do, we grabbed some street food and a bench and dissected the game while we waited for the next train out of Union Station.

Eventually we got to chatting about the sports voices in our heads, especially those of the broadcasters that bridge the gap between the physical facts of the game and the emotions that connect fans to the sport.  Growing up in Edmonton I was not only spoiled by a run of championship sports teams, but also by Hall of Fame calibre broadcasters.  I remember listening to hockey and football games on my little transistor radio (for younger readers, it was about the size of a cell phone, but without being able to make calls, text messages, or search Google, and you could only listen to live podcast-type shows and tinny music). Rod Phillips was the voice of the Oilers from their WHA days, and the broadcast I most recall is the night Wayne Gretzky netted five goals en route to scoring his 50th goal in 39 games.  Bryan Hall was the voice of the Eskimos for nearly four decades and his excitement during a big moment in the game always came through the radio.

Steve’s all-time voice was that of local broadcasting legend, the late Tom Cheek.  Tom had a way of making you feel you were right in the booth with him.  Steve also loved the way Howard Cosell could use his voice to build tension.  Whether it was football or boxing, Cosell took you on the long way up the emotional roller-coaster of a sporting event.  A good sports voice resonates, leaves a lasting impression, and transcends time and space to evoke memories of moments as much as events.

A common thread for both of us is the work of Argos broadcaster Mike Hogan.  As an Argo fan, listening to a football game on the radio while in the kitchen is an activity parallel to cooking.  There’s a methodical pace to a game, filled with ebbs and flows, emotional peaks and valleys that is similar to dinner service.  Hogan brings his love of the game to his broadcasts and allows us as listeners to feel as though we’re at the game.  Here, Mike Hogan shares some stories about what it’s like to be the voice of the Argos.

Mike Hogan’s Argos “Call of the week” from last week’s game in Winnipeg:

Q:  How long have you been doing Argos broadcasts? How many broadcast partners have you had?

A:  This is my 11th season calling the games.  My first season was 2000.  I called the games for two seasons, but then our station lost the radio rights.  We got the rights back in 2007 and I’ve been doing them since then.  I’ve worked with Pete Martin, Sandy Annunziata and now Jeff Johnson.  I’ve been lucky that I’ve really liked everyone I’ve been paired with.

Q:  Is there a rivalry between CFL broadcast teams?

A:  Not really.  It’s a pretty small fraternity.  I genuinely enjoy talking with everyone who calls the games.  We generally get together a couple of hours before the broadcast to talk about each other’s team and share some storylines.  The other thing we do is share pronunciations.  As you can imagine, (Tristan) Okpalaugo and (Akwasi) Owusu-Ansah can be intimidating for someone who doesn’t have to say their name on a regular basis.

Q:  Which stadium has the best sightlines from the broadcast booth?

A:  Ivor Wynne Stadium.  I miss that place.  Right now BC Place is pretty good, as is Winnipeg.  The booths are pretty close to the field.  We call games in Montreal from the 14-yard line, while the new Hamilton stadium’s booth was on the goal line for the first game this year.  It’s also a long, long, long way up.  From there, the far corner of the far end zone is just a rumour.  They’re working on moving the location in Hamilton, which is greatly appreciated by the radio guys.

Q:  Which broadcasters have influenced your style, rhythm or cadence?

A:  Anyone and everyone.  I haven’t copied a style per se, but listen for qualities that different people have.  I think Chuck Kaiton’s pacing is incredible and I wish I had the gift of imagery that Vin Scully possesses.  He still amazes me.  Locally, it may sound odd, but the physicality of the broadcast is something I learned working with Tom Cheek on Jays broadcasts for a couple of years.  When the Jays would hit a home run he’d pump his arm as it left the park, which would add emphasis to the voice.  I also stand up for the entire game when I call it, because I feel more involved than if I were sitting.

Q:  What part of your own broadcast do you constantly work at improving?

A:  Trying to call players without using their numbers.  During the warm up, I’ll note body type, shoe colour and striping, sock style, ankle spatting, glove colour, sleeve length, anything that may help distinguish one receiver from another.  I’m much better at it than I was, but still end up searching for numbers after a catch is made, which is at times impossible.

Q:  You have a voice of your own in the sports world but who would give you a thrill if they were to narrate your written pieces as a voiceover?

A:  The late Tom Snyder, David Letterman and/or Dave Van Horne.  The latter was the voice of the Expos when I grew up.  That team was far and away my favourite sports team as a child and I probably heard his voice in the summer months more than that of my mom or dad.  It was really, really strange the first time I interviewed him, hearing that voice answering my questions.  Snyder was someone I enjoyed because he was the coolest guy in the room and the biggest nerd in the room at the same time.  I just enjoyed his laid-back, conversational interview style.  Letterman just made me laugh, particularly in the NBC years.

Q:  If you could retrieve a broadcast from the past, what game would you like to hear, and who would you like to hear doing the game?

A:  I would like to hear the Babe Ruth “called shot” World Series game at Wrigley Field.  Vin Scully would call it.  His description of that moment would be incredible.

Q:  Which short clip gives you the chills when you hear the first few words?

A:  “I don’t believe what I just saw” – Jack Buck calling Kirk Gibson’s home run for the Dodgers against the Oakland Athletics in Game One of the 1988 World Series.  He couldn’t have said anything that worked better than that.  Sometimes simple is better.

Q:  What’s your favourite broadcast moment of your own?

A:  My first interview with Hank Aaron, my boyhood idol.  Is this becoming too baseball oriented?  LOL

Q:  Do you have a “Touch ’em all, Joe” moment of your own?

A:  A couple.  Laurier won the 2005 Vanier Cup at Ivor Wynne Stadium over Saskatchewan.  The Huskies were probably 21-point favourites in that game.  It was my third year calling Hawk games, so I was there for a steady build to that game. Brian Devlin kicked a 32-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the game to give the Hawks the win.  I still get goosebumps thinking about that night.  The other was 2012 with the Argos, not the Grey Cup, but the East Final in Montreal.  That place was murder for Toronto and they got down early.  They staged an incredible comeback with several big plays.  Chad Kackert had a monster touchdown run, Marcus Ball had a couple of interceptions, but the last call, where Anthony Calvillo had Brian Bratton in the end zone and Pacino Horne got a fingertip on it to break up the pass.  That was pretty cool.  The Durie game-clinching touchdown in the Grey Cup game was pretty sweet, too.

Q:  Have you ever done other sports?  Who’s your favourite multi-sport broadcaster?

A:  I’ve called football, hockey, basketball, boxing, and even did some track-and-field when the World Indoor Championships were in Toronto.  My favourite multi-sport guys are Vin Scully and Dick Enberg.  Chris Cuthbert is amazing because the cadence for football and hockey is very different and he drills both sports without changing his style.  That’s really, really tough to do as well as CC does it.

Q:  As a chef, I need to know, who’s got the best press box food in the CFL?  Or do you send somebody down to the concession stand to get a good local specialty?

A:  B.C. is good, but Winnipeg may have moved ahead of them in the power rankings. The best this season though was Fort McMurray.  Top notch.  We try to sample the local specialties the night before.  Seafood in Vancouver and smoked meat in Montreal are musts.

Q:  In this age of social media and instant feedback, how do you handle the negative fan feedback when it occurs?

A:  I don’t mind it at all if it’s intelligent and clean.  If someone has a problem with something I said I have no problem at all discussing what I said or why I said it.  If someone drops an f-bomb they’re done.

Q:  Has social media allowed broadcasters and radio personalities to foster relationships with fans and listeners?

A:  Yes, and I enjoy it a great deal.  For someone who loves football at all levels, it gives me a chance to talk CFL or CIS football with people who share the same passion.  Sadly, talking about Canadian football in Toronto is not always an easy thing to do.

Q:  Or do trolls ruin it?

A:  Trolls are people who need a hug.  I actually feel sorry for someone who has so little going in their life that they have to stoop to that level.  I sincerely pity them, their lives must be so empty that they have to resort to that for entertainment.

Q:  Do you become friends with the athletes while they’re still playing, or is it necessary to keep an arm’s length until they retire from the game.

A:  Friendly yes, friends no.  In my first year I went out with some of the players after a loss in Winnipeg.  I learned two things:  Never trade shots of tequila with guys who outweigh you by 100 pounds, and keep an arm’s length from them in terms of friendship.  I’d have no problem doing something socially with a former player and his family.  I do think there’s a line that you can’t cross while the athlete is playing, as comfortable as I’d be doing it.

You can find the voice of the Argos radio broadcasts on TSN1050.  Mike Hogan is a regular host on the radio station and can also be found on Twitter: @tsnmikehogan.  Who is your favourite sports play-by-play announcer?  Tell us in the comments section.

Try and keep the hating for another day. We’ll save extra hugs for you.

Written By: Jay Nutt

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