You want to be a sports announcer? Then listen up. We've found just the place for you. Every few years Syracuse University and its FM station. WAER, turn out a deluxe model, high-powered broadcaster. Marv Albert, Bob Costas, Dick Stockton, Len Berman and the inimitable Marty Glickman, for example, are all Orange alums. If Miami of Ohio is the cradle of football coaches, then Syracuse is the incubator of sports announcers. Which leads us to the $64 question in the Carrier Dome: Is senior Greg Papa, the sports director and a play-by-play man at WAER, the next Marv Albert? As the former Marvin Aufrichtig himself would say, having called Syracuse games as a journalism and political science major in the early '60s before graduating to the Knicks, Rangers and NBC, the answer may well be "Yesssss!"
More on Papa later. First let's run down the Syracuse honor roll, which begins with Glickman, the former New York Giants, Knicks and Jets broadcaster who was probably the first "jock" sports announcer in the U.S. when he worked at WAER as a Syracuse football star in the late '30s. Besides Albert, Costas of NBC, Stockton (CBS) and Berman (NBC), Philadelphia Phillies announcer Andy Musser, San Francisco Giants voice Hank Greenwald, former Washington Bullets announcer Dave Cohen and AP radio reporter Shelley Adler are Orangemen as well. So are such nonsports celebs as Ted Koppel of ABC News, who was WAER program director when Albert was there; former NBC President Fred Silverman; and the man who made lip-synching famous, television disc jockey Dick Clark. Other schools, such as Northwestern, Missouri and Boston University, have top-drawer media programs, but none has an alumni list like Syracuse's. Says Stockton, class of '64, whose professors still know him by his original name, Dick Stokvis, "Syracuse is to sports broadcasting what Notre Dame is to football."
Why so? For one thing, Syracuse is a $36.10 bus ride from Network Row on New York's Sixth Avenue. For another, it has tradition. "Once it starts, however it starts, smart people attract smart people," says Edward Stephens, dean of Syracuse's prestigious Newhouse School of Public Communications, which most of the university's announcers-to-be attend. Newhouse means courses like Telecommunications 135, which covers the basics of broadcasting. One recent assignment: critiquing famous announcers. "John Madden," wrote one freshman, "sees a game from the trenches. He comes through the screen and hits home like a strong drink."
However, the primary lure is the 6,000-watt university station. WAER—"Always Excellent Radio," it was called in a less jaded era—covers all the Orange's basketball and football games, as well as lacrosse, soccer, tennis and every other sport except hand-holding on the quad. The 40-odd students who report sports do play-by-play and interviews and write their own broadcasts for the morning and evening drive time. You can hear them talking clear to Rochester, 86 miles away. Says Berman, '68, who went to Syracuse to be an engineer, auditioned at WAER for a disc jockey's job and wound up as sports director, "Anybody who wanted to work in sportscasting—anybody who said, 'This is it, I'm gonna do it'—now has a job in the business at one level or another. The atmosphere helps. Radio and television—that's all they talked about and thought about and breathed."
Here's a typical sight at Syracuse: Go to any game at the Carrier Dome, even the Orangemen vs. Utica, and you'll see six or 10 or 20 students sitting alone in the stands talking to themselves. So much private muttering is going on you'd think the white coats are going to show up. The students, of course, are cutting play-by-play tapes for WAER auditions, as Costas himself did when he arrived from Commack (N.Y.) High South in 1970. The omnipotent student sports director reviews the tapes, clearing or refusing to clear announcers for game assignments. In other words, Stress City. Costas had a detectable New York accent in his early days, pronouncing every quarter of every game a qua-duh. He improved in a hurry.
From Syracuse it's usually up, up and away. Albert went to the Knicks on WCBS Radio. Costas jumped straight to powerful KMOX radio in St. Louis, where he was the voice of the ABA Spirits. Stockton landed a job reading radio news at KYW in Philadelphia, and Berman went to a Dayton TV station as a weekend anchorman. So, will Greg Papa' be the next Marv Albert? Yesssss!—with half a dozen breaks. On a scale of one to 10 for play-by-play, Papa already rates a nine. "People kid me about being the next whoever," he says, laughing uncomfortably. "To me that's the top of the profession. I'm just looking for a job right now. I've sent out a few tapes to people, and my résumé's all done."
Fifty copies, just in case.
Papa ('84) just may be the next Marv Albert ('63).