Here it is Ladies and Gentlemen. I wanted to thank Gus Johnson for taking the time and the people from Gus Johnson Sports for setting the whole thing up. This whole interview really came about because Gus is launching a website (linked above and below), which feature “Fantasy” ringtones for teams and I thought it was an ingenious idea. Please check out the site when you’re done reading this 10 question interview with the Patron Saint of Awful Announcing. Hope you enjoy it.
Awful Announcing: First off, I wanted to say that I and the readers are huge fans of yours. Do you realize the love that you get from the Internet and fans of Baskeball and Football? Are there any Internet sites that you check out from time to time?
Gus Johnson: I don’t check them out everyday, but I check them out once or twice a week. Actually Awful Announcing is one of the sites on a regular basis. Awful Announcing, last year did me such a huge solid with what had happened at CBS and being supportive of me and it was a great opportunity to get that exposure. I check out the Internet on a regular basis and see that I’ve had some positive responses from fans, and I’ve had some negative ones too. I get killed out there as well, but everything is a great opportunity to become a person that people listen to and I’m very appreciative of the love I’ve gotten from the Internet.
GJ: It actually came about because of the love from the Internet, and some of the people who responded to my calls over the years. Because the Internet is such a powerful vehicle now a company out of California called Big Fish Media and two companies out of New York, Royalty and Blaze Media came to me and said hey this would be cool if we could take Fantasy Sports to another level and have Fantasy Sports Calls. Why don’t we do some Fantasy calls where every team has a chance and every fan has a World Championship call on their phone. We’re selling a little bit of hope for a $1.99.
We’ve gotten a great response. So far so good, I haven’t had a chance to do all of the calls because it takes so much out of my voice. I’m sitting there really trying to get into the mind frame of it being a big call the last second of the game and the final play. You have to muster up a lot of energy. We did the college and pro football, and the pro Basketball, so now I’m trying to get my mind rapped around College Basketball, which is my thing, so it’s going to take some time to make it authentic.
AA: What was your background coming out of school, and much work did it take for you finally get noticed on a National level?
GJ: Well coming out of College I worked in a lot of small places which was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I worked in Waco, Texas, Huntsville, Ala, Greensboro, NC, Washington, DC. I’ve called games on ESPN2, ESPN, The Big East Network, I’ve the called Candian Football. I’ve called almost everything you can imagine. I even called Hockey before. I used to call NCAA Regional Hockey for the NCAA Network before the rights shifted over to ESPN. I called Boston Hockey games when Mike Greer was there, and he turned out to be a terrific pro.
Things were difficult at one time, I remember working in Waco making $16K a year and eating at Del Taco everyday. They used to have this deal where you would get 4 tacos for $2.50 plus a drink and that was my thing, but it was fun. It’s always been fun, I’ve enjoyed this ride so much. I’ve been so fortunate to experience the things I’ve experienced.
When I got to Washington and had a chance to be seen I attracted some people in New York and came to MSG Network which was the biggest break of my life having a chance to work at Madison Sqaure Garden and be a part New York Knicks and New York Rangers and the World’s most famous Arena. And from there once you’re in New York and Network Execs turn on the TV and I’m doing the Yankees post game report or a Knick pregame show and fortunately I got that attention. There was a man in the New York Daily News by the name of Bob Raissman who was the first to notice my work when I was calling the Grey Cup for the CFL. As a matter of fact I still have the clipping from 1994 and it hangs in my Kitchen to this day.
Once he noticed my work as a play by play announcer things really started to move forward. I got a chance to call some games at CBS with College Basketball and things really started to blossom.
AA: Covering so many different Sports that overlap during their respective seasons has to be hectic at times. What is your schedule like when you’re calling both NFL and Basketball games?
GJ: I mean it’s really hectic. I’ll give you my schedule from this past week. Let me see where was I last week? Half the time I don’t even know where I am. I know I’m in Boston right now talking to you. Okay, I have to do the Celtics Game tonight. I do Knicks-Milwaukee tomorrow. I get on a plane on Saturday and do the Miami-Jets on Sunday. I come home late Sunday Night, have Monday and Tuesday off. I do the Knicks and Nets on Wednesday, the Knicks and 6ers on Friday, and then I get a plane Saturday morning to fly to Denver to call Kansas City and Denver, and that’s how it goes. From one game to the next.
You’re always moving and with Football and Basketball overlapping right now and once Pro Football is over it’ll be College Basketball, and I’ll be rocking and rolling through the Spring.
AA: Most critics throw the term “homework” around pretty liberally (i.e.- PbPer A did not do his homework before this game). For those of us who have no idea, how much prep is involved from week to week and from Sport to Sport?
GJ: It depends. I think homework is an over used term because quite often I see sportscasters get so involved to use homework to impress people with the amount of info they can spew out as much information on the screen that it takes away from the game. I think it’s the game that we need to understand and how people play the game and what’s the strategy.
With the Knicks, I know the Knicks. They’re my team, I’m with them everyday. All the homework you can do with the stats is important but it’s not that important. The key to it is to know the other team. We’re getting ready to do the Celtics tonight and I’m doing it on radio which is a whole different animal. I’ve got to follow the ball, and follow the team, and follow the game instead of letting everyone know that Kevin Garnett went to Farragut Academy and that he’s from South Carolina. Everybody already knows that already.
For Football it’s a little different. On Monday you wrap after the game on Sunday. On Tuesday you get the tapes and you start to watch those. On Wednesday you get your packets and you start putting your boards together. Thursday you’re still putting your boards together and beginning to wrap your mind around the broad based themes of the game and who you should pay attention to and how these guys want to play. You have to make sure you have everyone in the right spot because the lineup changes all the time.
On Gameday you get up early, get your coffee and head to the stadium. You go through all of the checks, you go through all the promos, you rehearse the roll ins, you rehearse the graphics. And once the game starts you watch the game and you hope organically that the information spews out with the stories you want to tell. When you think about it, it’s Sports. I’m not a doctor, or a lawyer, or an accountant. I’m doing stuff that most men would love to do. It’s not really hard, it’s more fun than anything else.
AA: It’s no secret that your enthusiasm during games has been both praised and criticized. Is your level of energy something that just comes naturally? Do you ever feel the need to take it upon yourself to make a boring game seem exciting?
GJ: I always try to take a bad game and make it better. I think if I had to say one positive thing about myself, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of taking bad games and making them at least a little bit interesting. I enjoy that part of announcing. You try to make every event as theatrical as possible. You try to make every game the Super Bowl. In the NFL, every game is so important. Every game really does mean something. I feel many times that it’s my job to bring that passion into the homes of the fans that are watching the game on TV.
AA: You’ve been involved in some of the most amazing finishes during the NCAA Tournament. Which was your favorite to call?
GJ: There are two calls that stick out in my mind, and both come from the NCAA Tournament. The first was the Princeton/UCLA game. Did you know that the guy who made that shot for Princeton is a doctor now? Incredible. The other game was the Gonzaga vs. Florida name where I said “The Slipper Still Fits.” I still, to this day, don’t know why or how I said that, but it came out of my mouth and it’s such a memorable call for me.
AA: Who are some of the up-and-comers in the Sports Broadcasting field that I/we should have our eye(s) on?
GJ: Great question. A lot of guy at CBS are going to be stars. Ian Eagle is tremendous. Kevin Harlan is also up there. Craig Bollerjack is really coming on. He has a sweet style about him. Over at Fox, Kenny Albert is great. When I’m travelling, I love listening to Dan Shulman. He has such a great voice, but what makes him so good is how he works in Dick Vitale so well. I grew up admiring George Blaha, in Michigan so much.
AA: During the (very few) radio interviews that I do for Awful Announcing I always get the question: If you had to choose any team to call a significant moment in your life (birth of a child, wedding, graduation, etc) Who would you choose? (My answer is always Marv Albert, Keith Jackson, Gus Johnson, and Erin Andrews on the sideline). Who would make up your crew?
GJ: Let me break this up per sport. If I was doing a basketball game, I’d want to do a game with Marv Albert and Hubie Brown.
If I was calling a football game, I’d want to be with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.
If I was doing a baseball game, I’d want to be in the booth with Bob Costas, Al Michaels, and Tony Kubek.
If it was a college basketball game, how could I not want to be with Billy Packer and Dick Vitale?
AA: Last question, and no offense to any of the other Announcing teams on CBS’ Football Roster…..Can you please forward onto management that most of us don’t get the 7 or 8 Houston Texans games you are assigned to each year, and that we want you on some Colts and Pats games?
GJ: I really believe that everything is a learning process in broadcasting. Everything prepares me to be a better announcer. I actually looked at the Houston Texans-Oakland Raiders game that I called as one of the most difficult games to call. Why? Because everyone told me that most of the nation was going to watch the Patriots-Colts game. I knew that I had to do everything I can to make this game so exciting that no one would want to turn the channel. I give thanks that I’m calling NFL games every day, and I wouldn’t change what I do for the entire world.
Gus Tones (Gus Johnson Sports)