Logo for the DFR Audible post categoryWatching the Notre Dame vs. Stanford game this evening, I just realized why FOX’s Gus Johnson is such an awful announcer.

Yes, he’s a screamer, and that’s bad enough. But Johnson doesn’t just limit himself to howling over every play of any significance–on big plays, he actually starts screaming before the play is actually made.

If you can, find a replay of the game and rewatch the play where Stanford’s Kevin Hogan hits a deep pass to Devon Cajuste down the middle of the field. Johnson started having his conniption fit before the ball even hit Cajuste’s hands. Good thing the receiver caught the ball; otherwise, Johnson was making a fool out of himself over a simple incomplete pass. (He did the same thing on the long pass to Cajuste late in the third quarter that was incomplete; Stanford got the benefit of a pass interference call on the play.)

I know that apologists will defend Johnson (and others of his ilk) by saying that he is “generating excitement” with his calls–but that’s not good announcing. The job of the announcer–beyond presenting the basic information of the game–is to relay to the viewers the excitement that is created by the play. The broadcaster doesn’t create that excitement at all.

Don’t think so? OK, let’s make a comparison with a great announcer: Al Michaels, arguably the best in the business over the last half century. Watch, and listen, to the last minute of the “Miracle on Ice”–possibly one of the only times in his career that Michaels resorted to raising his voice to make the call. And even in the midst of calling what may have been the most momentous sporting event of the 20th century, Michaels remained in control; his voice rises with the exhilaration of the moment, but he never sounds like he’s lost his mind. Had Gus Johnson made that call, his head would have exploded with 19 seconds left in the game; they’d still be cleaning bits and pieces of him off the rafters at that rink in Lake Placid.

Michaels, and other legends of the business (Vin Scully immediately springs to mind), is smart enough to know that the game creates its own excitement; the announcer is just there to serve in the stead of the fans watching and listening at home. He will use a changed inflection in his voice to convey the thrill of the moment, but he never loses his mind. (One can argue that Johnson and the rest of the “it’s all exciting as long as I just keep screaming” school of broadcasters don’t actually have minds to lose.)

It may be tempting to let Johnson off the hook by saying, “Well, of course he’s no Al Michaels. No one can live up to that standard.” But if you’re going to be in the business, you have to aspire to be the best; it’s that way in all things, not just broadcasting. That means that standard to which you should hold yourself is the highest standard; being satisfied with yourself by saying, “Well, I’m at least as good as some guy named Spero,” is simply not good enough.

The real question is, why do outlets like FOX continue to enable bad announcers like Gus Johnson? It can’t be that hard to find guys who can call a better game than that.

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