(Pictured: tools of a hockey PA announcer’s trade–mike, mike switch, and line charts.)
(Late edit: link added at the bottom.)
I’m an occasional public-address voice for the University of Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team, and I had games last Thursday and Friday. Yesterday I did a fill-in gig for the women’s basketball team. Here’s what the job is like from the inside.
I show up about an hour before the game and get a credential at the media gate. If the game is in the Kohl Center (the big arena on the UW campus), I can hang my coat in the media room downstairs, then grab a soda and the rosters for the game before heading to my post. If the game is at the smaller La Bahn Arena next door (where the women’s hockey team plays), the accommodations are less plush—there, we’re paying $5 for a soda like the fans do—and I have to go up to the second level to get the rosters.
This is the point at which I also get my script for the day. Everything that happens is scripted right down to the minute. (That’s why the scoreboard clock is already counting down when you get to the game, and why it runs during intermissions.) All of the promotional announcements I read sync up with the video board. There’s a representative of the UW game-management department in my ear giving me cues, either on a headset from upstairs (for hockey) or right next to me (for basketball).
For hockey, I sit on the ice between the official who keeps the score sheet and one of the penalty boxes. It’s not unusual for players to slam into the glass right in front of us. The ice is cooled to 22 degrees, so I generally wear long johns and multiple shirts for my hockey gigs. The basketball PA announcer has a Spike Lee seat, at courtside, between the game-management guy and the video replay guy. It’s cold there, too, because in a multi-purpose arena the basketball floor is laid directly over the ice, although it’s not nearly so extreme.
Once game action starts, I’m off the script, except for stoppages when there’s something I have to read. For hockey, my job is to announce goals, assists, and penalties, and I may go for several minutes without saying anything. Basketball has more scoring to announce, and we also announce substitutions, which is impractical to do for hockey. You can impose a bit of personal style doing this stuff, as you can when introducing the team mascot before the game, or when you’re doing fan contests between periods. But whatever you do behind the big mike, you can’t go overboard. Wisconsin, one of the most profitable athletic programs in the country and a seriously big-time operation, requires a professional image that may not be so important to Directional State College. Precision is expected, if not perfection: I once accidentally mispronounced a Badger player’s name and heard about it in my headphones instantly. On hockey, I have to relay information on goals and assists to the game-management person so it can get on the video board with my announcement, and if I make a mistake on it, I hear about that, too. And justifiably so.
Fans may be surprised to learn that all during hockey games, the off-ice officials—the scorer, the scoreboard operator, the penalty timer, the auxiliary timer, and the penalty box attendants—carry on conversations that may have nothing to do with the game on the ice. All of the people I work with are certified on-ice officials and lifers in the game. Often, they have just come from officiating one game and may be rushing off to preside over another one after our game is over, and much of what they do is automatic to them. And because the hockey world is remarkably small, the officials sometimes know the players, and will talk to them as they sit in the penalty box.
Almost every hockey arena has a big horn that blows when the home team scores a goal. At Wisconsin hockey games, it’s the PA guy’s job to smack that big red button. The fans will tell you when a goal has been scored, but only when I see the referee point at the goal is it time to blow. And that might be the best part of the job.
I’d like to do more of this work than I get, because I’m strictly a backup guy. But for right now, I enjoy my opportunities when they come my way, and we’ll see what happens in the future.
(For another experience I had doing PA for Badger women’s hockey, click here.)