Early Broadcasting Influences
By Brian Wheeler
I know I must be getting at least a little old when I talk to some aspiring young broadcasters of tomorrow. Many of them say that I am their biggest influence in terms of what got them excited about pursuing a career in announcing. It’s flattering to say the least, and I always hope I can live up to such high praise.
Reminds me, though, that it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago when I was growing up and being influenced myself by some already established broadcasters. I was born in Chicago, and my family and I moved out to Los Angeles when I was 2 months old. I protested the decision, but I don’t think they understood me. Probably thought I was just hungry or something! Anyway, I loved sports and was competitive in any I tried to play. But I was fairly astute early on and realized I wasn’t going to excel in any one sport to play it too seriously as I got older. So at the tender age of 11, I wondered how could I stay connected with sports if I couldn’t play? I believe it was my mother who said, “well, you like to talk a lot, maybe you can do something with that.” And it dawned on me that she was on tosomething. Yes, I could stay connected by being a broadcaster. I told all my friends what I wanted to be when I grew up and they encouraged me by saying I should broadcast our touch football games or our pickup basketball games as we played. And being an only child, I also amused myself at home by calling make believe basketball games with my Nerfhoop and ball. So I got a lot of early broadcast training on my own.
To make things even better, it was a terrific time to grow up in L.A. if you were a fan of sports on the radio. Back then, not many games were on television and radio was the best way to follow the local teams. And what a joy it was to be able to listen to some of the legends of the game, some who are still calling games in L.A. Like Vin Scully with the Dodgers and Bob Miller with the Kings, who are both Hall-of-Famers and still going strong. The late, great Chick Hearn was the voice of the Lakers, and at that time, Dick Enberg was just a local broadcaster, handling play-by-play for both the Rams and the Angels. So pretty much anytime of the year, you could listen to one of the greatest play-by-play guys evercalling a game on the radio in L.A. For someone like me trying to learn the trade at an early age, it couldn’t have worked out better.
From Scully, I think I appreciated his story telling the most, and his ability to always let you know what the score and inning was in each game so no matter when you tuned in, you were kept up to date immediately. From Miller, I learned about the value of a good sense of humor, and the ability to pronounce a lot of tricky names with precision. From Hearn I learned how to talk fast and the fun in coming up with some catch phrases to add to the color of calling a game. And from Enberg, I learned that if you had the fundamentals of play-by-play down properly, you could transfer them from one sport to another seamlessly.
As time went on, I got to meet Bob Miller first and foremost, and he remains a great friend to this day. I’ll never forget his kindness in giving advice to a young broadcaster, something I’ve always tried to do for those who’ve asked me for guidance. He’s probably the nicest person I’ve ever met in broadcasting, and I wish he enjoyed more good seasons of Kings’ hockey over the years. I then got to meet my idol, Chick Hearn in the early 90’s. He even became a reference for me as I started applying for NBA play-by-play jobs. He passed away much too soon, and would have continued calling Lakers’ games for many more seasons I’m sure if he hadn’t. A couple of summers ago, I finally got a chance to meet Vin Scully at a Dodgers’ game, and it was a thrill. He’s still as sharp as ever, and the day he gives up his mike will be a sad one indeed for baseball fans everywhere. I still haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Dick Enberg. That’s on my broadcast bucket list for sure!
So there you have it. Some of the guys who influenced me in my formative years as a broadcaster. I was lucky enough to know early on the type of career I wanted to have, and I’m one of the blessed few that can say I’ve been able to live out my lifelong dream of calling NBA games on a nightly basis. Maybe next week I’ll tell you how I got the Blazers’ job 13 years ago this July. It’s quite a story. Thanks to you great Blazers’ fans I get to tell the team’s story every game, and knock on wood, I’ve never missed one in my time here in Portland. God willing, I’ll be there for the tip every night. After all, there might be a young Brian Wheeler listening at home that’s depending on it!