Home Team Sports went announcerless Wednesday night at Capital Centre for the first half of the Bullets-Portland game. And as broadcasters Jon Miller and Phil Chenier joked at halftime, everyone was telling them it was their best telecast of the season.
It was, indeed, a revealing, refreshing telecast, one that spoke loudly for a less-is-more approach in which the broadcaster might let the sounds and sights of a game carry as much weight as his words.
Sometimes, when a downtown building is torn down, you look at that empty lot and get a new perspective, an appreciation of what open space can do for a city block. That's what HTS did.
By taking away the clutter of conversation, the network opened up the game and let us soak in the banter between players and referees, the bench-jockeying of coaches and the squeaking of tennis shoes.
"We gave a reasonably good portrayal of what it's like to be at Capital Centre," said Jody Shapiro, HTS' executive producer.
"People say (basketball) is too fast a game to go announcerless, but as long as you're giving the score and the time, it's fine. We're thinking about doing it again, maybe with indoor soccer."
HTS scattered microphones around the court and plugged us in to public-address announcer Marv Brooks. And even when Miller and Chenier returned to call the second half, those distinctive court noises could still be heard in the background, convincing Shapiro that the shotgun mikes ought to be used with announcers.
Miller and Chenier took it all in good humor. Although their pregame repartee was forced, the snippets of them at timeouts arguing over popcorn and getting thrown out of their seats were engaging. Most memorable was their brief chat about the Bullets' comeback, perhaps mocking their usual play-by-play and color-analyst roles.
Miller: "What's the difference? Why are they back into it?" Chenier: "They're playing better basketball."
A lot of people might have thought of the Washington Federals as a sandlot football team that occasionally rented out RFK Stadium and charged admission, but at least they had a Grade-A flagship radio station here in WMAL. Well, the Federals are now the Orlando Renegades and, well . . .
Two Fridays ago, the Renegades opened their U.S. Football League regular season. That morning, Frank Vaught, for seven years sports director at WKIS-AM in Orlando (the Renegades' flagship station), came to work as usual. It was not a usual day.
Vaught monitored a two-minute commentary by UPI Radio's Andy Pollin critical of the USFL. Pollin made one mention of the Renegades: "The Orlando Renegades (are) the USFL's version of the '62 Mets, and it appears they haven't improved a lot. The starting quarterback is Jerry Golsteyn. Need I say more?" Vaught prepared the tape for possible broadcast and gave it to morning host Wayne Trout to use at his discretion.
At 7:42 a.m., just before Vaught's scheduled sportscast, Trout aired the commentary. Three hours later, Vaught was fired by WKIS General Manager Mike Gaier. According to Gaier, Vaught disobeyed station policy by using commentary in that time slot.
But Gaier also told Cocoa (Fla.) Today newspaper, "The editorial (by UPI) was so strongly negative against the Renegades and the USFL that it certainly did not belong on this radio station. It was a great shot against our marketing efforts."
Vaught: "I've never been in a place where they didn't do anything to the guy who aired it and fired the guy who recommended it . . . The general manager wanted me to be a cheerleader as opposed to being a journalist. He wanted me to call them 'our Renegades' in news stories as opposed to 'the Renegades.' "
"There are a lot of big slogans like First Amendment and freedom of the press being tossed around," news director Jim Phillips said, "but people also have to remember that this is a business."