Many Capitals and Bullets fans have come to realize that the only way to follow their teams on radio is to watch the games on television at the same time. That way, you'll know what's going on.
Of course, many games are not televised. So while it once was fashionable for some sports fans to turn down the sound on TV games and listen to the radio announcers, Washington's professional hockey and basketball teams prove you're much better off turning down the sound on the radio and driving to Capital Centre (or out of town) to follow a game.
Ron Weber, who has not missed a Capitals game, and Frank Daly (Bullets) do play-by-play for WTOP-1500, whose powerful 50,000-watt signal cannot compensate for the unsatisfying static we get from the broadcasting booth. The cardinal rule of play-by-play, especially radio play-by-play, is to follow the ball; Weber and Daly usually fail in this regard.
The radio broadcaster is our eyes. He must, as clearly and simply as possible, draw us a picture of what is happening. The best play-by-play men are capable of delivering us a sharply focused snapshot of the action; Weber and Daly, more often than not, create sort of a finger painting.
Granted, hockey and basketball are more difficult than baseball or football for radio play-by-play. The action is continuous, the puck or ball moves quickly. But WTOP's veteran announcers exacerbate the problem with their individual styles.
Weber has plenty of laudable attributes: He loves what he's doing, he's as enthusiastic about hockey as anyone, he's accurate and knowledgeable about the game and its rulebook. Weber has a devoted following, and he's as much a part of the team as any player, coach or executive.
But for all of Weber's good qualities, one aspect reduces most of his broadcasts to rubble -- statistics. He is obsessed with Capitals history -- their record against Wales Conference opponents on Tuesdays, the background of a certain player's uniform number, the team's success on the road after taking nonstop TWA flights, et al. The numbers have possessed him, and the game itself almost becomes an intrusion on his act.
He simply neglects the play-by-play too often. To Weber, the puck is an unidentified flying object.
When Weber gets around to it, he is a good play-by-play man much of the time. He spends too much time updating shots on goal (which often can be a deceiving statistic), but he does a good job of repeating the score and time left and reviewing the game's high points. He roots for the Capitals, yet not so much that it bothers the listener to distraction.
Still, he gets carried away and loses sight of the action, and this all goes back to his lack of regard for following the puck. Often, he'll spend so much time detailing a particular save by the goaltender or unearthing a meaningless stat that you'd have a better chance of locating the puck by calling the league office.
Here is Weber on one recent broadcast: "So send a letter to Capitals Mailbag. Whatever's on your mind about hockey, particularly the Capitals, but not limited to them -- SHOT ON GOAL!!!!!"
Who took the shot? Which team took the shot? What happened just prior to the shot? These are the questions listeners constantly ask themselves during Capitals broadcasts.
Frank Daly's problem on Bullets games is a bit different. He concentrates on the game, yet we can't understand much of what he's saying because of his lingo and rapid-fire delivery. Daly, too, suffers in comparision to previous Bullets broadcasters such as Tony Roberts, Frank Herzog and Mel Proctor, play-by-play men who established a tradition of excellence.
Daly's signature, his version of Marv Albert's "Yes!!", is when he says, "Gooood!" after a basket. That's okay. However, Daly uses some shorthand that perhaps only veteran listeners can decipher quickly. He'll say, for instance, "Malone, angle-right jumper, lonesome," which is supposed to tell us that Jeff Malone is shooting a jump shot from the right side of the basket, and no one is near him.
More disturbing is Daly's jargon for missed shots. Sometimes, missed shots are "rim jobs." Other times, Daly uses what may be the most exasperating expression in the entire genre of late-20th Century American neo-realist professional basketball announcing: "Malone takes an 18-footer; it goes 17 and a half."
No matter how many times we hear this, it causes us to miss a beat. Remember, the key is the vision created in our mind. We can see Malone arc an 18-foot shot toward the basket, but then when we're told it goes 17 1/2 feet, the mind's eye gets blurry. If Daly went "swish" or "no good," we instantly complete the picture. But when he goes "17 and a half," we start doing subtraction, and by the time we've carried the number over, there's a basket at the other end of the floor.
Daly's play-by-play varies in quality with the speed of the game -- the more fast breaks there are, the more incomprehensible his calls get. It often sounds like this:
"Rulandreboundoutletto MalonetoGusthetraileryoyo dribblecrosscourtpassDayeinto thepaintbackouttheWizardtop ofthekeyCJscreen Malonedoubleclutchjumper anglerightlonesome -- goooooooooooooooooood!!!"
(If the game is at Capital Centre, listen for the booming voice of public address announcer Marv Brooks if you want confirmation of who scored.)
In short, Daly has not figured out how to concisely and effectively keep track of the ball. He's also a bit shy on sharp analysis as a game unfolds, but at least he does a good job of updating pertinent individual and team statistics.