Footiebusiness Vault: Interview with Dave Johnson

tv soccerOn the road tonight.  Here is a two year old interview with Dave Johnson about the art of broadcasting soccer.

Last week, we posted our first entry in an ongoing series on the art of broadcasting soccer.  Today we are fortunate to have some thoughts from renown soccer broadcaster Dave Johnson on the art of play by play.  Mr. Johnson is the voice of DC United and is the radio voice of the Washington Wizards.  He received an Emmy as host of the NHL’s Washington Capitals “Face Off” television show and is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in Washington, DC and in 2008 won an Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for his sports commentaries on WTOP.  Thanks to Mr. Johnson. In your career you have broadcast sports ranging from soccer to basketball to football.  What makes the play-by-play of soccer different from other sports?  Does your approach to calling a game differ for a soccer match?

Dave Johnson:  Each sport has a unique texture and feel and there is the obvious difference between play-by-play on TV and radio. On radio it is artistry with the attempt to paint a picture. On TV the play-by-play role is like that of a pilot-get the show off to take off…few bumps in between and then a smooth landing and in the process weave the color analyst in to the game comfortably. My philosophy on broadcasting is make sure the “the game is the thing”. Broadcasters are not the show, the players are. With soccer versus basketball, it take more of a feel for the texture of the game to broadcast soccer. Sports like basketball often go in predictable segments-each team gets a possession or a turn at bat. With soccer it is constantly changing and there are so many games within the game that are also going on that need to be brought out. Lastly I try to bring energy and passion to soccer while also letting the game breathe.
FB: What do you have to do to prepare for a soccer broadcast?  How much time do you spend in advance of a game getting ready for a telecast?  What aspect of pre-game preparation do you think fans would find most surprising?

DJ:  Preparation is endless. The internet changed that. There is always another article, another link, another interview on you tube. It’s hard to put a time figure on preparation. For example as I write this on a Monday, I have already started preparing for a game on Saturday. It is a high-tech world, but I still map out my players formations with 4 different colored sharpies and the both blue and black pen. It is a system I have used since my days with the MISL Baltimore Blast in the early 90s.

FB: Does your style change if you are broadcasting a match as a DC United broadcaster rather than a World Cup match?  Do you change your approach depending on the audience? Do you try and stay “neutral” regardless of the game or do viewers of DC United games expect a “partisan” voice?

DJ: That’s a good question. It is different to some degree when I am doing a DCU TV game vs. FSC or the World Cup like I did on XM Radio in 2006. My late partner Gordon Bradley had a phrase…”respect the game, enjoy the moment”, which I apply to broadcasting. In short I still provide energy when an opponent does something well on a DCU broadcast.  In ‘home” broadcasts there is the appreciation that the most of  (but not all) of the audience are DCU fans, but that does not mean I call the game through DCU broadcasts. My broadcast partner Thomas Rongen and I try to call it like we see it. Again we truly love and respect the game.

FB: During a game, what goes on in the broadcast booth that viewers don’t see and hear?  What type of discussions are occurring between you and your production team?

DJ: It’s hard to have conversations with the production team during soccer because the game is always moving. Still we will hit the talkback button and talk with the producer about matchups we need to watch or things we are seeing develop. The producer will also have an ear out for content and might ask questions in talkback in case we are overlooking something.
FB: Finally, “it’s in the net, it’s in the net” is your well recognized signature goal call.  What is the origin of that call?  Is having such a signature a “must” for broadcaster?

DJ: I don’t think it is necessary to have a signature call. I did not sit around thinking of “it’s In the Net” It  started when I was calling Baltimore Blast games in the MISL, 1990-1992. It was just a natural response that fans picked up on. For me it is still natural and there have been some goals where I didn’t use it because it just didn’t come out. Over the years I have taken some hits for it. Some have said it is contrived. Is it anymore contrived than longs shouts of “GOAALLLLLLLLLLLLLL”? I don’t think so and I like goaaaallll calls. It is an expression of excitement and joy….that’s what a goal in soccer is all about. It is the moment. For me it’s natural. But it’s true signature calls evolve….Marv Albert “yessss”…Baseball’s…”how about that”..etc.

Thanks to Mr. Johnson