In the high-pressure world of radio, sometimes everything goes wrong. Equipment fails. Technology fails. Connections fail.
But when nothing is going right, panic won’t help. You must stay cool, which is the essence of Larry Michael, the voice of the GW men’s basketball team for the past 12 seasons.
Most Colonials fans watched the season-opener at Wake Forest on ESPN. But on WMET, the play-by-play was non-existent. Michael, along with student assistant Charlie Beattie, were at the mercy of the Lawrence Joel Coliseum’s faulty equipment.
No tantrum or dictatorial orders followed. Instead, Michael coolly made the pair’s objective clear: “Keep trying to get the broadcast going, and I’ll announce the game like usual.” With about eight minutes to go in the first half, Michael’s voice finally hit the airwaves, which was quite a relief for Beattie, who was afraid he might not survive his first day of work.
“Larry appreciated it more that I stayed with it,” Beattie said of the episode at Wake Forest. “Instead of completely tearing things down, it helped cement our relationship.”
The senior was impressed. Michael could have overheated, but he trusted a college senior before really even getting to know him. That calm confidence – and trust in people around him – has helped him become one of the most versatile people in the radio business. In addition to the GW gig, Michael is the Washington Redskins’ play-by-play man on WJFK, the host of the Notre Dame Football pre-game show, and Westwood One’s senior vice president for sports. In his career, he has broadcast the NCAA Tournament and the Olympics and worked extensively in golf and even boxing.
“He’s got his finger in everything,” GW Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz said. “I don’t know how he does it, but he does it.”
Aside from his vocal talents, Kvancz said Michael’s success rides on his adaptability. The AD then brought up Marty Glickman, one of broadcasting’s all-time greats. Even as the Yankees’ play-by-play man when Kvancz was growing up in Connecticut in the 1950s, Glickman still worked high school football games.
Like Glickman, Michael seamlessly travels from sport to sport, then to the business side of radio and back to play-by-play. In the broadcasting world, he has hit the big time with the Redskins job, but isn’t above working lower profile environments.
When WJFK hired him in February 2004, Kvancz thought for sure that Michael would say his goodbyes to GW.
“I heard Redskins,” Kvancz said. “I thought we were out.” Michael replaced Frank Herzog, who was fired after 23 years announcing the Redskins’ games.
“Ironically enough,” Michael said, “when I got the Redskins job, people were coming up to me saying, ‘Sorry you’re going to leave.’ And I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere.'”
So he stayed, and the non-move benefited a group of aspiring radio personalities. Beattie, along with fellow student broadcasters Sam Farber and Brett Kaplan (a graduate student) assist Michael with each Colonials’ broadcast. The trio’s duties go beyond fetching coffee. They work with equipment, interview players and occasionally get a bit of airtime at halftime.
While calling games for WRGW is great experience, Beattie said, working with Michael for WMET has been invaluable to him. Corporate radio is a game that is much harder to master than radio at the college level, where there are fewer guidelines to follow and no sponsors to worry about.
“It’s good to get to know a lot of the nuts and bolts of it,” Beattie said. “It’s crazy to think about all the people you could piss off in corporate radio who don’t get their money’s worth.”
Michael was in his apprentices’ shoes earlier in his life. After growing up in Silver Spring, Md. he attended the University of Maryland, where he planned to be a law enforcement major. But discovering WMUC, the campus radio station, changed all that. Instead of pursuing a career as a lawyer, he majored in radio, television and film, and called Terrapins basketball games.
“I definitely see myself in these guys,” Michael said of Beattie, Farber and Kaplan. He acknowledged their hard work and said if they keep at it, they’ll land jobs in radio, of which he has had a multitude over the years.
After graduating from college, Michael worked for Channel 2 in Baltimore, as a freelance reporter at golf tournaments across the country, and in the late 1980s, was hired at Westwood One. GW hired him in 1992 to call basketball games and in his first season, the men’s team had its best season in program history.
The ’92-’93 team, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, was probably Michael’s favorite squad, he said. The late Yinka Dare led the Colonials to a third round match-up against University of Michigan. GW even had the ball, down by two points late in the game – but ended up falling to Chris Webber and the rest of the Fab Five.
“People here treat me like family,” Michael said of his time at GW. However, his collegiate ancestral roots stretch beyond Foggy Bottom and into the Midwest. South Bend, Ind. specifically, where he hosts a University of Notre Dame pre-game show.
Notre Dame and GW are both well-funded, private universities. But the two are like “apples and oranges really,” said Michael, who wears a gleaming ND 1988 championship ring with his surname emblemized in gold letters. “At Notre Dame it’s football and the tradition is there and it’s a real special place … Here it’s so fresh in everybody’s mind. When (GW) got in the Top 25 this year, it was a big deal.”
Michael’s opinions have sprouted from his years of experience. Working in all sorts of sports has increased his expertise. He may not always be the star of the show, but he always knows his role, Kvancz said. For example, during Redskins’ broadcasts, former NFL stars Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff provide their expert opinions while Michael takes care of yard markings and the down and distance. Still, he is always prepared, never overmatched by a task, Kvancz said.
“He’s speaking with a little bit of knowledge,” Kvancz said. “He’s confident in what he does. He does a lot of things. He does boxing for crying out loud.”
All the work and preparation admittedly detracts from Michael’s personal life. He plays golf and works out but said he spends most of his free time with his wife and three children in McLean, Va.
Still, Beattie said, “Sportscasting can be a hobby too, that’s why it’s such a great job.” That was seemingly evident last week before the Colonials’ game against Xavier. Michael looked to be having a great time. Before he had to be on-air, he grabbed a few cookies from the Smith Center media room, dropped them off to his children sitting in the stands, then strolled through the arena smiling and saying hello to a handful of people on the way to the courtside broadcasting table.
He is the voice of GW and the Redskins, which has vaulted him into local celebrity status.
“I actually sign autographs now,” Michael said, “which I think is absurd.”