Senior Sam Farber has been the voice of GW men’s basketball on WRGW, the University-financed Internet radio station, for a historic season. But ESPN announcer Mike Patrick, a GW alumnus, in many senses is the history of Colonials broadcasting.
A 1966 speech and drama major, Patrick came to GW from his West Virginia high school in search of an extracurricular club and began a tradition of broadcasting GW men’s basketball games in 1964. Since his days at GW, Patrick has worked at numerous radio and television stations and now covers men’s and women’s college basketball, the National Football League and Major League Baseball for ESPN.
“We inaugurated the whole thing and had so much fun doing it,” Patrick said of his time at GW. “We loved it – until they cancelled football.” GW cancelled its football program in 1967 due to attendance and financing woes.
Patrick and Mark Leepson, also a 1966 GW graduate, were the first students to broadcast GW football and basketball games for WRGW in 1964.
Farber said broadcasting the games this year has been different than in previous years because of the added hype around the team.
“It’s the same as far as covering it,” said Farber, who is the sports director at WRGW. “The only difference is that there are a lot of other (media) people in the room.”
The voice of the Maryland minor league team Bowie Baysox in the summer, Farber, a journalism major, said he got into broadcasting basketball because he loved the game but was not good enough to play on teams.
“I was always a huge basketball fan but that didn’t work out,” Farber said. “When I came to GW I was looking into media things and radio was the only live broadcast available here.”
Farber said he loves the excitement of the games and knowing the feeling that he is the eyes for people who cannot see the game.
“I think working with WRGW convinced me that radio was the media I wanted to be in,” Farber said. “The idea that there are a lot of other people experiencing the game live through you, you don’t really get that with newspaper – here, it’s your voice.”
Patrick expressed similar sentiments and said he knew after working at WRGW that he wanted to pursue broadcasting as a career.
“I guess I always knew it but just never acknowledged it,” Patrick said of his love for broadcasting. Patrick said as a child his parents used to turn off the sound on the television and let him do play-by-play for the games.
“I hardly remember doing that,” Patrick said.
While at GW, Patrick saw a leaflet for WRGW advertising help with athletics coverage. Patrick said he went to the studios and was on the air that afternoon. The next year he and Leepson broadcasted the first GW men’s basketball game in WRGW’s now 77-year history.
Upon graduating from GW in 1966, Patrick knew he wanted to pursue broadcasting, so he applied for jobs around the country. After landing jobs in Pennsylvania, Florida and in Virginia at television and radio stations, in 1981 Patrick took a job at a 6-month old cable television station named ESPN.
“Nobody really believed it would succeed,” Patrick said. “Everyone dismissed it, and rightfully so.”
In the early 1980s cable was in its infancy and television sports coverage was dominated by ABC and its “Monday Night Football,” Patrick said.
“ESPN just put up any god forsaken sport they could dig up” Patrick said. “Weight lifting and stone throwing; I remember thinking, who watches this?”
After a year of surviving cable television, a lot of people started watching ESPN when the company bought rights to broadcast college football and basketball games.
In 1987 Patrick began broadcasting “Sunday Night Football,” ESPN’s game-of-the-week answer to ABC’s “Monday Night Football.” Patrick along with former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman, broadcast the show for 19 years before it was bought out by NBC in January.
While Theisman will be moving to “Monday Night Football,” to be broadcast on EPSN this year, Patrick, will be broadcasting college sports this year, including the men’s basketball Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and the NCAA women’s college basketball Final Four. He said he will always hold a place in his heart for GW basketball.
“I hope (Pops) Mensah-Bonsu can come back,” Patrick said of the injured senior. “He is a key player, especially in times this dramatic.”
“You have one bad game this time of the year and you could be gone,” Patrick added.
Patrick said his recommendation for anyone who is interested in broadcasting as a profession is to be prepared for a tough career.
“You get to find out real quick how much abuse you can take for no money,” Patrick said. “You also find out how much you love it.” n