We went on a mission to gather remedies on how to keep a broadcaster’s vocal cords in top shape during this crazy time of year. But in the process, we also were passed along some war stories by those who lost their voices at some point in their career and how they scrambled to get it back.
If this makes you feel any better, they survived to tell these:
The Baseball Hall of Famer notes that in his 60 years of broadcasting, he never once missed an assignment because of losing his voice. But on pages 132-133 of his 2004 autobiography “Oh, My!” he tells a story about how he tried to bail out, but his partner wouldn’t allow it. During the 1979 NCAA basketball tournament, he and Al McGuire were doing did four games in two days — in two different cities. They did the first two games in Providence, Rhode Island on the first Saturday, and Enberg noticed his voice was getting tired. “By the end of the second game I was reduced to a whisper,” writes Enberg. They had to go to Murfreesboro, Tennessee for two more games on Sunday “and “I refused to talk to anyone on the plane and didn’t utter a peep to anyone in the hotel. All I did was gargle and suck strong lozenges trying to protect what little was left of my voice. …”
By the time they made it to the Tennessee-Notre Dame game — the fourth one of the weekend — Enberg said he was “sounding like something between a man and a toad” … and “not only did my throat hurt me, it hurt me to hear myself.”
At halftime, he declared his voice to be dead. He turned to McGuire and whispered: “Coach, I can’t go any longer. You have to take over. Here’s what I’ll do. I know you don’t know all the players, but I’ll assist you by pointing them out on my spotting boards, and I’ll underline any statistics that are important. I’ll be right here next to you.”
Enberg finishes the story: “With total insensitivity, Al said without a blink: ‘Dicksie, if you’re goin’, I’m goin’.” That was all he said. I did the rest of the game. He was too smart. He was really saying, ‘You think I’m going to try something I can’t do on national television? I’d rather watch you die on television. I’m not going to die, too.’ Typical Al. The Fox.”
When recalling that story this week, Enberg added: “That game in 1979 (which led to the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird NCAA final) was just prior to my first Wimbledon. I was reduced to a whisper with no sympathy from Al. But come to think of it … it’s yet another reason why Wimbledon was and is my favorite event. In an obtuse way, the Championships and Meggezones (where he could find his favorite throat medicine) may have saved my career.”
“I did lose my voice at the start of the 1976 season. That year we opened in Cleveland and by the end of the game I was getting hoarse. We went to Atlanta the next night for a game and by the end of the pre-game show I was hoarse again and very concerned. From there we went to Pittsburgh and each day I thought it would get better but each morning I woke up with a sore throat.
“As the road trip continued, our coach, Bob Pulford, said to me, ‘Why don’t you got back to L.A. and see a doctor there.’ I left the team, flew home and saw a throat doctor. Rich Marotta and the late Kings beat writer, Alan Malamud, did the broadcasts. Without so much as a thorough exam, that doctor took one look at my throat and said, ‘I think you have throat cancer. You better find a new profession.’
“I realized I had to get a second opinion. My wife was working for an orthodontist at the time and he referred us to a different throat doctor who told me, ‘Your throat looks like raw meat. You have a severe throat infection and each time you broadcast a game it got worse.’ He told me I needed complete voice rest for at least a week.
“I hated to miss the games, but enjoyed ringing a bell and signaling to my wife Judy if I needed something to eat or drink. Amazingly, Judy and I are still married. Eventually with medication the doctor prescribed it got better.
“That was the worst infection I have had during my 43 years with the Kings but taking care of my voice is constantly on my mind.”
“Now in my 31st year at CBS Sports and working a steady diet of football, college basketball, and golf — you can’t help but battle a bad throat at least once a year. Most of them you get through without incident.
“The mother of all episodes for me was about 15 years ago. UCLA at Stanford in basketball. The morning of the game I awoke with an out-of-the-blue case of laryngitis. I couldn’t get a word out. There was no sign anything like this was imminent.
“When we arrived at Maples Pavilion for the broadcast I immediately let our producer, the legendary Bob Dekas, know that we were in trouble.
“He made a phone call back to the CBS Sports’ Officer of the Day in New York to urgently find out what we should do. New York said: ‘I’m sure Jim will be fine once the red light comes on.’
“So a few hours later, the broadcast begins, the red light comes on, and of course, barely a single word came out. It was a screeching, ugly, indecipherable, lame two minutes. Not even ‘Hello, friends’ made the air!
“There was nothing we could do to change it. Billy Packer ended up calling the entire game. Play-by-play, analysis, promo reads. For some reason I sat next to him for the full two hours. I may have grunted a few times to lend some on-air support, but for the most part it was a one-man show.
“Of course this scenario is every broadcaster’s worst nightmare. We are all compulsive hand washers in this business but sometimes the odds just catch up with you.”
“I go back to the NFC championship game in 2004 — Carolina over Philadelphia. As the game got closer, I just got progressively worse and had to see an ENT doctor in Philadelphia that a friend of mine recommended. I went to his office on a Sunday morning and met him, and he gave me a steroid injection. I couldn’t make a peep until about 7 p.m., which was about an hour before kickoff. And the voice just kicked back in. It was timing from heaven.
“Of course, that’s all completely different from when I had a paralyzed vocal cord (in 2011). That was hell. I can’t think of a more traumatic experience. When I went through that, you realize that you have the ability to strengthen that apparatus around your voice box with the muscles and that can mask any trouble that might hit an ‘average’ citizen who doesn’t use his voice in the loud volume that we do. You think of how Adelle had vocal surgery, Julie Andrews, Dick Vitale, Stephen Tyler, John Hamm. They all ended seeing Dr. Steven Zeitels in Boston. But it becomes like any muscle in your body you can train. From personal experience, there is evidence that the more you use it, the more swelling happens and the vocal cords come together easier and make sounds.”
The NBC lead voice on the NHL says he tends to have voice issues at least twice a winter, “usually around the period between Christmas and New Year’s — perfect time for the outdoor Winter Classic. Normally there’s another in the first chill of fall in October. If it isn’t caught early, you are limited.
“Fortunately, the network has others who can jump in and take your place. In the minor leagues, I had to somehow get by. There were nights, one in particular in Saginaw…. and another in Syracuse…. where I was taking a swig of cough syrup during commercial breaks just to get through. It was very raspy, and I couldn’t wait for the horn to sound because I wanted to fulfill my obligation to the fans.
Before the 2009 Winter Classic outdoor game at Wrigley Field, Emrick, who also calls New Jersey Devils games, came up with a sore throat from a chronic sinus drainage condition.
“I got on an antibiotic and headed to Chicago on Dec. 29, but informed our producer Sam Flood — now executive producer of NBC Sports and NBCSN — that if this followed the ‘normal progression,’ I might not be able to work on Jan. 1. And, unlike baseball, hockey doesn’t need closers.
“So Sam alerted Dave Strader to be standing by…. and ordered me to stay away from Wrigley Field. Normally I like to park at the Winter Classic site for two days just to get the experience and watch the process of taking care of the ice. I had to call Sam on the morning of the 31st and tell him it was worse. So, Sam had Strader fly in from a game in Phoenix. Once Dave landed, I headed for O’Hare and home.
“I think we’ve all had those times when we sensed we were ‘losing it.’ I recall an NBC game in Chicago. Out of the anthem, I heard myself describe the goaltenders and couldn’t believe it was me. Much of breaking through that day was putting mind over the condition, having good colleagues in Eddie and Pierre, and Sam in the truck, understanding and jumping in more often than normal to spell me. I sounded much better by the end of the game. If you panic, your vocal chords tighten up even more.”
The Dodgers’ newest play-by-play hire recalls a time last year when he had to go to the doctor for the first time to get help with his voice.
“I’m pretty fanatical about eating healthy, taking daily vitamin C, using hand sanitizer, and prioritizing sleep. The biggest struggle that I can remember came during a particularly busy stretch in February of 2014.
“Here’s a picture I had snapped of all the stuff I was taking that time (and he put it out on Twitter). It got bad enough — and I knew my upcoming schedule was rigorous enough — that I went to the doctor out of desperation. It’s the only time I’ve done that.”
“I came down with a cold on a Thursday. Friday, I had to travel to South Carolina to do a basketball game on Saturday. I traveled straight from there to a Sunday game. Went home for a few hours Monday before traveling later that night to Tennessee for a Tuesday game. By then, my voice had a really nice thickness to it, but I knew I was close to losing it, and was going to have a hard time getting up for the big plays.
“To make matters worse, that afternoon, a metal fell from the ceiling of Indiana’s Assembly Hall, leading them to postpone their game on ESPN. That led to our game at Tennessee being elevated from ESPNU to ESPN. Thankfully it wasn’t a close game, so I didn’t have to raise my voice too often. Would have been a problem; I was just about shot by the end of that night.”
The former Lakers’ radio play-by-play man now at CBS doing college basketball and the NFL — including Sunday’s Chargers-Chiefs game — says it is “inevitable that once or twice a year I’ll have voice issues. When my voice has been weak, I’ve had a lot of success with a steroid pill called prednisone. I’ll carry a bottle of it in my travel bag wherever I go.
“But here’s the thing about this stuff: It takes a few hours to really kick in. So while it works as a preventative measure — I always take it the first day of the NCAA Tournament when we do four games in one day — it isn’t as effective if, say, you suddenly start to lose your voice during a game. And that’s exactly what happened to me one day last NFL season in Tampa Bay.
“I’d been in New York the week leading up to the game where temperatures were in the 30s. Once the game in Tampa started, that humidity killed me. By the third quarter, my voice was almost completely gone, down to a whisper. All I could do was apologize to our audience. For me, there is nothing more miserable in this business than calling a game when your voice is weak or gone. Nothing.
“All that said, I’ve learned that the best preventative measure is always a good night’s sleep. When your body starts to get fatigued one of the first things to go is your voice. So I try to get as much sleep as possible the night before the game. I also try to avoid eating in loud restaurants where you’re forced to talk over the din. Next thing you know you’ve strained your vocal chords before you’ve even gotten to the game. I used to hear about other broadcasters avoiding loud restaurants and thinking they were paranoid. Now I’m one of them.”
The voice of high school sports on Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket has his own unique elements to contend with on his assignments:
“The worst thing I have to deal with I would say would be cold air. Sometimes we get placed on the roof of a press box as there is no room inside.The cold air will dry out the voice quickly, which just means more water to keep things hydrated. But the consequence of drinking more water is going to the bathroom more.”
Then, what do you do?
“I have lost my voice during the football season and it was always due to a sinus infection. Those things tend to settle in my chest.
“As far as prevention goes, I have taken doctor’s advice and wash my hands frequently to avoid the infection in the first place.”
Further prevention came up when a fellow broadcaster developed nodules on his vocal cords about 15 years ago and had to have them surgically removed.
“That experience for him sent me to my doctor to have him check out my vocal cords, which were fine. But he also suggested I see a speech pathologist who gave me the best advice that to this day I still practice. She said the vocal cords are part of a gland, and as such require water from the inside. Therefore, avoid caffeine and alcohol as they are diuretics, and drink plenty of water. Because the vocal cords are a gland, she told me to start drinking water several hours before a broadcast in order to properly hydrate.
“The second thing she told me is to practice vocal exercises. The vocal cords only produce the sounds of the vowels — consonants are formed with the tongue and lips in conjunction with a vowel sound. So what I try to do before every broadcast, and even during the week when I might be days away from a broadcast, is scales with the vowels. I go up five and back down with ‘a, e, i, o u.’
“It is absolutely amazing how good my voice feels after I am well hydrated and I have warmed up with those scales.”
The Lakers’ play-by-play on radio, who lost his voice earlier this week before a game at Phoenix, also relies on voice lessons.
“Normally, I do a lot of voice maintenance — take a lot of vitamins, drink a lot of green tea daily, that kind of thing. I’ve been able to stay ahead of any issues with two exceptions: my first year doing play-by-play in Washington DC, and last this week, which was the worst it’s been in 30 years.
“One thing I did when I got the Lakers play by play job was to get some vocal coaching. Dr. Sugerman sent me to a voice specialist named Nancy Sedat. I worked with a vocal coach in her office named Michael Cheseboro, once a week, for eight weeks.
“I knew I would be doing three-to-four hours of the radio show on some days, then rolling into three-to-four hours of play by play. He taught me a bunch of stuff like how to control my range, how to look for vocal ‘land mines'” and most of all, how to keep your voice from burning out. That was five years ago — I think I went back for a tune up once during that period.”
“I’ve never lost my voice in-season because of a cold, thankfully – however, I did struggle with it during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver when I was announcing nine hours of curling every day. I remember waking up every morning and the first thing I would do is say ‘Good morning’ out loud to myself to hear if I had a voice. Not a fun feeling, I was definitely worried. No viewer wants to listen to someone who can barely talk.”
The Pac-12 Net and NBC broadcaster says his voice issues usually “lasts three days and I sound like Bea Arthur.”
But at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia, he had no time for recovery.
“I was the play-by-play announcer for NBC at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. I was hired to call the entire beach volleyball tournament up to the medal rounds, at which point I would give way to NBC’s ‘big guns’ to take over. After calling two weeks of matches I thought I was done. So my broadcast partners Mike Dodd and Bill Walton and I decided to celebrate with some fellowship on the Syndey waterfront.
“I believe there was some karaoke and Red Bull that came together in a perfect storm of bad choices that night. We got back to the hotel in the wee hours and when I opened the door to my room at the Intercontinental Hotel, I found a note under my door. It was a message from Dick Ebersol the grand poobah of NBC Sports. Apparently, I had done an above average job and since the Americans Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana had pulled-off a Cinderella run to reach the final, NBC didn’t want to jinx it. I was told I would calling the Olympic gold medal in 12 hours.
” I went to bed sounding like Al Pacino and woke up sounding like Peter Brady. Not exactly John Facenda’s ‘Voice of God.’
“Steam showers, a pitcher of hot tea and eight hours of sleep was my self-treatment.
“I didn’t say a word to anyone until two minutes before air time when my producer asked me a question in my ear piece: ‘Hey Watty, you ready?’ Knowing my career was riding on the next word, I spoke softly and uttered: ‘Yup,’ then waited for Bob Costas to toss to me.
“Somehow over the next 90 minutes, my raspy voice held strong and that day became the best experience of my career. An Olympic gold medal final with a prime-time audience in the millions. The rowdy Aussie crowd jumped on board the party train to support the Yankees against the top-ranked Brazilians. It all came together and when Fonoi made the final block at the net the upset was complete. The crowd erupted as the American underdogs collapsed in each other arms in the warm Sydney sand.
“My final line that day came out loud and proud: ‘Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana had no business being on center court on the final day of the Olympic tournament…and now they own it!’
“And if you don’t believe me, Google it.”
Or watch it here:
As for those lucky enough to not have any war stories to tell:
The Clippers’ 77-year-old play-by-play man, in his 36th season with the team, says he “never had a voice problem despite flu and many in-season colds. I always seem to be able to find my voice somewhere up or down the esophageal scale.”
Maybe it’s the fact he gets a flu shot each September, drinks plenty of liquids and washes his hand regularly, even using “those handy wipes at the grocery store before pushing a shopping cart.”
He did have surgery for kidney stones last season that required “placing a tube down my throat for breathing and plans to work a game that night were thwarted in as much as I could hardly speak for about 24-hours after removal of the tube.”
He adds: “It is the only voice I have. I am very thankful for it.”
The morning-show sports-talk host and NBC NFL studio anchor, says his pipes are “a gift from my grandmother, who had a deep voice. No other explanation. Never gave it much thought. Never done exercises. I try to talk less off air during football season since I’m working six days a week for roughly six months. But that’s it. I believe I’ve only had one or two occasions in my career when I was struggling with my voice. But it was brief. I took Echinacea and drank lemon tea.”