Accepting opportunities that come your way and overcoming adversity is the way to succeed when starting your career, a professional sports broadcaster said Wednesday, April 7.
“Believe it or not, I didn’t have much support to fall back on to start my career,” Jim Jackson, Philadelphia Flyers play-by-play broadcaster, said. “Neither my mother, nor radio partner thought I stood a chance.” Faced with adversity all throughout college and beyond, Jackson, who has now been broadcasting the Flyers for 28 years, certainly proved his doubters wrong.
On Wednesday, April. 7, Jackson shared his words of wisdom to both students and faculty affiliated with the communication department. Thanks to Lou Tilley, Jackson was able to address the significance of the newly added sports communication minor.
By taking every opportunity that came Jackson’s way, he was most certainly going to take advantage of it. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1985, Jackson was eventually named to a full-time position on a New York sports radio talk show. With as much pride as Jackson had for this job, he was determined to reach new limits.
Getting started in broadcasting
Growing up without taking a sports communication or broadcasting class, Jackson not only broadcasts two sports teams, but he also started teaching an online broadcasting class in November. In this class, the students learn about the P.E.P of broadcasting.
The first “P” stands for Preparation. “Preparation, to me, is vital,” Jackson said. “You can never be over-prepared. The more prepared you are, the better you will feel about yourself going into broadcasting.”
The “E” stands for experience. According to Jackson, there is never such a thing as a bad experience, but rather you learn something from the experience whether it is about yourself, business or company which ultimately turns into a good experience. From there, it is all about reps and from the reps, there will be an improvement in your performance and experience.
The final “P” stands for Perseverance. “You will certainly need it in this business,” Jackson said. “There will never be a smooth path. There will be bumps in the road and you are going to have to be able to move past them.”
As most hockey fans know, the sport is a fast-paced game, and Jackson does a remarkable job keeping up with the plays and the names of each player on both teams. So how does he do it? He has the natural-born talent to talk fast and keep up with the sport. He didn’t do anything in terms of training, specifically to talk faster, but he did take speech courses for diction, vocabulary, etc.
In terms of preparation for a broadcast, Jackson uses the pre-game skates and warm-ups to prepare and concentrate on the players that will appear on the ice, especially for the opposing team. Jackson’s preparation of name-number recognition starts the day before by watching the opposing team’s previous game and says the same thing in his head as they touch the puck. Then the day of the game, he does more memorization during the pregame skate.
“I use roughly 10-15 percent of my prep but I don’t know what 10-15 percent it’s going to be,” Jackson said. “It depends on how the game is going to go. In live sports, you have no idea in what direction it’s going to go, so you have to be prepared for a lot of the different possible trails.”
Broadcasters do have a roster sheet in front of them during the game, but according to Jackson if a broadcaster looks down at the roster sheet constantly, the broadcaster will soon find they will be a play behind. It’s very important to be prepared for a game and complete memorization exercises.
Each broadcaster has their own way of broadcasting the game or event, and according to Jackson, a broadcaster has their own style and voice. Inflection and pacing are both very important whether an individual is a sideline reporter, anchor or broadcaster. It is also important not to show any negative emotions that the broadcaster may be feeling before the broadcast.
“When it comes to speaking, it is all about inflection, it’s about the pacing,” Jackson said. “If I slow down and then speed up, you will listen more than if I were to speak with the same pacing the whole time. You might be listening to me, but you won’t be hearing me. The best announcers are able to capture the event in play-by-play with voice alone.”
Each broadcaster also has their own style and are always learning and taking things in to improve or add anything to a broadcast. Jackson mentioned that he adds to his broadcasts according to little things he picks up from other broadcasters such as an inflection change, but does not change the foundation completely. Societal factors also contributes to the style of a broadcast. For example, given today’s time, broadcasters will talk about living and broadcasting through a pandemic.
When broadcasting on NBC Sports, Jackson changes his emotions and inflection in games as opposed to broadcasting on Comcast Sports Network. When broadcasting on Comcast Sports Network, Jackson shows more excitement when the Flyers score a goal than when the opposing team scores a goal. But when broadcasting on NBC Sports, Jackson keeps the same excitement for both teams.
“When I am broadcasting on a regional network, I have more free reign to get more excited for a Flyers goal, broadcast from a Flyers standpoint, to have more stories on the Flyers,” Jackson said. “Studies show that 97-98 percent of the audience are Flyers fans so we are going to broadcast to that 97-98 percent.”
There is also a line that Jackson tries not to cross when broadcasting a Flyers game and being a fan of the home team. “I try not to say ‘we.’ I am not part of the team. I am not going to say ‘we scored,’ I am not going to say ‘we’re playing well tonight.’ ‘The Flyers scored.’ ‘The Flyers are playing well tonight.’”
There are many challenges that can occur during a broadcast and it is up to the broadcaster to remain professional during the duration of the game or event. In one instance, continuing to broadcast when the home team is underperforming or not winning a game. According to Jackson, as a broadcaster you are professionally bound to stay up, however, there is that human element that needs to be pushed through.
“You have to really really bear down,” Jackson said. “Because that is when broadcasters are really tested.”
There will also be times in which an individual does not like the way a broadcaster is calling the game. Jackson recalls a time in which he broadcasted an away game for the Philadelphia Flyers and was told by the Flyers that they felt he was becoming an apologist for the officials. They were referring to when his broadcasting partners were ripping into the officials and Jackson was balancing it out. Following the next game Jackson broadcast where he eliminated the balance, he was then called “the leader of the whine-fest against the officials.”
“That’s what happens in this business,” Jackson said. “People hear you through their perspectives. You can’t please everybody because they are going to hear what they are going to hear.”
After speaking on his experiences in broadcasting and providing tips and advice for future broadcasters, Jackson left the audience with this piece of advice:
“If you have a dream, if you have a passion, go for it. Try to find a way to make that work. Don’t let anybody else tell you that you can’t do it.”
If you are interested in becoming a broadcaster and wish to take Jackson’s broadcasting classes, please use the following email to sign up.