by Wade Marbaugh
Once again footballs fill the air, a sure sign of the onset of autumn with its ecstatic play-by-play calls over the airwaves.
But nowadays not all exclamations of “Touchdown!” emit from radio and television stations. Many are called online—and heard around the world.
High school and college sports webcasting has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, and some of DeKalb County’s institutions and enterprising individuals have joined the national trend.
“Nature abhors a vacuum,” said John Morgo, a self-made online sportscaster from Dunwoody. “There’s money and exposure to be made here, and schools have rushed in to fill the content vacuum.”
Tom Whitfield, another DeKalb resident with extensive webcasting experience, explained the online explosion in other terms.
“If the broadcast media aren’t covering you, become the media,” he said.
Marist School was a webcasting pioneer in metro Atlanta. Morgo, a Marist alumnus, recalls attending a War Eagles football game six or seven years ago and seeing a sportscaster in the press box.
Morgo entered the press box out of curiosity and watched retired judge Phil Etheridge calling the play-by-play in an online broadcast.
“That was a defining moment for me,” Morgo said. “I wanted to broadcast sports and here was someone doing it online.”
Usually, budding sportscasters enter a small market, such as minor league baseball, to hone their craft and move up the ladder. Morgo saw a different route.
“I thought I could get into the business by webcasting,” he said. “I contacted the Marist webmaster and asked, ‘How do you do it?’”
Subsequently, Morgo bought a good mixer, headphones, laptop and an internet access card—he says good gear is essential for a professional sound—and began webcasting football games at Norcross High School and baseball at Marist.
His advice to wannabe sportscasters: “You have to work on it. Pregame preparation is key. Talking is the easiest part—finding time to do the research is difficult if you’re holding down a day job.”
Whitfield—a former radio DJ, high school sportscaster and Major League beat reporter—also emphasizes preparation.
“It takes a couple of hours to get ready, and that’s if you already know the teams,” he said. “But the main thing is to just tell your listeners what’s happening.”
Whitfield maintains that webcasting is different than radio or TV broadcasting because web listeners often are multitasking.
“Tell them the score often,” he advises webcasters. “Tell what players have done. Recap the game often. Don’t be the guy who stays on air 15 minutes and never gives the score.”
Morgo and Whitfield joined forces in 2010, audio webcasting basketball, baseball, softball and soccer at Georgia Perimeter College. For side basketball commentary, they enlisted GPC employee Daniel Bolton, helping him develop in the craft.
“You have to get your patter down, develop your own rhythm, your own style,” Morgo said. “It takes at least a full season.”
Listening to the pros can help. Whitfield said he learned much about basketball broadcasting when, as a UPI reporter, he covered the Virginia Squires, a team in the extinct American Basketball Association. He usually sat next to Marty Brennaman, who then called Squires games and now announces for the Cincinnati Reds.
“He was one of the best around back then, and 40 years later he’s still one of the best,” Whitfield said.
Morgo likes to interject humor into webcasts and admired that approach by former Atlanta Braves announcers Skip Caray, Ernie Johnson and Pete van Wieren.
“One time I think they spent a half inning telling fishing jokes,” Morgo recalled.
The Georgia High School Athletic Association produces online video broadcasts through Play On Sports, one of many marketing platforms that connect webcasts to internet streaming sites such as EZ Stream.
At ghsa.net one can watch archive webcasts such as Tucker High’s Class AAAA football state championship victory last December.
Georgia Perimeter uses i-High.com as its marketing platform. A look at i-High’s website reveals just how much webcasting has grown into a major industry. Hundreds of schools have broadcasting sites at i-High.
“What we’re seeing is many schools are starting to webcast themselves, with students and faculty doing the production,” Morgo said.
Morgo and Whitfield believe advertisers should take note of the webcasting trend. Georgia Perimeter’s i-High website boasts more than 200,000 hits since January.
One advantage webcasting has over traditional broadcasting is that fans can listen to games from any location. “The Jaguars are on the air, around the corner and around the world,” is Whitfield’s standard opening for Georgia Perimeter sportscasts.
Said Whitfield, “Last spring a baseball player’s dad told me, ‘I heard Thursday night’s webcast. I was in Hong Kong and it started at 6 a.m. there.’ That’s why webcasting is a superior idea for most schools. No radio station can do that.”