Story telling

Wine Scully; The gift of visual storytelling

(Mike McVay) Much has been written about how to honor longtime Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play announcer Vin Scully, who passed away on August 2. The many announced events he’s called include announcing games when Jackie Robinson was a Brooklyn Dodgers player, Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, and most recently, Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter. The list is long.

Scully’s gift for storytelling was an offshoot of his first ambition: sports writing. Scully’s skills as one of the most descriptive broadcasters began at a time when more people listened to sports on the radio than watched them on television. There was nothing quite like watching a sporting event on a stream back then. Most of America depended on audio first. You could see the green of the field and thought you could smell the freshly cut grass.

Top play-by-play talent paints a picture by describing everything they see as if they were describing a game to someone who doesn’t have a sense of sight. Describe the obvious important parts of a game, but adding the vision that recognizes the environment, the atmosphere, the intangible feeling created by the crowd and allowing the sounds associated with a game to play in the background.

Vin Scully also knew when and how to use silence to magnify a moment and engage the audience in the experience. A Grand Slam in a critical match? After you made the call, it stopped and you heard the roar of the crowd, and suddenly… there you were. The fact that the average person listened to Vin and never thought about the uniqueness of what he was doing is proof that he made “hard” seem “easy”. It’s something all the greats do. It’s easy, until you try it too.

Baseball may no longer be America’s pastime, but it still signals so much that many of us who grew up listening to it think when we hear a game today. That means summer is coming when you hear the first game in late March/early April. It’s a part of the time of year when the sun rises early and sets late. When the children are out of school. When you started counting the days until a vacation. When the playoffs approach, it means school has started, football season has begun, the leaves are turning, and winter is not far away.

The home run call, that exciting statement that is exclaimed with excitement as a ball leaves the stadium, adds to the level of excitement in the game. It is also part of the memory fabric of the game. hometown is the Cleveland Guardians, formerly known as the Cleveland Indians, and Play-by-Play artist Tom Hamilton’s “It’s back, wayyy back, gone…” is one of my favorites. Hamilton is an effective personality who uses only the words necessary to fully explain or describe the purpose of his speech. The word economy it presents is punctuated with enthusiasm, never losing its true enthusiasm.

Ken Levine, who is well known for the many shows he wrote (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frazier and more), in addition to being “Beaver Cleaver” as a Top 40 DJ, has experience as a play-by-play baseball talent. We worked together at KTNQ/Los Angeles, where I saw and heard his creativity for the first time, as he is a powerful storyteller. Ken once told me that when he was with the Baltimore Orioles, he started the season saying, “Elvis left the building.” It worked until he had to say “Elvis…is off the wall”. It certainly creates a visual.

Bob Prince, the PBP Pirates announcer when I was a kid in Pittsburgh, created “The Green Weanie.” He was known to always follow a narrow victory with the words “We got ’em all the way.” Joe Nuxhall and Marty Brennaman worked for the Cincinnati Reds. The duo moved in a frenzy during the tough times on the diamond. They made me wait for a rain delay just to hear them talking to each other. You probably have your own favorite advertisers. Think about what they did/did that stood out to you? What is the one thing they said that made a lasting impression on you?

There are few on-air personalities who really focus on the practice of telling stories effectively. Simply put, too few have what many major league baseball personalities do when it comes to visual communication. It’s safe to say that baseball, being the slowest of the professional sports to stream, leaves more time to paint a picture. Still, it’s not really about how long it takes to be descriptive, but about using pointed descriptions that are relatable. This is something that all talents can do. If you can allow the audience to view your story, you will be connected with your audience. This enriches their listening experience.

Think of the gift given to us by the great Vin Scully. Remember him and appreciate him for his pioneering style. Communicate in stories. Tell these stories visually and descriptively. Use audio, when more appropriate than words, and engage silence or use an abnormally long pause, when a moment needs to be magnified.

Mike McVay is president of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]