Header photo by Kimberly Rivers
I was sweating. I could feel my face turning red, as I'd just made a very public mistake. From my seat at the scorer's table last Friday, I'd seen a couple of Tar Heels go up to block a Loyola Marymount attack. The ball had landed just on the line on the Lion side, as far as I could tell.
"BLOCKED at the NET!" I boomed into the PA microphone. "POINT!"
And . . . nothing. Not even a tepid "Heels" from the crowd, and definitely not an added "Block party!" when the home team stopped an attack up front.
"Hey Turner," I heard in my headset. It was Evan Badler of Go Heels productions calling in from the video room. "That one was called out of bounds."
What was there to do but to own it?
I pushed the PA button. "Correction," I added quickly. "Out of bounds . . . with enthusiasm!" The crowd laughed. My face was flush. But the match continued.
Last fall, I got my first experiences behind the PA mic at Carolina athletics. My friend Kathleen Goolsby had announced a handful of sports, including field hockey and softball, and she let me know that the athletic department was in need of more announcers. So I dropped a line to Rob Stewart, assistant director of athletic event management.
Rob's response was enthusiastic. He'd heard me with Carolina baseball radio and knew of my work with GoHeels. He emailed me a list of available events, and off I went, helping out with men's and women's soccer in the fall.
It was nerve-wracking, particularly the pronunciations. There's a lot to say before a match. Sponsorships, special thanks, fan advisories, web sites . . . it's a lot, and often graphics on video boards are synced up with announcements. It all makes for a bit of a complicated dance - watching the clock, as announcements are made at particular times, checking with the music coordinator (Connie Conway at Fetzer) and the person working the video board (often Byron Sanders), and then enunciating and going.
Something happens to my voice when I get behind the mic. It's hard to explain, but I turn on the radio voice and summon something deeper. To me, it's almost too much, over the top and out of place. I couldn't talk like that in normal conversation —it would be ridiculous— but it works over the sound system. It's almost as though the voice needs to be over the top for people to hear and engage. So there I was, telling people about the official web site of Carolina athletics, concessions, narrating marketing contests and telling so-and-so that her driver's license had been found on the concourse.
This past spring, the opportunity to work softball games opened up, and I jumped at the chance. Baseball and softball are natural settings for PA, and sitting in the Anderson Stadium press box, I got to watch a good, up-and-coming team while announcing batters, home runs and t-shirt tosses.
Somewhat coincidentally, at the time I was working PA for softball, I had been taking voice lessons at Rock n' Roll High School in Apex. So on my way to games, I'd sing along to a custom Spotify playlist. It made a big difference that I could clear my throat and warm up my voice before getting behind the microphone.
Being the voice of Carolina softball segued nicely into the ACC Softball Tournament at Anderson Stadium, when I got to see that scrappy Tar Heel team fight to a second-place finish. In the meantime, I narrated the big head races, in which a marketing intern or two would carry heads on sticks from pole to pole just beyond the outfield wall. There was Donna J. Papa, Roy Williams, Bubba Cunningham, Chancellor Folt, Carrie Underwood and . . . Steph Curry, for some reason.
Twice during softball season —including at the tournament championship game— I sang 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' over the PA, which was scary but fun. I'll do anything to get people on their feet and involved.
About a month ago, Rob emailed to tell me that volleyball games would be available. Having always enjoyed live volleyball, I responded quickly, telling him I'd love to do any match that didn't conflict with football.
Off we went. The Tar Heel started the season with four losses on the road but returned home with matches against LIU Brooklyn and LSU on September 8 and 10. That Friday, I went over to Carmichael to check with my friend and volleyball administrative assistant Sara Koenig and head coach Joe Sagula about what he'd like from his PA announcer. I'm not the star of the show; the team is. How could I help his team?
"Energy, energy, energy," he said. He said he appreciated me stepping in to help out, and that he thought the PA should be a mix of excitement and a little bit of play by play. Play by play? I was going to have to learn a whole lot more about volleyball.
That night I drove back to Carmichael, warming up my voice with my playlist along the way. I met up with Chris Brown, who would be coordinating the production that evening. He'd be in my headset, along with Trey at the sound board, Evan, and the band director. I thought I'd just be sitting down at a microphone, but with so many elements going on around and above me, and with the people responsible for those things all over the arena, the headset was a necessity.
I spent the time before the game chatting with folks about what to expect that night. Marla Glasser, the sports information director for Carolina volleyball, gave me the run-down. I'd be mostly announcing subs and servers and saying "Point!" and then the crowd would fill in with "Heels!"
"Now, are you going to be in my ear telling me who got the kill or the block?" I asked.
"Nope," she said. So I'd be on my own.
"Oh, and in volleyball, we don't get the starting lineups until two minutes before the match starts," she added.
Welp. My blank starting lineup sheet would remain that way, and I'd have to wing it.
One of the assistants for LIU Brooklyn, Orlando Catalan, helped me with his team's pronunciations. For my first game, I'd be announcing players from Puerto Rico, Serbia, Austria, Brazil, Slovenia and Sweden. Masa Zirojevic was Masha Zeroh-ye-vick. Katharina Krepper was Kah-tee. Petranovic was Petra-no-vick. And Sonja Vukosavljevic was Sonya Vu-ko-sahv-el-YEH-vick.
"I am definitely going to mispronounce some of these," I told him.
"They're used to it," he said.
Then, the official scorer came over. "I can't give you the lineups until right before they begin," she said. So I'd heard. "How would you like me to get them to you?"
I gave her my match program and asked her to circle the starters' numbers.
I got on headset to talk to Chris. "Hey Turner," he said. "When you know the starting lineups, will you give them to us?" They needed to load the appropriate graphics.
"Sure," I said. Although it might be between the national anthem and the time that I actually announced the starting lineups. So, a few seconds.
Just before I sat down to start my pregame announcements, Coach Sagula came over to the table. "I forgot to tell you one other thing," he said. What was that, Coach? Surely something important that I'd have to remember and inevitably forget. "Have fun," he said with a smile. "Have fun with it."
I breathed a sigh of relief. I could do that.
The headset went on, and the countdown was on. At 11 minutes on the clock, I heard from Chris.
"Go 'Good Evening...'"
That radio voice kicked in, and off we went. "GOOD EVENING LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, AND WELCOME TO HISTORIC CARMICHAEL ARENA ON THE BEAUTIFUL CAMPUS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL FOR TONIGHT’S MATCH BETWEEN THE L-I-U BROOKLYN BLACKBIRDS AND YOUR UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS!"
I paused. Deep breath. "Go 'SPORTSMANSHIP'" Chris said.
"THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, THE ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE, AND THE N-C-A-A ENCOURAGE AND PROMOTE GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP BY STUDENT-ATHLETES, COACHES, AND SPECTATORS. WE REQUEST YOUR COOPERATION BY SUPPORTING THE PARTICIPANTS AND OFFICIALS IN A POSITIVE MANNER."
I was doing it. At every event I'd attended, there had been a sort of disembodied voice making these types of announcements, and here, it was me. And we were off and running.
"Go 'Social media...'" "Go 'GoHeels.." "Go 'Courtside Club...'"
Five minutes in, I had a little break. The scorer moseyed over and put her sheet down next to me. "I'm just standing here . . ." she said, staring off in the distance. That allowed me to quickly circle the starters on my own sheet. That was cool of her.
"Three, five, six, seven, eight, forty-three," I said into the headset. "Thirteen is the libero." So we were good there.
And after the anthem, I was announcing starters for Carolina volleyball. And then, Jump Around.
I was all good up to that point, as everything I'd said had been pretty much on a script. When the game started, I'd be going off-book. Yikes.
"Now serving for North Carolina . . . Casey Jacobs!" That part was easy. It got tougher when I had to identify who made the kill, or who to credit the block to if there were too players at the net. Oh, and my enthusiasm would rise and fall, depending on which team was doing the scoring. "KILL, BY . . . TAYLOR LEATH! POINT!" and the crowd would chime in with "HEELS!" Contrast that with the much more mundane, "Kill, LIU Brooklyn. Point, Blackbirds."
The Blackbirds and Tar Heels played an exciting first set, with Carolina prevailing 25-23. But the crowd was somewhat dead. I was self-conscious. Was it my fault? Did I need more energy? I turned around to the Carolina Block Party, the student section behind me. "Can y'all make some noise?" So they did.
As the match continued, I began to get more comfortable. Sometimes I couldn't see who made the kill, blocked out by the assistant referee. Other times, I tried to remember Coach Sagula's advice to add a little play by play. "Jacobs to Carlton to Leath! POINT!"
Carolina won in three sets. Coach Sagula came over to me afterward. "I thought it was good," he said, "but you could be a little louder."
A few minutes later, I caught up with senior middle hitter Taylor Fricano. "What did you think of the PA announcer?" I asked.
"He was good," she said. "Sorry; I hardly noticed." I suppose she'd been busy.
With Coach Sagula's request in mind, we made some adjustments for Sunday, and the Tar Heels beat LSU. That day, I talked to the second referee during a timeout, still trying to add some detail to my calls. "Mr. Ref, what does it mean when you do this?" I asked, holding up five fingers on one hand and two on the other.
"Seven," he said, confused that I would ask such a question.
"Yes, I know, but what does 'seven' mean?"
"Oh, that's the number of the player who touched the ball twice," he added, helpfully.
I was back again the following Friday, trying to put a head cold out of mind when Carolina dropped a tight match to Loyola Marymount (or "Yolola Marymount," as I said more than once).
I'm still learning, both about the game and about the production of the event. It's something you have to get used to, hearing "Go 'Sportsmanship'" in your ear when you're reading an introduction, hearing "Hey band, can you start a 'TAR-HEEL' chant?" when you're announcing a service ace for Carolina's opponent. It's also a little bit crazy to narrate a game of 'musical volleyballs.' But it's fun to be a small part of the spectator experience.
I'll be back at the microphone on Sunday at 1, when Carolina hosts Louisville. Volleyball is an exciting sport to watch, and it's a fun one to announce. This Carolina team is a talented one that has dealt with injuries early in the season, but they're finding their feet, and I'm sure they'd love it if you were in the building to support them. I'll be there, with enthusiasm.