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Halberstam of Miami Heat speaks on announcing experiences

Published: February 5, 2010
Section: Sports


Former Miami Heat announcer David J. Halberstam spoke at Brandeis on Sunday about his long broadcasting and sales career and gave advice on how to be a successful broadcaster.

The event, which was hosted by WBRS and held in Olin-Sang, consisted of a short address by Halberstam and an open discussion with students from the WBRS sports department, many of them prospective broadcasters themselves. Earlier that day, Halberstam had joined his son Manny ‘10 in calling the Brandeis Men’s Basketball team’s game against Carnegie Mellon, which the Judges won 72-59.

“It’s quite something to be able to sit with my son,” Halberstam said, adding that sharing a microphone with him was “a dream come true.”

Halberstam had first suggested the idea as soon as Manny chose to attend Brandeis, basing it off a similar game that famed broadcaster Marv Albert called with his son Kenny while Kenny want attending New York University.

Halberstam was the sole radio broadcaster for the Miami Heat from 1992 to 1998, during which Miami made the NBA playoffs five times and played host to all-time great players like Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning. He also sold ads for the three different flagship stations the Heat had during that period.

His career began calling games for City University of New York while he was still attending college. He followed that up with a stint at Hunter College, during which time he is sure he called a game against Brandeis in Waltham.

His big break came in the 1970s, when he found a small station in Long Island that would let him call games for St. John’s University. St. John’s was a burgeoning NCAA powerhouse, but they didn’t have a radio carrier in the crowded New York media market, and Halberstam convinced the station to sign St. John’s to a contract on condition that he would also be responsible for raising advertising revenue for the games. He recalls the station director “[setting] down a phone book in front of me” and telling him simply to “start making calls.”

Under Halberstam’s leadership, the number of stations carrying St. John’s grew greater and greater until they were one of the premier college teams in New York.

Halberstam would also call occasional New York Knicks games from Madison Square Garden and had what he described as “a business relationship” with the New York Rangers.

Halberstam spent much of his talk giving advice on how to improve play-by-play skills, which he considers a “dying art.” He contrasts the days of his youth, in which the radio announcers were often the most direct contact between the fans and their teams, to today’s sports environment, in which almost every game is carried on satellite television and studio personalities have become the broadcast superstars. He offered several tips on how he prepared himself for games: improving vocabulary, “painting word pictures” of everyday life, attending team practices, and studying the rules of the game to learn every nuance. He also stressed the importance of a thorough liberal arts education to build general knowledge and stated that he recorded every single game he broadcast to study the tapes later and fix and mistakes he made.

During the question-and-answer period, Halberstam shared some of the greatest moments of his broadcast career. The best game he ever called was St. John’s 1985 Elite Eight victory over North Carolina State, sending the Red Storm to their first Final Four in 33 years. His favorite play was not a high-flying dunk or clutch three-pointer, but an intelligent ball handling play by former Red Storm forward Chris Mullin that helped St. John’s kill the clock to defeat Patrick Ewing’s dominant Georgetown team in a clutch regular season game.

When asked about what it was like to call games with Michael Jordan in the 1990s, Halberstam said simply, “Radio does not do him justice.”

Halberstam also shared several anecdotes about the off-court experiences of spending time with NBA players and coaches. He called former Heat forward Glen Rice one of the funniest people he’d ever met, saying “my sides would ache from laughing” after sitting next to him on a plane ride. He called Alonzo Mourning one of the hardest working athletes he’d ever seen and mentioned his close relationship with Heat coach Pat Reilly despite Reilly’s policy of removing broadcasters from the team’s plane. Yet despite these positive experiences, he also noted that knowing some sports personalities “taints the purity of sports fandom,” hinting that several players and coaches made a much more negative impression.

Reaction to Halberstam’s appearance was very positive from the small crowd who attended the event. WBRS sports director Adam Rosen, who has broadcasted many Brandeis basketball games, referred to working with Halberstam as a “great opportunity… both personally and for the department”.