Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Q&A with Bill Roth

Bill Roth has been the voice of the Hokies since 1988. Despite being a Syracuse grad, it's easy to say Roth is a Hokie, through and through. Often, Roth is the only way I'm able to follow the team, whether it's on the Internet or on XM Satellite Radio. He's a consummate professional who is able to display his passion for the Hokies without being an over-the-top homer.

Thanks to Roth for taking time out from his schedule to answer a few questions.

Coming from Syracuse, was it difficult at first to win over the Hokie fan base? How long did that take?

Well, remember I was 22 years old when I was hired here at Virginia Tech, just nine months out of college, so my biggest concern was to try to be the best announcer I could be and to take advantage of what was an amazing opportunity for someone right out of college. I was just hoping not to screw up!

Our biggest issues and concerns back then were getting the games on radio stations that people could actually hear in DC, Richmond, and Hampton Roads. People were probably delighted to get the game broadcasts regardless of who was talking on the other end.

The only full-time analyst you've had has been Mike Burnop, who had been on the broadcast a few years before your arrival. How much did he help you get acclimated to the team and fans?

Mike was terrific back then, and I’m sure you know how close we are as friends today. Both of our families, etc. Mike is from Salem, and of course, he knew everyone in Blacksburg and the New River Valley and Roanoke Valley and that helped a great deal when I first got here. Mike was able to provide a lot of historical perspective in those early years, plus he introduced me to the New Yorker Deli on Williamson Road in Roanoke. Wow.

How much does having Burnop as the analyst help the broadcast? Your personalities seem to play off each other well on air.

Mike’s an excellent broadcaster and superb analyst. I can’t imagine doing a game without him to be honest. He’s fair and accurate and isn’t afraid to call out a player or coach if need be. He’s a die-hard, loyal Hokie, but he is quick to praise the other team when that praise is warranted. We kid around lot. More so off the air, but it comes through on the air as well. He’s funny and witty. We have a good time on the air and I’m glad it comes across that way. You know, however, that he never leaves any food in the press room dining area for anyone else, but we love him anyway.

What changes have you seen in the athletics department and the fan base since you came to Virginia Tech? You've witnessed incredible growth in both since arriving in Blacksburg.

Wow, that’s a tough question. The amazing explosion in facilities, academic advising, student support, team and individual success, the growth of the Hokie Nation, fund raising, the list goes on-and-on. My first game in Blacksburg, we had wooden bleachers in the south endzone, a high school scoreboard with lights that often didn’t work, tiny little P.A. speakers in front of each section (some of them actually worked), and 25,000 was a good crowd. Our university has grown immeasurably, too under Dr. McComas, Dr. Torgersen, and Dr. Steger. Plus David Braine and Jim Weaver. You talk about five dedicated people who have really shaped this university and its athletics programs. Impressive, smart, caring, passionate people. From 1988 till 2008, what’s happened at Virginia Tech is truly remarkable.

Working with Coach Beamer, and seeing him build this program has been amazing. He has such a great love for this school and his commitment to building Tech over the last two decades has been sensational.

Games are available to a much wider audience now with the broadcasts available online and on XM Satellite Radio. Has that caused you to change the way you call a game? Do you try to call it for a more national audience now?

That’s a great question. I think one of the attractions of XM is the ability to hear the hometown announcers. When I listen to a Cubs’ game, I want to hear Ron Santo crying or cheering in the background of the call. Or when I listen to a Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens game, I enjoy hearing the provincial accents and unique subtleties that come across. When the Leafs score, you’re ready to grab a LaBatt! I think XM is terrific for Hokie fans and ACC fans around the country but in terms of calling the game, it’s a Virginia Tech feed all the way.

Mike and I did talk a few years ago, when we added WTEM to the network, about how many ACC alums lived in Washington, DC, and that quite a few Maryland, UVA, and Carolina alums would be listening to our broadcasts, and that’s turned out to be the case. When you have a big 50,000 watt station in a city the size of Washington, and our ISP Sports Network broadcasts are heard on the primary sports station in a city that size, it’s important that our scoreboard segments and our pre-game and halftime shows cover the conference. That’s why we do ACC notebooks and focus on ACC scores. Not only for Virginia Tech fans, but ACC fans in general.

In addition to play-by-play you also host Virginia Tech Sports Today on Sunday at the Hokie Hotline on Monday. It's a busy schedule. Can you take us through a typical football game week for you?

Monday: The key to every week, and every broadcast is the preparation time involved for each game, or each talk show, or each Virginia Tech Sports Today. Monday starts the same as any other day. Always read every newspaper (on-line) and see what’s happening around the ACC. I have two news services that I use each day to get the latest stories on the Hokies and their opponent. It’s easy, for example, to read all the stories on UNC this week and I cut-and-paste any quote or note that might be useful. That’s a daily process, really seven days each week. Mondays, we also finish up any paper work from the previous week’s game, listen to Coach Beamer’s morning teleconference, write and produce the News of the Day segment for Hokie Hotline, prepare questions for the Monday night show, go over the game notes for the Hokies and their opponent highlighting the various story lines. BJ, that’s Bryan Johnston, churns out about 50 pages of notes every week so there’s a lot of reading just on our team. Plus the other team puts on a press packet each Monday, as does the ACC. So combined, there are probably 100 pages of notes to peruse which probably sounds harder than it is. There are a lot of stats that don’t mean a lot, but it’s important to find that key stat or note to use on the broadcasts. At 5, I do a show in Richmond. At 5:30, I do a show in Blacksburg. From 7-9 we do the Hokie Hotline with Coach Beamer. Then, after the Hotline, we finish up the TV show format for the following week. Grant Kittelson at WDBJ-7 in Roanoke and I talk (or text or e-mail) about what we’re doing on next week’s Virginia Tech Sports Today.

Tuesday: We start working on this week’s TV show first thing on Tuesday mornings. Rich Maxey and Mark Layman, who produce the show for us, come up, set up cameras and we conduct interviews with our players and coaches. We tape a few TV segments on Tuesday morning too. We then have a press luncheon with Coach Beamer starting at noon and we conduct radio interviews with him and several players at this event. Mike Burnop and I sit and talk over things with coach and then spend much of Tuesday afternoon producing various elements for the football pre-game show. Adam Witten and Alan York at our ISP studios do a good job of working on the ACC notebooks and getting sound (those are comments you hear of the other coaches and players). For example, on Tuesday morning of the UNC game, I had interviews with Butch Davis, Hakeem Nicks and Kenric Burney in my in-box by 9 a.m. So, we take all the VT sound and UNC sound, comments from Coach Beamer and Coach Davis, and start working on the pre-game show that you’ll hear on Saturday. I also pop by practice and see how the Hokies look, visit with our trainer Mike Goforth, and try to pick up a few notes from the practice field.

Wednesday: By Wednesday, most of the radio production is done. Mark and Rich finish up the pre-game elements for the TV show too. I start working on my column, The Kroger Roth Report, and the Hokie Podcast, which has to be done by midnight. I also start working on my play-by-play chart, which is a 14 x 12 heavy card with names, personal data, and info on both teams. I talk with the other team’s broadcaster or Sports Information Director to make sure I have everything right. One thing about the ACC, as broadcasters, we all get along great and it’s fun to chat on game weeks and pre-game to get a key story or note that I include on that chart. Some of the info never gets used, but it’s good to have.

Thursday: By Thursday, my chart is done, and I go over all those game notes, newspaper clippings, and interview quotes to make sure I have everything I need. There’s some number memorization too for the other team. I try to talk with our coaches during the day, or at practice again to make sure I’m all set for the broadcast. For home games, this is a big day recording the things you see on HokieVision, like our NFL flashback, Hokie re-wind, Great Moments in VT history, etc. Kevin Hicks and his staff do a great job in our video office or producing those video segments you see on the board at Lane Stadium. I get to voice those packages. I also finish up the Kroger Roth Report.

Friday: This is a travel day. This week, it’s Chapel Hill. Next week, Nebraska. We’ll drive to this week’s game, set-up our gear at Keenan Stadium. We’ll have a sound check there. We actually have two complete set-ups in the stadium. One in the radio booth, and one in the locker room for Mike’s post-game interviews with the coaches and players. Mike and I will go over our bullets and story lines for the pre-game show and talk more with the coaches and players at the hotel that night.

Saturday: Game day starts about four hours before kickoff when we get to the stadium. More last-minute notes and preparation. I should mention Mike Kelly, who is our reporter on the sidelines, Johnny Alga, who is the spotter in the booth, Carter Myers, our statistician and Chad Cleveland, and Chris Ferris who handle all our technical stuff. Those guys do a great job and help out more than I can say. People hear Mike Burnop, Jerry Massey, Adam Witten and me on the air, but there are so many behind-the scenes people who help us each week. Plus the people at all those radio stations, the managers and board operators. There are a lot of people working to make sure you can hear the game in your hometown, or at the stadium. Each person does his or her own part, even Carter’s wife Esther who bakes us cookies or brownies every week! It’s fun to be part of an operation like that when dozens of people participate each week.

We go on the air 90-minutes prior to kickoff. I can tell you, it’s a lot more fun when the Hokies win! That’s a week in a nutshell.

This year there was a lot of attention on the now infamous Jason from Arlington call during Hokie Hotline. Have you allowed the show to get more controversial and have more critical discussion of the team this year, or does it only seem that way because of the one call?

I thought Jason was respectful and passionate in his question, and I could tell from his voice that he is a die-hard Hokie fan who really wanted to get his point across. That makes for good radio. As for controversy, listen, only Ohio State and Florida have won more games than Virginia Tech over the last decade so usually we're doing a radio show coming off a victory. There's not much controversy when the home team wins. But good, respectful dialogue makes for good radio, whether it's the Hokie Hotline or Neil Boortz. Fans are passionate and want to win championships. Sometimes that passion spills onto talk shows, but we're all big boys. We can take it.

Every Hokie fan has a favorite call of yours, whether its Druck-to-Holmes, the end of the '99 WVU game or the "Give it to me, Roscoe" play. Do you have any that you consider to be your favorites?

Druck to Holmes wins for me. I’m so glad Jermaine caught that pass -- with his elbows if you look closely at the picture. Later, when Jermaine worked for Tech, I would see him in the halls and just hug him! Eventually, he would see me and start runnin’ the other way! No, I’m kiddin’ on that. Jermaine is a great guy and a real credit to this school.

Turning to this year's team, the Hokies have had their struggles early and all three games have had their anxious moments. Do you think we're in for a whole year of "Cardiac Hokies"-style football?

The ACC is very balanced. I think we’ll have plenty of games that are decided in the final minutes, yes.

If this team ends up winning 10 games this year, will it be Frank Beamer's best coaching job since he's been at Virginia Tech?

It’s too early to tell. This team could win 8 games it might be Frank Beamer’s best coaching job since coming to Tech.

Finally, an obligatory question about the quarterback situation. Do you think Sean Glennon has been a victim of circumstance since he's been with the Hokies? He had a very good year in 2006, which was erased from fan's memories due to the second half of the CFA Bowl and the last two seasons he's been put in a situation where it was basically impossible for him to succeed due to an inconsistent offensive line in 2007 and youth at the skill positions this year.

I think Sean did succeed in 2007, as hat offensive line came on later in the season. If you look at his play at Ga Tech, UVA and against BC last year, I think he had success. For this year though, it’s apparent the Hokies need Taylor at QB. More so than last year, because of the makeup of the offensive line and the youth at the receiver positions.


hokieglenn said...

Great interview, thanks for posting. The more I listen to Bill and Mike do Hokie games, (and the more I listen to others), the more I appreciate them.

They are top notch.


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