On Saturday, February 4th, sportscaster Dave Popkin took a brief intermission from the best job in the world to speak to Write on Sports students. Mr. Popkin has been in the business for over 20 years, covering various sports in the New York Metro area for different major and local networks. His answers to our questions and meaningful advice spoke volumes to the aspiring journalists in the room!
They say preparation is the key to success, and Dave Popkin is living proof of this pearl of wisdom. You know you’re prepared when you “know more than everybody but the coaches.” How exactly do you achieve readiness? Mr. Popkin is given extensive game notes with stats and minimal information about players that he then makes a concise game card for himself out of. This is the only thing he looks at during a broadcast. This card takes hours to days to make, but it is so essential that no shortcuts can be made. This task can be tedious, time consuming, and sometimes frustrating when he sees half of the material didn’t get used. Most of the players on his card don’t get covered. He has to have storylines and stats prepared for everybody though just in case someone who has been traditionally quiet has the game of their life, or even has just a couple unprecedented big moments. Spending a lot of time and being over prepared is way better than being caught off guard.
A broadcaster knows his or her favorite topics to start out with (A material), and then B and C material gets used as point margain gets larger. As the lead stretches and a winner is just about decided, broadcasters have a little more room to ramble and freely narrate.
The production crew also gives Dave Popkin tv and graphic materials so he and the team are in tune and everything on the technical broadcast runs smoothly. He may have many things to worry about in terms of his script and preparedness, but the men and women behind the scenes in the booth and in the truck have got the feed covered. There are so many jobs in sports that many don’t know about- tech savvy kids, maybe this one’s for you!
Broadcasting is a combination of stories and stats. Stats are useful and definitely necessary, but can easily kill the broadcast if overdone. Too many numbers will make the audience’s head spin and feel less significant the more you spew them out. Stories are the “stickiness” that keep people engaged in the game, and can also be detrimental if not told well. Value the ball and know when the story is dead, because not every story is worth coming back to. Dave Popkin describes the art of broadcasting as a “creative outlet” and it takes skill to master it. He hones the ability to know when enough is enough, and that is paramount in this industry.
Dave Popkin describes his main job as a broadcaster is to “weave a quilt”, and by the end of the game all the pieces and stories that once seemed unrelated to each other need to come back together and tie together one big picture. As hard as it is, he can’t call the game like the sports fan he is at home. He stays away from personal pronouns and stays relatively unemotional. Mr. Popkin frowns upon the small network local broadcasts that cheer loudly or go just a step below cussing out the refs because it looks unprofessional. He refers to the team that employs him as their mascot or just by the franchise name instead of “we”, “I”, “us”, etc, because it is not his team. There is a way to be composed and impersonal while still being fun and showing your passion for the game. He still uses an energetic tone and knows when exactly to emphasize it even more without it being too much. He always has the listener in mind, and he knows that his audience could be a fan of his team or the opposing team. As a lifelong sports fan who loves to listen to sports just as much as he loves calling them, he wants the observer to have a good experience so he keeps it rather neutral. A broadcaster has the best job in the world, so it’s only fair that the fans are to sit on the couch and yell at their tv.
As glamorous as it sounds, this is not an easy job. Obviously now you know about the hours of prep that has to happen before the whistle blows, how hard you have to bite your lip on live tv to not lash out at the refs, and monitor your grammar that you would normally never give a second thought to. Mr. Popkin also warns us about the tremendous time away from family. He was saddened to leave his family this past Thanksgiving because he had to be in Orlando for college basketball. He does it for the experiences, the amazing people involved, and his love for the game. The privilege of delivering the art we can only observe on our tv’s right now is a dream that many Write on Sports students are chasing. Professional affiliates of the program that take time out of their busy schedules to mentor the next generation of sports journalists are not “lucky” to watch sports for a living. Nobody falls into a position like this. We know it takes hard work, but we are also confident that we are on the right track, because we are given opportunities like this to learn from the best. If you’re passionate and consistent, you can have the best job in the world too!