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UGA’s radio broadcasts bring Bulldogs’ games to life - By Chip Towers
Georgia features one of the best radio broadcasts crews in the business. It includes (left to right) Loran Smith, Neil 'Hondo' Williamson, Chuck Dowdle, Jay Black, play-by-play man Scott Howard, color analyst Eric Zeier and producer/engineer Tony Schiavone.
ATHENS – When was the last time you listened to a Georgia football game on the radio? For me, it’d been years. But that’s how I followed the Bulldogs’ game against Vanderbilt last Saturday.
And you know what? It was great.
First, a little background. I was supposed to be at Vanderbilt Stadium, covering the Georgia Bulldogs as I do every Saturday in the fall. In fact, I was there. But I got a call as I pulled into the Vanderbilt parking lot in downtown Nashville, and it was one of those calls none of us wants to receive. There was a death in my family, a sudden and unexpected one. Sparing details, it was just one of those situations where I knew immediately I needed to get back home to be with loved ones who were hurting the way I was.
So I left. But while I made a quick decision to return home, there’s nothing quick about getting back to Athens from Nashville. I was going to be in the car for a while. Like, for hours. So even though I was going to have to make some phone calls, I could listen to the game on the radio.
There was a time I used to listen to Georgia radio broadcasts all the time. Early in my journalism career, I’d carry a transistor radio with me into the press box and listen to the late Larry Munson and the guys while I watched the game. It was usually good for one or two insights I might’ve otherwise missed. And you never knew when Munson might come forth with one of his signature calls, right?
We just stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose. We just crushed their face!_
Radio, of course, once was the primary way you followed the games. When I was coming up in Stone Mountain, they didn’t broadcast every game on television like they do today. There might have been only a couple of televised games all season. So you listened on the radio.
I remember during the 1980 season – a pretty good year as I recall – I was camping with some friends at Duke’s Creek Falls, up above Helen in the Chattahoochee National Forest. I made sure to bring along my portable radio, a boom box, if you will, which we hung on a tree branch. And we cranked up the volume nice and loud, so you could hear Munson’s voice booming off the tree trunks in the forest.
I’m not entirely sure how many people listen to the games on the radio anymore. Not nearly as many, I’d guess. I suppose there are a number of people that were like me last Saturday, stuck in a car for hours with no other way to follow it. But how many could that be?
In some ways, it’s harder to listen today. My understanding is that the delay between the action on the field and the radio sound is actually longer than it used to be. In other words, if you wanted to listen to the radio broadcast while watching the game on TV, like many used to do with Munson, you’d see what happened six to 10 seconds before you heard it. Same thing with listening while you’re watching the game in the stadium, of course, though I do know a few folks who still do that.
But in this particular case, the Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network had a captive audience in me. I was depending on play-by-play man Scott Howard and color analyst Eric Zeier to tell me what was happening on that field in Nashville. My takeaway? Those guys are awesome!
Not that it should come as much of a surprise. UGA is blessed to have a veteran crew. Howard has been involved with Georgia radio broadcasts for 24 years, providing color commentary alongside Munson for years and serving as the men’s basketball play-by-play voice before taking over for football. He’s been football’s play-by-play man since 2007, when he started handling road games in Munson’s absence, before his predecessor retired.
I don’t know if Howard has produced “signature calls” at the rate Munson did over many years, but he’s had some good ones. He’s an excellent broadcaster who has a reputation for being well-prepared and accurate in his descriptions. But he’s also passionate about Bulldogs just like Munson, and that comes through in his calls.
His description of Jake Fromm’s 47-yard touchdown pass to Terry Godwin on Saturday is a good example of the enthusiasm he exudes whenever Georgia scores.
Play fake to Sony, Fromm sets up to throw. Throws deep. HE’S GOT GODWIN. TOUCHDOWN IN STRIDE AS HE CROSSES THE GOAL LINE! Put it right on his hip. What a throw! And a great catch by Godwin. The Dawgs are in the end zone with 6 more.
“I have always thought Scott was very good,” said Loran Smith, who has been involved in the Bulldogs’ radio broadcasts since the early 1960s. “He’s very thorough. He’s always prepared, well-prepared. And he’s not a prima donna in any way.”
I have to say, though, Zeier might’ve been the one who impressed me most Saturday during my long drive. One of the greatest quarterbacks in Georgia football history, Zeier offered observations about the X’s-and-O’s aspect of the game that were incredibly insightful and really went a long way toward explaining the happenings on the field. Saturday, he described how Vanderbilt was trying to defend the Bulldogs in a two-deep zone and why Georgia was going to continue to pound the football as long the Commodores remained in that look.
“It’s incredible, the things Eric sees,” said Tony Schiavone, the longtime on-air engineer and producer. “A lot of these broadcast crews have a color guy who’s basically a country bumpkin fan. Zeier watches the game with a quarterback’s insight and he’s able to communicate that in a way fans can understand.”
Zeier, who held 67 school and 18 SEC records when he graduated from Georgia in 1994, has provided Georgia’s color commentary for 10 years. He has a full-time job as a regional manager for a big mortgage company.
Chuck Dowdle, a longtime TV sports anchor, is the sideline reporter and hosts the postgame locker room show. It’s from Dowdle’s halftime interview with Kirby Smart that I learned that Georgia’s coach believed the Bulldogs’ defense was “playing like crap.” It was hilarious. Dowdle also provided a timely update on tailback Sony Michel; it was unclear whether he was injured after he stumbled into the end zone as he finished off a 50-yard TD run. Dowdle assured us Michel was not.
I didn’t realize until I looked it up that Georgia has had only three play-by-play announcers since 1955 — Ed Thilenius, Munson and now Howard. Times have changed a lot over that 62-year span. It wasn’t all that long ago that Munson made $300 per game for his play-by-play calls. Today, Howard is a full-time employee of IMG Georgia and draws a decent salary, I’d suspect.
But Howard does a great job, and I was glad was able to listen to him on Saturday. I didn’t feel like I missed out on much, even though I couldn’t be at the game and my mind at times was elsewhere.
I’m thinking maybe I’ll try to find the broadcast stream on my iPhone and plug in the old ear buds Saturday night when the Bulldogs host Missouri. Six-to-10 second delay be damned!