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The Ken Korach Conversation, Part II

{NOTE: A's make minor trade, fanpost here.}


In this issue, AN & the Voice of the A's touch upon topics ranging from the Oakland Coliseum to his background as a broadcaster in several different radio roles.  Plus, his advice for young people looking to break into the business of baseball broadcasting.


Today's day off brings you the second installment of our interview with the Athletics'  personable play-by-play person, taped this past March 17th at A's Spring Training. Part I can be found here, and the unexpurgated recording -- in case you want to hear it all in KK's venerable, velvet voice -- is here.  Enjoy this as much as we enjoyed doing it, because you guys really stepped up and asked amazing, multifaceted questions that, I think, transformed this interview into a sincere and substantial conversation =)

Phoenix, AZ, March 2011

EN:  Here’s a question from robertmelvin, on the blog, this is a good... I like this question a lot.  He wants to know what you’ve personally heard from A’s players or opposing players, opposing (teams') personnel... about playing in the Coliseum. And do most actually say privately that it’s a bad and awful place to play, or is that exaggerated to push harder for a new venue?

KK:  I haven’t heard a lot of discussion about the Coliseum being so much a bad place to play. I think that -- and this isn’t a knock on the fans -- but I think any player would like to play before larger crowds, and that’s human nature.  I’d like to broadcast with more people in the stands.  There’s an energy you get when there are a lot of people at the games, and so, you know... part of my job is to try to sell tickets. I’m not bashful about saying that, so we’d love to see larger crowds. 

What I have heard, obviously, is that, especially for players who make their living swinging the bat, it’s a tough place to hit.  Pitchers really like it.  You know, the generalized... pitchers really like the Coliseum, and hitters don’t necessarily like it, but I think as far as the A’s are concerned, and the desire for a new venue, it’s more along the lines of a ballpark that would provide a greater revenue stream and there’s certain inherent disadvantages in the... from playing in the Coliseum from that standpoint.

EN:  The last two-sport facility.

KK:  Yeah.  The last two-sport facility.  And you know, for me, I went to the Coliseum as a fan a lot when I was just living in the Bay Area, working in the minor leagues, or working doing college basketball or football... and I’m not a fan of Mount Davis, and I’ll be honest with you.  And that’s not somebody who’s just giving you a line who is a team employee.  I was there during the season in 1996 when, bit by bit, Mount Davis started to grow and we lost the view of the Oakland Hills, we lost the bleachers, which I thought were a wonderful place to sit and watch a game... and I just think that the ballpark was severely compromised as a baseball venue when Mount Davis was built.  And that’s my own personal opinion.  Nobody’s ever told me to say that, and that’s just the way I feel.

EN:  It’s a turning point.

KK:  Yeah.

EN:  Okay, this is a very general question from blog user hero66.  It’s this: you have probably been asked this a hundred thousand times, but bear with it.  What makes a good broadcaster, radio broadcaster?  When you’re after a game, and you’re sitting back thinking about what happened, what your call was like, the different twists and turns; you can say, "I think I did my job today because..." what?

KK:  Well, I think I touched on that earlier, and that is that, I think as I mentioned, the most important thing is to try to give an accurate call of the game.  And so if I feel that I’ve done that, I feel like I’ve done a good job.  You know, there are secondary aspects to that.  I feel good if I’ve felt like I had a really good day going down on the field and finding some interesting stories and things to talk about.  Ironically, there are days that I feel really good about the broadcast if I didn’t get much of that stuff in, because it never should be about me, it should be about the game.  I don’t like listening to broadcasts where you get the sense the announcer is trying to force all of his information into the game.  I’ve always kind of used this... this kind of structure and that is that you build the broadcast from the field to the booth, so what happens on the field is paramount, and... so it doesn’t go from the booth to the field, it goes from the field to the booth. 

Ernie Harwell, when I asked him what the essence of a baseball game broadcast was, said that you call balls and strikes, and you give the score... but that would be a little boring if that is all you did for three hours, so you mix in a little color.  And that’s what I try to do.  So, the rhythm and tempo of it is really important, you know, in the romantic kind of ideal sense of what we do.  The tempo and the rhythm of the broadcast is really important.  I think it should be conversational.  And so I don’t... sometimes if I feel like I tried too hard to get my information in... okay, this is a day where I’m not going to be able to get all of my stuff in ‘cause Braden is pitching and he’s a very fast worker.  So don’t force it because the rhythm of the game is more important than... than my effort to try to impress you by everything that I know.

EN:  So it’s…

KK:  "Cause then you get into trouble.  It’s the irony of what we do... is the harder you try, the worse it gets.

EN:  So you’re saying the booth is a natural funnel that the field pours into and the less you, for lack of a better term, interfere with that or force things through the funnel that aren’t moment-appropriate... the less you do that, the better you feel you’re doing.

KK:  Well, you probably articulated that better than me.

EN:  (laughing)

KK:  (laughing) But I just feel like it’s... I want to be conscious of the flow of the game, and there’ve been times when I felt that I have over-talked it because the pitcher was working so fast that I lost control of the rhythm of the game.  So you... you know we have this old axiom:  you never want to start a story with two outs.

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  ‘Cause then there’s... now Vin Scully, when he starts a story, he gets 18 foul balls.

EN:  (laughing)

KK:  Have you ever listened to Vin Scully?

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  He’s the only guy who can start a story with two outs, and the hitter’s going to foul off 12 pitches, and he’ll finish his story.  The rest of us, he’ll swing at the first pitch and ground to short.

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  So you don’t try to start a story with two outs.

EN:  Charmed.  Vin Scully’s charmed, in that way.

KK:  No, he’s just, he’s just... a God…

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  …is what he is.  (laughs)

EN:  (laughing) All right, here’s one from stm72, a friend of ours.  It says, I always want to know how you keep such an even keel after a disappointing play, or a game decision by a manager.  What’s your view of, you know, are you a dispassionate observer relaying the game... is it to comment on strategy decisions from a critical standpoint, or from... to be an advocate for the fans?  You might be making a call where there’s some gaffe, there’s some error that's the result of a decision that’s kind of obvious: oh, if you had switched this guy, or put this guy up, they might have had a better result?  Is it tempting to do that, or... or what’s your sort of disposition to that? And, I guess he’s asking, are you calling the game as a fan, a broadcaster, or an in-between kind of thing?  In those moments where there’s a critical call…

KK:  I, I think…

EN: …where everyone on the field (and watching) knows this could have went a different way.

KK:  I think the simple answer is to that is that I’m a professional broadcaster, and I’m not a fan.  But, you’ve...who was it that said, was... was it Roy Campanella?  I think he said, "You’ve got to be a man to play baseball but you’ve got to have a lot of little boy in you?"  So, I think it’s important for the fan in me to come out.  I think it’s important for my love of the game to come out and for that little boy in me to come out but, I mean...

For me I think the overriding philosophy starts with the fact that I’m a professional broadcaster and, as far as being critical, I mean... there are times when I think I have a license to be critical; I think I have been at times.  I tend not to be critical of decisions made by the manager because I know that it’s very rare when you can say he should have done "this"... because I think that I try to give options. He would have an option there to do so-and-so and let the fans decide for themselves.  And then tomorrow on the Manager’s Show hopefully I’ll ask him why he did that, because I found this with most managers I’ve worked with... that, even if maybe, privately, I may not agree with what he did, if I go down the next day and ask, there was a good reason for why he did it. Maybe it didn’t work out, but most managers and people in the game have very good reasons for doing what they did.  Sometimes you make the right decision and you get the wrong outcome.

EN:  Sure.

KK:  So... but you know, I guess... I think it’s important to get excited at the proper times, you know... but I think that... that all relates to enthusiasm and loving the game.  So…

EN:  Passion.

KK:  Yeah.  Yeah.  And I think you should be excited when a good play happens for the other team, too.

EN:  Sure.

KK:  You know, I don’t like it when you hear a broadcast and... these would be the announcers that would be probably categorized in the "homer" category, but... somebody hits, you know, a home run or makes a big play in the game and they make it sound like a ground ball to short…

EN:  Sure.

KK:  …during Spring Training.  Our job is to convey what’s happening on the field.  If anything exciting happens for the other team, well, I think you should try to convey it.

EN:  Sure.

BC:  Not going over the top to be impartial?

KK:  Well, you know, I mean... there’s a tradition in the Bay Area of being a little more detached, and maybe (you) have an objectivity to what you’re doing which I’ve always really appreciated about that tradition in the Bay Area.  So that’s one reason why I was attracted to moving there, living there, and working there.

EN:  Tangent question from LoneStranger, who’s the guy with the mustache, the Rollie Fingers mustache, that’s sitting over there. He wants this, very tangential to what we are doing, what was just said.  What is your favorite call from a non-A’s broadcaster?

KK:  Favorite call from a non-A’s broadcaster?  Well, I guess, that’s a hard question.  I guess, I guess I would say that it wouldn’t be one call but the entire 9th inning of Koufax’s perfect game…

EN:  ’65?

KK:  ’65.  ’65.  Because, if you read some of the anthologies of baseball literature, in one of them they actually transcribe the entire top of the 9th inning, word by word of Vin Scully’s call, and it’s some of the greatest baseball writing of all time.

EN:  Sure.

KK:  …and yet it was completely off the cuff.

EN:  Like David Halberstam or something…

KK:  Yeah.

EN:  ..just like, improvised him.

KK:  So, you know, I’ve memorized almost the whole thing.  (laughing)

EN:  (laughing)

KK:  So that was awesome.  You know, there are a lot of other ones that were…

EN:  Sure.

KK:  …you know…

EN:  That one stands out, though.

KK:  That really stands out for me.  Yeah, yeah.

EN:  Sure.  Here’s a relevant question to... to the now, the eternal now:  How do you draw the best out of Vince and Ray, and how do they draw the best out of you?  That’s Waddell Canseco and Berry Jo…

KK:  Well…

EN:   …one, and the other, are asking: how do you get the best out of them, and how do they draw the best out of you, in your opinion?

KK:  Well, you’re talking about two different people obviously, one a former player and one a broadcaster.  With Ray, the thing that I love the most would be analyzing situations that he can analyze that I really could only do as a layman.  Like the other day, there was a first-and-third situation and, to get inside Ray’s head on how a catcher should approach if the runner’s breaking for second, you know... Ray is extremely insightful and he has tremendous knowledge so the times that I enjoy working with Ray the most are the times when you can delve into situations in a game that he can analyze…

EN:  …as a catcher for so many years do you think that…

KK:  As a catcher, and the other thing about Ray is that he has an unbelievably great memory for things.  Things that happened in games from years ago that he can bring to the table.  The thing about Vince that is great is that Vince is... the one thing that I felt was really important after Bill died was that we hire someone who was going to bust their butt doing their homework. And so Vince, because the way the broadcasts are set up, ‘cause I do six innings and he does three, his primary responsibility is to be an analyst and do... to provide color.  And he does a great job of, I think, filling in the blanks because he really works hard.  He’s down on the field, and he may provide information that I don’t know.  So he’s... I think he supports what I try to do on the play-by-play extremely well because of that.  He’s extremely... an extremely hard worker.

EN:  Cool.  How do you feel like they get the most out of you as a broadcaster?

KK:  Well, I think, I think it relates to chemistry. I think if you get along with someone, and you feel comfortable in the booth with them, then that is a conducive atmosphere that allows you to do your best work.  And if you didn’t have that, it would be a miserable experience.  I mean, I’ve never really experienced that, so I’m very fortunate. That we have that, that... that chemistry. 

So, they’re kicking us out of this little area…

EN:  What should we do?

KK:  Well…

EN:  Relocate?


{{{at this point in our discussion, we relocated indoors to the A's in-stadium offices at Phoenix Muni}}}


EN:  All right, resuming.  Okay, we have a kid on the blog who’s 17 and who is going to go to Arizona State…

KK:  Oh great. 

EN:  His name is Kyle; he’s called whizkid.  And he wants to know…

KK:  I know Kyle.

EN:  You know him?

KK:  Yeah.

EN:  Okay.

KK:  Yeah, I think I know him.  He came to the booth and visited us last year…

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  Yeah.

EN:  Well he was here last week, actually. 

KK:  Yeah.

EN:  Great, so he wants to know how you got started doing this in play-by-play and worked your way up, and what tips or suggestions you might have for someone that’s interested in pursuing a career in calling games?

KK:  Well, the tips would be to try to, you know, learn as much as you can about the business.  I’ve always felt that it’s a tough business but the good things happen to people who are professional and who, excuse me... work hard. So, I mean, the central theme from what we’re talking about here is that there’s no substitute for hard work.  This is a very subjective business.  You may not like the way that somebody calls a game, or their voice, whatever, but you hopefully respect someone who at least was working... working hard at it.  So, that’s the first thing.  Hard work is the most important thing. Professionalism is the most important thing along with hard work.  It’s how you conduct yourself, how you relate to people. 

I would listen to as many announcers, or watch as many games as possible.  Not to copy, but to try to learn.  ‘Cause I think the... one of the things is that you’ve got to be yourself.  It took me a long time to really... that was a lesson that was a tough one for me to learn, that the only thing you can really bring to the broadcast that’s your own is yourself.   And to try to find that, and identify that, that can be a long process. 

For me, I started in Sonoma County in 1980 working part-time for a small radio station playing music on Saturday mornings from 6 until 10, making three dollars and thirty-five cents an hour.  And then it developed into doing high school games on that station; I did football, basketball and baseball, high school play-by-play.  I was also doing news.  I had a talk show.  Played records.  Community affairs.  It was a great education.  Unfortunately, those stations are dinosaurs now, and it’s a sad development in our business and it... you know, the homogenizing of the broadcast business with syndication.  It’s tougher for smaller stations to survive now, where, in those days, I learned the business firsthand, you know?  Hands on.  And so, you know, I anchored election coverage; I mean those things were wonderful things to do to learn…

EN:  Sure.

KK:  And then I wound up doing Sonoma State football and basketball for three years.  I actually owned the rights to the games and sold the advertising.  I got hired by KCBS in 1985 to broadcast San Jose State football.  At that point I had done 25 games in Single A in ‘81 in the Cal League in Rohnert Park.  I’d done a full season in ’84 in the Cal League for the Angels affiliate.  I spent seven years doing San Jose State football and basketball.  Did a little anchoring on KCBS in morning and afternoon.  Wound up here in Phoenix at this ballpark, actually, literally, getting hired to do their Triple A games in 1986.  Did two years of Triple A, ‘86 and ‘87 here.  Did three years of Triple A in Las Vegas, ’89, ’90, ’91.  Got hired by UNLV to do their basketball and football in ’92. 

Got hired by the White Sox, part-time, in ’92.  I commuted every weekend from Las Vegas, wherever they played, and did one game a week, either a Saturday or a Sunday... did play-by-play.  Oh, I did... first year I did seven innings, next year I did six innings of play-by-play.  Like a starting pitcher, I did one game a week.  For the first 20 weeks of the regular season, the last two weeks of the... of Spring Training.  And then I got hired by the A’s in ‘96.  And then when I got hired by the A’s I quit doing UNLV football because the schedules didn’t match up anymore, and I did 12 years of UNLV basketball... so I stopped doing that about six, seven years ago, I guess.

EN:  The Runnin' Rebels.

KK:  Runnin' Rebels.  So, 22 years of college basketball and 14 years of college football. 

BC:  Was (Jerry) Tarkanian the coach?

KK:  Tarkanian was not. I followed..

BC:  Okay.

KK:  My first year was the year after Tarkanian.

NP:  Can I interject a question, Josh?

EN:  Go for it.

NP:   It’s so hard for me not to think of you as, you know, an adult... just curious of what you were like as a kid, like how would your elementary school and middle school teachers describe you?

KK:  Well, that was in the Dark Ages, it was so long ago…

EVERYONE:  (laughing)

KK:  …they barely had paved roads back then.  So I don’t really remember a whole lot about it (laughing).

EN:  He has to get out his hammer-and-chiseled tablets to be able to…

KK:  I don’t know.  You know everybody says well, they had a normal upbringing but, you know…

NP:  Like personality-wise...

KK:  I was probably... yeah I was a fairly good student, you know, and played sports all the way through, and…

EN:  What sports did you play?

KK:  I played basketball and baseball in high school.  And, you know, my dad was a coach so that was a huge influence. 

EN:  That was one of the questions...

KK:  Yeah, my dad was a basketball and baseball coach who was very successful at the high school and junior college levels in Los Angeles.  And he’s still alive; he’s 92 years old.

EN:  Oh wow, 92...

KK:  And he listens to the games on XM (Radio) and so from the time that I could remember, I was going to games.  So that really stands out from my childhood... I mean, we went to every conceivable game you could imagine.  Went to the first game the Angels ever played at Dodger Stadium in ’62, saw the Angels at Wrigley Field…

EN:  Wow.

KK:  …in ’61 when they played at that... you know, their first year

I lost my mom when I was 21, so it was 1973.  But my dad has been a rock, you know, all these years.  It’s been great, so...

EN:  Yeah…someone wanted to know, I can’t quite remember who it is... oh yeah, it was DDroney, he wanted to know... he heard you mention it during a broadcast and he was wondering about that…

KK:  Yup... yeah.

Entrance to A's locker room facility, Papago Park, Phoenix, AZ

I want to say Thank You once again to Ken, Bryan and Nico for the great conversation, and to Jesa for transcribing this thing, and to Lone Stranger Mike and his wife Heather for the pictures of their superstar son Hunter that I have been dropping into these posts. And, of course, to you guys for the questions that made this what it is.... and we'll have Part III of this conversation for you all next week.  In the meantime, enjoy the day off -- don't forget that Chris Townsend will introduce his new sportstalk program, which will have tons of stuff about the A's, from 1-4 pm today on All Sports 95.7 FM -- and get ready for DanBot tomorrow at 7 pm for the first A's-Red Sox game thread of 2011!!  Chowdah!!!!! (and "Gesundheit!")

[Link to part three.]

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