My dad kept an overflowing, disorderly Sears Craftsman toolbox of ratchets, screwdrivers, needle-nose pliers and thingamajigs he credulously envisioned he would need one day. As an executive, I’ve carried around a flash drive of accumulated-over-time documents to the tune of 30,000 files and 48.5 gigabytes convinced I will be able to pull out something old to apply to a new situation. Like my father, I leveraged about 2% of those tools; yet, I go to a new job or contract and that damn flash drive is right there in the briefcase because you never know.
PA Announcers, whether they need everything or not, require tool kits in kind. Not because they will use everything in the box but, because they just might need some of the stuff in that box. It’s nuts but, it’s not. Try showing up to a football game without tape. How about sitting down, getting organized and having no pens that work. Consider having plenty of pens but, no spiral notebook to right on. The possibilities for falling into announcer chasms are endless.
Well, I have a kit and you should, too. Not for my own sake but, for my customers…the administrators. After all, what kind of professional PA announcer am I that shows up to a game unprepared. Luck Favors the Prepared. Remember, that post I wrote some time back? Go read it. It’s all true. I won’t belabor the point. I want to talk tools so, let’s get to it.
Let’s begin with my toolbox, designed for musicians as I once was a musician. Now, my Anvil case travels with me from game to game filled with little goodies which may or may not be used. Irrespective, I am happy they are in there. YES, the case is heavy which will not be everyone’s cup of tea; however, Anvil engineered these cases for heavy travel and industrial use. This makes me happy. The case won’t bust, will last my lifetime and more and everything inside remains safe and secure. Others may not need a case. Unabashed, I do.
Let’s rap guts. My pieces and parts came to be through need, watching what colleagues do and even the list in NASPPA’s Voice Above the Crowd (The PA Announcer’s Must-Have Bible…even if you don’t use it). Since, I’m concerned that this will end up being a long drawn out post, we’ll do this guts talk in a list to make it easier on the eyes.
- TAPE – I consider this the #1 tool. I have had more rosters blow away or fall on the floor than you can shake a stick at. I use packaging tape due to its strength. Many an announcer has survived with plain old scotch tape, though.
- PENS/PENCILS/HIGHLIGHTERS – No choice in the matter. The choice resides in how many to bring. How about 100?! It sounds silly but, if you only bring 3, your risking your day. Being a pen fan, I have pens of blue/black and red. Why two colors? I use a red one when there is something I need to highlight and speaking of that, I usually have one or two in the box. Highlighters are useful if you just want to drag a yellow line across the starters. Trust me, it works effectively.
- PAPER – I use a spiral notebook always. The pages don’t fall out. I can flip back and forth when needed. It works for me. My spiral has everything in creation written in it: birthday announcements, captains, subs, downs, things I hear to note, phone numbers, occasional picture of Kilroy, etc. Why anyone in broadcasting would show up anywhere without blank paper is beyond me. My way is not the only way though. Note pads, composition books, loose leaf pages (I don’t recommend since they are hard to organize), sketchbooks or any paper item you are comfortable with. Please, have paper. What’s the point of crippling yourself at a ballgame?!
- BINDER CLIPS/PAPER CLIPS/SCISSORS/RUBBER BANDS – These represent the you-never-know tools. Kinda like Dad having a whole set of allen wrenches or voltmeter, they are never used until that ONE DAY, which invariably arrives like the devil…unexpectedly, and you breathe a sigh of relief that it’s in repose in the back corner of the Anvil case waiting to be wielded. For a PA Announcer, scissors really stick out in the mind.
- CLIPBOARD – If I could thrust this item upon everyone, I would. To have a hard surface one can hold in their hand and write on expands the announcer’s flexibility. An announcer can stand and write, move around and write, write down and hand the board to another to glance at, hold close or far from the eyes, secure keep papers to be read. How better to adjust phonetics on the 50-yard line with the visiting coach then writing on the roster which is clamped to the handy dandy clipboard. For me, the clipboard serves as the screwdriver of the toolkit. And what, exactly, is a set of tools with no screwdriver?
- SCRIPTS – Holy cow! How professional does a game sound when it is scripted?! If you are new to this and never scripted your High School baseball game, script it one time and you’ll never go back. The big difference between the MLB and the sandlot is…scripting. Items you should have scripts printed and organized: rosters, in-game tracking, pre-game copy, national anthem, halftime or between periods copy, end of contest documentation, emergency procedures, it goes on. The more scripts you show up with, the better. Bring blank roster sheets as well. I cannot tell you how many times admin has given me the rosters and they were dead wrong. Yap, a lot of furious writing went into a blank template but, the big idea, the blank was available ’cause I brought one. Scripts, scripts, scripts, scripts, scripts, scripts. Did I emphasize it for you?
- BINDERS/FOLDERS – Your bring what keeps you organized. Paper clips (above) help, too. Organization is an announcer’s best friend. If keeping 5 folders with this and that in the case works for you, do it…every time! If just stapling your items before you leave to the arena does it for you, do it…every time! I keep a couple folders empty in the case. I’ve had to use them more than once so, they’re now tools worth having.
- POTATO CHIPS/LOZENGES/CHAPSTICK/THROAT SPRAY/WATER– Throat treatments are as essential as breathing for anyone who’s voice is their business. Water is top dog. Careful on intake though, little to no time stands ready for the announcer to get relief until game end. I use an old singer’s trick and eat, sparingly, potato chips throughout a contest. It greases my golden pipes. Hopefully, you don’t plan on kissing your girlfriend after the game as there will certainly be gross little pieces of potato stuck between your teeth. Ick! However, you will sound great throughout!!! Pack a bottle of water and a bag of chips in that case. You’re gonna need it, trust me. If chips are NOT your thing, throat lozenges work too but, BE CAREFUL! Don’t use anything coated in sugar. Sugar and Milk are a vocalist’s worst enemy. Check out our piece on VOCALZONE!!! They really do the trick!
- GLASSES/CAPS – Funny, funny. If you can’t read without glasses, you’re game DOA. Keep an old prescription in the kit. Fine, they are not perfect but, you’ll find a way to make them work for 3 hours. Ya’ sunburn like me? I forget my baseball cap more than anything else. I come home with a pink beanie and a wife berating me over the terrors of skin cancer; therefore, I keep a crammed, smashed old cap in the case as a backup. No red beanies for me!
- BINOCULARS – Speaking of seeing things…no matter the sport, I’ve been glad to have my compact binoculars along. I could not imagine doing any sports operations/media-type job without a pair. There just seems to be always something in the distance I need to get a quick, closer look at. Football, Baseball, Softball, Lacrosse, Hockey, Rugby, etc. – ESSENTIAL. It is an unprofessional mistake not to be carrying a pair around as an announcer of any kind.
- FLASH LIGHT – Who on earth told these dummies to bring the clubs out in the dark anyway! Great little LED flash lights are everywhere and cheap! Have one. It’ll work out and when you can’t believe. One time, I was at a basketball game and the lights poofed out! That’s right, poofed! The calm announcer whipped out the flash light and read a procedure to relax the crowd.
- TECHNOLOGY – Lots a guys and gals like their tech. Instead of pen and paper, the favor the tablets, phones and laptops over the old school pencils and paper. That’s awesome! Wise words of warning from your announcing sage: have backup. Imagine, for whatever ethereal pretext, you arrive and your trusty tablet is dead. What do you do? Panic?!?! No way! Why? You were smart enough to fill your toolkit with backup paper and pens just in case such nonsense befalls you.
- MUSIC – So often, the tech is used solely for music. The sage advises announcers to stay as far from music as possible. Let that be someone else’s job if at all possible. Having said this, we get caught in the music web very, very often. Be prepared with clean lists. Playing music with dirty words will get you tossed out quick. Have your noises and national anthems loaded on whatever tech you use. Organize them so you can get to them quick and easy. Remember, music is not the focus, announcing is. If there is someone there that can use your tech to play the music, all the better. Music is an announcing red herring. I know it’s fun but, it is undeniably a distraction the PA guy does not need. Strangely, I have been carrying a 128gb flash drive loaded with music that I can hand to the music person sitting next to me in a pickle with none. It DOES happen.
- BATTERIES/CABLES/CHARGERS – Ok. I am a tech-foolish sage. We all use tech these days. At a minimum, I go to my phone at a baseball game to look up the local weather and announce it to the crowd. Now, i carry a USB charger with me. On top of it all, I keep a fresh back of AA and 9V batteries. Wireless microphones, geeeeeez! They were supposed to provide mics with fresh batteries then BOOM! I am talking to myself because it died. I tell you the other thing i started carrying because it paid off a hundred times over: mic cable pieces. I have a 10 foot XLR cable all wrapped up with an assortment of adapters for every darn type of plug hole. Do you know every system you are going to face? Of course, not! Good announcers anticipate.
- MINI MICROPHONE STAND – I like to be hands free. I have a collapsed mic stand in the case that screw together everywhere I land where I don’t get a headset mic. I use a rubber microphone holder which stretches to fit the thick wireless mics that all places sport now. The best part about using a stand is that I can better control the distance between my mouth and the mic. It matters. Same distance and same volume equal quality, consistent results out of the speakers. Also, I keep a couple of those foam mic covers as well. I slip them on the provided mic and, suddenly, my germs and everyone else’s segregate to the benefit of the whole lot.
- REGULAR GOOD OL’ FASHIONED TOOLS – Got this feedback from some colleagues and will be evolving my kit but, what about carrying a genuine screwdriver. More than once, I’ve needed to fix something then there’s the big scramble to find a tool. A multi-tool, screwdriver, wire-cutting pliers or any little fixing it tool for bent connectors, a mic you have to tear apart on the fly (EEK), or all the things that happen that you don’t think about ahead of time. One colleague indicated they carry a power strip. At first, it sounded much but, then I recalled a time when I arrived and there was only one plug…AND the school was using it. A power strip could be a might weapon in your arsenal. Think about it.
- SIGNALS GUIDE – You bet I bring a copy of the officials signals with me. Is anyone a master of all the stinking sign language? In a prior post, Lost In Translation, I speak all about the perils of signals in sports. In preparation for the sport and level I am going to do, I slip in a stapled copy of all the signals. I run in to one I don’t know regularly. For me, it’s all about being the quintessential student of announcing. I don’t know them all. If your in need, I have a current set in the Tools section HERE. Funny anecdote, I was announcing a Division III basketball game recently when the head referee came up to me and said, “Hey! Can I get a copy of that?”, while pointing at my stapled signals guide lying on the desk. The referee!!! I said, “Sure.”, out loud. I yelled, “Wow!”, on the inside. I gave him my copy after the game with a smile. The point? Everyone needs help. Everyone needs tools.
- HOLY BIBLE OF ANNOUNCING – NASPPA’s Voice Above the Crowd is definitely a need for me. The book could use a diet though. Thick by nearly two inches, it can’t quite fit in my case with all my other necessities. How do I handle it? Toss it in the trunk and carry it into the auditorium separately. Egads, extra stuff to carry! It’s worth it. Little bits of data in that book have helped me time and time again. Carrying that book does not make me an amateur. Quite to the contrary. The pro brings the tools s/he needs. Consider that.
Our Current World
Sadly, not one of us invited this pesky little character, but what havoc it caused! Now, unlike our old life of showing up and getting to work, we must consider the safety of things conscientiously prior to any activity outside our homes. Safety always rested in the back of our minds, surely. However, our world’s current state pressed safety considerations in the vanguard of our everyday life.
Undoubtedly, society will overcome and press on past this unwieldy state of fear and restriction. However, safety will remain in the foreground of our thought in the future. I wrote and article some years ago called Luck Favors The Prepared. That line rings more true today than anytime in the recent years. To tip the field in your favor, we have lined up a few obvious items and maybe one not so obvious. You can find it all on AMAZON. Generally, the items are priced very reasonably but with where we all are at, no price is too high. Why perpetuate fear when we can stave it off, yes? Yes!
- HAND SANITIZER – Truth is…everyone should keep a small bottle on them regardless of circumstances. Just a good practice. However, an uncertain world obligates certain items. You don’t know where that mic has been, or the table, or the chair, etc. et al. A 1 or 2 ounce bottle in the case can spare the announcer the bacteria on the hands that make it to the face. Hands to face. Hands to face. Disease’s #1 helper is your own darn hands to your own helpless face. Memorize this for your own health’s sake: HANDS TO FACE…HANDS TO FACE.
- MASK – COVID-19 or no COVID-19, the human being has been put on alert. No one knows where anyone’s been. Professional speakers already realize fluids exit the mouth when we talk. They fly through the air, wildly with reckless abandon. They land on faces and inanimate places where hands touch. THIS is the most common way things spread. Again, circumstances are immaterial at this point. The announcer uncomfortable stepping into future unfamiliar locations might want to consider having masks on hand to calm the nerves. Masks now exist on the market which have minimal effect on vocal quality. They arrive in all shapes and materials. Spend the money and try out a variety until you end up with what works for you and ONLY you. These days, people even make fashion statements with them. (A sample of a mask my son had made to the right.) Who knew?! Of course, during this time of virus fear, get yourself good masks to keep in the kit at all times. It’s best to always mitigate your own risk but, you know this already.
- LATEX GLOVES – So, here we go. Hands to face…hands to face… With gloves, the ol’ nasty business doesn’t land on your skin in the first place. Do you look weird wearing them? YES!!! So what?! If it gives you solace to know you are doing all you can do to protect yourself, go for it! Remember, hands to face. We are our own worst enemies. It is not others’ hands but, our own which will likely get us under the weather. Why play games if you are worried? Stack the deck in your favor and keep fresh disposable gloves on hand.
- MICROPHONE COVERS – Do you know what lips have been on that microphone???? OMG, NO YOU DO NOT! That’s right. Microphone covers exist! They work! The best part is they put a shield between your lips and the germs on the mic itself. No matter the future, we highly recommend having a package of disposable covers on hand for the rest of your career. Foolish thinking tips the scales of doom the wrong direction. For so many announcers, they contract on demand to unknown locations whereby anything could have occurred in the recent past. Show up. Pop a cover on the microphone. Go to work in safety! If you work one primary gig at say a university, demand Administration purchase an unlimited supply to keep in press boxes and at tables. They want you to announce? They should provide a safe environment.
WHAT ABOUT THE [email protected]#$#% MIC???
I thought you’d never ask. I carry a classic. The Shure omni-directional SM58 reigns, in many a mind, as the greatest, reliable stage microphone of all time. Yes, one, literally, lives in the toolkit, ready and willing to be plugged in. What I have been trying to emphasize is that the microphone is not the #1 tool. Preparedness is.
To be prepared, an announcer must put themselves together a kit they can count on but, the microphone is not the top tool to consider. If you show up as a mechanic to fix a car with only a wrench and screwdriver, you will fail. Announcing is the same. It takes a lot to do something right. My list is not exhaustive and constantly changes on me but, I have a toolkit available to me at all times. I couldn’t imagine doing this otherwise. Could you?
Clue me in to what you keep in your Announcer’s toolkit. I learn from others’ ideas.
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