Nearly 100 students gathered in the Walter Cronkite School’s First Amendment Forum Tuesday to hear NBC sportscaster Bob Costas speak about his career. Costas was the winner of this year’s Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the excitement was tangible as the Forum filled.
Costas opened the discussion with a few jokes, then talked for an hour about his experience as a broadcaster while the audience listened with bated breath.
“The first notion of wanting to be a sports broadcaster came when I was 10 or 11 years old,” Costas said.
Costas said as a child he could never separate his games from the broadcasters’ voices, and always heard a soundtrack while playing in the backyard. He knew sportscasting was something interesting and something he wanted to do.
Costas has been in the business since the 1970s, starting as a play-by-play broadcaster for KMOX radio in St. Louis. He later began working for NBC Sports, and has since covered everything from baseball to nine Olympic Games.
Broadcasting on the radio takes a different skill set than on television, he said.
“The quality of phrasing, the choice of words, the style, the rhythm, the pace mattered even more than they mattered on television,” he said.
Experience was the most important thing in his schooling, he said — his best classes were nothing without experience.
Though many broadcasters served as role models for Costas, he never imitated them. The best broadcasters are not carbon copies of each other, he said.
Costas talked extensively about developing a unique style instead of relying on a shtick. Today’s broadcasters have fewer opportunities to be different from their competitors. They have to be better, he said.
“I believe that if Al Michaels was 23 years old and starting out today…he would be in the major leagues in two or three years, not because Al Michaels has ever done anything that immediately makes you say, ‘Oh look, this guy is going to be doing something crazy, out of the ordinary, calling attention to himself,’” Costas said. “He’s doing what other people do, but he’s doing it better. He’s doing it at a higher level.”
Costas told his audience they will stand out if they produce quality work because it’s no longer about just having something new or different. Covering sports is like weaving a tapestry, he said, and students should take time to develop the craft.