Broadcaster of the Week: Bob Licht
New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
Posted Apr 18 2007 7:12PM
I canít start off talking about my life in this industry before I mention that I am one of those Syracuse University guys. Thatís right, Iím an Orangeman. Graduated in í81. My dad was a college professor in the state university system of New York and he told me that if you want to get in broadcasting, then you go to Syracuse. I was lucky in that I was close enough where I could make that decision without having to travel across the country.
Once I got there it was a pretty amazing situation. It is unparalleled territory for a youngster to go there and try to get into broadcasting because of all the hands-on experience. Itís not just happenstance that Dick Stockton went there, that Ted Koppel went there, that Marv Albert went there, the list is never ending. You get the hands on experience you were tested pretty well before you even got on the air. In my opinion, thatís what makes the best broadcast school in the country. I felt like I was ready, and I think that most Syracuse people that you talk to would echo the same statement. Having gone there, youíve kind of been in the business already. I was really lucky.
When we were juniors, a couple of colleagues and I stayed during the summer to work. One of our projects was to sit in the stands at MacArthur Stadium where the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs played and to do some play-by-play. One day we were doing our thing in the stands with our recorder when a reporter from the Syracuse Herald, who was at the game to write about the fans and the ballpark atmosphere, noticed us. He ended up doing a story on us sitting in the stands trying to become baseball play-by-play announcers. The general manager of the Chiefs called us into his office and said, ďYou know, our contract is up for broadcasting games next year. If you fellas are going to be around, maybe the college radio station is going to be in the mix for doing play-by-play.Ē As it turns out, the next two years we were able to do that. It is kind of funny that I got my foot in the door doing a step below Major League Baseball before I got out of college, just a total luck, right-place-right-time kind of story.
The Hornets' initial season was í88-89 and I was working at that time at WBT Radio in Charlotte for the new NBA franchise. I was the backup to Steve Martin who was the original play-by-play voice. I went from doing that for two years to getting into minor league baseball. I ended up doing 10 years of minor league baseball, from Single-A on up to Triple-A, the highlight of which certainly was the 1994 season. That season was the year that Michael Jordan took off from the NBA to attempt to get into the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox. Every stop for Michael Jordan was a sellout. It was pandemonium, it was unlike any minor league team ever experienced, but when he came to our park, it was even more unique because he was coming back to North Carolina. I am probably one of the few guys who ever called his professional baseball games as well as some of his NBA games. In fact I called his first professional homerun. He went until July 30th or 31st before he hit his first home run and it just happened to be against us. I gave him a CD copy of his homerun on his 40th birthday just to give him a baseball memory. Whether he cared about it or not, I thought it was a 40th birthday joke between us. It was fun following him as a baseball player because you could see that even though it wasnít his number one sport, how incredible an athlete he really was. He was the fastest player on the field of any game that he played in and if he could have hit, I have no doubt he would have made a major league baseball player. That was probably one of my baseball highlights, just being able to see the energy in the ballpark, all those sellouts for Double-A minor league baseball.
I guess I was fortunate that I was working at that radio station in Charlotte when they got the expansion franchise. Because my station got the broadcast rights, I became involved in their initial year. Then of course I had knowledge of the team and contacts in the organization. So when the job became a full-time job again in 1996 when Steve Martin went over to television, the radio job opened up and I took it. I was on the radio from 1996 until last season when I switched over to the TV side.
This being my 11th full season, Iíve been through two relocations since having gotten involved with the Hornets franchise. There are a lot of us in the broadcast department, a lot of us in the organization, who are probably as resilient as the players have been through all of this. There is obviously a dramatic difference between the relocation from Charlotte to New Orleans and the one that we just finished up in Oklahoma City. Life in the Bayou is totally different from anywhere else in the world. It really tests you, especially those with families. It tests your ability to work under those circumstances and it challenged me to get back and forth between Louisiana and Oklahoma to stay together as a family. It strengthened a lot of us that way. You almost feel like you can handle anything after youíve been through a franchise relocating from Charlotte to New Orleans. In many ways this season is like that with all the injuries the Hornets survived, yet they went down to the final days of the season still viable for a playoff spot. It was kind of an interesting story within a story I thought.
I donít think anybody knew what to expect when we first got to Oklahoma City. I anticipated it being a football town, but arriving for the home opener on Nov. 1, 2005 against Sacramento, it was as loud a building as Iíve ever experienced in my time in the NBA. It was not only sold out, it was raucous. To see that carry throughout an entire season was a surprise. But everybody embraced the team and its employees. There is story after story about how welcoming the entire area has been. Tyson Chandler told me a story the other day about his first day in Oklahoma City when he and his wife and their newborn baby were in town and didnít have a map, didnít know which direction to go in, just kind of stopped at a four way stop sign and just flagged down another motorist and asked for them to be pointed in the right direction. The guy gave him a full rundown of where everything was. The baby started crying in the backseat, and the guyís wife opened the back door and helped calm down the baby. Tyson told me that at that moment, he turned to his wife and knew they were going to be OK in Oklahoma City. That is what Oklahoma City is about to me. Everybody in the community seemed to have a genuine interest in making all of us feel comfortable. Last year it was two fold Ė comfortable in a time of need and comfortable in the fact that we were a professional franchise trying to make a go of it in that town.
For me personally, it brought back memories of the í88-89 season in Charlotte when North Carolina didnít have a major league team prior to the Hornets. That opener and that opening month, it was the most exciting thing going on, not only in Oklahoma City, but probably the state of Oklahoma. It reminded me a lot about North Carolina. You knew as you were going through the early stages of Charlotte, that it was definitely going to make its mark as a major league city. There is no doubt that Oklahoma, specifically Oklahoma City, can make it. They have exceeded expectations on any level that you would ask about. They understand now what it takes to be a major league city. Theyíve proven it.
Looking back now, I constantly ask myself, Is this really my job? To me the favorite part of this experience is that this has been a passion of mine since I realized I couldnít play around the age of 16 or 17. To be able to be paid to broadcast games that I probably would be watching anyway is just a thrill. When I see the number of broadcasters who stay in the business until retirement, I understand it, I get it. It is a very fulfilling profession. To me it is something that you have to have a passion for because there is a lot of travel and stuff, there is a lot of separation from family and friends, but when you get in an arena and you hear the crowd and you realize that people care about the event that youíre covering, it juices you up and makes you feel like youíre a part of something special. Itís important that you feel like that every night, and I do.
Bob Licht begins his second season on screen as the Hornets TV play-by-play announcer and his 11th season with the team. Prior to beginning his current role, he spent nine seasons as the radio voice of the Hornets.
Licht, known for his high-energy, colorful broadcasts (including his signature big basket call, ďBottom!Ē), is also responsible for negotiating and building the Hornets Radio Network as well as authoring a weekly column (In The Lane) on Hornets.com.