Meet the Pelicans broadcasters: Joel Meyers
All five members of the New Orleans Pelicans broadcast teams appeared on Tuesday’s edition of the Black and Blue Report. We are re-running the interviews this week. Today: Joel Meyers, play-by-play man for Fox Sports New Orleans. Coming Thursday: David Wesley.
Sean Kelley: There’s a lot of anticipation coming into this season but, for guys like us, basketball junkies, there’s always this feel as we get ready for another regular season.
Joel Meyers: And especially after last season where you felt like Anthony Davis was starting to make some progress right before he got hurt again at the end of the year. And you could see some other signs from some other guys (like) Austin Rivers before he went down. But then when they upgraded the roster the way they did over the summer, it was like ‘Can we please start early? Can we do a few games even before the start of the regular season?’ You were lucky. The radio side did, unfortunately we didn’t do any. Hopefully down the road that will change, that we do some preseason games. You said the word ‘buzz’. There is a buzz in this city because I’ve been here for a month now and back and now my golf days are over. I’m ready to work. I’ve done a bunch of football games, but back for good. Man oh man, people in this city are really talking about the team and I didn’t see that as much last year.
SK: Yeah there’s no doubt. Full disclosure: Joel and I are both from St. Louis, we’ll spare you the Cardinals talk.
JM: Still suffering at this juncture.
SK: We’ll leave that behind. For you, you’ve been here now for a year with one season under your belt as the television voice of the Pelicans. This is a unique place, and you’ve been all over the country. What was it about your first season here that struck you?
JM: The people. How good the people are. You know it’s a unique place; there’s no other city like this and I don’t have to tell you. You’ve been here a long time now. There’s no other city in the country like New Orleans. It’s unique to our country. You can’t compare anything to New Orleans. But the people make the place, and the people here are so warm and so genuine. Just the way they welcome you, even if it’s at Rouses or on the phone at Cox Cable. People are just warm and make it easy for you. And then the neighborhoods, because we live. We lived last year in the Warehouse (District); we moved since. Now I’m walking this morning with my dog past Jefferson Davis’ house, past Anne Rice’s house. All the history that goes along with this city, you can’t compare it to any place else.
SK: It surrounds you. It really does.
JM: It really is a wonderful place.
SK: Joel Meyers has broadcasted just about everything. I bet he’s done a checkers match at some point.
JM: Not really. Not chess or checkers.
SK: Decades long at all levels, and all sports too. It’s interesting, Joel, folks hear you especially here in a podcast or when you did the radio call the other night, and they just get to hear the voice. There’s no picture; it’s just the voice. There’s no doubt God has blessed you with a wonderful voice.
JM: My dad was deeper than I was.
SK: That’s scary. Here’s my question to you. I think that most folks will say in this business that with a voice like yours you get a bit of a head start, but the translation here is that you have to build the craft. So when you look back on quite a long career, what did you do to say, ‘Okay, great. I know you like my voice, but let me show you what I can do as far as the call of the game.’ When did you start to realize and pick up what was really best for you in advancing yourself into being kind of in the top tier? Do you get where I’m going with this?
JM: Yeah but I think it’s the love of the game where it all begins. You don’t do this unless you are absolutely passionate about the game. You grew up in St. Louis and you grew up listening to Jack Buck and Harry Caray. I grew up even before you a little bit and I listened to the Hawks in the ‘60s because I would fall asleep as a kid in the ‘60s and I couldn’t stay up until the end of the game. My brother, we had a reel to reel old web core tape player, and he would start it when he thought I was fading out. The next morning I could listen to the end of the Hawks game or the end of the Cardinals’ games. I fell in love with the guys that were calling the game, and what I really fell in love with was the personalities because they weren’t cookie cutter. Now, unfortunately, everybody comes out – whether it’s Syracuse or the University of Missouri, we could go through all of the broadcast journalism schools – of really good schools, and they think they have to sound a certain way and nobody has their own. Just be yourself; that’s the most important thing.
SK: Folks in this town have been blessed by that. They’ve had personalities and it’s amazing.
JM: Yeah but the love of the game, it goes back to that. And I knew by the time I got to junior high school, because now everybody calls it middle school, I knew when I got to junior high what I wanted to do and what my goals were. Even though I was a decent basketball player, I couldn’t jump, I wasn’t fast. I was too small for football. The football coach laughed at me at my high school when I told him I wanted to come out. He was like, ‘You don’t weigh enough!’ So that was the end of that as well.
SK: Was there a veteran in the business that knocked you around a little bit early on? I can remember one or two guys kind of making sure that I was on the straight and narrow as far as putting in the game prep, doing the right (thing), learning the right way. Was there a guy or two that knocked you around earlier on?
JM: Well I came into the Cardinals press box after I had done an indoor soccer game. In those days in the 70s the Steamers were filling the arena, the old checker-dome arena, whatever you want to call it, and the (St. Louis) Blues were really hurting. There was maybe about 12 or 14,000 a game so for indoor soccer, because St. Louis is such a big soccer city. The night before, the Steamers had lost a game in overtime and it was a terrible call by the official. Jack Buck looked at me and he said, “Man you were tough on that ref.” And he goes, “Whether you agree with him or not…” And he gave me some great advice along the way. And subsequently, he gave me other advice down the road. When I had to make career moves, I’d go to him. When I was offered a job when I was 28, I had just gotten married, I was offered a job. I went to him and he told me I’d be crazy if I didn’t take it, and I took it. Luckily, because I was addicted to the game of basketball at the time, it began my career out west doing UCLA football and basketball.
SK: There was an ESPN ‘30 for 30’ not too long ago about the ABA team in St. Louis. Bob Costas was the announcer for that team, and he told great stories. So whether it be the PGA tour or the NFL or the NBA or Major League Baseball, or as you mentioned, division one athletics, surely there is a story or two that you can share that would knock me out of this chair right now.
JM: Well I’ll just give you one that’s not really legal. We were in Baltimore and we were doing the indoor soccer team on TV in St. Louis before I went over to KMOX because I wanted to go back to radio to do it. In Baltimore a blizzard (hit), and I mean truly a couple of feet in a short period of time. We had already played the Baltimore Blast in the Pacific Auditorium the night before, and we wake up and they say, “you guys, you’re never going to get out of here.” They were going to cancel the game. We were supposed to play the Cleveland Force that night in Cleveland (at) the old Ritchfield Coliseum. Real quickly, I won’t drag it on, these guys were all St. Louis inner city, south central St. Louis, north St. Louis, but great soccer players. And then you had some other guys from Ireland, some guys from Scotland. All them like their beer. As soon as they found out that we weren’t going to be playing that night…cases of beer. I mean cases and cases. We were all on the bus together: “Stop at that liquor store.” Cases got on. So they start drinking. Then Earl Foreman, who was the commissioner of the Major Indoor Soccer League at the time - Cleveland had a promotion; they sold out the Ritchfield Coliseum. “I don’t care when you get there. You go back to the airport, and you guys are playing that night.” We get on this plane, and there were no charters those days. We get on an old dusty, I mean you hit the seat and dust flies up. We get to Cleveland late, about an hour and a half maybe two hours late. And then the kicker: we play to double overtime and lose after drinking earlier in the day. Double overtime, lose, and the bus doesn’t pick us up after the game because they didn’t think the team was going to make it. So as it turned out, members of the Cleveland Force took us back into the city to our hotel. We had to all kind of piggy back and carpool together after these guys had been beating on each other for about two and a half hours. You see a little bit of everything. I don’t need to tell you, you know about those.
SK: It’s fun. Especially in the days of the Wild West there for a while the MISL. How was the broadcast that day? How much did the broadcaster have, knowing that he may or may not have work that night?
JM: The best line of the night was my partner Mike Cavanaugh and he said, “This is the first chair I’ve been in today that hasn’t been moving.” Because we were on a bus, we had been drinking , we were on a plane, we were on another bus, and then the kicker: the bus after the game didn’t show up to bring us back to the hotel until about midnight.
SK: Speaking of drinking, you should know that Joel Meyers is literally a wine connoisseur. Listen to me, folks. If you go to the arena for a game, you can usually find Joel downstairs preparing with David (Wesley). If you’ve ever had that special occasion coming up or you want to impress somebody about picking the right wine, Joel is your guy.
JM: Not really, because I don’t know anything about white wine. I don’t drink white wine. I’m just stuck on certain things. But it’s healthy. My cardiologist told me it’s good for me so I have a legitimate excuse now.
SK: I need somebody to tell me that bourbon is good for me.
JM: That hasn’t stopped you yet.
SK: Let me ask you something before I let you go. Give the folks some insight into your game day. Is there something particular about your process on game day that’s unique to you that is maybe longstanding or maybe since you joined the Pelicans? What is it about your game day that is unique, that helps you get ready?
JM: I go to a lot of sources, actually. I’m kind of addicted to newspapers and websites. I read a lot and I try to incorporate a lot of different storylines into the game. I’m not a ball/strike announcer by any means. I like to think that we bring in a lot of different things to the telecast that aren’t basic. So, this morning, I go on all the hoopsworld, realGM, hoopshype which we all love, and that takes us to other places if you hit the links. So I never stop reading, to try to come up with different angles to look at the guy, maybe a player you didn’t know about, and maybe his story about how he got there and how hard he had to work to get there. We don’t have many opportunities. Radio, you have a real luxury. Radio is a dream, especially for a play-by-play guy. Remember that the TV is analyst driven. It’s 75%. You’re a traffic cop as a play-by-play guy on television. Radio, you’re really driving it; it’s yours. At the old paint the picture, radio is still – I had so much fun filling in for you the other night in that preseason game and I told you. I said how much fun it was because I grew up in radio and I’ve been on radio all my life but haven’t done a lot of radio lately, so when I have that opportunity it was like this is still such a treat. I did some for ESPN over the last couple of years, but it’s not the same thing as going to the arena and getting into that cadence, that rhythm, that rat-a-tat-tat, feeling great.
SK: It’s fun. And yes, there are a lot of things available to us now that help us tell those stories that they didn’t have ten or fifteen years ago. You had to do more.
JM: Well it was tougher. Now you have absolutely no excuse. With what the internet has provided, and especially USsportspages.com, all the newspapers, and all of the articles we could read. What I like to do is the local beat writers, they live with those guys. We live with the Pelicans. We live for them; we pull for them. They’re in our heart. We’re objective, but let’s face it, we want them to succeed. It’s a lot more fun calling wins than losses. So the beat writers are very helpful to us for the other cities and the other markets.
SK: And that goes to the other thing that I see you do a lot too and that is while you’re devouring everything that you can get your eyeballs on during the day, I see you bounce around the arena and you’re talking to either coaches or players or writers or other broadcasters. You can’t ever lose, at least in my eyes, that face-to-face communication in order to gather what you need for that broadcast. They help to tell that story.
JM: It’s the trust factor, the relationships that help you more than anything else. I don’t care what business you’re in, it is truly relationships. I’ve been in this business a long time and calling games for a long time, so I have a lot of friends in that locker room, maybe on that bench. It’s fun to see them, first of all. And then to catch up and they’ll give me the skinny and they’ll say ‘look for this guy, look for that guy. This guy has been great lately. He’s a little bit off, that other guy.’ They’ll give you some perspective that you wouldn’t normally have.
SK: Last question for you. Have you selected a tie for opening night yet?
JM: I’ve got a pelican tie. I go to Nola Couture on Magazine Street. What a great store for everything New Orleans! I mean it; I was just in there. It’s a fun place, and that’s a great stretch of Magazine Street.
SK: So you are going Pelicans tie tomorrow?
JM: Yeah. Talk about a great stretch of Magazine Street
SK: It’s a treasure of our city.
JM: Yeah Nola Couture is a cool place right there.
ON THE BLACK & BLUE REPORT