Bill Schoening: The Man Behind the Voice
|The man behind the voice.|
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” says Schoening, who does the play-by-play for all the Spurs games on the radio. “I was real lucky when I was ten years old…I was falling asleep one night listening to a guy on the radio named Byrum “By” Saam.
“He was the radio voice of the [Philadelphia] Phillies at the time, and I just remember at the age of ten falling asleep listening to him thinking that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted kids to fall asleep listening to me one day. Doing play-by-play is what I’ve always wanted to do…it’s my passion.”
Much of Schoening’s passion can be attributed to his early days growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was there that he became a basketball enthusiast, watching double-headers of college basketball with his brother at the University of Pennsylvania’s Palestra, probably the most storied gymnasium in the history of collegiate athletics.
Friday nights often offered him the chance to see games like St. Joe’s vs.Villanova, or Penn vs. Princeton. Philly has five Division I basketball schools, so the opportunity to see some premier match-ups came up often.
Not to mention that he also got to watch Wilt Chamberlain play for his hometown 76ers. When Schoening was nine years old, the 76ers, behind legendary names like Wilt Chamberlain and Billy Cunningham, brought the NBA Championship home to Philly in 1966-67.
“When you grow up in that kind of basketball atmosphere,” Schoening recalls, “I was a fan from the very beginning.”
Even going to high school games was a treat at the time he was in school. He attended West Catholic High School at the same time as Michael Brooks, who became the all-time leading scorer at LaSalle (a record later to be broken by Lionel Simmons) and then went on to play six seasons in the NBA. Gene Banks, who played for the Spurs from 1981-85, attended West Philly High. Lewis Lloyd, who later played for the Rockets, went to Overbrook High (the same high school that produced Malik Rose).
After high school, Schoening attended Temple University for one year, but he was very anxious to get on the radio and he wasn’t going to be able to get on the campus station until he was a senior. Temple University allowed him to transfer some of his scholarship money at the time to a broadcasting school that had been recruiting him heavily.
So he left Temple and attended the American Academy of Broadcasting in Philadelphia. It was a very intense six-month class that included everything from news writing and sports writing to DJ work and board operations.
“I really felt prepared to get a job after that course,” he remembers. “I got a job right away. I graduated on a Saturday and got a job about a week later in Illinois!
|Schoening and legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn.|
His first radio job was in Pana, Illinois, where he spent only about a year doing some local high school sports. He wanted to do more sports than what was afforded him there, so he left Illinois and moved out to Lamesa, Texas, a small town about halfway between Midland and Lubbock out in west Texas.
There he got to do football, basketball, and baseball for the Lamesa High School Golden Tornados for three years.
“That was a great opportunity for me,” he says. “That station was really committed to sports. It was a local high school team, but we did [all the athletics]. I was able to pay a lot of dues and work on my craft. I had a lot of fun doing it, and it was a great learning experience for me.”
At the age of 23 he was already experienced and skilled enough to get his first taste of college athletics. After his three years in Lamesa, Schoening moved to Huntsville, Texas to do radio for Sam Houston State. He did mostly basketball and football, and a little bit of baseball, from 1983-89.
He was then offered a job at the University of Texas in Austin, where he would work for 12 years before coming to the San Antonio Spurs.
When Schoening started with UT he was the color analyst for football and basketball for three years, and then did play-by-play for the last nine years. He did play-by-play for baseball all 12 years he was with UT. He spent his first two years doing color for Brad Sham (who left UT to work for the Dallas Cowboys) and another season doing color for Jerry Trupiano (who is now the play-by-play announcer for the Boston Red Sox).
“UT was a very important step in my career,” Schoening admits. “When I first got there, Brad Sham was doing the play-by-play for football and basketball. He was obviously an established guy, so I kind of stepped into the role of color analyst.
“That was fine with me, because it was the first time I had ever really done a lot of color. It was a little bit different ship, but I enjoyed it because it was a step up for me…it allowed me to work on a big network…and I got to learn from Brad and watched the way he prepared. It was a very good learning experience to work with Brad and Jerry.”
In September of 2001 the San Antonio Spurs were looking for a new play-by-play guy for the radio, and Bill Schoening was at a point in his career, after 12 seasons with the Longhorns, where he was looking for another challenge.
“It was a difficult decision because UT was such a great situation for me,” he said. “I had my own talk show…I was doing football, basketball, and baseball…and even though the programs have gotten better since I left, they were pretty good at the time.
“The timing was such that I was able to accept the job with the Spurs and still do football for one more year with UT. I felt like I owed it to them because I had already done most of the prep work and we were so close to the beginning of the season.”
The first season with the Spurs was hectic for Schoening. He was calling all the games for the Spurs, but still slipping away once a week to call the games for UT football. His time with UT ended on a good note, with a win in the Holiday Bowl against Washington.
|Celebrating the 2003 Spurs Championship.|
Like so many Spurs fans, Schoening says the best part of his job is the opportunity to watch Manu Ginobili play every night, but that’s just one of many things he loves about his work.
“Obviously there are a lot of great things about my job,” he says. “Seeing these guys all the time and just observing them and how they conduct themselves…watching this organization and this team has been rewarding in itself…that’s the great part of this job.
“I’ve watched other teams, and not every team approaches things the way this team does. It’s a very professional organization, and it’s really special for me to observe that and in my own way be a very small part of that organization.”