Broadcasting Live: Lawrence Tanter, Basketball and All That Jazz

A frenzied excitement builds among the fan faithful as the music pulsates through the darkened STAPLES Center arena, breathing life into its walls. The raucous crowd, bubbling with anticipation, greet their golden garbed heroes with cheers as the men jump from side to side, trying to keep their bodies warm and their nerves in check. And then, as if spoken from the heavens, the omniscient voice booms, "ON YOUR FEET—TIME TO GREET THE HOME TEAM . . ." and the drama unfolds as if this night is like no other.

Tanter is an 18-year vet who's seen five Lakers championships.

With a presence large enough to rival the Wizard of Oz, Lawrence Tanter sits courtside, front and center, as the public address announcer for the World Champion Los Angeles Lakers. Using a tabletop microphone and a watchful eye, he performs night-in and night-out playing up the emotion of sellout crowds.

Tanter’s story is rooted in two of America’s greatest inventions—basketball and jazz. As a young man growing up in Chicago, he pursued both popular interests. His skills on the basketball court earned him a scholarship to the University of Dubuque, while his love for music landed him on student radio, hosting The L.T. Jazz Show, a launching pad for Tanter’s future success.

He began carving his niche in the early 1970s on the local jazz scene. From his college days to his contributions at Stevie Wonder’s Los Angeles-based radio station (KJLH) where he helped popularize the smooth jazz genre, Tanter’s fascination for America’s classical music was becoming a boundless passion.

"Jazz is such a creative art form that employs the highest degree of mental stimulation," explains Tanter with an enthusiastic grin. "It makes your mind move your body versus other music that just moves your body and leaves your mind on vacation. It’s also the only indigenous art form that this country has given the world—it all came from here." Filling the airwaves with his cool personality, soulful style and rich tone, this 30-year veteran of commercial jazz radio became one of the most recognizable voices in Southern California.

"My feeling was, years ago, that people paid money to come and see the Lakers, not to hear some clown on the PA. I use enthusiasm when the appropriate time comes, but I’m not a cheerleader and I don’t want to be."

-- Lawrence Tanter

Tanter eventually found his way back to basketball. He got his break with the Lakers in 1982. His inquiry about a backup announcer position resulted in a one game trial on the arena microphone. "They called me up and said I had the gig. I was like, ‘woah, really?’ It was Magic’s third year, Worthy was a rookie, Kareem, Cooper and that whole crew—It was a dream come true. It’s been 18 years since and I’ve seen and been a part of five championships."

His mild demeanor and subtle genius separate him from other public address announcers. "I think I’m different than a lot of guys in other cities because I’m not a screamer. My feeling was, years ago, that people paid money to come and see the Lakers, not to hear some clown on the PA. I use enthusiasm when the appropriate time comes, but I’m not a cheerleader and I don’t want to be."

Any good announcer knows that capturing different moods within the game flow is essential, and Tanter’s eyes and ears have taken his voice to another level. From the dissonant tone sensed in his voice when announcing an opponent basket, to the sensual declaration of "The Laker Girls" as the ladies hold pose following each routine, or his bellowing pronunciation of "Koh-be" or "Oh-Neal" after a ferocious dunk, Tanter’s delivery and execution are nearly flawless. The confident simplicity and creativity he employs continue to set the standard in arena announcing.

His love for music and basketball has afforded him the opportunity to share his knowledge and passion with thousands, including hometown legends. "A lot of my friendship with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] was predicated on music. He was a jazz aficionado too so we were friends before I even worked the with Lakers, based on our affinity for music."

Tanter’s passion transcends all generations. "Of all the current players," he states, "the one I talk with the most is Kobe [Bryant]. We have a pretty good relationship and I’ve been sharing jazz with him. I had a feeling he would enjoy it if he was given the opportunity to check it out."

The music selections of L.T. stream into homes and businesses over the internet, via, and across the airwaves on KJAZ, 1260 on the AM dial, during his 1 to 5 PM slot Monday through Friday. As a DJ and the Director of Programming for KJAZ (one of only three commercial jazz radio stations in the country), Tanter has found happiness.

"My father told me some years ago, ‘if you have to work, do something you enjoy, because it becomes your craft versus work.’ You get compensated for something you enjoy and then you can give something more than just putting in time on the clock . . . you can provide a little bit of your own heart and soul."

Whether performing on the Lakers’ worldly stage or broadcasting jazz across the globe, Lawrence Tanter’s heart and soul go a long way.

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