by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness
December 11, 2013
34 years ago, Dick Vitale, a man with a unique and vivacious voice, took part in his first broadcast on ESPN. To this day, Vitale remains a staple on the network’s college basketball coverage and last spring was part of his first Final Four telecast with ESPN International.
Vitale’s partner in his debut was none other than Joe Boyle, the father of the longtime Voice of the Pacers, Mark Boyle.
The senior Boyle, who has lived in Tucson, Arizona since 1981, was a broadcaster for a variety of networks. When asked to recall his first pairing with Vitale, a contest between Wisconsin and DePaul in Illinois on Dec. 5, 1979, Boyle said he hasn’t really changed. Vitale was full of energy and delivered breathless answers.
“No,” Joe Boyle said, “he hasn’t changed as far as I can see hardly at all. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t changed in looks that much.”
Broadcasters typically talk and share ideas before a broadcast, sometimes days ahead of time. Then, hours before a television broadcast, a production meeting is held. It was Vitale’s first-ever broadcast on the network, yet he didn’t show up until 20 minutes before game time.
Before Vitale arrived, Boyle even had a conversation by phone with his friend, the late Scotty Connal – a former NBC Sports exec who left to help create ESPN and brought Boyle with him – about doing it by himself, which wasn’t unfamiliar territory. Connal, by the way, was the one who had hired Vitale in the first place. Finally, he showed up and was immediately his rambunctious self.
“Once we started, he just started talking like he always does – about Italian food, and everything else,” said Boyle. “If I remember correctly, at the half I had to tell him, ‘At least let me give the score once in awhile.’ Because once it goes, he’s just off and running."
The two were paired together two or three more times. After nearly a decade with ESPN, Boyle moved on because he was tired of being on the road for 280 days out of the year. But he’ll never forget his first live network broadcast, because it was ESPN’s first, as well. It was an American slow-pitch softball game on Sept. 7, 1979.
“They didn’t own the rights to anything,” Boyle said. “They were just airing what they could get.
“I did sports for them that I had never seen. I had to go to the library to get the rules before I would do them. I did ping pong, polo, college wrestling. You name it, we probably did it.”
Over his career, he went from a small town in Wisconsin to Minnesota, North Dakota, back to Minnesota and then finally landed in the Twin Cities. There, he called Minnesota North Stars hockey games, along with football, basketball, hockey and basketball contests for the University of Minnesota. In the latter years, Mark began to tag along with his dad.
Having gone through it himself, Mr. Boyle wanted to expose his son to the bad side of the business, where you start out doing everything by yourself. The more you make, the less you have to do, he explained. That might even include announcing a game outside on scaffolding in frigid temperatures.
“When I was working in the Twin Cities, I would take him to probably the worst facilities that were imaginable so that he would get an idea what it was really like,” he said. “I took him to football and basketball games, and then he just decided that he was going to do it.”
Mark has twice been named the Indiana Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association, and was inducted into the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame in April 2013.
Joe Boyle tries to listen to Mark as often as possible, but he no longer tries to give his lucid son advice.
“I did up until probably about 10 years ago when I told him that he had gotten to the point where he was better than I had been,” the elder Boyle stated. “I thought he was very, very good so I didn’t offer much after that.
You may notice in the video to the right that Joe Boyle has hair. But that’s not exactly accurate. The television station he worked for made him where a toupée, and he hated it. He still had some hair, admittedly thin, but it didn’t look that he had any under the bright lights.
“I sent Mark a note (Tuesday),” Joe said, “‘It’s amazing what 35 years and a toupée can do for you.’”
Any other similarities?
“His pregame preparation is a lot like mine was,” he added. “I used to do four high school hockey games in one day, and you had to memorize all of the numbers. I developed an ability – and he has that – to remember names and numbers and the next day he has a whole new list.”
Mark Boyle is in his 26th season as the lead broadcaster on the Pacers Radio Network, painting high-definition picture in minds of Pacers fans everywhere.
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