Passing of Dick Enberg Shows the Changes In Sportscasting

“Oh My!” catch phrase is iconic, but catch phrases are being phased out in modern sportscasting.

Marky Billson

With the passing of Dick Enberg, it’s hard not to think of his catch phrase, “Oh My!” a staple of all of his broadcasts, whether calling the National Football League or Wimbledon.

Dick Enberg, the Voice of NBC Sports For a Generation

Which presents a conundrum, because while it is readily apparent sportscasters with catch phrases often make a connection with fans, it’s also something that is de-emphasized when developing sportscasters as being hokey or unprofessional.

I do understand this to a point. John Ward’s “Give Him Six!” following Tennessee Volunteers touchdowns gave him, and the Vols, identity. Perhaps one of the reasons Bob Kesling has been around for 20 years but still hasn’t made the connection Ward did with fans is because while Kesling gives a clear and precise broadcast, he doesn’t have such a catch phrase to endear him to listeners.

But if you’re going to have a catch phrase, make it a good one. Chuck Jones is as much of a reason as any as to why football was dropped at ETSU in 2003 because in 2002, after he took over the reigns of play-by-play from Chip Kessler, he would preface every sentence with the phrase, “Football fans.”

“Football fans, the ball is on the 20! Football fans, it’s first and 10!”

The broadcasts were unlistenable. Jones lasted a season when he should have lasted a game.

Another sportscaster in another market I know of added “Give him a creamed turkey sandwich!” after touchdowns a high school football player would score.

Ugh! Trying too hard. Unprofessional.

Still, catch phrases can give a broadcast personality and a broadcaster identity. Even ESPN, which almost seems to want their anchors be to androids, once allowed Stuart Scott to tell us players were “as cool as the other side of the pillow” and Keith Olbermann to tell us hockey goals were “biscuits in the basket.”

To think the career of Olbermann was launched by traditional hockey slang!

But the modern day sportscaster has stayed away from such phrases. Even something as innocuous as “Oh My!” would never come from Joe Buck, Al Michaels, or Jim Nance’s lips.

An emphasis in professionalism? I’d agree. But also a de-emphasis in identity.

So sportscasters become interchangeable. I realize the game is the thing, but as a sportscaster shouldn’t I worry that a lack of identity leads to less pay for my profession and less job security?

Perhaps that’s what made Enberg such a star. He had the enthusiasm to relate to the heartland, the catch phrase that made you remember who he was, but it never interfered with his professionalism.

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