Learning the Art Form
Jack Benjamin ’18 can paint a picture with his voice. This fall, the former KSCU sports announcer will call games for two top college programs.
Jack Benjamin ’18 is a words guy. Listen to his broadcasts on KSCU and you’ll hear of point guards “wheeling,” base runners “dangling” their arm as they lead off first, and running backs dashing upfield. It’s all about efficiency with words and packing in details. Benjamin is skilled at both.
“Dave Koehn, the announcer for UVA basketball, uses ‘uncorks’ to describe a shot taken—uncorks a three—I like that a lot,” Benjamin says. “I got this from another radio guy: I like to say ‘rips the cords’ on a swish for a made shot. For a missed shot, ‘pinballs around,’ if the shot kind of rolls around.”
This is all intentional, systematic really. Benjamin has a list of favorite words in a document on his computer, organized sport-by-sport. Basketball, for example, is a seven-page file with a section on different ways to describe a missed shot, one on made shots, another on passes, dribbles, and driving to the basket and so on.
Each time he hears a word he likes, he pulls out his smartphone and writes it down. The words on the list aren’t catchphrases, but currency.
“There’s a lot of prep that’s involved,” Benjamin says of his broadcasts. “For basketball, it’s a good seven or eight hours—developing story lines, learning names and numbers. If you don’t have the names and numbers memorized going in, you’re in trouble.”
Growing up in Westchester County, New York, Benjamin was immersed in the Yankees and the NFL’s NY Giants as a kid, but he doesn’t view sports just as a fan anymore. He listens to broadcasts for ways to get better. He even skips the first half of Super Bowl parties so he can focus on the Westwood One radio broadcast with Kevin Harlan.
In June, Benjamin finished third in the Sportscasters Talent Agency of America’s Jim Nantz Award rankings, an award celebrating the nation’s most outstanding collegiate sportscaster. And this is one big reason why: He treats broadcasting like a job, because it is his job.
“I want to be a play-by-play broadcaster,” Benjamin says. “That’s my goal. Whether it’s a professional or college program, I just want to call games.”
Talking to Yourself
The start of Jack Benjamin’s announcing career was not glamorous. In fact, it was anonymous. And it was probably best that way, he explains.
As a first-year student at Santa Clara, there was no real outlet for Benjamin to announce games. KSCU was considering a sports broadcasting program, but no one had started it yet.
So, not representing any outlet in particular, Benjamin secured a press pass for a Santa Clara women’s basketball game and brought his laptop and a Blue Yeti microphone. He sat at the press table and started describing what he saw. To himself.
“I thought what I was doing was calling the game,” Benjamin says. “But the game started and I was already 15 plays behind. It was the worst thing ever. I didn’t know anyone’s name. It was just a complete disaster—but I got hooked on it immediately.
“I put that stick-on media pass into a plastic bag and snuck back in for the rest of the season.”
He continued to do the mock broadcasts even if he didn’t have a pass. He’d sit in the stands, talking into the recorder on his phone. He even sat in the Zags section in 2015, calling the Gonzaga game into his phone.
His sophomore year, he added mock broadcasts of men’s and women’s soccer. Occasionally, he was told to move because he was annoying fans. The same thing happened at a few basketball games. No matter.
Those mock broadcasts were just for Benjamin’s ears at first. But they didn’t stay that way.
The winter of his sophomore year, Benjamin was introduced to sportscaster Marv Albert through his uncle, who knew the broadcasting legend. His uncle asked Albert if he would listen to one of Benjamin’s tapes and offer feedback. Albert took the tapes, and later gave him a call.
Benjamin remembers Albert’s legendary voice pouring through the phone, offering him his first piece of professional feedback from the highest of sources. And it wasn’t great.
Albert broke down Benjamin’s performance: Where was the ball? What was the score? Essentially, Benjamin was doing television broadcasting on radio, Albert explained. Benjamin needed to paint a picture.
“Someone could be sitting next to you with their eyes closed, and they should be able to picture every bounce, every pass, every shot—they have to know the score constantly,” Benjamin remembers Albert explaining. “And these just weren’t elements I was thinking of.”
Albert taught the novice about a spotting board, essentially an oversized cheat sheet with player names and information that all announcers have on hand. Albert even sent Benjamin one of his.
“That was how I learned to prepare,” he recalls, “and learned the art form.”
Another piece of advice Albert gave Benjamin was to never turn down an opportunity to work, especially early on in his career. And he hasn’t.
Benjamin is a young man long on inspiration and short on patience. When he found out the development of the Sports Broadcasting Program at KSCU had stalled, he offered to help build it.
During the 2016 season, Benjamin served as board operator and studio host for announcers Anthony Passarelli and John Stege on the official SCU broadcast. Working the board helped Benjamin learn the behind-the-scenes element of the business, which would come in handy with KSCU.
Later that year, Benjamin, along with KSCU General Manager Ben Paulson ’17 and Director of Center for Student Involvement Tedd Vanadilok, helped assemble everything they needed for a functioning shop. Not just recruiting students and establishing relationships with SCU Athletics, but researching and buying broadcast equipment for students to use. About three weeks before the season, they got approval for a student-run broadcast of men’s basketball.
In addition to KSCU, Benjamin covered Bellarmine College Prep and San Jose City College, and called games for the West Catholic Athletic League. He also spent two summers covering collegiate wood bat league baseball for the Kalamazoo Growlers and the Yakima Valley Pippins. Basketball, baseball, volleyball, track, soccer—everything. His sophomore year, he began hosting a weekly sports talk show, Overtime with Jack Benjamin, on KSCU, complete with an intro from sportscaster Chris Berman that Benjamin got during an interview with the ESPN legend on Super Bowl Media Day in 2015.
His portfolio grew and his clips got better. He stayed in touch with Albert, who continued to give him feedback.
“I’d send Marv a tape and he’d say, ‘Jack, good job on the description, but what’s the score?’” Benjamin says. “I would nail the score and then my description wouldn’t be good enough. Then my description would be good enough and I’d forget to tell the score for five minutes.”
Benjamin compares it to a golfer whose short game is working one week but he can’t stay in the fairway. Then the next week, he’s awesome off the tee but can’t putt to save his life. Building consistency was tough.
He also reached out to a handful of other announcers and industry professionals for feedback: Ed Cohen, the radio voice of the NY Knicks, Bob Fitzgerald, the TV voice of the Golden State Warriors, and Jon Chelesnik, CEO of Sportscasters Talent Agency of America. They taught him about perseverance in the business and gave him feedback on his tapes.
He also stayed in touch with Albert. After his second or third broadcast of SCU men’s basketball, he sent Marv a tape. The email response was short, in the best way possible.
“He didn’t have a whole lot to say about it: ‘Jack, this is really good. The description is solid. You’re pinpointing the ball. Keep doing what you’re doing.’
“That gave me some hope and confidence,” Benjamin says.
Built to Last
The STAA Jim Nantz Award receives more than 200 applicants most years. It’s one of the biggest awards for student sportscasters in the country.
Benjamin first submitted his materials as a junior on the recommendation of Chelesnik, sending in clips from his work with KSCU. More than win, Benjamin wanted to get his name out there. He did better than that, earning an honorable mention, which recognizes the top 35 college sports announcers in the country.
“It was pretty surprising to me that I was able to get that high,” Benjamin says.
Before his senior year, he was named to the Watch List for the award, highlighting the nation’s top 10 returning candidates. When he applied for the award his senior year, he finished third.
Benjamin is proud of the award, but when he talks about his time at SCU, he’s especially proud of his work building the Sports Broadcasting Program at KSCU. He likes that he earned third place in the Nantz Award rankings. He loves that he finished third representing SCU.
Helping shape the university’s program taught him different skills than if he’d gone to another school where something was already established, Benjamin says. Like so many students at SCU, he learned to carve his own path: solving problems and learning to become a leader.
“Without that experience at the radio station, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he says. “This wasn’t just about me getting reps, it was, ‘Let’s build this so students can have it and enjoy it.’”
What’s next for Benjamin? He’ll be covering games for University of Virginia (UVA) and Davidson College as a play-by-play broadcaster and host.
For UVA, he will do play-by-play for men’s and women's soccer, as well as volleyball and field hockey. All events will be broadcast via ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN (and the ESPN App). He’ll also be working at the same university as Dave Koehn, who is one of his key mentors.
For Davidson, he will be the play-by-play voice for football, men’s and women’s soccer, and volleyball for this fall, on the newly established ESPN+ platform, as well as the ESPN App. He will also be hosting a weekly coach’s show for Davidson football.
He may be 3,000 miles away, but SCU is still in his heart. Benjamin is looking forward to seeing the KSCU Sports Broadcasting Program develop under Sports Director Kevin O’Brien ’19, General Manager Bobby Curry ’19, and Faculty Advisor Gordon Young. Specifically, he wants to see the students he recruited develop as announcers.
“All the students I’ve worked with love doing it,” Benjamin says. “They’re so willing to listen and learn about sports broadcasting, and I loved teaching them how to do it. I’m hoping this program lasts for a while after I’m gone.”
Follow Jack Benjamin on Twitter at @JackBenjaminPxP