Mike Emrick’s broadcasting career started with a modest audience of one.
Millions are watching his broadcasts 50 years later, and he’s become one of the finest broadcasters in National Hockey League history.
His career break came at Bowling Green State University.
Emrick called the second period of Falcon hockey games on radio station WBGU for two seasons while working on his doctorate at BGSU. After broadcasting those games during the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons, he used his game tapes from BGSU to earn his first play-by-play job.
Emrick currently is the lead announcer on NHL games for NBC and NBC Sports Network. He recently called his 14th NHL-all-star game and will call the Stanley Cup Finals for the 19th time later this year.
Emrick is in BG this weekend, part of the university’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the BGSU Ice Arena and the Slater Family Ice Arena.
The 70-year-old will call play-by-play for the second period of the Falcons’ game Saturday against Mercyhurst. He’ll be the analyst for BG play-by-play voice Evan Pivnick during the first and third periods.
“(BGSU) was a lot of experience,” Emrick said Thursday afternoon during a press conference at BGSU’s Kuhlin Center. “That’s why coming back here and doing the second period on Saturday will be significant to me. Finally, I had done a game to an audience, and that’s what Bowling Green gave me above and beyond the doctoral degree.”
The Falcons played in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association at the time, and WBGU aired all of the team’s games.
“It may not have been a lot of periods, but it was a lot of experience, and it was great. I called 18 periods the first season, and the next year even more … and I got to do all of the games,” Emrick said.
Emrick decided to pursue his doctorate at BGSU or Michigan because both schools had hockey, and both had campus radio stations which broadcast those games.
Emrick visited BGSU and met with Terry Gottschalk, who was calling the play-by-play in the first and third periods at the time. Gottschalk told Emrick the student who had called the second period had graduated, resulting in an opening.
Emrick recalled Gottschalk asking him if he liked hockey and he said ‘yes,’ and Emrick was hired on the spot. Gottschalk’s on-air name was Terry Shaw.
“He said you don’t need to send (an audition) tape,” Emrick said. “If you come here, you can do the second period. Michigan was out of the picture at that point, and it was decided that I was coming here. If there’s a way to do both at the same time, wouldn’t that be magical?”
Emrick already had earned degrees from Manchester (Indiana) College and Miami (Ohio) before being hired as a speech professor at Geneva College, located about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.
Emrick, who was 25 at the time, pursued a doctorate to raise his pay at Geneva from $7,000 to $7,600 a year.
Emrick’s broadcast career began as a youngster when he sat in the upper corners of the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, where he called the International Hockey League games of the Fort Wayne Komets into a tape recorder for himself.
Emrick sent those tapes out as auditions, but was never hired because he had no actual experience.
Until he came to BGSU.
Emrick later became the play-by-play voice for the IHL’s Port Huron Flags for the 1973-74 season. He spent eight seasons in the minors before he called games for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils.
Emrick’s also done play-by-play for CBS, ESPN, VERSUS and OLN, and has called seven Olympics, the last five for NBC.
He received the NHL’s Lester Patrick Award in 2004 for outstanding service to United States hockey, making him just one of five media members to earn the award.
He also earned the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008. He became the first media member to be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. He’s also won four national Emmy Awards.
Emrick eventually finished his BGSU doctorate in Radio-Television-Film in 1976, which became the origin of his nickname, ‘Doc.’ He’s from LaFontaine, Indiana, about 50 miles southwest of Fort Wayne.
“You never forgot somebody like Terry (Gottschalk) who turned your field trip to explore a school into your dream job,” said Emrick, who still has all of his early rejection letters saved in a three-ring binder.
Emerick’s first Falcon game was a 9-3 win over Ryerson College Nov. 5, 1971, and BG went on to win the CCHA playoff championship that season.
The next season, the Falcons won the CCHA playoff championship again. They posted an 8-1 win over Ohio State in the championship game March 4 at the BGSU Ice Arena.
The win was a personal one for Emrick and Shaw, who weren’t allowed to broadcast the Falcons’ game at OSU three weeks earlier.
OSU officials said they didn’t have room in their ultra-small press box at the just-as-small OSU Ice Arena for them to call the game. Instead, Emrick went to the arena to file reports on the game twice each period.
“The only time in my history we were refused a chance to broadcast a game,” Emrick said. “They said we don’t have any space for you to broadcast, and I could see where they were probably didn’t. I was basically ticked off about it because it was a very important game, and you wanted to get the word back immediately and not file reports.”
Because the Falcons won that game, Emrick said his post-game report by phone was a little louder than the first few he did.
Now, Emrick returns to the same arena and the same pressbox Saturday night to call the Falcon game on the same station on which he started, WBGU (88.1 FM).
He’s already talked to Pivnick to go over pronunciations, and he’s called both coaches. He was scheduled to attend the Falcons’ practice today and will talk to four players in preparation for the game. Among the Falcons he planned on taking to were senior forward Kevin Dufour and junior forward Mitch McLain.
“Our broadcast is to be more about the 50 years of this arena and the people coming back than this edition of the Falcons and this edition of the Mercyhurst Lakers,” Emrick said. “It will involve some of that. But in my mind, the most important thing is the rink and the people who cut the ice, whether they were hockey players or figure skaters.”
Pivnick is in his third season as the play-by-play voice of the Falcons.
“I want the experience for Evan to be really good and for me to supplement him in the first and third periods. I really haven’t done color that much,” Emrick said.
Emrick said he doesn’t know he’ll much longer he’ll continue to work.
He originally was scheduled to call the NHL game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild on NBC Sunday afternoon, but opted for the Falcon game instead.
Emrick said NBC has been great about being flexible to accommodate his schedule. The network prefers its announcers to be in the city of the game a day ahead of the contest to avoid any weather-related travel issues.
Emrick would have had to be in St. Paul Saturday, but NBC allowed Emrick to skip the Wild game to come to BG.
He also said NBC management allowed him to call the NHL all-star game on a Sunday a few years ago, even though he missed the Saturday skills competition the night before to participate in the Pittsburgh Pirates fantasy baseball camp in Bradenton, Florida.
Emrick’s doctoral dissertation was on the history of broadcasting in baseball.
Emrick arrived in BG Thursday after flying in from Minneapolis-St. Paul where he called the Wild-Chicago Blackhawks game Wednesday night. He spoke to a BGSU class before the press conference, and had dinner with Pivnick later that night.
“I’ve been given a blessed job by NBC,” Emrick said. “Three years ago, they said you get a one-year deal, and you tell us when you don’t want it anymore. Well, in network television, that doesn’t happen very often. I’m really lucky. They’ve been so kind to me and given me a chance to do this.”