Friday, October 12, 2012

Announcer Love II : Sashion Victim

I sat down with Sashion Victim...well, we sat down over a Google document and shared some questions and knowledge about what it takes to be a successful announcer in roller derby.  

How did you get your start announcing?  Where you an outgoing public speaker in real life? What brought you to derby?
- SV: I got my start announcing when I worked in independent professional wrestling.  I attempted a wrestling career and failed miserably, but while I physically failed at learning how to perform, I knew the names of the moves and the stories that the wrestlers were trying to tell, so I was recruited to become an announcer when we first started releasing DVDs.  I can credit my ability to speak coherently from my theatrical training while in high school.

I got into derby in kind of an odd manner.  I first knew of derby when I did a panel at a science fiction convention about pro wrestling, and the convention organizers had also booked a derby panel but ran out of space, so they combined our panels.  While I didn’t get brought into the fold at the time, about a year and a half later, I met Frankendoll while she was in a relationship with one of the wrestlers.  She actually wanted to recruit me to coach, but when one of Dominion’s announcers quit, I was asked to fill in.  The first time I announced was also the first time I ever actually saw derby.  Fortunately, I had Professor Lou Botomy there to help me, and to this day, Lou remains one of my favorite people to work with.  My first game was on February 28, 2010, and it was Dominion’s All-Stars vs. River City’s Poe’s Punishers.

How did the AFTDA get its start?  Are there any certifications announcers have to go through to be eligible to announce on broadcast events like regionals or Champs?  How would an announcer who isn’t attached to that level of team make it on or DNN?

- SV: The AFTDA got it’s start as a genesis of the Voices of Reason group that started after the 2006 Dust Devil, and the goals of the AFTDA is to assist with training and development with announcers worldwide.  We have a certification process that includes a test, and certification confirms that you know not just what the game is about, but also how to properly announce the game with respect to the skaters and your own neutrality.

For a long time, announcers were assigned to games based off of league familiarity and association.  With the new project that is, our goal is to put forth a solid product, and that does ultimately mean that announcers may not get games that their league is playing in.  If you are not attached to that level of team, if you are a solid presence on the microphone, you stand a great chance of being selected.  Using myself as an example, River City is not yet regional-calibre, but I was able to participate in the last two East region playoffs due to my strength and knowledge.  It’s much the same for announcers such as Lightning Slim from Tri-City, or Dan Gliebitz from the Seaside Sirens, both of whom were not participants at the East region playoffs but were given opportunities behind the mic and did marvelously.  If you’ve shown you are capable behind the microphone and will do right by the game, you stand a great chance of being on mic.

How do you prepare for a bout?  Do you research the rosters and records of the teams beforehand, or do you walk in cold?

- SV: I prepare personally by watching an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.  Something about that show helps me loosen up mentally for calling a game.  As far as derby-related preparation, I always do the best I can with whatever stats are available to know who I’m going to call.  I feel it’d be a disservice to the fans and the skaters to be uneducated about who I am about to call a game for.  In a tournament situation, you have no idea who you might call on days two and three as those schedules are put together based on performance, so I try to go in knowing everything about all of the teams participating.

Do you ever cringe when you read a “derby name”?  Do you feel like derby names help announcers or cause more distractions from the sports?

- SV: I personally don’t have a preference when it comes to derby names for the skaters themselves; if someone wants to skate under their real name, that’s fine by me, just tell me if I’m pronouncing it incorrectly.  There are some names that I am asked not to say due to the explicit nature of their names, but I always let the home league determine what sort of language requirements they want.

Speaking of distractions, what do you think about announcers that have “Outrageous personalities” and tend to overshadow the game?  Is there a good balance of professional and interesting announcer?   Can you cite an example?

- SV: I am fine with people having a more boisterous personality, so long as it doesn’t impact their call.  I think the best balance of professional and interesting would be the Reverend Al Mighty, from Providence.  Rev. Al is very well known for being outrageous, but as soon as he’s behind the microphone, his knowledge is fantastic and he doesn’t try to overshadow the game.  The way I look at it, we’re the narrators of the story, not the story itself.  As soon as we try to become the story, we’re not doing our job properly.

It seems like some announcers have good chemistry when working together.  How does the ebb and flow work in announcing?  Do you think that announcers should constantly be talking, or should there be some quiet time?  (I’m guessing this might depend if you’re just streaming audio or not.)

- SV: Some announcers take a few games to build up chemistry, and some just naturally have good chemistry right out of the gate.  The most natural chemistry I ever had with someone without having spoken with them prior to announcing together was when I worked with Dirty Marty my first time at Charm City, although I think that has more to do with how great Dirty Marty is moreso than anything else.  The same thing happened the same exact night when I announced with O’Chit, who not only had I never met, but she had never announced before.  It went wonderfully, and I’m proud to say Chit is one of my closest friends now as a result.

I prefer announcing by having a conversation with my partner, so there will be a natural ebb and flow of the game itself and the call will reflect that.  I do think that dead air is a matter of difference between broadcast and house.  I personally subscribe to only having about ten seconds of dead air at a time for broadcast, because the viewer (or listener) at home is relying on us to tell the story.  For house, you can afford to be a little more laid back since a lot of the time, fans are focused on watching the action.  I always try to be quiet when the fans are cheering, as there’s no way they can be cheering and both hear and understand what I’m saying, so I wait for the roar to lull before talking again.  Plus, it saves my voice!

When Plastik Patrik announced the Montreal game in French, I was driving and listening to the stream on my phone; I was amazed at how well I could understand the flow of that game in a bilingual broadcast.  Do you think we will have more bilingual broadcasts in the future?

- SV: One thing to remember is that Plastik Patrik actually announces in a bilingual fashion for Montreal.  One announcer (typically Single Malt Scott) will call portions in English, and Patrik will call in French. is viewed internationally in dozens of countries, and I feel that, eventually, there will be enough demand for language specific broadcasts the more derby grows worldwide.  As it stands, I personally hope that we see more bilingual broadcasts because it does help those who are not English speakers with their growth and knowledge of the game.

Are there people you don’t want to announce with?  Why?  

- SV: There are announcers that I’ve been hesitant to work with due to concerns about our chemistry, but I will always do what the tournament organizer tells me to do.  Either I’ll be proven right by our chemistry being off, or I’ll be wrong and it’ll go great, and then I’ll kick myself for being a doofus.  There hasn’t been an announcer that I have outright refused to work with yet.

Some smaller and newer leagues have announcers who tend to coach from the microphone, by announcing when the jammer is standing in the penalty box, etc etc.  What can be done to correct that behavior?

- SV: The most important thing to note is that the home league is responsible for what the announcer says behind the microphone.  If the announcer is coaching from the microphone, giving away positions, what have you, it reflects on that league.  While our recommended code of conduct says that neutrality is the goal of the announcer, there are some leagues (not just small or new leagues, but larger, more established leagues have been guilty of this as well) that prefer that their announcer conduct themselves in that manner.  At that point, it is your decision as a skater or an interleague representative for your league to determine if you want to play that league, or up to your captains to ask the head referee to do something about conduct detrimental to gameplay.  Word spreads fast in our community, and if teams aren’t playing a league because of announce coaching, then either they will correct the issue or be satisfied with who they are playing.

How do you keep a blow-out game interesting?  

- SV: It can be very difficult.  I was the producer for Gotham vs. Carolina at the East region playoffs this year, so at halftime, I asked the announcers to focus on making it more about human interest.  Every point Carolina scores now is a win for them.  Even holding Gotham scoreless is a win.  It’s all about finding the smaller victories, even though the score is very out of balance, and promoting those smaller victories as a learning experience that can help them in future.  I always try to look at the bench of the team that’s being blown out as well, and point out that even if they are losing significantly, they are still fighting and keeping it together.  But admittedly, it’s one of the most difficult tasks in derby announcing.

Many announcers just talk about what the jammers are doing in the pack; this is one of my pet peeves along with the phrase “natural grand slam!”  What pet peeves do you have when you announce or listen to other announcers?

- SV: Blockers don’t get nearly enough love.  Plain and simple.  I do try my best to point out great blocking whenever I’m on a call.  I agree with you in that it is a pet peeve when announcers focus solely on the jammers, because they are not telling the full story.  I have an issue with rough transitions into sponsor reads, as some announcers will simply read off the copy without working into it.  My personal suggestion: if you can’t find a natural fit for the sponsor read, just say “the next jam is brought to you by” or “our game is brought to you in part by.”  It makes it so much easier.

Other pet peeves of mine include announcers who constantly reference themselves.  There was an announcer who’s name I forgot, but she had a dinosaur themed skater name, and when she announced a game, she constantly threw in that she was a dinosaur.  What possible context this had to the game, I don’t know, but apparently she felt it was important to say she was a dinosaur at all times.  I also don’t enjoy when announcers decide to use timeouts to go on editorial rants about gameplay.  There is a time and a place to discuss your issues with the game and the rules therein, but during the course of a game is not that time.

Some leagues scramble for announcers.  How can they recruit and keep an announcer happy?

- SV: Every announcer is different, so there isn’t one exact rule to keep them happy.  Personally, I’m happy if I’m told fans are coming back to games, or if skaters feel that I’m doing right by them behind the microphone.  Also, you can never go wrong with feeding us.  We’re a hungry bunch.  We do like feeling appreciated, and little things like that go a long way.

As far as recruiting, I think there has to be a genuine interest in the game itself.  I would rather have someone who has a mediocre voice but a passion for the game over someone with a great voice but no love whatsoever.  You can always feel passion in someone’s voice, and maybe their enunciation isn’t clear but you get caught up in their energy.  Unfortunately, a lot of leagues try to recruit by focusing on voice, and that’s not the best way to go about it in my opinion.  The best way to recruit an announcer, in my opinion, is have them come to a scrimmage so they can learn the game (maybe more if necessary), then the next scrimmage they come to, hook up the microphones and see how they sound.  While I first announced knowing nothing about the game, I was terrible, and decided that I was never going to sound that bad again, so I came to as many practices and scrimmages to learn as I could.  That’s where passion for the game kicks in; if you want to learn, you’ll eventually sound great.

Do you have anything to add?

- SV: Just know that announcers... well, the good ones, at least... will always enjoy constructive criticism and feedback.  If you have an issue with something an announcer said, let them know!  A good majority of us want to see as many people watch you skate as possible, so if there’s something you think will help with our goal, then let us know.  Announcing isn’t easy, but neither is skating.  We are all in this together.
Sashion Victim announces for River City and Carolina!

If you have questions about the AFTDA code of conduct, check it out here!


  1. I adore you Sashion Victim. Well said. The KEY is that a league with a bad announcer is a league's DECISION. It doesn't just happen. My heart has broken for wonderful leagues that continually accepted representation by announcers that either were uninterested in roller derby, were uninterested in being fair, or both. I don't think these leagues realize that the announcer is the bout's primary salesperson and is directly related to fan retention and future ticket sales.

  2. So true - a good announcer is invalueable :)