Milwaukee Talks: Bucks radio broadcaster Ted Davis
Ted Davis began his broadcasting career in Texas at KDNT radio at the young age of 17 and he came to Milwaukee in 1997 following nine seasons calling the action for the Dallas Mavericks. So, needless to say, Davis has honed his craft on hundreds of games and thousands of calls. He's seen a lot and developed a style that Wisconsin sports fans have come to know and appreciate.
The two-time Milwaukee Achievement In Radio play-by-play broadcaster of the year sat down with me at the Wisconsin Club last month to talk life, broadcasting, basketball and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: Give us, please, the two-minute overview, the Ted Davis story.
Ted Davis: I grew up in West Texas, in the flattest place on earth, Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech University is there, and they had a guy – Jack Dale – doing their football and basketball games. In fact, he was there for 50 years. Nobody here would know him, but I remember listening to him as a kid. And when I say kid, I'm talking under 10 years old. And I thought, "wow, that really would be a fun way to make a living."
We had season tickets to the football and basketball games, so I would go to the games, especially basketball, and I got to watch him as much as I watched the game because he was right there court side.
I also understood the economic model of him getting paid to go see a game that I'm paying to go see. So I thought, "get paid to go to sports, that would be fun." So, one time when I was probably 11-12 years old, I just decided to try to go down and sit by him. I marched right up to him and there was a seat open, believe it or not, so I walked right in, didn't have a (press) pass or anything, sat down next to him … for the entire first half and they brought by stat sheets and everything else. By half time they (even) brought hot dogs by.
My parents were worried because I just disappeared, so I went back to sit with them for the second half and they had noticed where I was and just thought it was hilarious.
Years later, the funny part about this story is when I did the Southwest Conference Games for the TCU Horned Frogs in Texas A&M, Jack Dale was still doing games. I did a game with him, actually, and I told him that story. He thought it was hilarious that nobody moved me, but that's what got me interested in doing (what I do).
OMC: So, play by play was a bit of a calling?
TD: Yep. It's not uncommon. One thing led to another. I started doing high school football in Texas. From there, I moved to doing college football, like I said, for TCU and Texas A&M and then I started to doing part-time work for the Dallas Mavericks in 1984.
And due to expansion, I got a chance to go full-time because the guy in San Antonio moved to Miami when the Heat came in in '88 and a guy in Dallas went to the opening in San Antonio, so the job opened in Dallas and they hired me full-time in '88. So that's how I got into the NBA.
OMC: Did you have other mentors or idols growing up? Obviously, you mentioned Jack Dale.
TD: Growing up in Lubbock, I would go in my room and I had a radio with this antenna that I stuck way up outside of my window. I could probably get 10 baseball broadcasts from where I was. I could get Harry Caray out of St. Louis. I could get the Royals, the White Sox, Cubs, the Minnesota Twins. I could hear the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, and the best was there was a Spanish station somewhere between me and L.A. And at 10 p.m., it went off the air.
When the Dodgers were playing on the West Coast, they were on a station KFI, which was a 50,000-watt blowtorch. And after 10 p.m., about the second or third inning when the Dodgers were home, I could hear Vin Scully, and he would fade in and out sometimes, but for the most part I could hear it. And so, yeah, all those guys you kind of listen to and I think you like what they do, but the biggest thing you have to do in this business is develop your own style and be comfortable with that and not try to emulate anybody else.
I borrow phrases that I've heard various guys use, but in terms of developing your own personality on the air and your own style, that has to come from you.
OMC: Obviously, you have your catch phrase "in the bank or earning interest."
TD: In the bank earning interest.
OMC: Was that something at the Mavs that you used?
TD: It was at the Mavs. Sadly, I didn't use it that much during my time.
OMC: You were there in the early years of the franchise.
TD: I was there for the dark years. But yeah, there's that and also some of the nicknames I've come up with. I used "The Alphabet" for (Giannis) Antetokounmpo and the genesis of that was I was at draft night, and I've never heard of him. Never heard of this kid. And so we have the 15th pick and I'm sitting there at the Cousins Center and it comes up on the screen that we picked him and look at that name that just goes on forever and I thought, "oh my gosh, I'm going to have to learn how to say this name. I said, "it looks like the alphabet" and I thought, "OK, that's it."
OMC: There you go.
TD: Khris Middleton is "Deuces," Nate Wolters is the "Jackrabbit" as he went to South Dakota State. So they (the nicknames) kind of come to me. People tell me I need to come up with one for Jabari (Parker) and I haven't yet and I don't think you force these things. If you don't have one, don't use it. So far, I haven't been able to come up with one for him.
OMC: Did you play basketball?
TD: Not competitively. I was very small when I was in junior high and high school, and I'm not big now. Post high school, I started playing pick-up games at a health club for about 10 years between ages of 31 and 41, and we had an interesting group of people. I was working for the Mavericks.
Once Karl Malone came out and played with since he was living in Dallas at that time and he just wanted to run. One time on a fast break, I stopped and pulled up and hit a little jump shot over him. I would sometimes remind him of that and he would laugh.
OMC: I want to talk a little bit about broadcasting basketball versus the other sports on radio. What's the difference? I think people have their affinity to the baseball broadcast. That's the sport that really works on radio. What's the difference, what are the quirks and what have you learned through the years and then also how is technology changed the delivery, the mechanics of your sports and other sports?
TD: The pace of basketball is very fast, obviously, so you have to be with the ball and you have to stay with the action, but you also need to do all the other stuff such as ticket promos, team promos, working in other scores, doing all the stuff you've got to do and working in a color guy at home to fit it all in.
And I think the more you do it, the more you realize how to do it. One of the biggest difference is that baseball lends itself to storytelling more than other sports due to all the downtime.
I did some Texas Rangers games as a fill-in when their main guy was sick. What I realized is I love the pace of baseball because it does lend itself to storytelling, but you can still do that in basketball by taking the opportunity to talk while free throws are being shot. You don't have to say every free throw is good unless it's late in the game and the game is on the line. There is a way that you can work in storytelling, you can work in personality, you can work in some fun during your broadcast and still keep up with the action. I think some young broadcasters coming in have trouble with that because all (they) want to do is follow the action.
When you you listen to my broadcast, especially when I'm home with Dennis (Krause) and we have some interaction going, nobody has more fun on a broadcast than we do. I mean, we have a good time and, look, I've always maintained that the whole thing we're in is entertainment. It's show biz. We're providing entertainment, so the broadcast needs to mirror what the team is trying to do, which is to present an overall entertaining product that makes people want to either buy it, watch it or listen to it.
And we can certainly be a part of that in terms of helping them promote the game, the sport, selling tickets, and the overall thing. I know that I am very good at dealing with all of those things in one package in a broadcast because I've done it a lot.
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