Levine is strong on humor, needs work on his basics

RADIO-TV

August 09, 1991|By RAY FRAGER

One of the great debates of this Baltimore Orioles "Season to Remember" -- right up there with what to name the new stadium and when will the club hold Jeff Robinson Night -- has been over rookie radio announcer Ken Levine.

A look at the letters in Sunday's Sun sports section points to the difference of opinion. Some think Levine a humorous addition to the broadcasts; others find him an amateurish insult to Baltimore fandom.

Some listeners apparently are unable to get past Levine's voice. But let's leave that argument behind. Not everyone is blessed with the resonant tones of Levine's partner, Jon Miller. Besides, even if Levine's pipes appear to need a good dose of Drano -- and, hey, he doesn't sound that bad -- everyone should be accustomed to the voice by now, more than 100 games into the season.

Besides, think of it as the common touch: More of us sound like Levine than we do like Miller.

That leaves the substance of Levine's broadcasting, and here is where the real problem lies.

Levine's signature -- as befitting someone who writes sitcom scripts -- is his humor. And he can be quite funny. But much of the humor sounds as if Levine wrote it the night before, sitting at a keyboard pounding out a script.

Any sports broadcast should be grounded in spontaneity. A good announcer does his homework, of course, and maybe even thinks up a few funny lines beforehand. But the best ones make those lines appear spur-of-the-moment. When Levine talks about the Orioles, facing Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Don August, trying to "tee off on August moon" (followed by an apology for the pun), it just doesn't seem fresh.

And Levine shouldn't tell us before the fact that he's going to use a new home-run call -- "Hasta la vista, baby," in full Schwarzeneggerian chant -- that he gleaned from "Terminator 2." To steal another catch phrase: "Just do it."

There is also the matter of a certain premature world weariness. It's unseemly that an announcer in his first big-league season is whining about travel and length of games. It's one thing if Miller or the third member of the broadcast team, Chuck Thompson, who's been an announcer since shortly after Marconi finished his radio, wants to make those points, but it's hardly becoming with one so inexperienced.

But what of Levine's call of the game? A letter writer alleges that he misidentifies half of the pitches. As one who wouldn't wager his lunch money on whether that last pitch was a slider or fastball, I think that's being a little harsh. Even for those who don't listen to the radio while watching television, though, Levine clearly has a shortcoming: He's behind the play.

Often, the crowd reaction is too far ahead of his call. This happens to other announcers, probably most, at times, and it may not matter on routine plays. But Levine seems to need time to catch up to the action on the field.

It also would help if he didn't repeat what his partner had said earlier in the game. Tuesday night, for example, when Cal Ripken came to bat the first time, Miller cited Ripken's average in the low .200s since the All-Star break. At Ripken's second at-bat, Levine repeated the information. That average hadn't changed much in one at-bat.

Levine came into a tough spot, replacing Joe Angel, whose smooth work had won him a following in just three seasons. Someone with Levine's sense of humor deserves a following of his own. But he has to work out the basics first.

* The last time Katie Couric worked an Olympics, she was fetching coffee. Next year in Barcelona, she'll be speaking to millions who are drinking their coffee.

NBC this week named the "Today" show's Couric and one of the business' top sportscasters, Dick Enberg, as morning hosts for its coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympics -- 7-10 weekdays and 8-11 Sundays.

Couric held an entry-level job at ABC during the Lake Placid Games in 1980. But now she's back in a big way, as NBC obviously decided to give the morning audience a face it recognized.

"It just kind of fell in my lap," Couric said of the assignment.

Couric, a sprinter and gymnast in her youth, said: "Basically, I love the sports in the Olympics."

Enberg sounds as if he loves the chance to get away from play-by- play for a while.

"There are a lot of times when the play-by-play man wishes he could reflect, philosophize," Enberg said in a news conference Wednesday.

And in reflecting upon the job NBC did with the Seoul Olympics in 1988, Enberg said the network realized that it may have sacrificed feeling in favor of too much reporting.

"The emotions of the Olympic Games are part of the enjoyment of the telecast," he said. "If you can't get a little teary, there must be something wrong.

"We're going to be allowed to get the emotion that comes with the Olympic Games."

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