Jack Ashmore says announcing is just something he does on the side.
But many people in central Illinois might disagree after having heard his ubiquitous voice broadcasting everything from baseball to basketball to harness racing and rodeo on stations since 1971. The retired EIU mass media professor has added color commentary to football and basketball broadcasts at Eastern Illinois University for decades. He also offers play-by-play for Charleston High School basketball and football for 92.1 The Axe. Additionally, Ashmore has broadcast games on WITT (Tuscola), WEIC (Charleston) WACF (Paris) WLHB (Mattoon) WWGO (Charleston/Mattoon) and WEIU, to name a few.
For his work, Ashmore, an Oakland High School graduate, was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
He’s covered Jimmy Garoppolo, Tony Romo as well as a Hoosiers-like basketball comeback in an Illinois super sectional during the late 1980s. He recently spoke with Coles County Sports’s Jeff Owens to discuss these experiences and to offer tips for those looking to get into the profession after having served as a broadcaster for nearly 50 years and more than 2,000 games.
COLES COUNTY SPORTS: Jack, you have been doing high school sports since 1971. Do you have any idea of how many games you have broadcast?
JACK ASHMORE: Well, I started when I was 18 so I’m old, but maybe not as old as that makes it sound. I went back and tried to calculate it the best I could. I came up with 2,200 or so, and that’s being conservative. Yeah, that’s a lot.
CCS: What sports have you broadcast on radio?
ASHMORE: Certainly basketball the most, followed by football. There were also several baseball games, some harness racing and, strangely enough, even a rodeo thrown in there.
CCS: How has technology changed the local broadcasting business?
ASHMORE: When I started, high school broadcasts were done by either a Marti (a portable, short-wave transmitter used primarily for home games because of limited range) or a land line. For road games, the station would either have to have a land line installed or use what was known as a “courtesy line” that the home radio station had in place for visiting stations to use in a reciprocal arrangement. Cell phones –– originally analog bag phones, followed by the digital phones of today –– became the common form of road game transmissions in the late ’90s.
CCS: How many schools have you covered over the years?
ASHMORE: The high schools I’ve covered include Tuscola, Villa Grove, Oakland, Paris, Chrisman, Martinsville, Arthur and, for the past 25 seasons, Charleston. In basketball, that includes various Thanksgiving, Christmas, midwinter and conference tournament, plus regional, sectional, super sectional and state tournaments. And, of course, EIU.
CCS: Currently, you offer play-by-play for Charleston High School sports and EIU Sports. Talk about the preparation process.
ASHMORE: With college games, the schools all have sports information departments that provide a great deal of information on their school’s teams. This includes statistics, biographical information on players, records, etcetera. Basically, that is the starting point and you can delve as deeply into it as you want. High school games are more difficult, especially now that newspapers do not provide the coverage they once did. Some information is available via the Internet and, in some cases, there’s even video. But most of what you need is gathered by contacting coaches and keeping as much data on the teams and players as you can yourself. When you have the information you need, you try to familiarize yourself with the players by memorizing numbers and names. This is obviously easier when following one team as you only have to worry about identifying the opponent.
CCS: What is one of the best high school games you have called?
ASHMORE: Probably the best game I announced was in 1989. WLBH in Mattoon would annually broadcast the entire Arcola Regional, the Tuscola Sectional, the Millikin super sectional and the state tournament. I hadn’t been following Tuscola that year, but they won both the regional and sectional and advanced to Millikin where they met No. 1 ranked Springfield Calvary, led by Rennie Clemons, who later played for Illinois. Tuscola trailed by, I believe, 18 points entering the fourth quarter but had a furious rally and ended up winning the game that came down to the last possession.
CCS: Who are some of the best athletes you have covered?
ASHMORE: Obviously, at EIU, Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo in football and Henry Domercant in basketball. While I didn’t follow them, there have been numerous EIU opponents who’ve had pro careers, most recently Ja Morant. There have been some high school athletes –– Myers Leonard from Robinson who’s had a long NBA career and MLB pitcher Jake Odorizzi come to mind. But as far as a high school athlete whose team I followed, it would be Charleston’s Brandon Murphy, an outstanding football, basketball and baseball player who later pitched for both the U of I and EIU.
CCS: How long do you plan on calling games?
ASHMORE: I honestly don’t know. I’m at the point where I evaluate that after every season. Probably not much longer.
CCS: What is your favorite part of calling a game?
ASHMORE: I wouldn’t really say I have a favorite part. I do enjoy the preparation, and then I just hope for a close and interesting game –– and no technical problems.
CCS: You have worked with a lot of partners. Can you talk about some of them?
ASHMORE: Yes, I’ve been paired with several over the years and I’ve also had a few seasons working alone. But, without question, the two I’ve been with by far the longest are Mike Bradd and Rob Calhoun. When Mike was named EIU’s play-by-play announcer for basketball back in the late ’80s, he asked if I’d be interested in working with him –– and some 30-plus years later, we’re still at it. Then EIU football came along around ten years after that. Mike’s not only incredibly gifted when it comes to announcing, he really works at it, preparing more than anyone I’ve ever worked with. EIU’s extremely fortunate to have him because, had he chosen a different path, he could be doing this in a major market. I started doing Charleston High School games in ’94 and Rob came on board in 2000. He’s been a great help, is really enthusiastic and just loves broadcasting games. I’ve been really fortunate having those two as partners these last several years.
CCS: What funny on-air moments or bloopers can you share?
ASHMORE: The key part of this question is: That you can tell us about. Because there are some good ones that I really can’t in this forum. However, I was once doing a game with Tom Stocker, who later became a sports anchor in Memphis and the voice of the Memphis Redbirds, the Cardinals Class AAA affiliate. We were both college students then and something funny happened in the press box –– I can’t even remember what it was –– and we both totally lost it. Nothing but hysterical laughter for probably two or three minutes. It was embarrassing and a completely helpless feeling.
CCS: How do you want to be remembered as a broadcaster once you hang up the headphones?
ASHMORE: I suppose, if I’m remembered at all, I hope it’s as someone who took the assignment seriously, worked at it, and did the best job he could.
CCS: What advice do you have for young broadcasters?
ASHMORE: Yes, I’ve got four things. The first is to be prepared by doing your homework. I think that’s probably 90 percent of the job. If you’ve done that, the game is the easy part. Number two is get to the event early. This will give you time, hopefully, to deal with any technical problems you may encounter. It’s also very helpful to give yourself a few minutes of quiet time before going on the air, just to mentally get to the place you need to be. I’ve saved the most important one for number three: Give the score often! It’s almost impossible to give the score too much. The number one complaint about sports announcers is: “He/She doesn’t give the score enough.” Finally, you want to end the broadcast in a smooth and professional way, and that can be difficult, especially if you’re just starting out. My suggestion is to script your close. That ensures you say what you want, hopefully in a smooth and cohesive manner.