Aspiring broadcasters competing to join Astros
'You Make the Call' Radio Apprentice competition began Monday at Minute Maid
HOUSTON -- Aspiring radio broadcasters often wait a long time for that big break. For many -- most, in fact -- that break never arrives, not because of a lack of persistence, but rather because, simply, the lack of opportunity.
In a highly competitive business where only a handful of Major League broadcasting jobs exist, with almost no turnover, most who hope to land these coveted jobs never get the chance.
That's why it came as no surprise to see so many students currently majoring in broadcasting show up to the Astros' "You Make the Call" Radio Apprentice competition at Minute Maid Park on Monday. It's not often that a Major League team would offer an open audition, at no cost. This never happens, come to think of it, but for those who showed up to try out, this may be the lucky break for which they've been waiting.
Slim odds? Who cares? Contestants had nothing to lose during a 60-second audition that could possibly land them a job with the 2013 radio broadcast team. The role will include conducting pregame and postgame interviews, covering news conferences and serving as a roving reporter during games.
Approximately half of the more than 300 applicants showed up to Monday's audition. The demographics were widespread, ranging from students to full-time professionals to retired folks. They were mostly men, with around a dozen women auditioning.
One contestant said he had been on "The Late Show with David Letterman" for Stupid Human Tricks. Another was the public address announcer for the Harlem Globetrotters. There was one mother-daughter duo and one contestant who came here from Milwaukee, and one native of Caracas, Venezuela, who has lived in Houston since the early 1990s and became an Astros fan when the club opened its Venezuelan Academy 23 years ago.
The one thing all contestants had in common was their love for the Astros, which resonated loudly during their tryouts.
"We have a lot of people that deeply care about the team," said Larry Dierker, one of the judges. "In the context of this season, to know there are people who feel the Astros are still a part of their heart and soul, and they can hardly stand the pressure of being up here and trying to get this job, it makes you feel a little bit better about the team than maybe you felt when you walked in here."
Dierker was the most recognizable of the panel of six, all of whom have extensive experience in broadcasting and/or journalism. Dierker, who enjoyed an 18-year broadcasting career between retiring as a player and managing the Astros, was joined by FS Houston's Patti Smith, Emmy-winning television anchor Linda Lorelle, Houston Chronicle columnist Ken Hoffman, Clear Channel president/market manager Eddy Martiny and Astros senior vice president Jamie Hildreth.
Auditioning in front of Dierker proved to be unnerving for at least one contestant.
"I was fine until I panned from left to right and saw Dierker there," John Beck said. "That was pretty scary, because in my opinion, he's the best color commentator in history."
Beck, a play-by-play broadcaster for KTSW radio in San Marcos, sees the radio apprenticeship as a rare opportunity to be noticed by the right people.
Getting the job, Beck said, "would mean everything paid off. It would mean my dream job right away, which doesn't happen in this field."
Contestants had 60 seconds to audition. They introduced themselves, read a mock on-air promotion and were asked to conclude with an ad-lib about one of three topics: an Astros player, ballpark food or baseball tradition.
One minute, start to finish.
Worth it? Nate Kurant hopes so. He's one of the few contestants who traveled to Houston from another city to try out for the job. He just earned his master's degree from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and he works for the Class A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays as a radio broadcaster, emcee and part-time writer.
Kurant spent his own money to fly to Houston, hoping to catch a lucky break.
"I've sent out applications far and wide, so I'm internationally unwanted at this time," he joked. "This [contest] puts you in front of somebody. If I can get in front of somebody, I like my odds. I didn't get to shake hands with anyone, but least they can see me. There's a chance."
Face-to-face time, even if it's only one minute, can be invaluable. Kurant hopes that's the case this time.
"Hopefully it's something that pays off," he said. "If I don't get this job, maybe someone will see me and say, 'This guy sounds not bad.'"
Judges were asked to base their opinions on elements such as voice quality, personality and overall image.
"If we can find somebody who has personality, who brings some run and adds something different from the broadcast, I think it's a cool thing," said Smith, who fills the role of roving reporter for the FS Houston broadcasts.
The judges will select 10 finalists to advance to the next round. Once the final 10 contestants have been announced, fans will have the opportunity to take part in the selection process.
Those 10 remaining contestants will be asked to conduct interviews with Astros players during batting practice of the Aug. 17-19 homestand versus the D-backs. Those interviews will be posted online to give fans the opportunity to vote, along with the panel of judges, on four semifinalists for the next round.