Puck the Media Interview: Joe Beninati

It took some time for VERSUS/Washington Capitals/College Football/Lacrosse/Anything Else play-by-play man Joe Beninati.  I suppose it does for any unfamiliar vocal performer, but for Mr. Beninati, some of his phrasings would catch me off guard for quite some time, and this is coming from someone who worships the work of Doc Emrick!

But, by the time this year rolled around, and I heard him calling the Boston-Colorado game opening night, Joe Beninati had become one of my favorite play-by-play men league wide.  Before that game, I asked him for an interview, and he graciously granted me his time and attention.  It’s a very in-depth, lengthy piece, in which he talks about growing up in New York during the Islander dynasty, favorite places his job has taken him, and what the Washington Capital renaissance has been like for a play-by-play man after the jump.

Puck The Media: Now, I turned on the MLB Playoffs on TBS recently, and half expected to hear your voice! How has is been juggling football and hockey and lacrosse the past couple of years?

Joe Beninati: It’s been a lot of fun, mixed in with an awful lot of homework and travel. I have been given play-by-play assignments on eight different sports in my career and I enjoy having that versatility. Octobers and Novembers are really busy months. I will have to prepare for NHL on VS., College Football on Versus, and the Capitals on Comcast Sportsnet all in the same week; that presents a big challenge, but I love being on-site come gameday!

PTM: I’ve read that you grew up on Long Island. Now, I’m no rocket scientist, but would a certain 1980’s hockey team nearby you have influenced your love for the game?

JB: Funny, my high school years directly overlapped with the Islanders Cup run from 1980 through 1983. I went to St. Anthony’s High School, and all of my friends were Isles fans. My father grew up in New York City and was a diehard Rangers fan, so I tended to root for them. Every year in high school I remember saying, “ah, there’s no way the Islanders are going to win it again,” and they did every time. That was an incredibly good hockey team; they were very good in the clutch.

PTM: Jumping ahead, how did you get into broadcasting, and how specifically did you get your break calling Caps games?

JB: When I was just a kid, whenever my friends and I would play street hockey or touch-football or basketball we’d always pretend to be real-life teams…and I would always call the game while we were playing! So I have already called many “make-believe” Game 7s of the Stanley Cup Finals!!

I played hockey and lacrosse in high school. I got hurt my freshman year at Bowdoin College, so I could not play any hockey. Friends of mine were involved on the campus radio station and they invited me in to help describe our school’s games. I fell in love with it; it reminded me of being a kid again playing after school.

There was a local cable TV station in Brunswick, Maine, that heard me doing the college hockey games, and they asked if I wanted to work on TV doing high school football and basketball. I jumped at the chance, all the while knowing that the biology degree I was studying for was not going to serve me well in the booth.

After I graduated, I was the sports information director at Bowdoin, while still calling all the local games I could get my hands on. I was asked to fill-in on the radio for an American Hockey League game involving the Maine Mariners who were based in Portland. That AHL team hired me full-time the following year. I spent a total of five seasons in the AHL in Portland and in Providence, R.I. Then the Caps and WDCA-TV 20 asked for me to join them in 1994.

PTM: I spoke to your Versus colleague Mike Emrick sometime last season, and he said that he knew he wanted to do what he (and you) are doing when he was 10, but so few people were willing or just able to talk about it. When did you decide you wanted to do this, and was it as difficult for you to gain knowledge?

JB: I made up my mind that medical school was not for me during my sophomore year in college. I wanted to be a sportscaster on radio and TV. My mom and dad supported my decision. The college did not have a broadcast journalism major or else I would have switched. It’s turned out very well.

Mike Emrick, Gary Thorne, and longtime Boston Bruins radio announcer Bob Wilson were so kind to review my tapes and offer insights that helped me when I was just getting started in the business, and I am forever grateful to them.

PTM: Any influences growing up as far as broadcasters? Obviously, this area is filled with just legendary people in the field.

JB: Since I grew up in New York, it would be impossible not to include Marv Albert on this list. He was great with the Rangers and Knicks when I was young. I’m sure a lot of us can break into a “Marv Albert impression.” Emrick, Thorne and Wilson I mentioned earlier for their kind assistance to me when I was just breaking into the business. I have always admired Vin Scully for his story-telling ability and his skill for “setting the scene.” I have too many heroes to mention when it comes to this profession.

PTM: Transitioning to your current employers, I’ve heard so much about the buzz about the Caps, being friendly with numerous writers and bloggers in the area. What has the transformation of this team been like from your perspective?

JB: I am thrilled to see the Caps getting a lot of publicity this year. This group of players has gone through some very tough times together. That’s why it was so special for me and for Comcast Sportsnet to cover their late-season success last season. In my 14-15 years in this region, I can remember only two other times where a Caps season was greeted with this kind of anticipation. One would have been after the trip to the Stanley Cup Final in ’98, and the other would have been Ovechkin’s first year in the NHL 05-06. DC fans are fired up to see them do well this year and they should be a very exciting to team to watch.

PTM: Do people notice the announcer more around town when the team is doing well?

JB: DC fans have been great to all of us…in good times and bad, thankfully. I tend to get noticed or recognized in two places …at the airport and at the mall!!

PTM: The NHL, College Football and Lacrosse have taken you across North America the past few years. Any one particular memory or memories stand out for you?

JB: I am very fortunate to have a job that I love, that brings me around the country and around the world. I remember great trips to Stockholm, Helsinki, Cologne, and Torino for the World Cup of Hockey on ESPN and the Olympics on Westwood One radio. I’ve been given wonderful opportunities in the past three seasons to call the Eastern and Western Conference final in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on OLN and VS. It’s tough to beat a college football atmosphere anywhere, (the scenery in the Mountain West and PAC-10 is incredible) much less some of the awesome experiences I have had in the SEC. I’ve always loved visiting San Francisco and my lacrosse travels bring me back there, with the occasional day or two to stay over and visit wine country.

PTM: Does the job ever become hard?

JB: All the homework and the travel make this job a tough one. There are days and weeks where you feel like you never have a chance to catch your breath. But once we are on the air, calling the game, then I am in a place where I genuinely love to be. That’s when it doesn’t feel like work at all.

PTM: Is there a game on your schedule your more psyched than anything to call this season?

JB: Not really, I like’em all! And I think it’s only fair for an announcer to bring as much energy as possible to every show he or she does. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are always on my radar as something special. For a play-by-play announcer, there’s not much that can match the thrill of overtime in the playoffs.

PTM: Finally, any thoughts on what you expect/hope to see from the Caps this season.

JB: They still have some growing up to do, but the Caps have a chance to be very good this year. They won’t settle for anything less than defending their division title and pushing deep into the playoffs this year. If that happens, than those of us who have the chance to work with them every day are in for a great ride. I know we have a great team of people who work together on Comcast Sportsnet to deliver the Caps in the best light possible. If they have a super season, then that gives us a chance to really shine at CSN.

Thanks to Joe Beninati once again for giving us his time.

One Response to Puck the Media Interview: Joe Beninati

  1. Pingback: We Have An Interesting Weekend of Transcribing Folks « Puck The Media

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