The current resurgence of interest in the Blazers, along with their limited regional TV access, has driven many fans to follow the games on the team's local radio affiliate, KXL. As a result, there are probably a lot of folks who are now listening to Blazers' radio broadcasts much more than they have in the past. This has certainly been true in my case. Throughout the streak, my interest in the Blazers has reached a point where I want to follow each game in real time. And so - since I am not a Comcast subscriber - I have come to grow quite familiar with the work of play-by-play man, Brian Wheeler. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt...
Now, I'm aware that many people believe radio is a format inherently ill-suited to basketball. I don't agree. Having grown up in the pre-cable era, I came of age listening to Knicks' games on the radio, announced by the great Marv Albert. In my life I've also had the good fortune to listen to many radio games called by Chick Hearn, who I think is the best hoop play-by-play man I've ever heard. So I know full well the extent to which a skilled play-by-play man is able to set the stage within the listener's "theatre of the mind."
Granted, today's media world is not exactly the ideal milieu in which a play-by-play man can develop the skills of a Hearn or an Albert. In a media environment dominated by TV, play by play has come to be regarded as an adjunct to the televised action. Many of today's radio guys have worked as TV men, or maybe learned their craft on the TV side, so they never really had to learn how to paint a complete verbal picture of the action unfolding on the court. So it's probably unreasonable to hold someone like a Brian Wheeler to the standards of a Marv Albert or a Chick Hearn.
Nevertheless, Wheeler has really started to work my nerves lately. He's managed to transform the telling of a most interesting story - young, developing ballclub in the midst of an improbable winning streak - into a frequently grating listening experience. The frustrating part is that when it comes to actually describing the action, Wheeler does a fairly competent job. However, his inability to rein in some of the excesses of his personality often mars what should otherwise be an enjoyable broadcast.
The first thing I'd love to see go is his outlandish homerism. I realize that every play-by-play man who travels and works with a team over a period of time develops a rooting interest which unavoidably gets revealed throughout the course of a broadcast. It's just that the real pros manage to keep it in check. Wheeler apparently makes no such effort. Perhaps it's not as noticeable to you Blazer fans, as Wheeler's emotional highs and lows probably closely mirror your own. But to a non-fan, it just gets in the way of the story he's trying to tell. His ejaculatory whoops of glee when Portland hits a big shot; or his voice tailing off and dropping an half an octave when the opponent does likewise are an unwelcome distraction. They consistently draw the listener's attention to Wheeler's ongoing pageant of ecstasy and despair and away from the narrative flow of the game.
I also wish Wheeler would cut waaay down on his over-reliance on silly catch-phrases. The peppering of Blazer broadcasts with his boom-shaka-lakas, and his [insert coach name] is mystified, mortified, mesmerized seem overly contrived, intended more to establish a "trademark" for the Wheeler "brand" than to embellish the action in any integrated, meaningful way. Contrast his catch-phrases with ones such as Hearn's beautiful, near-poetic, "put him in the popcorn machine" used to depict a defender faked into the air. That was both clever and descriptive, flowing seamlessly within the game's narrative context. Or - on a much simpler level - Albert's signature "Yesssssssssss - and it counts!" That drawn out "yes" seemed to aurally suggest the sound of ball swishing through net and ultimately served to enhance - rather than detract - from the mental picture being created.
Perhaps over the last few years, when the team was in the doldrums and its games were rather tepid, moribund affairs, Wheeler's antics may have helped to enliven a dull broadcast. But now that the team has emerged as one of the most compelling storylines in the whole NBA, Wheeler needs to recognize that people are tuning into to hear a Blazer basketball game and not "The Brian Wheeler Show." As I noted earlier, he has the skill to adequately describe the action on the floor. The way the team is playing, that is more than enough. He just needs to get out of the way, so we radio listeners can enjoy it.