Student sports broadcaster discusses his path to the mic
February 22, 2018
Jack Benjamin has a to-go salad sitting on the corner of his cluttered desk. He tells me he was supposed to eat it for lunch but got caught up with work. It’s 6 p.m.
Immediately, I notice something is off: his voice. In conversation, Benjamin’s voice sounds different than it does during his play-by-play broadcasts on 103.3 KSCU—Santa Clara’s student radio station. I tell him his bold and distinct speech pattern sounds a bit less polished in person. He laughs—it’s something he’s cognizant of, and has been for a while.
“[My broadcaster voice] is a more professional version of me,” Benjamin says. “I’ll project a little more when I have a microphone, I think I’ll get a little more excited. I don’t see it as trying to go into a ‘broadcaster voice.’ It’s become more of a calculated science.”
For Benjamin, it’s a science. For anyone who has listened to one of his engaging broadcasts, it’s art.
For the past two years, Benjamin has been KSCU’s play-by-play announcer for the Men’s Basketball games. He also hosts a weekly sports talk show, “Overtime with Jack Benjamin,” on the same station. Outside of Santa Clara, he has called every type of men’s and women’s sports game imaginable: baseball, soccer, football, volleyball, softball—all ranging from the high school to the college level. But more than any other sport, Benjamin loves to call a basketball game.
“Above all, I want to be an NBA or a college basketball broadcaster,” Benjamin says. “I want to call highlevel basketball.”
Benjamin grew up in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City. He came up rooting for Big Apple sports teams—particularly the Knicks, Giants and, most of all, the Yankees. A Little League pitcher, Benjamin idolized legendary Pinstripe closer, Mariano Rivera. But after throwing his arm out in sixth grade, Benjamin knew his career in sports would never be on the field— at least not in the traditional sense.
Benjamin praises longtime Yankees radio play-by-play announcer John Sterling for first sparking his interest in sports broadcasting.
“He’s the guy I credit as the first voice that I heard,” Benjamin says.
We discuss Sterling’s wellknown predilection for theatrics. Benjamin dives into a spot-on impression of one of Sterling’s signature home run calls: “It is far, it is wide, it is GONE!”
Benjamin also credits the Knicks’ Mike Breen and the Giants’ Bob Papa as some of his early influences. Nowadays, though, he listens to everyone.
“I get the SiriusXM app—I listen to anything I can,” Benjamin says. “It’ll be a Tuesday night with no homework and I’ll turn on FS1 and I’ll get out a notebook and write down stuff that [sportscaster] Joe Davis is using. That’s just my mindset. More often than not, I listen with an active set of ears.”
Benjamin shows me his running list of broadcasting phrases—a typed, six-page document that contains hundreds of sayings. I point out a couple and he translates them. “Helter skelter” describes the chaos that accompanies a loose ball. “Two ticks below five to go” means there is 4:58 left on the game clock. And the list goes on.
Benjamin’s first foray into sports broadcasting came during his senior year of high school, when he interned with MSG Varsity—a local sports station back in New York. He wrote articles, interviewed athletes and eventually called a couple of high school women’s soccer games.
Following his first broadcast, Benjamin was hooked. Since then, the feeling has only intensified.
“Something clicks when I go on the air—it’s like a drug or something,” Benjamin says. “It flows; I get into one of these zones. I feel like this is what my purpose is.”
Despite his initial exuberance, Benjamin struggled to break into sports broadcasting when he first came to Santa Clara—as such a student program did not formally exist. KSCU and the Athletic Department were hesitant to allow the mostly unproven Benjamin to have his own official broadcast. All told, it was a two year process that involved countless phone calls, emails and meetings.
During that time, Benjamin occupied himself with his “Overtime” duties and an internship at NBC Sports Bay Area. Hungry to do play-by-play, he one day asked his communication professor for a media pass so he could attend a Women’s Basketball game and do a mock broadcast. Benjamin went to the game with the stick-on pass, his laptop and an attachable Blue Yeti microphone. Looking back, it’s one of his fondest memories.
“The game starts, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m already six plays behind,’” Benjamin says. “It wasn’t good, but I fell in love with it immediately.”
After the game, Benjamin put the pass in a Ziplock bag and used it to call the rest of the Women’s Basketball games that season.
He continued to call Women’s Basketball games during his sophomore year and also began board operating for Santa Clara Men’s Basketball radio broadcasters Anthony Passarelli and John Stege. The two pros eventually allowed Benjamin to host the pregame, halftime and postgame segments.
Finally, on Nov. 11, 2016—during his junior year—Benjamin called his first official Men’s Basketball game for KSCU. That night, Santa Clara overtook Northern Arizona 67-64 at the Leavey Center.
Benjamin primarily credits former KSCU General Manager Ben Paulson and Director of the Center of Student Involvement Tedd Vanadilok for helping him scale the mountaintop.
Figuring Benjamin knows Santa Clara Men’s Basketball better than any other student on campus, I prod him a bit.
I want to know his opinion regarding the 11-17 Broncos. To him, the key is managing expectations.
“You ask anybody, it’s, ‘When are we going to beat Gonzaga?’ That can’t be the rationale,” Benjamin says. “It has to be, ‘When are we gonna beat [the University of] San Francisco three years in a row at home?’”
I ask him about second-year Head Coach Herb Sendek. Given the team’s disappointing record, does the relatively new coach deserve more criticism?
“When a new college basketball coach comes in, you gotta give him a full recruiting cycle,” Benjamin says. “In terms of Herb Sendek, it’s hard to judge whether he’s a success or failure when he hasn’t had a four-year recruitment period yet. It’s unfair for me to say he won’t be successful.”
In addition to being a tremendous on-air talent, Benjamin is perhaps the hardest working undergraduate I have ever met.
He estimates that each Men’s Basketball game requires between seven and eight hours of prep work. Considering games are typically played on Thursday and Saturday nights, it doesn’t leave a ton of time for an active social life.
“Unfortunately, [broadcasting] has taken away from my friends at college,” Benjamin says. “It’ll be a Friday night, and my friends will be going to a party or out to dinner, and I’ll be preparing for a game. I’ve sacrificed a lot of time doing this, but it’s what I love to do and I’m hoping that—as I progress—I can find that balance.”
Benjamin also routinely calls the Tuesday night Game of the Week for the West Catholic Athletic League on 1590 KLIV. He does play-by-play for several other local television and radio stations as well.
But Benjamin’s most impressive efforts as a broadcaster have come the past two summers, when he worked as both play-by-play announcer and media relations manager for two collegiate summer league baseball teams: the Kalamazoo Growlers (in 2016) and the Yakima Valley Pippins (in 2017).
How did he initially get the gig? By submitting—that’s right—a tape of his first mock broadcast of the Santa Clara Women’s Basketball game. Benjamin describes to me the lifestyle of a collegiate summer league play-by-play announcer: sitting through eight-hour bus rides, sleeping in crappy apartments and calling between 60 and 70 games in about as many days.
“That was easily the biggest grind of my life,” Benjamin says. “And it’s not just the play-by-play. You don’t get paid for the play-by-play. I got paid basically a dollar an hour to put together these media relations packets and to handle the team’s social media. I slept probably three hours a night and worked twenty hours a day.”
Now, all of that is past Benjamin. He doesn’t foresee having to do anything that grueling ever again. Or so he hopes.
Like any other senior, Benjamin is currently on the job hunt. Unlike any other senior, he has already accomplished so much at such a high level. He’s even received positive feedback from broadcasting titans such as Marv Albert, Bob Fitzgerald and Ed Cohen.
I’m curious if he ever gets burnt out—if he ever loses his passion. Benjamin shakes his head.
“You got to love doing this stuff,” Benjamin says. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘Jack, the day you’re not happy to prep for that girls’ high school basketball game between two 1-15 teams who average 10 points a game, that’s probably the day you should stop doing this.’”
Luckily, that day looks to be far away.
Contact Jimmy Flynn at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.