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One-on-One with Jim Jackson

Friday at noon in McCormick 1303, Jim Jackson, the television play-by-play announcer for the Philadelphia Flyers as well as a radio host for the Philadelphia Phillies, spoke to a number of students and faculty about the broadcast industry. Besides talking about the industry, Jackson talked about his current jobs, past jobs, and gave everyone some very good advice for life and for the professional world.

Jackson has been calling Flyers games on CSN Philly since 1993. In his years of broadcasting, he has made many memories with the Flyers and the Phillies. One memory in particular that he spoke of was when he was sitting next to Harry Kalas while Kalas called the final out of the 2008 World Series in which the Phillies won. It was the team’s first championship since 1980. Jackson described the feeling of listening to the call and said it was hard for him to put into words. He went on to talk about other aspects of his career such as how he got his start in sports broadcasting, his earliest jobs in the business, and how he came to be where he is today. His speech was filled with great stories, great information, and great advice on how to succeed in the broadcasting business.

After the speech was over, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Jackson and ask him some questions related to his career as well as the industry.

I first asked him what made him want to get into the sports broadcasting industry. Jackson said, “Well, I always loved sports so I knew that I wanted to be involved in sports. As I told the group today, I had a bit of an experience playing football where I got knocked out cold and realized that I wasn’t going to make it to the NFL, or Major League Baseball, the NHL, or any of that stuff.” He was not down and out yet however. “I then figured that I’ve got to have another way to get there and I could always talk, I always loved to talk, so I chose the broadcasting end over the writing end which was another way to go,” he said. “I pretty much set my sights on becoming a broadcaster from that moment on.”

Then, we talked about the major differences in television broadcasting compared to radio broadcasting. “Radio is, in many ways, more fun than T.V. in that you create the entire picture for the listener.” He continued on by saying, “In T.V. you have the help of pictures, videos, and you’re pretty much told on T.V. what to talk about by the director and producer because they’re cutting the shots.” He also added, “You feel obligated to talk about pretty much what they’re [the director and producer] showing, but in radio, it’s all you.”

Jackson pointed out baseball next: “This really applies to  baseball because baseball is a sport that gives you time between pitches, between batters. You can paint a picture and that’s fun for me to be able to do that.” His main point came as, “The biggest difference is you’re way more descriptive on radio than on T.V.” He also touched base on his hockey broadcasting and brought up a good story. “For hockey, I do essentially a radio call on T.V. basically because the Philadelphia market was brought up on Gene Hart and that’s the way he did it.” Jackson added, “I don’t call it quite as tightly, there was a time during the course of last season where we lost our video feed but we still had the audio, so I had to shift into a radio call even though we were doing the game on T.V. and I was shocked but on Twitter people were saying, “”Jim Jackson’s switched into radio mode just like that.” “I was calling every single locator, red line, blue line, whereas when I’m doing T.V. I don’t necessarily say that.”

After that very interesting story, we talked about how the sports broadcasting industry has changed since Jackson started his career.

“It has changed in so many ways. Social media has changed it most recently in a lot of ways. Before that, cable. When I was a kid it was all about three local stations and their sportscasters and then your play-by-play announcers for various teams. In football’s case it was national play-by-play announcers,” he said. “But now with cable, almost every college football game played is on T.V. and almost every college basketball game, and college soccer, college lacrosse, there are so many events on because of cable.”

Jackson then went on to speak about social media. “With social media, everything is live streamed so more opportunities now for people but more competition, more people want to do this than when I was a kid. You have a bigger pool to draw from but you have more events to cover.” From social media, we switched gears to the call of the game. “As far as the actual calling of the game, I think we’re a little bit into the era now where the broadcasters are trying to be the show more. I’m still old school that way, I’d rather have the event be the show. If you’re calling a great baseball game or great football game, let the game be the show. If the game is dragging then ok, you maybe want to inject some humor and so forth. Basically, that’s it.”

My next question was on social media once again and about how it affects the broadcast industry these days. “Well, direct feedback. You get feedback as soon as you’re done and even sometimes before you’re done. It’s good it’s bad and you can’t take every person’s opinion as something that needs to be justified. Some people are just going to be negative and then there’s people that are so positive that they make you feel like you’re king. It’s great too but it’s all just basically you have to take it for what it is, it’s one person’s opinion.”

Then, he talked about why he likes social media. “What I do like about social media is that I use it as a tool to stay up on things. I follow certain insiders in baseball and hockey and I am lurched to my phone and I always feel as though if something important is happening then I’m going to hear about it.” He touched on social media while calling a game: “If I’m doing a game that’s great cause when you’re doing a game, no matter the sport, you’re focusing on the game so much you forget about the other games happening, or trades, or anything happening in your sport and you’ve got Twitter to fall back on; so it’s a positive in so many ways. The negative part of it is that some people get a little bit out of hand on there. As with anything there are positives and negatives, you just try to use the positives to your advantage and not let the negatives bother you so much.”

When we finished talking about social media, we again switched gears. Jackson won the Pennsylvania Sportscaster of the Year Award back in 2013, so I asked him how he felt about receiving such an honor.

“Well, it meant a lot to me in and of itself because it’s Pennsylvania, whether it be Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or the many towns in between those two cities, huge sports area, right? For football, high school football even, if you think about it, for the major league sports in the big cities, the college sports: basketball in Philadelphia, college football throughout Penn State, there’s a lot of great broadcasters so that meant a lot.”

Jackson then mentioned a story pertaining to receiving the award and mentioned famed sportscaster, Bob Costas.

“The year I won, Bob Costas was being inducted into the Hall of Fame so he presented all the state winners and Bob Costas to me is the crème de la crème, as good as it gets in broadcasting and as he handed me my award I said to him, “”This means so much coming from the best in the business. He actually seemed touched by that, so it was a nice moment for me that I’ll never forget. He’s from Syracuse too and we had pictures. Bill Roth, who had won for Virginia, he was at school while I was there and Bob obviously before us. We had a lot of pictures taken of us, the three Syracuse grads who won that year. It was a really fun couple of days down at Salisbury.” Jackson reiterated how much it meant to him.

“It means a lot, you’re talking about a lot of great broadcasters who are very good at what they do and to be considered the best of that group at least for that one year is quite a moment.”

The next question I asked was a repeat of sorts as Jackson had already talked about my answer in the speech prior to our interview. The question was if he had any advice for those looking to get into the industry. He was kind enough to answer again.

“I’ll go back to my P.E.P speech but I mean there are three words: Preparation, you can never be over prepared in my mind. Experience: you can never have a bad experience because even if you have a bad experience you’re learning something from that experience, so it wasn’t bad. And perseverance: we all need perseverance, no question we need perseverance in life, things are going to go wrong and people are going to say things that you don’t like. If you wilt at the first sign of that adversity, you’re not going to get very far. You have to persevere through that, trust your gut, trust your heart, before you trust what somebody else is saying and you’ll be way better off for it.”

My last question came from more of a fan standpoint. I’ve been watching the Flyers ever since 2001 and Jackson has always been calling the games that I’ve watched. I asked him what his most memorable game or games were he has called while with the Flyers.

He said, “With the Flyers, it was always up until 2010. It was always the 2000 playoff game against Pittsburgh when Keith Primeau scored, in what’s still the longest game in modern NHL history: five overtimes. Just to make it through that broadcast, to realize as it was going along, that you were becoming part of history and then the pressure of knowing that you didn’t want to blow the call,” Jackson laughed. “Keith Primeau gave me an easy call, it was a great goal, and so it was always that without hesitation.”

Jackson then touched on his memories from the 2010 miracle playoff run for the Flyers.

“Then in 2010 the Flyers had this miraculous run where they had to get into the playoffs, a shootout, against their arch rivals on the final day of the season, one team goes in and one team doesn’t. It’s sudden death with a shootout which I know a lot of people don’t like the shootout, I’m not one of those. I tend to think it builds great drama and that particular drama. If it was an overtime game that ended in a tie then it wouldn’t have been the same. If it was an overtime game that would have ended, it would have been great, but the shootout itself built it up to such a degree, the Flyers score and then Boosh [Brian Boucher] has to make one save and he does and they’re [the Flyers] are on to the playoffs: that’s right up there.”

Jackson’s next memory was something that Flyer fans remember dearly.

“And then a month and a half later, they fall down 3-0 in the series to Boston, comeback, go to Boston, fall behind 3-0 in the game in Game 7 and win the game. We [CSN Philly] didn’t do the first four games of that series, it was all covered by NBC,” he said.

He continued, “So, the fourth game, I was at the ballpark watching as it went into overtime and I’m thinking, well, if the Flyers score, I have to go to Boston. If they don’t score, I’m done. What do I really want to happen?” he said. “Something inside me said I want the Flyers to force a Game 5 of course I want to do another game, and the second [Simon] Gagne scored that goal, I swear to you I said this to one of the broadcasters, it could have been Larry Anderson, Scott Francis, somebody was in the booth and I said, ‘The comeback has started.’ Away we [the Flyers] went and I didn’t necessarily believe it when I said it and we won Game 5, we won Game 6 and then we go to Game 7 and here we are down 3-0 really quickly and they [the Flyers] comeback and win it. It was surreal. I could never choose between the Primeau goal game, the shootout game, or that Game 7: they’re all basically iconic moments in Flyers history. The only thing that could top it is if I ever get to call a Stanley Cup winning game which won’t happen probably because NBC will be doing it. Those three probably wouldn’t be topped unless I somehow get the chance to do that Stanley Cup winning game.”

After I finished my interview with Jackson, I spoke with him casually as we walked out of the studio, shook hands, and said thank you and good bye. All the information he gave me during our interview as well as during his speech with the students and faculty, was very insightful and motivating. It was a great experience for me to meet someone who I have been listening to as the voice of my favorite hockey team, the Flyers, on T.V. since I was a kid. I’d like to thank Jim Jackson for his time as well as the Mass Communications department for setting up his visit to the University.