The new voice of the 49ers

Ted Robinson, a respected broadcaster who has made his name throughout the Northern California region, is the new voice of the 49ers and will take over play-by-play announcing of the team's games from Joe Starkey beginning with the 2009 season. Here, Robinson talks about becoming the fifth play-by-play announcer in the team's 63-year history.

Robinson, who was involved with 49ers' broadcasts from 1983-1986, joins a prestigious group of announcers that have held the play by position including Starkey (1989-2008), Bob Fouts (1946-62), Lon Simmons (1963-1980, 1987-88) and Don Klein (1981-86).

Robinson's previous ties to the organization include serving as the third member of the 49ers radio broadcast team in 1983 with Klein and Don Heinrich. He also anchored pre/post-game coverage on 49ers radio network from 1983-86 and anchored the 49ers locker room coverage after 1985 Super Bowl victory.

Robinson also has strong local ties to San Francisco Bay Area fans. He worked as a radio and television announcer for the San Francisco Giants for nine seasons, as the television announcer for the Oakland Athletics for three seasons, as television announcer for the Golden State Warriors and also as radio announcer for Stanford Cardinal football.

Aside from his local broadcasting career, Robinson has been a play-by-play man for the last six Olympic Games (three Winter Olympics and three Summer Olympics). For the past 22 years, Robinson has been the main broadcaster for the USA Network's coverage of the U.S. Open.

Robinson can also be heard and seen as the lead announcer of NBC's coverage of the French Open and The Championships, Wimbledon, a position that he took over in 2000 after Dick Enberg left for CBS. Robinson has also called many other sports, including NCAA basketball championship for 22 years on CBS and Westwood One, Olympic sports for NBC, Westwood One broadcasts of the NFL, Notre Dame Football on SportsChannel America and Pac-10 football/studio host for Versus and Pac-10 basketball on FSN.

Here are excerpts from an interview with Robinson after he was announced as the 49ers' new play-by-play man:

Opening statement by 49ers' Chief Operating Officer Andy Dolich: It's my pleasure to announce Ted Robinson as the new voice of the 49ers. As you probably know, Ted's the fifth play-by-play broadcaster in our 63-year history and I guess I'm headed towards 63 too in a year or so I can keep my dates straight. Ted is somebody that I've known a long time, both personally and professionally. As you well understand, he's got a big microphone to talk into after the incredible job that Joe Starkey has done for this franchise and the way that he brought the 49ers to life over so many years. There was tremendous interest in this position, both locally, regionally and nationally. I can't say I didn't hear from anybody internationally, but probably will and Ted is local, local, local. I had experience with him at the A's and he's somebody that has experience in football. He knows the Bay Area as well as anybody. He's well-versed in all manner of sport. I'm sure he'll be working on his NFL Playbook knowing Ted as one of the most well prepared professionals that are out there and I'm just happy to welcome Ted to the microphone.

Opening statement by Ted Robinson: Well, Andy thank you for that. It's pretty good. I'm laughing as you are saying prepare the NFL Playbook and I'm thinking synchronized swimming and equestrian and luge and all the things that have been thrown my way during my Olympic run with NBC, so the NFL is a welcome challenge and it's probably going to be a lot easier and a lot more fun to get up to speed on. Let me also say real quickly, those of you I don't know, I'm sure I'll look forward to getting to know and thank all of you guys in advance and women for your work because believe me the last couple of weeks, I've been getting up to speed on the 49ers by reading a lot of your things in your blogs et cetera, so I freely admit to that as part of my learning.

Q: You were on the 49ers broadcast team in 1983'? Is that correct?
Robinson:
Yeah that was an interesting…I had just gotten to the Bay Area and KCBS was the rights holder at that time and had an idea, it was probably a precursor of the Dennis Miller-like experiment. So I was thrown in there for a year and I think at the end of the year, everybody would agree it probably wasn't the greatest idea in the world, but it was a thrill to be around that year and I ended up staying on the broadcast the next three years, doing post-game shows and at that point the rights changed to another station, so that was the end of that run.

Q: Just curious, how closely were you able to follow the 49ers this year since you are always on the go some place were you able to watch their season unfold?
Robinson:
Yeah, I watched as an interested fan, certainly not up close as I will be as all of you guys were following it, but I watched certainly and I've always kind of been a fan in the back of my head since I got back here 15 years ago with the [San Francisco] Giants, though certainly not with the depth that all of you had, but I watched. I watched pretty intently the last few weeks as that scenario unfolded with Mike [Singletary] with great interest.

Q: It seems like you are always on the go some place, are you on assignment some place now?
Robinson:
No, I'm standing in my house thank goodness. The precursor of a better 2009. I traveled more in 2008 than I ever have and that was one of the great appeals of this and that's why, when I was contacted, I was honored and flattered and it took me about four seconds to think and say yes because to have a root here at home, to be back with a "home team" was huge for me right now.

Q: You talked about synchronized swimming and equestrian, luge, you've done baseball, tennis, how comfortable are you doing football?
Robinson:
Well, I've done, Andy referenced the NFL is going to be the learning curve for me. I've done some football work for Westwood One for three years, earlier in this decade. Probably if I counted, I guess I've [done] close to twenty years of college football. The old World League and American Football for those of you who can remember that, I did that for two years with guys like John Robinson and Boomer Esiason. Even Arena Football for about four years, so I've had plenty of football experience. The specifics of the NFL is the immediate challenge in getting up to speed on that.

Q: Can you just go over what the litany of travels was in 2008 for you?
Robinson:
Very quickly to not bore people: the first part of the year is college basketball, Pac-10, which is not as grueling travel-wise. Then, spring was a lot of tennis. I was in Miami for an event, North Carolina for [the] Davis Cup, Paris and London for tennis and then unfortunately this year, or not unfortunately but, the combination was that this was an Olympic year so I had Olympic trials in Indianapolis for [inaudible] sport and then Beijing for a month, followed by I had a college football job in New York this year doing a studio show, which was a first time experience and that involved 15 weeks of travel to New York. So the end of the story was by the time I got to December 1, I was pretty much done with travel.

Q: Given all this travel we talked about, is this something you pursued or did the 49ers come to you? And I'm curious how much you've had, in all these sports you've done, have you specifically had NFL ambitions or has this sort of evolved?
Robinson:
You always have that dream because the NFL is great. And as great as baseball has been for me and my life, and I would never say anything to denigrate baseball, but there's no question the NFL is the most successful professional sports league we have. So there's always been that wonder and the hope that someday it would happen, and I had a taste of it in Westwood One games for three years. It's typical in our business, just about the time of 2006 when I was actually being offered a more involved NFL role, they had a management change and it happens. New boss, new rules and that offer was no longer there. It was sort of a kind of a tease if I can say that. Now, this opportunity came up and literally the first conversation was after Joe made his announcement and within, I'm joking, four seconds, but probably 15 minutes I knew it was going to work because it was just so right in so many ways with the 49ers. It's the most prestigious job you could ask for. For me, it was the absolutely perfect fit and I'm just flattered and honored that they thought of me to call.

Q: When did you work for Westwood One and what exactly did you do?
Robinson:
2003, [2004] and [2005] NFL seasons. I was just, to be honest, the utility guy so I plugged in, I probably did about 12, I threw a dart at the wall all 12 games for those three years.

Q: Twelve games total over those three years?
Robinson:
Twelve games total over the three years. I did a 49ers game. The Washington guy, I'm blanking on the name, the Washington quarterback. Pickett from Washington. Cody Pickett the quarterback. Things you try to perhaps forget. The last game I did was actually… The last game I did was New Year's Eve when the Raiders played the [New York] Giants and the Raiders got stopped at the goal line in four downs to win the game on the one yard line and I think [Randy] Moss was on the sideline for the play. We were kind of shaking our heads at that. And I wound up, back in the 80's, I did the preseason 49ers games for three years on Channel 5 with Wayne Walker. The World League for two years on USA Network when that started, which was ‘pro players'. That's what became NFL Europe. And worked with a production crew that did Monday Night Football back then. Had some fun with Boomer Esiason and John Robinson, the [St. Louis] Rams coach. Other than that, it's been a ton of college football.

Q: What are your thoughts on following in the footsteps of Joe Starkey and have you talked to him about the job?
Robinson:
Actually, I haven't had the chance to talk to Joe yet, but I was completely taken with the reception Joe got during the last game. I was actually listening, driving around in the Bay Area and I had the game on the radio. And when I heard the reception that Joe got from the crowd, that really hit me because, obviously, it was an appreciation for the work Joe did. And, to me, it was a validation of radio that, that of all sports, the NFL is the one that has the greatest television presence. Yet, here is clear proof that the radio broadcaster and the radio broadcasts had connected with the team's fan base. That's what really struck me driving around was saying that's pretty impressive – that Joe had established that link with the fans, the fans appreciated him that much, and to me, it even heightened the importance of the job.

Q: Since you mentioned the one 49ers game you did was with Cody Pickett at quarterback. That probably wasn't a factor for you then, but have you thought about your 49er touchdown call and how it's going to sound?
Robinson:
You know, I – maybe it's…That's a good question because I obviously went through this in baseball. Perhaps, I grew up in New York, and perhaps you're a product of your environment. But I remember when I went to Minnesota to broadcast baseball, and I had a, I just for some reason, thought that, ‘Wow. You're in the Big West. You'd better have a homerun call.' And I tried one or two, and they were horrible. And, thank God I realized it fairly quickly, it was just not me. It was the old story that no two homeruns are alike. Not every homerun is the same, and so, to have a signature call for homeruns, to me, it kind of struck me as maybe forcing something. So, I would say the same thing. Something will naturally happen in a moment of excitement, the first real dramatic 49er touchdown that I have to call, something will blurt out and I hope that registers. But, in terms of a prepared – the other great thing about what we do is that people, I guess if you're attracted to being a sports broadcaster it's because you love spontaneity. You love live. That's what attracts you to it, so, to script and rehearse something, or to pre-package something, now you're an actor and you're not a live sports broadcaster. And, I guess I've always tried to remain a live sports broadcaster because I know I'm not an actor.

Q: How different, and what kind of challenges do you think this presents? You have so much history in baseball, and the pace and the rhythm of the sports are very different. Having covered both, I know that from a print standpoint. From a broadcast standpoint, how does that change the challenges for you with this job?
Robinson:
I'll tell you, the biggest difference, you're absolutely right about the pace and the demands on the broadcaster – but, probably the biggest demand as a broadcaster is the demand on your voice. Baseball is this leisurely game and you never wind up stressing or straining your voice all that much, and if you're not careful, football can because you're talking at a high pace, high intensity, high volume, and, counting pre-and post-games on radio, could be four hours. So, that is definitely something as I progressed, aged whatever word you want to say, I've been far more cautious about that. In fact a month ago during a basketball game I started to feel a voice thing coming on and I tried, when I got home when to a doctor right away and got some flu shots and immediately tried to pounce on it and stop it before it progressed into something worse, so I'm much more conscious about err of. Actually working with John Miller is really good because, obviously extraordinary voice, watching him I picked up some tips about how he cared for his voice over the course of a strenuous baseball season as well and I think that I tried to carry a few of those with me.

Q: Is there a difference in baseball, obviously, there's a lot of chance for storytelling and first of all you are trying to keep up with the pace.
Robinson:
From that standpoint, technically, again I don't want to bore everybody, but technically today like this happened to me yesterday, twice. I was in Oregon riding to the airport and an Oregon State basketball game was on the radio and the Oregon State announcer was doing a great job of telling me what the score was and then I had another game on recently around here and I was screaming at the radio. I put the car on and I had to drive a few minutes before the guy told me what the score was. I say that because we're all spoiled now, we are in an era where when we turn the TV on there's a score-bar that immediately tells us what the score of the game is, now we've all become conditioned for that immediacy so on radio where there is no visual, if I'm listening to a game I know that most of you feel the same way if you don't get a score within 30 seconds, maybe 60 seconds, you start to get frustrated. You want to know what the score of the game is so to me, that's the technical part of radio that's changed more because of television. You can't get the score enough, you can't call ball position enough, yards, down and distance. College football over the last few years, I was at Stanford, I really came to understand that will be foremost in my mind in the booth in Candlestick in August. When you put the game on the radio, people need to know what the score is, where the ball is and who has the ball and then the other things will fall into place. Obviously, Gary [Plummer] has a wealth of history. I'll be leaning on him for quite a bit for his contemporary 49er knowledge and Rod Brooks does a tremendous job on the sidelines. It seems like he's got great deal of respect from the players and coaches, so I'll be leaning on my partners for some help breaking in that way and my focus immediately will be absolutely making sure that the mechanics for the listener are there.

Q: You mentioned Gary Plummer. How much will you and he get together before the season and just try to develop that chemistry that needs to happen upstairs?
Robinson:
Yeah, that's a good question. How often will I do that I don't know. That will happen. I can guarantee that.

Q: You talked about how this will be the focus for you from July on. How will you have to adjust your schedule? Will you have to cut back tennis at all?
Robinson:
The French Open and Wimbledon, I'm contracted with NBC for those two. There's no conflict with football on those. College football, which I've been involved with, obviously that goes away and really that was it. There wasn't really a whole lot of adjustment other than that, it just changed from college football to pro and French and Wimbledon stay intact. College basketball, there's barely an overlap in that season. That's the part of it again that made this so simple that there wasn't a whole lot of maneuvering that needed to happen.

Q: Have you been involved in the U.S. Tennis Open or anything, or in anyway?
Robinson:
Yeah, the U.S. Tennis Open. But you may know that after this year's U.S. Open the contract with U.S.A. Network, for whom I've worked for 22 years, is up, so there is no U.S. Open for me right now.

Q: So you won't be involved in that this year either?
Robinson:
No, if it would be it would be in a way that would not conflict with the 49ers. The 49ers take precedence. Absolutely no question about that.


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