Voice of the Kingdom - Part I

When you follow Kansas City Broadcaster Mitch Holthus around for a week, you discover things you never knew, both about the Chiefs and about the eight-time Kansas Sportscaster of the Year.

It's more than being the spokesperson of an NFL team for Holthus. It's his responsibility to deliver the Chiefs' message to each and every one of the 56 radio affiliates spread out over six Midwestern states.

The message is the same regardless of the size of the market. If there's a Chiefs fan in Falls City, Nebraska, Atlantic, Iowa, Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, Muskogee, Oklahoma, Wellington, Kansas or Monett, Missouri, Holthus wants to reach them all.

If you can't watch the Chiefs on television or attend a game in Kansas City, Holthus will guide you through the web of plays and leave you feeling all the emotions the fans in the stadium do during a three-hour broadcast.

That's what makes Holthus the NFL's premier radio broadcaster. His goal isn't to deliver just the game he sees with his own eyes, but to educate you on something you didn't know about a player on the field.

And of course, you'll get his signature calls ("Touchdown, Kansas City!") that have been a part of his broadcasts since his Kansas State days. Everyone took notice of this new kid when the Wildcats finally beat Oklahoma in the 1980s and Holthus let loose a classic line:

"For the first time since Exodus chapter 17, the Red Sea has been parted and Pharaoh's Sooner chariots have been swallowed up! Bill "Moses" Snyder says let my people go from 23 years of Sooner bondage!"

The Smith County, Kansas native grew up on a working farm, doing whatever chores his parents, Edlean and Kathy Holthus, deemed necessary. It was during those days that Holthus learned his work ethic, according to his father.

"I'm so appreciative that I got to grow up in that environment," he said. "There was good and bad. The good was that you developed an imagination on the farm. I love sports, neither one of my brothers did, so I was playing imaginary games and broadcasting them in all the sports."

"I would have a radio going and play it out as I was listening to the radio. When people say ‘where do you come up with all of that stuff,' I think it started early on, because I had to be imaginative. It gave my mind a chance to be creative, and not playing a video game or something, it was all in my mind."

Of course, there were negatives. Growing up in a small town miles away from bigger cities, Holthus rarely got to see professional or even college sports live. He appreciated the annual trips to Kansas City to see Kansas State or the Royals play.

"My parents would take me to like one K-State football game a year, and I thought that was like the Rose Bowl," said Holthus. "I'd live for it. They'd take me to Kansas City for a weekend to a baseball game in August, when the harvest was done, between harvest and school."

Those rare moments fed his appetite for sports. He was a long way from the bright lights of an NFL Stadium, but never stopped dreaming. He knew early on what he wanted to do, even if getting there would be a struggle. Without those early days on the farm, his life may have taken a different direction.

"You had to work," said Holthus. "Even though I wasn't the best farm kid, there was a part of me that didn't want to embrace it so much, because I knew there was some world out there that I wanted to experience and live. I thought that ‘if I get into this, this is what I'll be doing all my life."

Instead, Holthus now lives what he calls his "dream job." I went inside his world for seven days early last season, before the Chiefs played the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium.

MONDAY

As my week started, I met the Voice of the Chiefs at Metro Sports, where Holthus records his "Mitch's Minute," a short segment broadcast to numerous TV stations across the Midwest. It's sent to 10 different markets and over 21 radio affiliates.

At this point, Holthus begins to define his game plan for the upcoming week. Even though he records his "Minute" on Monday, it doesn't appear in some markets until late in the week. That means his information has to be pertinent towards a game that's six days away.

With the Bengals coming in that week, Mitch talked about how KC's defense might attempt to stop wide receiver Chad Johnson. Holthus had a basic script for his brief segment, but after talking to his producer Sean ‘The Blade' Beldin (everyone gets a nickname if you know Mitch), it's clear they go over everything in precise detail.

In a couple of takes, Holthus has his minute done and moves on. He then has a brief meeting with his secretary, who makes sure everything is ready for his Monday night radio show.

Then the fun begins. Though he's obviously not on KC's coaching staff, Holthus still invests time in film study of the Chiefs' upcoming opponent every week. On this day we moved to Arrowhead and right into the film room to take a look at the Bengals. For a couple of hours we reviewed Cincinnati's offense in their defeats against the Browns and Patriots.

On this day, Holthus was impressed by Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer.

"This game gives me somewhat of an ill feeling because Palmer has the ability to throw the ball vertically," he said. "It's something he does in his sleep. He can throw in between zones. Even if you play two-deep zone like the Chiefs do, he has the ability to pinpoint the ball between the corner and the safety."

Holthus continued as we examined Palmer's precise footwork in the pocket, and even compared him to Brodie Croyle at one point, who moved well in mop-up duty against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was fascinating, to say the least.

But why study film? Because Holthus wants to be as prepared as possible, and as the film work unfolds he logs information from each review session into his memory. His head is filled with notes that are eventually worked into his broadcasts.

It's not all in his head, however. Holthus uses small, color-coded, cardboard storyboards that are highlighted and detailed with just enough verbiage for use on gamedays. He keeps them from year to year and updates them each week.

Each card uses orange highlights focusing on a player's particular stats against the Chiefs. Brown highlights indicate how that player fits into the Chiefs Kingdom.

And Monday nights after Sunday games, he reaches out and touches members of that Kingdom with his weekly show. It's here where Holthus lets down any walls he may put up in public. Around the NFL there are not many teams with shows like this one, events that encourage fan participation.

Holthus affectionately refers to each member in his audience as a "geek." There's "Snowstorm Sandy Geek," "Second Mortgage Becky Geek," "Civil War Geek," "Poofhead Geek," "Suzie Bling Bling Geek" and "Slingblade Geek," to name a few. I was anointed as "Warpaint Geek."

Every Chiefs fan should see this show in person. Before it starts, Holthus makes the rounds like a comedian prepping the audience before the Tonight Show. He gets his "geeks" laughing and introduces any special guests.

The audience also participates throughout the show. "X-Factor," a local member of the Chiefs Superfans club, chimes out a theme for the show each week. This week it was "Mangle the Bangles," and on cue he would repeat it during the evening. It's this kind of participation that separates Holthus' Chiefs Kingdom show from any other radio event in Kansas City.

Holthus also has an ability to put his guests at ease and make them comfortable. This night, defensive end Tamba Hali, a player who isn't exactly known for long-winded answers, showed up. But Holthus gets Hali to open up, which is particularly tough to do after a loss (the Chiefs had lost to the Jaguars the day before).

TUESDAY

With Herm Edwards' press conference set for late morning, Holthus listens in for any information he can use in his Sunday broadcast. Prior to that he and I headed to the KCFX studios, where Holthus and his producer, John Taylor, record all of the promotions required for the upcoming Kingdom shows.

This was our shortest day of the week together. After watching the Bengals' defense for an hour at the Arrowhead Stadium film room, Holthus headed down to Wichita, Kansas with former Chiefs All-Pro guard Will Shields for a charity function. It would be a one-day trip, but it's part of his routine each week. His day didn't end until he returned home sometime after midnight.

WEDNESDAY

Back to the Bengals film again. Today we concentrated on Cincinnati's defense, and it was again fascinating. Being able to see coach's film is truly a treat - to be able to do that before every game gives you insight into every facet of the upcoming opponent.

Because Holthus has access to weeks and even years of film, he can slide back and forth between a single play and separate games. We looked at the Bengals' defensive performance from a year ago in the 2006 season opener, a game that saw former Chiefs quarterback Trent Green take a nasty, career-threatening hit.

Holthus knew he'd have to incorporate the memory of that hit into his broadcast and also in his weekly TV Show – Chiefs Insider. Though it was pretty obvious on film that the Bengals were not a good defense, more concerning for Holthus was Kansas City's offense.

The Chiefs offensive woes in the Red Zone were glaring before the Cincinnati game - 10 marches into it and only two touchdowns out of it. The problem was clearly exposed on film.

Holthus and I looked at every single Red Zone drive by the Chiefs to date this season, and there was one glaring theme - the offense bogged down because it didn't use the middle of the field. For the most part, the plays went to the outside, safe passes that were either incomplete or caught for short yardage. The running plays were bogged down up front because defenses constantly collapsed to the inside.

The game film doesn't lie. You get two angles behind the quarterback and the other comes from high above the stadium. You can see the entire play unfold. Nothing is missed. There is no place to hide, and that's why the team watches film as a group after every game.

Holthus' goal with his video homework isn't to be critical, however. It's to lay the groundwork for the best broadcast possible for the Chiefs Kingdom. That's always the central theme. It's easy to be critical, but Holthus has to keep the fans listening and interested through good and bad.

As we wrapped up film study, it was obvious there's so much information to be observed and absorbed before Sunday. It's a wonder how Holthus keeps it together, or for that matter, remembers it all.

It took me a while to figure out just how he does it, and on Thursday I saw it first hand.

Tomorrow: Thursday and Friday with Mitch Holthus

Sunday: Saturday and Gameday with Holthus

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