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Greg Brown: From parrot to play-by-play

| Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004

Greg Brown's job description with the Pittsburgh Pirates has gone from parrot to play-by-play announcer.

“I was the backup parrot. Put that on your resume -- the backup parrot. That's how I got the job initially with the organization in 1979,” said Brown, 43, now in his 11th year of announcing Pirates baseball as one of the team's two play-by-play voices.

After interning that first year, Brown was hired as a full-time employee the following season and spent the next eight performing various functions for the club. Besides his backup parrot duties, Brown was also in charge of the scoreboard room, which meant he selected all music played at Three Rivers Stadium.

With the lack of a liaison between KDKA radio and its affiliate stations, Brown was made the team's radio-TV coordinator. “At one point I became the producer and writer for our radio and TV commercials,” said the youngest of six boys and seven children, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., but was re-located to Mechanicsburg, Pa., by the age of 8.

“If we needed a last minute voice-over, he (Jack Schrom, former VP of marketing) thought I had a decent voice and I would go to KDKA and do them.”

During that period, Art McKenna, the erstwhile public address announcer whose career (1948-1987) spanned Three Rivers Stadium and Forbes Field, was in declining health. McKenna decided it would be difficult to work doubleheaders and asked Brown if he could work those second games. “Here I was a PA announcer at 19 years of age,” said Brown. Eventually McKenna's health declined to the point where Brown was named the full-time PA announcer in 1987.

Another break came for Brown in 1986 when the Pirates were hosting the Mets in a doubleheader. Mike Lange and Steve Blass were in the booth calling the game. Lange said to the 25-year-old Brown, who traveled with the team, “Look kid, I'm not going to do all 18 innings -- you better be ready. I said to myself, what's he talking about and he replied, “Just come into the booth at about the sixth inning of game one.”

“All of a sudden it's the last out of the inning and Mike stands up, takes off his headset, gets out of his chair, and says put those headsets on, and walks out of the booth. I have no experience whatsoever, but for two innings I'm doing major league baseball play-by-play for the Pittsburgh Pirates.”

Two years later, Brown was shuffling off to Buffalo, hired to work in a variety of capacities for the minor league baseball Bisons and station WGR, including creating a radio network and doing some play-by-play. Within months, Brown had extended his duties to a sports talk show host, a fill-in for a morning sports show, and as an alternate for the Bill Polian (GM) and Marv Levy (head coach) shows.

By 1989, Brown was offered the position of color analyst for Bills games. “At first I was offended,” said Brown, “because I had come to Buffalo to learn how to become a baseball play-by-play guy and now here I was being offered to do color on Buffalo Bills games.”

He was so disgusted, Brown said, that he gave them an outrageous quote on what type of money it would take for him to take the position, and even then, he wasn't promising that he would accept. They countered by saying, “We'll give you the money and tell us in the next couple of days if you want it.”

After getting opinions from many, including his father, he accepted the position. It led to his being hired in 1994 to replace Kent Derdavanis as a Pirates play-by-play announcer.

“To this day, I don't think I would have been hired if I had just done minor league baseball,” said Brown. “I think spending three years as a color analyst and hosting pre- and post-game shows for the four Super Bowls is what sparked their interest.”

Brown majored in communications at Point Park College, but he is 15 credits short of receiving his degree. Two of his classmates were KDKA's Pompeani brothers, Bob and Bruce.

“That had nothing to do with me getting where I am today,” Brown reflected on his time spent in college. However, one of his journalism classes had a profound effect on the career of Greg Brown. The class involved students writing and producing a three-minute newscast.

After turning in his project, his professor marked it with the following- “A+++. Do not pass go, go directly to a job in broadcasting.”

“I will never forget that,” he said.

A host of announcers, including Weber, Lange, Van Miller, Harry Kalas, Chuck Thompson, and current Pirate play-by-play cohort, Lanny Frattare have all had degrees of influence upon the career of Greg Brown. “One thing that Mike Lange told me a long time ago,” said Brown, “do not change your personality, because the minute you do, people will tell you're a phony and you do not want people to think that you are.”

Besides Frattare, Brown's partners in the booth include former Pirates players Steve Blass and Bob Walk.

Blass and Walk bring contrasting styles to the booth. “Steve (Blass) is a guy that keeps a scorecard, writes down the lineups and averages, and jots down little notes about the guys, maybe where they're born. Bob's scorecard is the one the P.R. department provides five minutes before game time. He'll keep score, but he does not get into any of the guys' bios. He's kind of a nuts and bolts guy and Steve is more of a story-telling guy.”

At times during Brown's tenure as an announcer for the Pirates, he's been accused of being somewhat of a homer. “That's the way I am, I'm a fan,” said an ardent Brown. “They can hate me for the rest of my career, but I'm going to cheer on this team.” Additional Information:

Audio Files (mp3 format)

Greg Brown talks about his chance to take a job with the Buffalo Bills.

Greg Brown discusses his relationship with Penguins' announcer Mike Lange.

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