Hockey is a multi-faceted sport. I don’t just mean the differences between forwards, defensemen and goalies, etc. There are trainers for when a player is hurt, equipment managers who keep everyone’s gear functioning properly, and entire media departments making sure viewers at home can see the game without issues. All sports are like this: baseball, football, basketball, all the way down to lacrosse and track and field. The role of broadcaster is never an easy role to fill. But for 40 years, Mike Lange has been not just filling the role, but embracing it and making it his own.
Mike Lange is one of the premier names when the topic of sports broadcasting is mentioned. Lange, along with Jack Edwards of the Boston Bruins and Rick Jeanneret of the Buffalo Sabres, are among the most popular broadcasters in the NHL to date. Some would even argue that the broadcasters bring the most energy of anyone in the organization to each game they broadcast, because they have to make the viewers at home feel as if they are a part of the action at the arena.
Recently, in a game against the Saint Louis Blues at Consol Energy Center, the Pittsburgh Penguins honored Mike Lange for his 40 years of broadcasting for the organization. He was presented with a commemorative jersey and a plaque that would hang on the walls of the media hallway. Lange originally joined the Penguins organization in 1974, and after a rocky start that included the team’s bankruptcy in 1975, he re-joined the organization in 1976. He has been a part of the Penguins broadcast team ever since, working both radio and TV broadcasts. In 2006, Fox Sports, the TV station who hosted Penguins broadcasts, elected to not renew Lange’s contract and instead brought Paul Steigerwald on board. Lange promptly signed a deal for 105.9 The X, sticking to just radio broadcasts for the team.
I know growing up, I idolized Mike Lange. The way he so flawlessly inserted little quips and quotes into his broadcast was mesmerizing to me, and he added a completely new element to broadcasts that made the games fun. He and his partner, Phil Borque, always have random fun facts and odd quotes from and about the team, and they never failed to keep listeners entertained during a broadcast.
Since becoming a part of the sports staff at WERG and being involved with broadcasts for Lady Knights basketball games, I have tried taking a page or two out of his playbook in terms of the style and energy he brings to a game. I don’t know how well it is working, but I know that even at college, I have continued to follow both radio and television broadcasts for the Penguins, as well as looked at different broadcasters around the NHL to see if there are any common elements.
As it turns out, the one theme that seems to connect the NHL from the broadcasting aspect of the game is fun. As corny as it sounds, each and every one of these broadcasters shows up every day ready to work. They aren’t doing their jobs just to get them done; they’re working out of love for the craft. You will never hear a broadcaster complain, whine, or be angry about any aspect of his job, because he is having the time of his life. That’s the way it is supposed to be.
Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” It’s a shame they didn’t have sports radio during his time, because if they did, I’m sure he would have thought that exact quote a month or so sooner.