Whether you’ve watched TV commercials or animated programs, or listened to big-market radio, chances are you’ve likely heard the handiwork of Howard Hoffman.
He’s lent his voice to several cartoons, and has been heard in advertisements from Hostess to Hyundai, and from Post to Publix.
But he also has an impressive track record on radio, having been heard in the top four markets over the last five decades, including three in New York City. Though his most recent radio gig with KABC-AM in Los Angeles was quite steady, enjoying a 17-year run that included being the station’s production director, as well as contributing to the Los Angeles Dodgers radio network, which was based at KABC.
In October 2011, Hoffman was a victim of budget cuts by KABC’s parent company, Cumulus. Not coincidentally, the Dodgers would be moving their radio flagship to KLAC the following year.
While largely a free agent since then, Hoffman remained busy through his voiceover production company, and would remain so even after he relocated to the town of Walla Walla, Washington last year.
You might think this is the point of Hoffman’s career where he officially starts dabbling into retirement – on the contrary. Because he has found a new calling: baseball announcer.
Yes, you can now add Howard’s name to the likes of Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Harry Kalas, and current Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, whom Howard himself has dubbed “a national treasure.”
Okay, so he’s going to be calling games for the Walla Walla Sweets, so it won’t be in the same league as the others. But given his background, Hoffman will be in a class by himself.
Because in Hoffman, the Sweets, who play in the West Coast League, Eastern Division (no contradictions there) will be getting a living legend – no, I’m not trying to upstage another living legend, Vin Scully, but he has the talent, the knowledge and the “enthusiasm” – a trait that Sweets vice president/general manager Zachary Fraser awaits – to pull this off.
Even if his only work as a play-by-play baseball announcer was in a Bud Light commercial.
“Doing play-by-play on the radio is a totally different animal,” Hoffman told the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
Recently, he spent some time with his good friend Ken Levine, who like Hoffman was a disc jockey in the “music radio” era of the 70’s, and is a noted film and television producer, writer and director – but he has a baseball announcing career of his own: for six years during the 1990’s, he worked games on radio and/or TV for the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres; upon the untimely passing of Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, Levine agreed to step up to the plate, and is currently in his second go-round with the M’s in the booth. The time was spent watching baseball with the volume down and interpreting the game action – just as Hoffman will be doing for real starting with the season opener on June 5.
“I’ve got three months,” Hoffman said. “It’s going to be a lot of homework.”
The one subject in particular that he’ll be studying: stats. “When you’re watching the game, you really have to immerse yourself,” he explains. “You have to know if the batter’s right-handed, and describe what happens when he faces batters from a certain direction.”
In addition to painting a verbal picture for radio listeners, he’ll encourage Sweets fans at Borleske Stadium to get involved via Twitter and Facebook. “I’ll be keeping the lines of communication open through social media,” he promises. “It’s going to be a truly interactive live experience with every broadcast.”
He also hopes that fan interaction can enable him to learn as he goes. “As a rookie in the broadcast booth, I know I’ll learn more from our fans than from anywhere else.”
And in a flash of wit, the kind displayed behind the microphone at radio stations like WABC and Hot 97 in New York and KMEL in San Francisco, Hoffman made sure to thank the Sweets “as a fan… for this opportunity to see all the games for free.”
The local radio station that will be carrying Sweets play-by-play is “1490 ESPN”, KTEL-AM – not to be confused with the K-Tel record label. And yes, the station streams online, so anyone who has followed Hoffman through his vast radio career can join him in his next chapter of broadcasting.
“This is a dream job for anyone who grew up loving the game,” he admitted. “I’m genuinely excited to be working with a great team that’s become an instant tradition in the Walla Walla Valley.”
As long as players aren’t fixated on any Bud Light vendors in the stands, Howard Hoffman should do a swell job.
No – a Sweet job.