Who do you think of when someone mentions the Maryland Terrapins Football and Basketball Teams? To me, it’s Johnny Holliday. He’s been a staple of Maryland Terrapin Sports for 38 years.
When you listen to Johnny Holliday call a football and basketball game on the radio, you know exactly what is happening. His calls are so smooth because he learned from the best.
I’d rather listen to a Maryland Football and Basketball Game on the Radio because the quality is so much better than that of ESPN, the Big 10 Network, or CBS.
I was able to interview Johnny Holliday over the phone and it was one of my favorite interviews so far. I’ve included the interview below.
Steve Rudden: What has the last 37 years been like as the voice of the Maryland Terrapins?
Johnny Holliday: The last 38 years. Yeah, it’s been, I think after a while the years kind of run together, you know? I think, like anything you do, you’re gonna have good days at the office, and maybe not such good days, and it’s been terrific. I’ve got so many good fond memories of the great Maryland teams I’ve had to broadcast for. I think each year you look forward to meeting new guys, new players come in, freshmen come in, and just to see the way that the coaches are developing, like with DJ Durkin, I mean he’s going to be an incredible coach for Maryland. Taking over a team that had to make some adjustments here and there and had to add some pieces here and there, and he’s doing that. He’s a great recruiter, I mean he’s got the whole package going for him and I think it’s going to be just a matter of time before he gets them right back to where they used to be, respected by people, being able to compete with everybody.
38 years goes by awfully quick, Steve. It doesn’t seem like 38 years at all. I think it’s because I enjoy it so much and have such good memories of the guys I’ve met and broadcast for and people working with me which makes it easy for me, with Tim Strachan, Scott McBrian, and all the analysts we’ve had in football with Greg Manning, and Chris Knoche and Walt Williams in basketball, and Kyle Markido our engineer, and stat guys like Brett Vasel and Steve Greer and Tim Strachan’s dad. It’s all like a team effort. It’s not me. It’s everybody around me that makes the whole thing go.
SR: It seems like you have a core group of people that you work with and I mean, it sounds like they’ve been around for a while working with you. Is there little turnaround with your radio team?
JH: No. There hasn’t been. In fact, well, there was more in football then there has been in basketball. We’ve had a lot of different guys working with me, some tremendous guys like Gerry Sandusky who does the Ravens games, Jack Scarbath, the Maryland’s All Americans scored the first touchdown in Byrd Stadium. We’ve had Azizuddin Abdur-Ra’oof one of the great Maryland receivers. We’ve had people like Greg Owens, the former Redskin defensive back. We’ve had Ken Broo when he was a sports guy at Channel 9 when he was here. I don’t want to leave anybody out. Ted Grant was the first one, my first year Ted was the analyst with us just before when he went to television. Just so many great, everybody works as a team. You can’t do it without these guys and Brett Vasel has been with me over 30 years, our statistician Steve Greer, the same thing, over 25 or 30 and longevity pays off. I think people become familiar with the broadcasters. They certainly know them but it’s also important to have guys behind you that really know what they’re doing to help you at least appear like you know what you’re talking about. Without a good analyst, without a good stat guy, without a good spotter, no broadcast for anybody, I don’t care who it is, whatever school they’re working for, none of that would be possible without the people, the support staff you have.
SR: Did you always know that you wanted to work in TV and radio?
JH: No, I didn’t. I wanted to coach and I wanted to teach. I thought that would be my calling because we had, when I was in school at North Miami in Florida, we had great coaches. We had terrific young guys that we could really identify with and relate to and we had so many guys that coached me in football and basketball and baseball that they were just such good people and had a good relationship with the players and they made a great impression on all of the guys that graduated together back when I did, that we wanted to be like Coach Clark, or wanted to be like Coach Herr, or Coach Del Velo or Coach Lipscomb. All these guys that worked with us.
I think that’s the one thing I was looking for but I never got into it. I kind of got diverted, strictly by accident, started off as a disc jockey and played records for I guess the first, let’s see. Rochester, New York, Cleveland, New York City, San Francisco, and I came to Washington in 1969, so that’d be 13 years and I’ve been here 45, so I gave up music in 1978 or so just to concentrate on sports, because I’d kind of got, I guess I got tired of playing music all the time, and the radio formats were so restrictive and things were changing so much. They allowed you very little personality. You had to follow strict formats. I thought I had a little bit more to offer than that. I loved it, when I was doing it it was in its heyday, back in the 60’s, in the 70’s, and it was a totally different experience then. I think I made the right choice, to make the right move at the right time and just do sports full time.
SR: Right. No, whenever I think of and listen to Maryland basketball and football, I think of Johnny Holiday.
JH: Well, that’s very nice. Very nice. We’re doing baseball, I’ve been doing baseball for the Nationals now with Ray Knight for 12 years. We did a pre- and post-game on MASN. That’s the same. I get the same kick out of that as I do out of doing Maryland football and basketball, although it’s a little longer and more time-consuming, but if you like what you do, which I do, I think that’s half the battle. If you really enjoy going to work every day, and no two days are the same, you’re interacting with young players, whether they’re college or high school or professional or guys that have finished their playing days and it’s just one of the greatest, to me, greatest careers anybody could have is to be in the entertainment field. I just feel so fortunate, even today, after all of these years, still fortunate to have been able to work at the places I’ve worked at, the stadiums, the radio, the television, the coaches, the general managers, the program directors, radio, television, it’s been wonderful.
SR: You’ve got an extensive resume as the public address announcer for the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Warriors, and Washington Bullets, but what was it like trying to get into the broadcasting field back in the day, seeing as nowadays you just have to apply online and who knows actually who gets to see a reel or listen to your reel?
JH: Probably, it was probably a lot, maybe a lot more personal, although I think maybe the best way I can explain it when I got the Cleveland Browns public address announcing job I called Art Modell, who owned the team, and they put me right through to him. I introduced myself, I said, “Mr. Modell, my name is Johnny Holliday, I’m with WHK here in Cleveland,” and Mr. Modell said, “Oh yeah, I listen to you every afternoon on the way home from work. How are you doing?” I said, “Good.” At that point, I felt that maybe I had my foot in the door. That’s how I got that job. I started off, it was the first NFL double header. They had two games in one night at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The first game was the Eagles and the Giants and the second game was the Redskins and the Browns, and I did the first game and the spotter that, he had promised the job to the spotter, the guy that’d been doing the PA for a few years passed away of a heart attack and he kind of promised the job to this spotter. When I talked to him he says, you do the first game and we’ll have the spotter do the second game and I’ll make the decision at that point. I did the first game and he called down and he said, “I’d like to have you do the second game, let me talk to Jerry,” who was the spotter. The guy, I could see him say “Thank you, Mr. Modell, thank you,” then he turns to me and he said, “I could never do this.” He was just being so nice to offer it to me. “I could never ever be a PA announcer, but I hope I can continue spotting for you.” I said, “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
That’s how I got my first job, and when I went to Oakland I just called the Raiders and I said, I don’t know if you’re looking for a PA guy but I did the Browns, and he says, “As a matter of fact, we are! We have an opening.” Then I got the San Francisco 49’ers job the same way. I was doing both of them in one year, either the Raiders in football season and the Warriors in basketball season. Then when I came here Tony Roberts and I did the Bullets games on WWDC, and when we lost the games to WTOP then they said, would you like to continue as the public address announcer, which I did for about two years and then I gave it up. I had too many things I was doing at that time. It all worked out good.
SR: I actually wish it was a lot easier like that, you know, just call up the teams or radio stations.
JH: Yeah, I think that’s the one thing lacking today. Everything has gone, with social media you kind of lose contact and talking to people and interacting with people. So much Facebook, so much Twitter, so much Instagram, all these things that you have to go through online and they’ve taken away that personal touch. I kind of wish it would come back, I miss that.
SR: Right. I mean, I’ve seen part time radio station jobs and sports jobs that I’ve been interested in and so I’ve actually reached out to, I’ve called the radio station, called their program director, but I haven’t been able to get in touch with anybody. It stinks because it’s like, you know, don’t you want to talk to somebody who’s passionate and who’s dedicated that they’re willing to do whatever they can and call as much as they can to get the job? It’s really frustrating these days.
JH: I know. I know, that would drive me nuts. I’d rather call and talk to a human being than work on a computer and keep answering stuff back and forth on AOL. I think that’s got to be very frustrating.
SR: Now that you’ve been in the broadcasting field for a long time, do you ever get starstruck when meeting people that you’ve looked up to for a while, or any athlete?
JH: Oh, sure. I mean, absolutely, but I find, and maybe you have too when you’ve met people that you’ve listened to or you admire, you find out just how nice they are, they’re no different than you and I. That’s the thing that I’ve always tried to keep in mind. They’re just somebody who’s playing at a higher level than you and I played in, and I’ve found that sometimes the bigger the names, the nicer they are, the more congenial they are to spend some time with. That makes a big impression on me. I think there should be more athletes like that. I’m sure there are. I can’t mention them all, I mean, I’m sure there’s more than I could ever try to list on a piece of paper, but people like Rick Barry and Joe Theisman and Paul Hornung and you name it, Michael Jordan, Len Bias for Maryland, Boomer Esiason, the list can go on and on and on. Radio, television, theater people, commercial people, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting guys that I would never have come in contact with were it not for sports and for what I’m doing. At the Olympics in Sarajevo, in Yugoslavia, in Albertville, France, in Seoul, South Korea, Sydney, Australia, Barcelona, all the Olympic games that I did for ABC, you’re meeting all these big stars, all the Olympians, and that’s something that, they can never take away the memories of those events from you.
SR: What has been your most memorable moment while broadcasting for the Maryland Terrapins?
JH: You know Steve, I don’t think I, I mean naturally it’s got to be the national championship for basketball. That would be one of them. Something Maryland had never done before, under Gary Williams in 2002. That would have to be pivotal, but I think all the bowl games for the football teams that I went to. The bowl games, the ACC championships they won in football and basketball, those would be at the top of my list. Covering the athletes that played for the University of Maryland. You never like to list any one or two guys, or three guys, that were your favorites, because there were just so many of them, but I just respect so much the players and the coaches to be able to do what they’re doing at the highest level of competition and remember they’re still at school. They’re still getting an education. They have to go to class every day. Seeing how these kids interact after we’ve played a game at Florida State at nine o’clock, or Miami at nine o’clock, and get back to Baltimore at one thirty, two o’clock in the morning and they’re in class by eight o’clock. I admire them for what they go through, the dedication, and the regimentation and the discipline that they have to be able to balance athletics and academics and do them both well. That’s something that I’m very very impressed with.
SR: Two more questions. Who was your mentor growing up or made you realize that you wanted to work in radio and television?
JH: I think when I was in Cleveland I was a spotter for the Browns before I got the PA job and I would spot the opposition, I’d spot the Browns for the opposition radio or television. I remember Chris Schenkel of ABC coming in, he also did the Giants games with Pat Summerall. I remember how gracious they were and how prepared they were. Ray Scott did the Green Bay Packers games, and I kind of tucked away in the back of my mind the way that he did things.
There was one guy with the Dallas Cowboys that he also did the game on CBS named Frank Gleiber. He was the play by play voice of Dallas, and he would come to town, and he’d call me up, he’d say I’ve got $25 for you if you’d like to spot for me. I said, yeah, I mean 25 bucks for a 21-year-old kid, that’s a lot of money back in those days. I just liked the way he prepared for a game, I liked the way that he never let the game, he never got himself in the way of the game. The game was the most important thing. He painted a beautiful picture, and he wasn’t one of these hysterical guys, always over the top, always throwing cliches at you trying to be cute and clever, which I don’t particularly go for that kind of style. I said, boy, if I ever have a chance to do this I’d love to be like Frank Gleiber.
I kept spotting for him every time he’d come to Cleveland, and then when I finally got my first play by play job, I guess it was, it was in California I did Stanford and Cal, the big game. The day before I came back to Washington in 1969, and I thought about Frank Gleiber almost the entire game, as what would Frank do in a situation like this, how would he handle this? Never too over the top, always kind of even keel, and if the game dictated excitement he had excitement. If it was on a second down, on a second and ten and a guy picks up a yard, you don’t go hysterical over a call like that. The gain is one yard. If it’s a scoreless game, that’s a scoreless game. If you get to be 55 to nothing you have a totally different tone in your broadcast then you would if you were ahead 55-nothing. I think Frank Gleiber would be the one guy, he would be the guy I would say that I maybe put in the back of my mind, I’d like to be like him if I ever get a chance to do some major games.
SR: I’m going to have to see if I can find some old clips from him.
JH: Yeah yeah, oh, yeah. He passed away probably 20 years ago. After he was out jogging one day he came home and collapsed and died of a heart attack. Might have been 20, 25 years ago, but he was the best. Frank Gleiber, G L E I B E R, of the Dallas Cowboys.
SR: Okay. I’ll check him out.
JH: Yeah, check him out. I think you’ll be impressed he was good.
SR: All right. My last question is, what advice would you give for high school students or college students who want to get into the broadcasting business?
JH: I think it’s pretty simple, Steve. Just really believe in yourself. I always felt when I was growing up as a kid that I could do anything. You always think you’re invincible, but I always felt I could sing for 35, 40 years. I always thought I could do play by play. I always thought I could do baseball, or football, or basketball, or any sport that they threw at me. I never ever doubted if I had an assignment, I was going to do that assignment because I had enough confidence to feel that I was good to handle it. I think that’s probably the number one thing. If you really want to do something and have a goal in mind, you want to be on broadcasting, on radio or television or behind the scenes or whatever, don’t let anybody tell you well, you can’t do that because I’m a perfect example that you can do that. If I can do it, anybody can do it. That would be my best advice. If you really, if you’ve got a goal and your desire is to be a play by play guy or whatever, cover guy, analyst, then go for it. Good things always happen to good people. I’ve always felt that. It does take a little bit of luck. I think it takes more luck than talent, but everybody has the same kind of talent but other people are not in a position you’re in because they weren’t in the right place at the right time. That I think has a lot to do with it. Timing is everything. If you get a job, don’t make any waves, be cooperative, do things the right way. You know, you get a lot further by being nice to people and by being, people want to be around you than you do being a hard case. Then people say, he’s always griping or moaning, nothing is good enough for him, you’re not going to get anywhere like that. Being able to work with people, be able to cooperate with people, be able to have fun with people, enjoy what you’re doing, and you’ll find if you’re lucky enough to get in this business, which I’m sure a lot of people listening to this will be able to do exactly what I did by believing in themselves. If that makes any sense.
SR: No, that does, and that’s actually really really good advice. I hope a lot of people who do read my post about you will take that into consideration.
Just being able to hear about Johnny Holliday’s extensive career was a treat. Things have definitely changed when it comes to working in sports and the broadcasting field.
The good thing is, even after the Maryland Football and Basketball Season ends, you can still see Mr. Holliday on the Washington Nationals Pre and Post Game Shows on MASN.
If you want to listen to Johnny on the radio, you can catch him on ESPN 980 in Washington D.C. and on WJZ-FM 105.7 in Baltimore Maryland. You can also check him out on MASN before the Nationals Pre and Post Game Show. He’s also on twitter @hollidaykid and has a website at http://www.mrjohnnyholliday.com.