Alan Roach: The Man Behind the Voice - Part 1

You probably have watched a Super Bowl or even been to an International Series game at Wembley Stadium, if so, then you would have heard a voice that sounds familiar but not thought anything of it, if there was no voice you would notice.

That voice comes from the Voice of NFL Worldwide Alan Roach and in the first part of this two-part feature, the Minnesota-native speaks to NFL UK about how he got the job, what it entails and his love for AP, whilst in part two he gives us his thoughts on the International Series and why London will always hold a special place in his heart.

“I’ve never used that title before,” says Alan on Skype from his home in Denver when asked about his ‘worldwide’ tag and what it involves, “but I like it.”

The Job

“I am the live announcer at events for all of the special events that the NFL does,” responds Alan when asked about what his role entails.

“My year with them starts with the draft in May this year at Radio City Music Hall in New York, then the Hall of Fame which is in Canton, Ohio in the first week of August, then the first game of the regular season; ‘Kick-Off Night’ in September - which, usually I am not physically at, but my voice is a big part of it - it tends to startle people and gets noticed.

“Then we have the London games which used to be one and now three. Following them it is the Pro Bowl in Honolulu in Hawaii and then we always fly immediately after that to wherever the Super Bowl is and next year it is Arizona in February.”

So it is a tough life then Alan? “Man,” says Alan laughing. “Hawaii is the worst trip anybody could ever imagine. It is a lot of travel but it’s a lot of fun and I see amazing events that some people pay thousands of dollars for and others dream of getting to but never do their whole life, so I am very lucky.”

The Journey

The football journey for Alan started when he was a young boy growing up in Minnesota, attending sporting events with his father. “Even at High School sporting events I was fascinated by the announcers and remembered all the announcers at all the games as a kid.

“I remember going to Minnesota Twins’ baseball games and trying to find, and to see, the person who had the microphone in his hands. I later found out it was Bob Casey.  I met him in 1994 and we became friends.  Sadly he’s now gone, but he would be one of the first people who inspired me.”

Alan played football as a receiver through High School (“on a team that ran the ball on almost every play so I was a ‘not used’ receiver”) when he was growing up in the Minnesota cities of Slayton and Brainerd but a career in sports was never top of his list.

“I never gave any thought to being a stadium announcer at any sporting event, baseball or otherwise, until a night in Colorado Springs where I asked the Sky Sox baseball team that if their guy who did their games ever needed a vacation,  I would like to fill in’.”

Fast forward to 2014 and Alan combines working for the NFL with his day jobs of presenting the sports on radio 850 KOA in Denver, announcing Denver Broncos games at the Sports Authority Field at Mile High and various media related to the Broncos including working for their official broadcast when they are on the road.

Not-so-Super Bowl

In a strange turn of events his affiliation with the Broncos led to Alan being withdrawn from announcing Super Bowl XLVIII in New York with the NFL informing him two months before that if the Broncos made it then he would not be able to announce at the MetLife Stadium.

“It was considered a competitive advantage,” said Alan. "Of course, I had mixed feelings during the season when I found out that I wouldn't be allowed to announce the game but I still got to do my KOA job on the sideline and got to go in the locker room after the game, so I couldn’t really complain about my role on Super Bowl Sunday.”

Despite not announcing the game live, Alan announced the Broncos at the Media Day on the Tuesday before the Super Bowl and his voice was heard at the MetLife as it was used on pre-record to announce the Pepsi Half Time Show featuring Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

“Players in the NFL always talk about how someone is always there wanting to take their job - the ‘Next Man Up’ - and it is the same for me,” joked Alan, “there’s an awful lot of guys waiting to take my job and right now I’m fortunate enough to have it.  It may not always be that way.  Three games is a lot of travel and a lot of expense for the league.”

Sochi

Despite seeing the Broncos lose heavily against the Seahawks any feelings were quickly put aside the next day as Alan boarded a plane to Sochi, Russia to announce the ice hockey games at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

“It took longer than expected to escape the New York snowstorm,” said Alan, “but once I got there I had such an amazing experience.  I actually experienced one of the most exciting events of my announcing career when I announced the USA shootout win over Russia in the preliminary round.

“The atmosphere inside the Bolshoy Ice Dome was surreal.  It was filled to capacity with 12,000 fans, almost all wearing Russian gear, waving Russian flags, donning Russian colours as face paint, or all three.

“The fans weren't necessarily "unfriendly" per se, but they speak in a language that is loud and aggressive when they're in agreement with you.  As adversaries, they seem quite intimidating.  They brought cowbells, bass drums, horns and other noisemakers and noise they did make.

“Without doubt, it was, for me, the most exciting finish to any hockey game I've witnessed and the Russian fans were not at all disrespectful after the loss.

“Later on, I was in the USA Olympic Committee headquarters (USA House) and I bumped into Vladimir Putin who walked by me on the way in and the way out. He was shaking hands and talking with the USA fans - it was a crazy experience.”

Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail

So with such a diverse portfolio of work how does Alan prepare? “That’s what’s really fun about my job,” says the 47-year-old. “There is only so much preparing you can do, the rest of it all happens in front of you - I prepare the same for every game and it’s not anything that’s too crazy.

“Mostly it is just me making up the rosters so I know which name goes with which number and talking with a representative from each team to find out how to pronounce the names so I say them the right way and that’s really all the preparation I can do - all the rest of it happens on the field and I say; ‘touchdown Vikings’ or whatever it might be.

“Announcing the Broncos games are the same as any other - it is about two hours preparation involving the roster and talking to the teams but with my other radio jobs here in Denver I have hours and hours of preparation.

“When they are on the road I don’t do the announcing in the away stadium, but I’m actually on the sideline with a microphone as part of their official radio broadcast. 

“Every week, whether the Broncos are home or away, I do a pre-game show for an hour and then immediately after the game I’m in the locker room interviewing players on the radio.”

Who Turned the Lights Out?

As Alan said, he announces on what happens in front of him and Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans was no exception when a power outage in the third quarter bringing to a halt the showpiece of the NFL season in dramatic circumstances.

“There were 20, 40 seconds where my microphone didn’t work and I couldn’t reassure people that everything was fine,” said Alan of the events inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome back last February “but I was thrilled at how those 70,000 people who were inside the stadium at the biggest event of the year didn’t panic until I was able to get the microphone working again and say ‘Hey, don’t worry, the power went out - we’re working on it’.”

Super Bowl XLVII was Alan’s eighth consecutive one, a run that started back in 2006 with Super Bowl XL in Detroit. “I will never forget that first time when I said ‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen welcome to Super Bowl 40’; it was one of the greatest thrills of my life.

“Since then, the Super Bowls have been outstanding; the Giants beating the Patriots to prevent them from completing their unbeaten season is something I will never forget, Peyton Manning winning his only Super Bowl and Prince playing Purple Rain in the rain, which was just an incredible sight.

“And the great, brand-new stadiums we get to go in - the whole thing is a thrill.”

With such a unique, powerful and strong voice how does working in an indoor setting such as the Superdome compare to an outdoor venue in the NFL? “Certainly, acoustically it is different,” says Alan who also announces games for local NHL side, the Colorado Avalanche. “I remember the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay and all the speakers were in just one end of the stadium and there was a delay in the sound for everything, so it was hard to talk when you constantly hear yourself on the delay, but you get used to it but I remember it being difficult.”

Gridiron versus the Rest

Despite such an important job in American Football with the NFL, Alan has a background of a wide range of sports including ice hockey, baseball and the Winter Olympics so how do they all compare to Gridiron?

“For the most part, you could pretty much say it’s the same for all the games and that is, just giving information,” he explains. “In football, every play is different and every game is different, so everything I say is different but in baseball and hockey I say, basically, the same things, but at different times each game impacted by what it is happening in the game, and that’s the thrill of sports - every game is different.

“The drama and the things I have been able to be part of - I’ve unfortunately forgotten so many great moments in sports that some people would kill to be at.”

The Million Dollar Voice?

With such an interesting job depending on something as delicate as the vocal chords, Alan looks after his voice like a quarterback looks after his throwing arm. 

“I have insurance the same as anyone, but not with Lloyds of London or anyone like that,” jokes Alan. “It is the same as if someone were to break their leg and couldn’t work for six weeks or more - I have disability insurance but nothing extraordinary; as soon as someone pays me $10 million to work I will think about spending £1 million on insurance.”

Like a lead opera singer Alan is in tune with his voice and can sense and feel any slight twinges that may cause issues. “That’s not actually a blessing, it’s actually a curse,” he says. “I think about it too much and over worry, maybe I feel a little hitch or a little tickle in my throat when maybe I shouldn’t but I’ve learned over the years from my doctor what to do every day for maintenance. I don’t use medical drugs, I use remedies or certain processes every day to help keep my vocal chords and throat clean and stay healthy.

“I am a big fan of the simple hand sanitizer stuff; I bet I use that 30 times a day. Just keeping germs out of my throat is something I think about all the time and it’s worked for me. With flying, that’s where the hand sanitizer comes in and I might use that 10 times on a single flight and I use it on my face as well, people would call me a germophobe to some degree but it is nothing that crazy.”

So is honey in his weaponry to protect his vocal assets? “Honey is one of the things I don’t use but it’s a remedy that everyone talks about - honey and tea. I drink a certain kind of tea that I found that I like.

“The tea I use, and it is specifically for what I do really, is called ‘Throat Coat’. It’s quite simple really, unless I am feeling poorly I don’t do anything special before games, it’s important to keep hydrated, so I have a glass of water or Gatorade, but I do not drink soft drinks when I am announcing  and I never drink coffee.”

The Vikings Legends - Page and Peterson

As the NFL announcer Alan has is a neutral at all games and, despite being the Broncos announcer, they are not his team. “Well, I grew up in Minnesota, so I am going to give away my allegiance,” says Alan. “My favourite player right now is Adrian Peterson, I don’t think I really need to give any reason why, but he plays the game the way it is supposed to be played and has a great passion for it.”

With the Vikings having such a vibrant history, Alan is quick to discuss his favourite player of all time when asked. “Alan Page,” he says without hesitation. “He played defensive line for the Vikings and actually taught other members of the defensive line at the time how to read.

“Football was a much different game in the 1960s and 70s and Alan Page was very educated, from Ohio State, and taught guys like Carl Eller and Jim Marshall how to read, had a Hall of Fame career and now he’s a Supreme Court Justice in the state of Minnesota.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet him several times, as he’s come to Canton for the Hall of Fame = which is actually his home town - and one of the greatest thrills I’ve ever had was standing on stage there and interviewing him, on his birthday in his home town.”

When Alan looks back at all his professional experiences so far, what does he think about? “The biggest thrill is just doing the Super Bowl,” he says. “Just to say ‘wow, I am at the Super Bowl and I’m announcing the Super Bowl is an incredible thrill’. The Super Bowl is the largest sporting event in the world regardless of whether it is in rural Wyoming or downtown New York City.”

‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’

Looking back, what does Alan think about his career? “Michael Buffer (the legendary boxing announcer who coined the phrase ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!’) really brought what I do to a level of not even being recognised to being a star and he was really a pioneer in making it possible for guys with half the talent he has, like me, to make it in this business and to this day, whenever I go to a game I’m always looking around for the person with the microphone.

“It’s always something I’ve been fascinated by but until I did it, I didn’t realise how much I loved it.”

Read ‘Alan Roach: The Man Behind the Voice - Part 2 will follow next week.