SPORTSCASTER LIPPOLIS HAS PASSION FOR PLAY-BY-PLAY
Courtesy Binghampton Press & Sun-Bulletin
(January 6, 2008) Forget your fear of public speaking, the bigger hurdle to becoming a radio announcer might just be brushing off that pesky fear of heights.
After all, it's one thing to sit at a Binghamton Senators game and look up to see an employee walking along one of the catwalks high above the ice, maybe fixing a microphone or rebooting the arena's wireless Internet system. It's another thing entirely to pace that suspended maze of narrow walkways yourself.
But such is the course 19-year-old Windsor High grad Rob Lippolis treks each game night, first climbing 12 rungs of a black ladder at the back of a closet along the suite level -- radio gear slung over his shoulder -- then making his way across those catwalks and down into a light loft at the top of section four.
Lipper's loft, it's been dubbed. Home of the unheard voice of the Binghamton Senators.
"Believe it or not, I liked (that first climb to the catwalks) a lot ... it's a great view," said Lippolis, a Broome Community College freshman who for parts of two seasons now has been training to become a radio announcer by recording mock broadcasts alone in the northeast corner of the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena during B-Sens home games.
They are recordings few people will ever hear, but that Lippolis himself pours over -- picking up on overused phrases, learning to temper his excitement at times, trying to find better and better ways to paint the picture of the play unfolding before him.
"It's great," Lippolis said of the opportunity, "because without me getting this internship, being able to come to these games and practice what I'm doing ... there'd be no other way to do it, other than the real thing."
Not that he isn't doing the real thing, too. Because as of November, he very much is.
Three seasons after getting his start as a broadcast intern with the B-Sens, Lippolis is now calling high school hockey games for online broadcasts at southerntiersportsnetwork.com.
He started by doing stats for football broadcasts this fall, and the plan is for him to do high school and college baseball and softball games in the spring, as he continues to chase his dream of someday calling games "in the show," be it the Major League Baseball, or more preferably, the NHL show.
"Fantastic," Southern Tier Sports Network President and CEO Matt Brannen said, when asked about Lippolis' start. "He's extremely professional for being such a younger guy. He has done a terrific job (in) how he goes about presenting the game, how he goes about his professionalism in preparing for the game -- the fact he contacts all the coaches and all of the team managers. And he really is a first-rate professional when it comes to not only before the game, but during the broadcast as well."
The son of a former Maine-Endwell coach and Broome CC hockey player, Lippolis grew up playing hockey on a frozen pond in the woods near his Windsor home. The pond has since dried up, but he remains just as passionate about the sport, following in his father's footsteps as a left wing for Maine-Endwell's club team and now BCC, and continuing to cheer on his beloved New York Rangers.
The broadcasting bug came later, as he and his younger brother Evan would film mock news broadcasts in their basement, and Lippolis would pretend to call out play-by-play for televised Rangers games when no one else was home.
Eventually, after his father, Mark, mentioned his interest in broadcasting one day to B-Sens executive vice president Tom Mitchell, Lippolis searched out some contact information for former B-Sens radio announcer Grady Whittenburg.
An e-mail was sent. A meeting was held. And a high school internship began.
"He's just very enthusiastic," said Whittenburg, now with the ECHL's Elmira Jackals. "A real go-getter, almost to the point where it was like almost running on Jolt Cola. ... He really took the bull by the horns and really hit the road running."
Running, it turns out, on a very similar path.
Whittenburg himself got his start by doing mock broadcasts of Binghamton Whalers games as a 21- and 22-year-old on nights when the press box had an empty seat or two. He went on to earn an internship at Cornell, which led to a 13-year run calling hockey games for the Big Red before stops in Binghamton and now Elmira.
"Obviously when you're starting out, you need to find your own identity," Whittenburg said. "I think no matter what your profession, whether it's a writer, whether it's a broadcaster, you need to find your own identity and not try to copy somebody's style -- maybe take the best of several different styles and put them together into something that you can put your stamp on.
"So I think that's something that we all struggle with in trying to come up with something we can say that's uniquely our own. I think just doing what he's doing -- getting the practice so young in life, coming out of high school having done this, and now in his freshman year at college -- (it's) a situation where, you start early enough, you're going to come up with your own style."
And as he goes, Lippolis appears to have taken to heart at least two big pieces of advice from Whittenburg. The first being that the vast majority of a broadcast is in the preparation, and the second being the need to gain as much experience in as many different facets of the front office as possible, considering most minor league broadcasters also share public relations and other such duties.
Along those lines, Lippolis began with the B-Sens by keeping stats for Whittenburg during games, and eventually reading the previous day's scores on the air during the pregame show. He would later help set up press row, man the media room during the pregame meal, help track down a referee's signature for the final game sheet, and then deliver those sheets to the visiting locker room.
In the second half of last season, he began doing the mock broadcasts as well, sitting alone on a small platform, a laptop in the seat to his right, a mixer to his left, and the crowd bustling around the concourse underneath him. Afterward, he'd send clips on to Whittenburg to review.
"Grady got me started with everything," Lippolis said. "Mentioned all the equipment I needed, helped me set everything up. Basically everything I know now, he taught me."
Of those first broadcasts, he added: "We laughed about it sometimes, because some of them were pretty bad. Got better though."
Even so, he's still breaking down his recordings, picking apart his nights at the Arena like a right wing might a game film.
His focus recently was on cutting down overused phrases like "long outlet pass" or "dumps it down" or "fires one on net." He's cognizant of the fact he's broadcasting games on radio, not television, and that he must keep getting more descriptive in how he relays a play -- from where the shot came from, to which pad the goalie kicked it out with, to which side the defense is now heading back up the ice on.
"Just working on expanding the vocabulary," he said. "And being -- I mean, I am a fan, I'm always going to be a fan -- but being less of a fan. Cause I get too into it sometimes."
Not that he wants to toy too much with one of his trademarks, though.
"I haven't been able to listen to a game yet that he's done this season, as far as local high school hockey, but on some of his tapes from last year, his enthusiasm level is great," said Whittenburg, hinting that the kind of self-analysis Lippolis is doing now isn't likely to end any time soon.
"I'm 43 years old, and I always still think I'm still refining my style and stuff like that. So he's a youngster, and he's gotten a great start, and I hope it turns into something big for him somewhere down the road."
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