Dan Hoard has lots of jobs: Sportscaster, host, but most importantly, Dad

By John Erardi
Photos and video by Madison Schmidt

This started out to be a story about the ubiquitous Cincinnati sportscaster Dan Hoard, but it turned out at least in part to be about his son, 11-year-old Sam.

A chip off the old block if ever there were one.

Maybe that makes it a story about Dan after all.

Presumably, Sam had watched the beginning of last Sunday evening's wild Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. Presumably he had gone to bed well before it was over (1:17 a.m. Monday, Cincinnati time). Presumably he had not snuck a radio under his pillow.

But I don’t know, because I didn’t get to ask him; Sam was home sick from school on Monday, confined to his room, which is where one tends to be if one is ill. I was downstairs in the Hoard living room in Mount Lookout, interviewing Sam’s sportscaster-dad.

I never saw Sam, but I heard his voice. It sounded like a good voice to me, maybe even that of a future sportscaster.

I knew Dan had made lunch for Sam. I knew this because as I was scrambling to line up this interview late Monday morning, Dan told me the only window he had that could accommodate both me and my videographer was at his home -- between Dan’s morning stop at the press conference of University of Cincinnati football coach Luke Fickell, and the afternoon presser of Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

Halfway through the interview I asked Dan how lunch had turned out. Dan said he’d find out

“Hey Sam!” he yelled up the stairs.

“What?” answered Sam.

“How’s the mac 'n cheese?"

"Good!”

Dan and I laughed, dads in partnership.

Mornings at the Hoard house are like ESPN Sports Center with Sam filling in his father on the latest sports news. Sam didn’t need to fill in his dad about Game Five – Dan had watched it all (“If you're a baseball fan. How could you not?” he said) and my guess is that Dan hadn’t pressed him, because fathers know how these things go.

A week from today -- on Thursday, November 9 at the Duke Energy Convention Center -- Sam's dad will be honored by the Cincinnati Sports Professional Network as its "Sports Personality of the Year." 

CSPN honors the best in Cincinnati area sports at its annual awards banquet. A highlight will be the group's tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the Cincinnati Bengals. Besides Hoard, this year's honorees are, among others, Northern Kentucky University for its men’s basketball NCAA appearance, and FC Cincinnati for its victory over the Chicago Fire. The emcee is former Bengal Louis Breeden.

I call Dan “Cincinnati’s Van Miller.”

It’s an inside joke. The late Miller was the voice of the Buffalo Bills for about 40 years. He was also the voice of the Buffalo Braves, the local TV sports anchor on the 6 and 11 o’clock news and he was the host of a quiz bowl show called “It’s Academic.”

“Van Miller was everywhere,” Hoard said. “He was like Ebola. He was the virus you couldn’t escape if you were a sports fan in Buffalo.

“I had the chance to meet him a few years ago before he passed,” Hoard said. “The Bengals played the Bills in Buffalo, and it was such a thrill. Just to visit with him a few minutes. I’m pretty sure he knew I was in awe. Maybe it was the drool coming out of the side of my mouth.

“I never consciously copied anything he did, but because I grew up near Buffalo, and because that’s who I listened to as a kid, you’re probably going to hear a lot of Van Miller if you listen to a Bengals broadcast – the phrases, the pacing. That’s the way it sounds right to me.

“If you’re a kid growing up in Cincinnati and you want to be a baseball announcer, you are, without trying, going to sound like Marty Brennaman. If you grow up in LA, you’re going to sound like Vin Scully. Not as good, mind you -- you’ll be a cheap ripoff – but that’s the way it goes. It’s based upon who you listen to in your early years.”

We both laugh at the “cheap ripoff” line. Hoard is an unabashed fan of Scully. So much so that a few years ago, Hoard and Reds TV color analyst Chris Welsh decided that since they were on an off-day (the Reds day game in LA wasn’t being telecast back in Cincinnati), they would rent a car for the drive to San Diego, all with the intention to listen to Scully call the game and then they’d play golf. The next day, they would do the Reds-Padres game for TV back in Cincinnati.

“Great day, right?” said Hoard. “Well, in the first inning, Vin tells this wonderful, elaborate story about Adam Dunn growing up” near Houston, Texas.

“Had you ever heard that story before?” Hoard asked Welsh, who said he hadn’t. “You’ve been doing Reds telecasts for at least 10 years. I’ve been doing Reds pre-game shows for four or five years. How did he get that story, and we didn’t?”

My favorite quote of all-time about a sportscaster is a short one. It came from Walter O'Malley, who dubbed sportscaster Vin Scully "the most important Dodger." In a pantheon of arguably more famous Dodgers, I agree that Scully is the most important.

In an increasingly chaotic world -- at once brought closer by social media and simultaneously more distant because of the lack of personal contact -- there is something almost quaint to be said for the warm voice emanating from the radio, that of the announcer calling the plays of our most beloved sports teams.

Dan and I didn't talk about that. We didn't have to. For Hoard, the greatest of them all is Scully.

"The greatest broadcaster in the history of the business,” said Hoard. "Notice I said greatest broadcaster. Not just the greatest sportscaster. He was almost 90 years old when he retired last year, and he was still the best.”

Like his idol Miller, Dan wears multiple hats and talks into a variety of mikes. He’s the voice of the Bearcats, football and basketball; voice of the Bengals, and occasionally does Reds’ post-game shows on weekends. He called the luge competition at Lake Placid. He did the opening night telecast as “the TV voice of the Syracuse Crunch” hockey team of the AHL (before Fox19 in Cincinnati beckoned); the first lacrosse game he saw (Syracuse University), he broadcast; he’s done a handful of soccer matches; as an SU senior he was hired full-time as the voice of the Syracuse Chiefs, later doing the same with the Pawtucket Red Sox. He has filled in on several major league broadcasts, and navigated his way through stories about “taxes and sexually transmitted diseases” on a cable TV call-in show in Syracuse.

“I was terrible at it,” he said, “but it was great experience. Now that was good training.”

We both laughed.

I've always admired the professionalism of Hoard -- in my days covering the Reds, I knew as soon as I saw him in the waiting room outside the Reds clubhouse, it was going to be a good day for insightful, deftly delivered questions -- and yet I knew it was going to a good day for bonhomie. I think he and Marty Brennaman are similar in that way. Similar, too, in that they bring out the best in their broadcast partners. Some announcers like going it alone. Not Brennaman and Hoard. They’re good doing rapport; it is not manufactured.

“Long season, small booth," said Hoard, quoting Curt Gowdy. “Some announcers don’t get along, and it can really be torture.”

There is Hoard with Chuck Machock (UC hoops) Hoard with Jim Kelly Jr. (UC football), and Hoard with Dave Lapham, known perhaps best by Bengals fans for his unabashed boisterous homer-ism, but admired by me -- an inveterate radio-listener -- for his homespun humor, home-team anecdote-telling, and easily delivered honesty. Hoard speaks well of all of his broadcast partners; they are his friends.

I tell Hoard how much football I learn on Bengals radio broadcasts; by comparison, I learn nothing from network TV telecasts of Bengals games.

“That’s Dave, not me,” Hoard said. “I learn something every single time working with him. Yes, he’s known for going bananas on the big plays. But the guy is unbelievable at combining information and entertainment. Incredible.”

I couldn’t agree more.

“He’s been doing it for 32 years,” Hoard says of Lapham, “and he still prepares like it’s his first broadcast. “He is a smart man. He was admitted to Harvard but chose to go to the Harvard of Central New York instead.”

I had a good laugh at that one, even though I’m a big Syracuse University sports fan, having grown up on it. I’m from Syracuse, but I didn't go to the famous journalism and broadcasting school there. Maybe if I was from Lakewood, N.Y., (like Hoard), in the far southwestern corner of the state, three-and-a-half hours from Syracuse, maybe I would have thought about it. Maybe I'd have played my college sports there (like Lapham from Melrose, Mass.). But as it was, my goal was to get away from home, even though I've liked going home ever since. I grew up watching Floyd Little and Larry Csonka in person in the Orange backfield, and Dave Bing and yes, Jim Boeheim, on the Orange hardwood. And yet, like Hoard some of my fondest memories were of radio, of listening to Bill O'Donnell, voice of the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Colts, and voice of the Syracuse Orangemen.

Hoard is as good as anybody at play by play, easy on the ear, good with the language. A friend of mine once heard Hoard make this observation of an overly exuberant University of Houston defensive lineman – let’s call him Joe Doakes -- in a UC football game who had a hand in stopping the Bearcats six yards short of the first-down marker on 2nd-and-9:

“On any play that’s even decent, Doakes celebrates like he personally discovered the New World.”

Now, that’s funny – and it’s funny in large part because it’s precise. That’s Hoard for you.

He enjoys words, obviously, but doesn’t regard himself as a “voracious reader.” He says he’s okay at Scrabble, “but not nearly as good as my wife” (Peg Rusconi, director of communications at CincyTech), who “crushes me.”

Hoard says he can’t pinpoint exactly why he wanted to be a broadcaster.

“It’s all I ever want to do – I wanted to be a sports announcer my whole life,” Hoard said. “My dad isn’t one; my stepfather isn’t one. For whatever reason, I got that bug at an early age.”

He would sit in front of the family’s black-and-white TV in Lakewood, N.Y., with a cassette recorder, turn down the TV sound, and do play-by-play.

“I was the voice of the Buffalo Braves, the Buffalo Sabres, and the New York Mets, simultaneously from the age of 10 to 14,” he said. “Nobody knew it aside from me. Hopefully, those cassettes have all been destroyed.”

Asked why he thinks the bug touched him early, he cited a love of sports, but also something I’ve heard from Brennaman.

“I’m a bit of a ham,” Hoard confessed. “I was in school plays as a kid. My mother did some local acting when I was a kid. I think I always had a little bit of that desire to perform in some way.”

Hoard deserves the award he's getting next week. He spoke at one of their events a few years ago, but was unaware of their sports personality award. “Very pleasant surprise to learn the award existed, and that they thought enough of my work to choose me for it,” he said. “I understand that somebody from the local media is honored every year, essentially, by your peers. It’s  great honor.”

In 2015, he was named Ohio Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He was floored.

“You have Marty Brennaman here, Thom Brennaman, Paul Keels (Ohio State), Tom Hamilton (Cleveland Indians), Jim Donovan (Cleveland Browns) . . . To be chosen as the No. 1 sportscaster in this state is really a big honor.”

And don’t forget about his enshrinement in the Chautauqua County (NY) Sports Hall of Fame. Hoard likes to joke that he’s the worst athlete in there, given that he wasn’t chosen for his athletic prowess (although he did play sports in high school).

I ask Hoard if he had any Lucille (“I Love Lucy”) Ball stories, given that he grew up near her Jamestown hometown.

“Two things,” said Hoard, never at a loss for an anecdote. “One is that my grandmother went to high school with her. Second, they erected a statue of Lucy in her hometown and they had to tear it down and put up new one. Didn’t look a thing like her, wasn’t even smiling.”

Does everybody in Jamestown-Lakewood have a little ham in them?

“Well, I did have red hair before I lost it,” said Hoard, a reference to Lucille’s hair color. “I’m one of five kids, and the only involved in broadcasting, so I can’t connect it.”

“Wasn’t even smiling” would also inspire incredulity in those who watch Hoard in action.

“I’m living out Fantasyland,” Hoard said. “I love doing any game that I get the opportunity to do.

I ask him about prep. He’s a hard worker. He’s hesitant to talk about it.

“My father was an upholsterer; my stepfather was a wholesale florist – there was never an easy day in that job. . . Now that’s what I call work.”

Hear that, Sam?

I think you’ve got the right idea.

Oh, and Sam? Do read this story and watch this video. There might be something in here for an aspiring play-by-play man.

Alex ReillyPROFILES