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From Chapel Hill to Bowie and Emmitsburg, A Life in the Booth

UNC alumnus Adam Pohl hopes one day to join an elite crowd.

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via Adam Pohl

We all have opinions on the people who call our games. Most of us think we can do the job better than the ones on our screens, but most of us don’t know the amount of work that goes into that call. I thought it’d be interesting to talk to someone who is doing the work that leads to what you hear when you listen to a broadcast, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to interview to than Carolina alumnus Adam Pohl.

Below, you’ll find an interview we conducted over e-mail where we go into why he ended up in Chapel Hill, and the work he does both inside and outside the booth. Adam is a Washington, DC-area native and is having a great summer as his Capitals finally won a Stanley Cup, and he and his wife of seven years just announced they will be parents for the first time this December. I’ve known Adam since we were freshmen together at Carolina, enough to know he absolutely would have put that Caps win first before his impending child.

His Twitter handle is @PohlAdam, a must follow if you are a fan of the Orioles as he is living and breathing the prospects in their system. Hit him up if you are an aspiring broadcaster curious about the journey. His broadcasts are available on TuneIn, and here are a couple of his favorite calls:

Bowie Wins the Pennant

Mount Saint Mary’s Gets to the NEC Title game

THB: So Adam, introduce yourself to the readers. What are your current broadcasting roles right now, and what other jobs are associated with those roles?

AP: Thank you for featuring me Al – as a Tar Heel Class of 2002 - to be featured in a Carolina publication is truly an honor. Especially since I have spent the majority of my career outside of the Chapel Hill area.

Currently I am the play-by-play voice for the Double-A Bowie Baysox and Mount St. Mary’s Men’s Basketball. In my 15 year career I have broadcast the last three Orioles Minor League Championships and two NEC Championships and subsequent NCAA Tourney appearances for The Mount. But at my level I have to do more than broadcast. I am a full-time business development head for the Baysox selling building business partnerships that include advertising, tickets and fundraisers for the Baysox. I also lend a small helping hand in marketing ideas and sales for Mount St. Mary’s. My business role there is minimal.

THB: As someone from the DC area, what made you want to come to Chapel Hill?

AP: Well the funny thing is that I grew up in Arlington, VA because my father was a member of the US Army Band stationed at Fort Myer. Both sides of my family are from New York. My mother’s family is from near the city and my father’s from well upstate. I have one family member who is from the south – my uncle Vince who originally hails from Chattanooga, TN, went to high school in Florida, and is a Carolina grad. I was a good high school trumpet player with a dream of getting into broadcasting. When I was a junior in high school I had a list of ten schools I was interested in. Vince saw the list and told me that I should look into Carolina. He is one of the most dynamic people I have ever met and I love him dearly. His advice was all I needed. We looked into Carolina, I absolutely loved it upon visiting it and knew I wanted to be there but I didn’t have the grades. What I did have was an outstanding audition and I landed a music scholarship and viola – I was a Tar Heel!

A funny aspect of that is that I made it into the university similarly to how many scholarship athletes do. Once in college a good friend worked in the admissions office. He said he saw a list of people who were accepted to the university due to “special gifts” and there was my name – right below a guy named Julius Peppers in alphabetical order. How has that guy fared?

THB: So what you’re saying is that you’re bound for the Hall of Fame and that you’ll hit people for a living?

AP: The Hall may have to wait, but I am quite an athlete! I did play baseball in high school but the Diamond Heels thought a 5-foot-6 kid who topped out at 55 MPH might not be the best fit. One time in A-Ball my team was struggling, so my manager wanted me to take BP with the team to loosen them up. There were all these scouts looking at their rosters trying to figure out who this new kid in the cage was. It didn’t take long for them to realize why they hadn’t heard of me! You know how scouts in baseball grade tools on a 20-80 scale? A Yankees scout yelled at me “Pohl – You Got a 20 Arm!”

THB: So it was pretty clear for you early on that if you wanted a career in sports it would have to be OFF the field?

AP: There was no doubt about that! When I was at Carolina I met the man that gave me one of my big breaks – the great Mark Cryan, who is now a professor of Sports Management at Elon. Mark was looking for interns to work in various cities within the Coastal Plains League – a collegiate summer wood bat league. I told him I didn’t want to be a regular intern but I wanted to call games. To his credit he encouraged me. I called a Carolina Baseball game from the stands where Mark Reynolds was the UVA third baseman and I sent it in. Still to this day he tells me how bad that tape was. But he got me an interview in Asheboro, NC and I was hired over a few others to be an intern and call games on the local radio station.

It was my start. And I became the very first ever “Voice” of the Asheboro Copperheads. The local weekly paper did a feature on me which my mom still has framed in the house. The lead basically was – even though Adam never had any chance to play a sport beyond high school due to his lack of any athletic fiber in his body – he has found a way to stay around the game. That opportunity and my time as an intern with the Tar Heel Sports Network was pivotal in getting my career going.

THB: You ended up working with the current play by play man at the THSN as well as calling some women’s basketball games, correct?

AP: I did. Beyond being around Woody and Mick and learning from them in every way as they handled a broadcast really had three people help me.

John Rose, who now is an engineer and broadcaster at Duke, was instrumental in getting me started. I helped him in broadcast setup and he got me on air on his family’s radio station WIZS in Henderson, NC. Just a great guy. We had some fun times including a trip all the way to Florida State for a men’s basketball game during the horrific 8-20 season.

Then there was Stephen Gates. Stephen really took me under his wing. He broadcast for Carolina but also was the voice of the Burlington Indians of the Appalachian League. He gave me my break into pro baseball by helping getting me hired to do road games for the Tribe in 2003. His help was well beyond that though. He mentored me. I learned so much from his incredible professionalism and vividly remember some of our talks on style and presence in a broadcast. When Stephen passed away in the fall of 2003 it was one of the greatest shocks of my entire life. I still to this day do things in my broadcast that are my own personal honor to Stephen. He would be at the height of our profession right now. I think about him and his great family often.

After the tragedy in 2003, Jones Angell took many of Stephen’s responsibilities. Jones was always such a natural broadcaster. At that time I was just getting started and Jones was such a polished young voice. I had a long ways to go! Jones vouched for me to be his color commentator for Women’s Basketball and his #2 guy for Baseball. I called the middle innings of games. I am so happy he is the voice of the Tar Heels. He worked so hard behind the scenes over the years – even as a student – to get that opportunity. He is a class act and a great broadcaster. He has lived Carolina athletics for his entire life and I think Carolina fans can feel that he is one of their own.

THB: We’re now a couple of years past college graduation-a miracle considering you needed how many attempts at Math 10? When did it become apparent to you that the job of a broadcaster involved doing more than, you know, sitting behind a microphone?

AP: Hey!! I passed Math 10 on my third try! I had to be the only senior in that class in the history of the university.

Working predominantly in minor league baseball it becomes readily apparent that your role is not just to call the games. My 2nd day with Asheboro I was told to bring “work” clothes and I went out and hand washed the vinyl outfield wall for the entire day. That was a sign! My first bosses in baseball, Pat Brown (Asheboro) and Mark Cryan (Burlington) were instrumental in getting me to understand how to survive in this business.

Currently I sell advertising and help try to grow ticket sales through relationships with non-profits and our school system. In Frederick, I was in charge of running the entire marketing team in drawing crowds to games. I never knew I was going to do those types of things when I entered the industry. It’s funny because something Mark told me years ago is still my sales ethos. Just get a few meetings booked every day or 8-10 a week during the sales season and you will be a solid salesperson in sports. In the off-season that’s what I do. I try to get a few meetings a day and it leads to sales.

This is what allows me to do what I truly love which is call games. And nobody calls as many games in the state of Maryland as I do between my work with the Baysox and Mount St. Mary’s Basketball. It is exactly what I wanted to be when I was an undergrad music performance major at Carolina ,as crazy as that seems!

THB: You dreamed of sitting in a booth alone on a hot summer night describing the action of a bunch of young kids trying to get to the majors? How difficult is it to carry a 3 hour broadcast by yourself?

AP: Well putting it like that… People used to always tell me, “You’re going to be on SportsCenter!” or things of that nature. For me, local news was never my ambition. I wanted to call games. I’ve been doing it since 2001 and it is now a part of me more than ever. It is an art form and what I try to improve upon and enjoy more than anything else. It is so similar to playing an instrument. It is a performance.

Carrying a broadcast is extremely difficult when you start. For me calling baseball is the biggest challenge. You have a game every night. It could be anywhere from 2-4 hours long and you are speaking to largely a similar audience nightly. My goal is to first of all bring passion and excitement to every game. I don’t care if we are 15 games below .500 on a rainy July Wednesday evening with a few hundred people in the seats. I believe that this game matters. When you start hoping for games to just end and don’t see the importance in what is happening nightly to your players and their hopes and dreams - let alone your teams ambitions – you are missing the fire that makes people want to listen.

But the fire and passion to do it is not enough. You must be prepared. I have something different to say about every position player on both teams every day. I feel it keeps my broadcasts fresh. I am talking about different aspects of their background or game on the field nightly. I think my listeners appreciate that. Especially ones that are dialed in nightly.

THB: You spoke of preparation, so take me through a normal day for you calling a minor league game, and then how that changes when calling basketball.

AP: Since I am a full-time business and PR person on the baseball side I come to the park at 9 AM for a night game and work my non-broadcasting element of my job for the majority of the day. My focus is on growing marketing partnerships, whether it be through advertising or ticket sales growth. I work a lot with non-profits locally and also help in a lot of the public and media relations work for our club. In basketball I do all of my prep work before the game and arrive approximately 2-3 hours before the game. In basketball I also have a coaches’ interview to do before every game.

On a baseball gameday I try to do my business work until sometime in the range of 2-4 pm where I change to being a broadcaster – prepping for the game ahead. It’s strange because you would think you would need to do more prep for basketball since you call approximately 35 games compared to 140 for baseball but it’s the opposite. The reason is that there is so much time to fill in baseball. You don’t know if you will have a 2 hour or 4 hour game.

In essence though in both sports I want to have something to say – or a few things - about every player in every game on both teams. Whether it is a statistical nugget or a story of their past. In baseball you can draw that story out. A silly example is there is a player in our league named Sicnarf Loopstok from Aruba in the Indians system. His father’s name is Francis and Sicnarf is Francis spelled backwards. You can’t make this stuff up! So I spend a whole half inning in a blowout talking about the great Harry Caray, who loved to try to say players names backwards. The most funny being Mark Grudzielanek of the Expos. Youtube that one.

THB: What are some other differences, besides the sport obviously, in broadcasting minor league baseball and college basketball?

AP: As far as the calling of the games there is a different rhythm to the games.

For baseball I want to be laid back. I think of it like my trumpet-playing days. Baseball is like jazz. You want to lay back on the beat. It’s a soothing listen. But you have to be ready at all times to explode and punctuate the big moments with excitement and passion.

In basketball, with a shorter, faster-paced game, you need to be on the front of the beat. I like the crescendo of a possession. You start lower and build towards the inevitable shot. It is also so important in basketball to always give time and score because it is always changing. I think you have to bring consistent energy to a basketball broadcast. It has to be alive.

Culturally being around teams is so different in a myriad of ways. One that most people wouldn’t know is team gear. It’s weird to me how in college athletics everyone wears their team gear all the time. But in minor league baseball you would never see a player away from the field wearing your team gear. It’s weird but just the nature of things. A huge difference as well is that in college sports everything is about winning and in minor league baseball the true goal is to develop major league talent. It is a completely different feel being with a college basketball team than a minor league baseball team.

THB: I won’t put you on the spot of saying which you enjoy more-as I’m sure it’s like picking children. But what’s your goal? You’ve done the NCAA Tournament a couple of times, are you hoping to go national? Would you hope to move up the ranks in baseball?

AP: My overall goal is to be a broadcaster for a living. The funny thing is I am! But I have to sell and be a business person to be able to do so. It’s a lot of work and I really enjoy it but my hope is to call games for a living and that be my gig. I love being a team’s voice. I am a baseball guy through and through who has been at it for more than 15 years. I also absolutely love the passion and thrill of college athletics. The beautiful thing about it is that even though I would love to call big league games or a high-major collegiate program, I am literally doing what I always wanted to do.

When I was a music major at Carolina I learned so much that has aided me as a broadcaster. But I was always nervous because I had this dream and I had no clue how to get my foot in the door and break through. This professional journey has been an absolute dream come true. I am so fortunate to do what I do. And the beauty is my passion to call a game is as deep as it has ever been. And I hope that my listeners can feel that. I want them to know and more importantly feel that every game matters.

(responses edited for clarity)