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“I Get Paid to Watch Hockey”

03/26/2013 12:58 PM -
By Cassie Burgess
Twitter @cassie_burgess1
 
It’s no secret that the Binghamton Senators pride themselves on being part of a tight knit town. With only 4,679 seats to fill per game (the smallest amount in the American Hockey League), Binghamton and its fans has grown to love and treasure its professional sport teams.
Raised in Newark Valley, a place right on the east line border of Broome County, Grady Whittenburg is no stranger to the small-town atmosphere. Growing up with no cable television and very little places to go in a town of less than 4,000 people, he became accustomed to finding interests elsewhere. For Grady, his most prominent interest was hockey.
Grady spent much of his adolescence coming to Broome Duster games with his Dad, which eventually evolved to watching the Binghamton Whales and Binghamton Rangers. Although going to hockey games was a choice of habit, actually playing hockey was never deemed possible.
 “When I was ten or eleven years old, hoping that a parent can drive me into Binghamton on a consistent basis, wanting to be part of a team. That wasn’t happening,” Grady joked.
Despite enjoying ice hockey and attending games at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, Grady also had a considerable devotion to baseball, believing that his career would begin and end in the ball park. Wanting to become a professional baseball player, he quickly realized as life progressed that his childhood dream was an unlikely future.
“I’d always love listening to baseball on the radio and local hockey broadcasts back in the day and that just kind of sparked my interest in becoming a radio broadcaster,” Grady concluded.
Once the interest was sparked, Grady went out a bought himself a set of used equipment, including a headset, mixer and tapes. In the mid ‘80s, he was fortunate enough to receive a Binghamton Whalers press pass, allowing him the opportunity to not only attend games but also call them for his own audience. Describing those two years as ‘practice games’, he utilized the chance to grow as a sport fan and advance his skills on the radio.
Grady’s first broadcasting job was with Cornell University, as the voice of Big Red hockey. While at Cornell, he also covered other sports such as football and lacrosse. He spent a total of 13 years with the Ivy League school before he was offered the job at the Binghamton Senators in 2002.
 “People say, ‘I don’t think I like hockey, I watch it on TV and it’s hard to follow’. I say it’s definitely a sport you have to come to in person to experience, not only to see the flow of the game but to feel the emotion.”
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For Grady, a typical home game day usually begins by arriving at the office between 8:30 and 9 a.m. and taking a look at the game notes and stats, both of the B-Sens and the visiting team. From there, Grady sits and watches the team’s game-day skate, providing him with information on line combinations, defensive pairings and the starting goaltender.
“It’s a little detective work on a game day.”
After the skate, Grady records an interview with head coach Luke Richardson to play during the game’s intermission, allowing him to discuss expectations and concerns for that day’s game. Even though it is Richardson’s first year, Grady has expressed his own respect and appreciation for what he has done with the team so far this season.
“Luke is fantastic. He is still a young guy, he is usually one of the last ones off the ice,” Grady admitted. “To his credit, he likes to work extra with the defensemen. It’s neat to see that.”
After his post-skate interviews, Grady takes the audio back to his office, transfers it to his laptop, cleans it up and packages it for the game that day. He then continues to study players and stats until the pre-game show, in which he begins to analyze what is ahead for his listeners.
“It’s the situation of what a radio guy does, talking about your team, talking about the night, hopefully keeping the listeners engaged.”
While he is occasionally joined by Bob Howard, host of the Power Play Post Show, or Collin Shuck, a media relations and broadcast intern from Ithaca College, during home games, Grady has also stated that there is more to his job that simply calling the game and making sure that the listeners are able to picture the game without actually seeing it.
One of his biggest challenges is how to maintain listeners and sound encouraging when the team isn’t necessarily performing well. “My job is to portray the team in a positive light, no matter how good or bad things are going on the ice. I’m still employed by the team so I kind of look at myself as a marketer [of the team].”
Although the team has not shown success every year, Grady has never found it difficult to come to the rink and call the game. In fact, he has found that some of the most profound moments occur when the B-Sens are in a rut and he is still able to keep the fans intrigued.
“The biggest compliment I ever received was the down years, when we were pretty awful, when people would say ‘I still tuned in. Somehow you still made it exciting to listen to,” Grady smiled. “That’s about the biggest compliment any radio guy could get.”
Although there are difficulties he faces on the air, he also expressed the struggle of the travel. Because he also hits the road with the team, he loses time spent at home with his wife.
“It is definitely a drawback.”
But when all said and done, one thing is for sure: Grady loves his job. When asked what his favorite part of his job was as the broadcaster for the B-Sens, he couldn’t help but smile.
“It’s kind of every guy’s dream, whenever you take your favorite sport, to get paid to watch it and report on it by being the eyes and ears of the fans.”
The B-Sens 2010-11 season was no exception. Winning the Calder Cup was a monumental moment for someone like Grady who has lived and breathed Binghamton hockey.
“It wasn’t so much the final round against Houston; my most memorable moment was on Wednesday night, Conference Finals against the Charlotte Checkers here in Binghamton. The B-Sens were up three games to none and captain Ryan Keller shot and scored. The place was going nuts, Keller skated to the glass and it was just a mob scene because the fans didn’t want to go home,” Grady reflected.” That was the Calder Cup moment right there.”
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Despite the team winning Calder Cup, working for the B-Sens has been the dream, one that Grady had hoped for since he was little and still attending Duster games with his Dad. Because being the B-Sens broadcaster has ultimately given him the opportunity to connect with fans that, like him, have been life-long Binghamton hockey fans.
 “I’ve truly come full circle from being a kid that first heard the games on the radio, to then coming to them, to then working for the current hockey organization that is here in town. It’s neat.”


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