By Hunter Ford
Chris Stewart was a young child when he caught the sports bug.
“I was five or six years old calling play-by-play into a tape recorder,” he recalls.
Last week, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA) named Stewart, who is the lead play-by-play voice of University of Alabama basketball and baseball, the state’s top sportscaster for 2007. Stewart joined Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, Cincinnati Reds voice Marty Brennnan and Brad Shram of the Dallas Cowboys (among others) in the statewide winners category.
Currently in his 20th year of broadcasting, Stewart has spent the past six years as play-by-play announcer for Crimson Tide basketball. He also handles the play-by-play for pay-per-view and delayed broadcasts of Crimson Tide football on TV.
Stewart graduated in 1992 from the University of Montevallo and immediately won steady work in radio calling high school sports as well as Birmingham Southern basketball and UAB football and basketball.
“We had a great Mass Com program at Montevallo,” Stewart said. “We televised basketball and volleyball games and we got class credit for it.”
He said one of his major breaks came when former Birmingham Southern basketball coach Duane Reboul hired him to broadcast NAIA tournament games during the Panther’s 1995 national championship season.
He says he was happy to have the opportunities to stay in Alabama.
“Most people have to bounce around a lot,” he said. “I grew up in Fairfield and began working in Birmingham and never had to go away.”
Tim Brando of CBS sports gave Stewart some valuable advice.
“Play-by-play is what I always wanted to do,” Stewart recalled. “Brando told me ‘Stay in radio as long as you can, you will have more opportunities.'”
Stewart’s love of sporting events was stoked in part by his father who directed a group of ushers at Legion Field and the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center.
“I went with him to many games, but when I wasn’t there he would always bring back a programâ€¦somewhere I still have a whole box of Birmingham Bulls (hockey) game programs.”
Stewart says television broadcasts spoon feed the viewer almost everything needed to follow a game, in radio however, the play-by-play announcer is more crucial to the fans.
“Television broadcasts seem to cater to people watching in sports bars, restaurants or parties where they are not really listening to the game. The graphics tell you the score, the position on the fieldâ€¦everything. But in radio, if I’m not giving you the score every few minutes, the position on the court or the field and who has the ball, the listener can’t know what’s going onâ€¦I’m their eyes and ears.”
Stewart was a member of the first graduating class of Central Park Christian School in Birmingham, playing basketball on teams under Headmaster and coach Dr. Levan Parker. One of those teams placed third nationally in its classification.
“I tell him (Parker) I’m proof he’s the greatest basketball coach everâ€¦to have won with me at the number two guard,” Stewart joked.
He also deadpanned that he wanted to be a pro golfer until shooting a 91 in college nudged him into broadcasting.
Stewart says he enjoys speaking to alumni groups and sports clubs, which gives him a chance to show off some of his other talents. Stewart does impressions of notable sports figures like former Alabama quarterback Kenny Stabler and football coach Gene Stallings.
“I really enjoy public speaking. It gives me a chance to meet people and have some fun,” he said.
In addition to his work with the Crimson Tide Sports Network, Stewart serves as a marketing consultant with the corporate office for Bama Fever/Team Fever. Next week he will launch his own website www.chrisstewartsports.com.
You can read more from Hunter Ford at his blog Alagonzo.blogspot.com. Ford’s columns also appear in Bessemer’s Western Star newspaper.