WALLA WALLA — The voice of the Walla Walla Sweets may be new this year. But chances are you’ve probably heard it.
Howard Hoffman, signed as the Sweets’ play-by-play broadcaster for the 2013 season, has not only had a 40-year career in radio spanning New York to California, he’s also the voice behind an impressive array of commercials.
For REI, he’s the guy who says “Out is in.” He called Alpha-Bits cereal “part of this good breakfast.” He argued about football with Jack from Jack in the Box in an ad for the chain’s ultimate cheeseburger. For a Bud Light TV spot he was the play-by-play announcer reveling as “The Bomber” called his shot.
His journey to Walla Walla last October is yet another story in how the economy has altered paths. But here the “master of microphone technique” has set up his own in-home studio where he broadcasts his Top 40 “Great Big Radio show, continues with voiceover work and now will make his play-by-play debut.
The position is an important one for the Sweets, said Sweets Senior Director of Operations Katie Baxter. “For everybody who can’t be at Borleske Stadium he’s going to be the person who paints the picture of the game,” she said Thursday after the announcement.
Since the inaugural season, the Sweets have had two play-by-play announcers — Andrew Allegretta during the first season, and Tristan Hobbs over the last two years. Ideally, Hoffman will fill the role permanently while up-and-coming radio talent is developed under him through internships, Baxter said.
In addition to calling the games, Hoffman will lead media coordination, working through social networks, radio advertising and with the press.
“We have been fortunate as a team to have talented broadcasters every season, and Howard is no different,” said Sweets Vice President and General Manager Zachary Fraser, in the announcement. “With Howard’s level of experience in radio and his enthusiasm for the game of baseball our fans can expect another exceptional season of broadcasting.”
Though a longtime radio veteran who started his radio career in 1971, Hoffman said during a telephone interview this morning he has a serious learning curve with baseball.
A tried-and-true baseball fan since childhood, he spent two years working ads for the L.A. Dodgers. “But doing play-by-play on the radio is a totally different animal,” he said.
During a trip to L.A. to wrap up some loose ends after his move, he’s gotten a crash-course from friend Ken Levine, Emmy winning writer, director and producer and Major League Baseball announcer who’s been the voice of the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres. Together the two watched ball games with the sound down, practicing describing the plays.
“When you’re watching the game you really have to immerse yourself,” Hoffman said. “You have to know if the batter’s right-handed and describer what happens he faces batters from a certain direction.
“I’ve got three months. It’s going to be a lot of homework.”
Hoffman hopes to tap fans through social media to help participate in the calls. During home games, he encourages people in the crowds with smart phones to Tweet about what they see. “It’s just something that I said to myself, ‘Why not pull the fans in?’” the self-described “tech head” said.
Hoffman said he’s already picked up on the passion for the club in the community. It’s just one example of what he loves about living in a small town. The move, he said, has been an easy adjustment after a difficult time. Before moving here, Hoffman had spent about 17 years as creative/production director at KABC Radio in L.A. The operation changed hands several times, and during the last changeover, Hoffman was cut from the roster in a move to reduce operating costs.
He and his wife, Bonnie, stayed in L.A. another year before deciding to move to Walla Walla, the middle point between Bonnie’s hometown of Kennewick and Pullman, where her own venture “Bonnie’s Survival Cookies” had been incorporated into the curriculum at her alma mater.
“Every time we went to Washington state we visited friends in Walla Walla. Every time I just feel in love with it,” Hoffman said.
“It’s everything I thought it would be and more.”