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Calling basketball games with grandpa


Jess Field / Petersburg Pilot

KFSK radio volunteers Debbie Thompson (left to right), Brayden Larson and Joe Bertagnoli announcing basketball action on Saturday morning as the Lady Vikings took on the Metlakatla Miss Chiefs.

Joe Bertagnoli knows the inherent difficulties of trying to announce a basketball game live on the radio all by himself. Bertagnoli has called a couple different sports for KFSK, including baseball and basketball, and last year he was the only voice listeners tuning into basketball games on the radio heard. However, this season, he has someone to help call games and banter with at times, his grandson Brayden Larson.

Early in the basketball season Bertagnoli asked Larson and his friend Thomas Durkin if they wanted to be on the radio. Bertagnoli admits the gesture was more of a joke than serious invitation, but Durkin jumped at the opportunity and helped call the first half of a game. Then Larson, motivated by his friend's fearlessness to hop on live radio stepped in for the second half.

Durkin continued to help announce during the tournament, but since then it has been all Larson. The rest as they say is history.

"I like watching basketball a lot, so it's easy to sit up there and announce it while I watch," Larson says. "I just like basketball."

Being in the booth is not always smooth sailing for Larson. He says the games go by faster than he would like and watching the action on the court makes him want to grab a ball and play. Larson might be young, he's only an eighth grader, but his knowledge of the game keeps his grandfather on his toes. Bertagnoli gets a big grin while referring to his grandson as "the little basketball Einstein."

"I know basketball, I've been around it but he knows the lingo," he says. "He lives with a basketball, he sleeps with a basketball."

The beauty of the partnership is Larson handles the action involving Petersburg players, allowing Bertagnoli to focus on announcing for the visiting team. If the away team goes up for a shot and there's a foul, Bertagnoli can tell the audience how the foul occurred, then Larson steps in to say which Viking committed the foul.

"We alternate in and out, and we flow pretty good," Bertagnoli says. "He doesn't even have to look at a program. He knows who's who and what's what."

Bertagnoli is just a fan of radio in general, but he says listening to the boys play in Metlakatla last weekend was "pretty dry." The announcers only called names of players, painting a very plain picture of the game for listeners. He is well aware most announcers are often inexperienced volunteers, but the experience prompted Bertagnoli to joke with KFSK general manager Tom Abbott, to bump up the budget so he and his grandson could hit the road to call away games for Petersburg. Abbott politely laughed at the suggestion, he says.

During games Abbott will be broadcasting from the studio, offering him the ability to interact with Bertagnoli and Larson, which can give the listeners at home an interesting experience. Abbott can instigate banter between grandfather and grandson when he sees an opening, something that Larson really likes. Larson says Abbott talking with them is cool and that he is pretty funny, a fact Bertagnoli agrees with.

"We bring up something and then Tom will burst out with his Abbott cackle," Bertagnoli says laughing.

Abbott says the feedback from broadcasts this season has been fantastic. The goal of announcing games is to make the audience feel like they are a part of a conversation, something the pair is nailing so far, he says.

"We've been doing this for years but I think it's the combination of a grandfather and grandson that's really kind of hit the heartstrings of people," Abbott says. "It's really kind of special."

Last Thursday night, during the Petersburg vs. Haines game, Abbott received a couple phone calls from listeners in Haines saying how remarkably candid the announcers were being while playfully taking jabs at each other. Abbott says earlier in the season he also received gratitude from a caller streaming games in Montana. The caller expressed how wonderful they thought the announcing sounded.

"It really is a beautiful, small town, community radio thing, that is really special," Abbott says. "And the fact that they are volunteering is huge."

Abbott and Bertagnoli are quick to point out the effort of fellow volunteer Debbie Thompson, who keeps stats during the games.

Larson says a couple of classmates have told him how cool it was hearing him on the radio. At first he was a little nervous, but now it is just about making conversation with his grandfather and watching basketball. As of right now, Larson is thinking of making a career out of announcing basketball, and maybe calling college games in the future or possibly becoming a sports physician.

Sports seems to be in the young man's blood. Unfortunately, for Viking fans, the pair is done calling games together this season. Bertagnoli will be out of town next weekend when Petersburg takes on Craig.


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