Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Take The Field

I decided to venture down into the rabbit hole that is "looking at Michigan football videos on Youtube"--a venture which usually starts with Wolverine Historian and somehow ends with me watching highlights from some Clemson game in the 1980s while "Comin' to Your City" blares ironically but depressingly in a second window. Football: please come back.

Anyway, when I was writing that Samuel L joke for yesterday's post, I decided to search for videos in which Carl Grapentine's voice is easy to hear, just because I needed a reminder of what standard issue Grapentine cadence and diction might sound like. I found this one from the UMass game in 2010.

To make a long story short, I went ahead and searched his name and found the above video of him doing a morning radio show in Oak Park, IL (which I had no idea he did). In fact, I realized that I really knew nothing about Carl Grapentine other than the fact that he is the one who dispassionately yet masterfully narrates what takes place in the Big House on fall Saturdays.

I watched and listened; it's truly amazing how starved for college football you can really get. Here I was, watching a video of Carl Grapentine doing a morning show, detailing the day's weather and various developments in the news--Hosni Mubarak, at that point--and I could close my eyes and feel as if I was in the Big House. Mubarak steps down, the Egyptian people on the coverage. It's 3rd down and democracy. 

I swear, I watched the above video and for a second felt like I was in the Big House as Grapentine talked about the weather, African-American composers and performers, and Hosni Mubarak. Whether you like him or not...that's a voice. You and I talk and make noises that are generally consistent in pitch, loudness, and expressiveness, but that doesn't mean that we have a voice. Having a voice is about as inherent as having 4.3 speed, and that's why Grapentine does what he does.

Another point, one that I'm not sure that I like so much: watching this video was my first time seeing Grapentine in the flesh. I sort of enjoyed not knowing what he looked like. To this day, I still have no idea what Howard King looks like. In a way, knowing what he looks like kind of spoils things a bit, deconstructs a bit of the romanticism, I guess, like telling someone how a card trick works. His voice used to be an entity in and of itself, detached from corporeal reality, as if it literally came from up above. I think I'll survive, though.

I know there are some anti-Grapentine folks out there in the fan base. I'm not really sure why that is the case. To be quite honest, Grapentine is about as purely Michigan as a football PA guy could be. I've always thought his understated not-quite-detachment but not-quite-boorish-WHO-WANTS-FREE-PIZZAAAAA to be the perfect blend of dignity, emotion, and narration. Grapentine has a smooth NPR-ish voice, exuding class and maybe even a little pretentiousness (both linchpins of the Michigan Man's persona). It's a voice capable of providing the historical background behind whatever the MMB's halftime show is based on that day, while also saying "Touchdown Michigan" in just about as perfect a manner as possible.

It's no wonder that the NPR descriptor comes to my mind, as apparently others agree that he has a voice for radio. I had no learn something new every day. In any case, like the "master blues men," I hope that Grapentine will be practicing his craft in the Big House for many years to come. There are few things more rewarding in sports than the Big House crowd going wild after a Denard touchdown, with Grapentine waiting a few seconds to say those glorious words amongst the din: Touchdown Michigan. 


  1. 98.7 FM is Chicago's primary classical music station and he's the morning DJ. Anyone who hates Carl should be catapulted out of the Stadium.

  2. Yeah, I honestly had no idea about that before I wrote this post. Hey, who said the offseason is completely terrible...I'm learning all sorts of things here. That's awesome, especially since I'm going to be moving to Chicago this fall. I'm definitely going to have to make 98.7 part of my morning routine.

    And yes, I absolutely agree with your punishment-by-catapulting idea. Carl is the man.

  3. Thanks for your kind words. This will be my 7th season calling the game--and my 43rd season (!) announcing for the Michigan Marching Band.

    Go Blue!


  4. Oh boy. Mr. Grapentine, thank YOU. I am a recent grad (Class of 2011), and many--if not all--of my favorite Michigan football moments from my time as an undergrad are marked by fond memories of your expert narration. Thank you for your many years of dedication to the university and the Michigan football tradition (this post is admittedly a meager tribute to that, at best). You are a consummate professional, and I could not imagine anybody else doing what you do as well as you do it.

    I look forward to hearing you calling games in the Big House again this fall. Hopefully "Touchdown Michigan" is a common refrain. Go Blue!

    1. And thanks again! I appreciate the support. Believe me, there is no place in all the world I'd rather be than in that seat in the press box on a Saturday afternoon in the fall. There's nothing like it. :-)

      I concur in your wish for my "Michigan Touchdown" to be a common refrain this fall. Go Blue!

    2. Hi Mr Grapentine,
      I was in the Michigan Marching Band from 2001 through the 2004 Rose Bowl and it was always a joy to have you with us, both at home and on away trips. We all really appreciated the time and effort you put in, driving all the way from Chicago just to announce our shows. We couldn't have been happier for you when you became the full time announcer. Your voice belongs in that stadium, and I still get chills when I hear "BAAAANNND.... TAKE THE FIELD!" All the best.
      Kiel Wolfangel
      MMB Euph 2001-2004

  5. One needs only travel around the Big Ten with Michigan to realize what a gem we have in the PA booth. Even the better ones (e.g., Illinois) can't match Carl's professionalism and gravitas, and there are some (e.g., Indiana) who are such huge "homers" that it makes you want to puke. It's somehow fitting that college football's winningest program has its best stadium PA voice.