WASHINGTON – Fans who have attended sporting events at American, Georgetown and Howard universities have likely heard Shellie Bowers’ voice.
It’s the one blaring on the speakers, calling the shots, penalties and halftime announcements. Known for being on top of his p’s and q’s, Bowers pronounces umpteen-syllable names with clarity and adds a little flair with rhymes.
Bowers is the contracted announcer for colleges and D.C. public schools throughout the Washington area. He worked for DCPS before he became a full-time announcer. He announces just about every sport — namely men and women’s lacrosse, soccer, basketball, baseball and football.
On March 11, he’ll announce the Inaugural D.C. State Athletic Association basketball championship games at the Verizon Center. Bowers, 50, was born in northeast D.C. He started studying radio at age 19 and has worked for Radio One, the parent company of WKYS 93.9 FM, WMMJ “Majic” 102.3 FM, WOL 1450 AM and WYCB 1340 AM.
WTOP Living sat on the bench with Bowers on Feb. 23 as he announced a Howard home game in Burr Gymnasium. The Lady Bisons played Coppin State University’s Lady Eagles, with Howard losing 71-64.
What’re you doing now?
I’m pre-reading the announcements, deciding where I’m going to say what. This, (holds up announcement papers) this is written for print. It’s too long. This is a basketball game. People want me to be done quick. I’ll edit it mentally, like, on the fly while I’m reading it.
How do you decide when to announce what during the game?
We’re in the Mid-East Athletic Conference, and each school’s required to announce these (holds up six briefs to read) twice in each game.
I’m reviewing the pronunciation of the names of all the players cause I’ll call out those starter’s names.
Do you memorize players’ names?
The Howard girls’, yes, cause I announce here so often. Fortunately, the other team doesn’t have any hard-to-pronounce names. So I’m sitting pretty today.
When did you start announcing?
In college. The way people react to the things you say on the microphone…gives you a rush, you know?
(He begins to announce: And now ladies and gentleman, we ask that you please rise for the national anthem.)
National anthem plays.
(Announces: Ladies and gentleman, today’s Mid-Eastern Conference match-up features the Lady Eagles of Coppin State against your Lady Bisons!)
That DJ needs to turn it down. It’s bad enough I gotta compete with the band, you know? They get loud. Excuse me for ranting. Sorry, WTOP, for getting my rant on.
When do you make game commentary?
Cause I got so much to read, any time I got a time-out I gotta read and squeeze something in. And any time there’s a basket, a foul.
No. (Laughs) That’d be too much.
What percentage of the time do you talk during the game?
About 50 percent of the time. I don’t like talking anymore than I have to. People come here to watch a basketball game, not to hear the announcer.
Have you been to games where too much is announced?
(Announces: Howard foul charged to number 13 Saadia Doyle.)
In your opinion what’s too much?
Like on a high school level you’ll hear some announcers talking, especially at football games, you’ll hear the announcers talking while the play is going on. That’s a big no-no. That irks me.
Cause it’s distracting?
To the players even.
Exactly, exactly. You’re not supposed to talk until the play is over. So when they call fouls. I look down at the young lady over there. (Points) She’s the bookkeeper. She’ll stick out her fingers so I know how many fouls. I identify personal and team fouls.
(Announces: Three-point basket by Leola Spotwood.)
You must have really good eye sight.
Well, whenever the game’s going on I have my eyes on the floor. Whenever the referee blows the whistle, first thing I do is look for a referee cause that means I’m about to call something.
So are you familiar with…
(Announces: Cheyenne Curly-Payne.)
Are you familiar with every rule in all of these games?
Not all. I played everything when I was a kid — basketball, football, baseball, soccer. But once I got to high school, I focused on baseball cause that’s what I was good at.
(Announces: Basket by Shawntae Payne.)
The first media time-out is coming up in about 25 seconds. I’ll do my first announcement.
So you’re mostly familiar with the game by virtue of watching it.
Yeah. Mhm. And then I been doing it long enough…
(Announces: Time-out on the floor. ESPNU is proud to be the official national broadcast partner…)
(Points at band.) When I finish reading, I point to the band director to let him know that he can start playing.
What’s your favorite sport to announce?
Baseball’s my favorite sport, but probably football would be my favorite to announce cause it’s the fall. Most of your school spirit is during the fall — homecoming and all that stuff. Going to a Howard homecoming game is the ultimate because it’s always packed, standing room only, you never know who’s going to show up celebrity-wise.
What’s so great about Howard homecoming?
People who don’t have anything to do with Howard will come from all over D.C. just to attend Howard homecoming just for the social aspect.
(Announces: Time-out on the floor. Ladies and gentleman, if you get hungry this afternoon…)
You memorized that one.
Cause I do it every game. It’s not written down. (Buzzer) I could tell you some funny stories about working here. Howard, I’d say, about seven years ago, had this assistant coach for the women’s team. She’s younger than me. But she was hot like I dunno what. So the referee came over to me and said, ‘Hey man, give a shout out to Kim for me.’ And I was like, ‘Dude, you’re older than me!’ (Laughs)
(Announces: Basket by Janelle Lane.)
So you get requests from just about everybody?
See, that’s the thing…not to toot my own horn, but when people like the way you sound, they wanna come to you and ask for announcements and everything. Really, some of these announcements ain’t nothing but shout-outs. And so…
(Announces: Basket by Leola Spotwood.)
I gotta disguise them and not make them sound like shout-outs. For example, if I say ‘I wanna give a shout out to Keith Pugh,’ then everybody and their mama…
(Announces: Saadia Doyle!)
…then everybody and there mama’s gonna come over here and say ‘Man, I want a shout-out.’ (Pauses) This hum is killing me.
You mean the speaker feedback when you turn the mic on?
Yeah. I’m an audio person. I’m sensitive to sound. That was my first love in radio. When I first started in radio I was doing production cause I have a fondness for sound. I like to play around with sounds. If you hear me work a football game, you’ll hear me play different sound effects cause I just love various sounds.
(Announces: Checking into the ball game number 34 — he looks down — Portia Deterville.)
Every girl on Howard, I got their name memorized so I don’t have to look at the roster. But I have to look at the roster when she, number 34, goes in the game cause she’s got a twin sister on the team. I can’t distinguish the two of them. And their numbers are so close to each other. One 32, the other 34. (Laughs) You’d think they’d give one like 40 and the other 10 — make it easier on me.
Why do you like announcing so much?
When I was coming up at (Woodrow) Wilson (Senior High School), I was arguably the shyest person at the school. I knew I wanted to major in television broadcast, but I was a mass comm major. First time I got on the radio, it was a big thrill for me because it gave me a chance to come out of my shell and a chance to open up and express myself in a way I’d never been able to do before. And being on the radio led to other opportunities. Plus I’m a sports freak. So when I got laid off from the school system a year and a half ago, I just decided to sell myself as an announcer to all the local schools. So I’ve been a contractor for the last couple of years for all these schools now.
(Announces: Open house Coca-Cola is the sponsor…)
That was short. You’re not wasting anybody’s time.
Right. Media timeouts are only 60 seconds long so I gotta jump on it and do my announcements, get my 20-seconds worth and give the bands 40 seconds.
I’m not sure anyone understands the dynamics of your job like that. What would you say you definitely need to know how to do as an announcer?
I gotta be on top of my p’s and q’s. You gotta be early cause games start when they start. You gotta be able to read well and annunciate. You gotta take care of your voice. Because I do so many schools, I’m bouncing around from place to place each week. When I go home tonight I’ll drink some tea cause tomorrow morning I gotta be up at AU for an 11 o’clock game.
What’s the worst mistake you ever made?
(Laughs) Howard University’s president and his wife, they’re both doctors and I didn’t know the wife’s first name. So I didn’t know how to say Dr. Ribeau, Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Ribeau, or Dr. Ribeau and Dr. Ribeau, or Mr. President and First Lady Dr. Ribeau. Every once in a while, too, you’ll get a player whose name has umpteen syllables in it.
What ended up happening?
The president’s wife sorta laughed it off. She understood.
(Announces: Checking into the ball game for the Lady Bisons, number 24, Imani Bailey.)
Because of March Madness is there more demand for you?
I have a lot more assignments coming up not necessarily because of March Madness, but because of the transition between winter and spring sports. For example, I’m doing basketball, lacrosse and baseball all within the next week.
(Announces: One minute left in the half. One minute.)
Do you do anything else besides this?
At one point I was doing a nine to five and doing this until the school system let me go. Because I’m a freelancer now, I’ve gotten so many more assignments. I do stuff for people who put on tournaments and showcases.
(Announces: Cheyenne Curley-Payne. Buzzer. As they enter the first half, the score Coppin State 32, Howard 29.)
Is doing just this sustainable?
Not even close. I’m nowhere near retirement. So if WTOP is hiring, tell them to give me a holler.
Editor’s Note: Slice of Life is a Sunday feature, in which WTOP Living talks with people in the community to find out their stories, passions and what motivates them every day. Nominate someone to be featured in a Slice of Life by emailing Living Editor Stephanie Steinberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.