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Bryant Johnson Q&A: Virginia Tech Broadcaster Discusses His Career and How COVID-19 Has Affected It

By Joey Robertson | November 20
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The virus has had a huge impact on the world of sports. There has been plenty of coverage on how all of the athletes have been affected by the shutdown of their sport. However, there hasn’t been any coverage about how the members of the media in sports were affected. Broadcasters from across the nation have been laid off or furloughed due to the virus.

A broadcaster that knows the hardships that have come from being without a job for the past six months is Bryant Johnson. Johnson is currently the play-by-play voice for Women’s Basketball and Baseball at Virginia Tech. Johnson joined the Hokies in 2019 after coming from Nicholls State, where he served four seasons as the “Voice of the Colonels” and assistant athletic director of communications. Johnson was in his first season with the Hokies when the ACC announced that they were shutting down all sports back in March.

Johnson was very concerned after the shutdown took effect. “There was nothing revealed to me and there still hasn’t been anything revealed to me yet,” Said Johnson after he has now been job-less for the past 6 months. “I just want to get going again.”

What was your first reaction to the shutdown of sports? What was going through your head?

What’s next? What are we planning for that will alleviate the possibility of this being a permanent problem? There continues to be not a lot of guidance for worst case scenarios. People say that they don’t want to think about those situations because it will induce panic. Panic is the result of failure to plan and we are waiting for leadership to provide some type of procedure or policy that will prepare us for what comes next.

Are we doing remote only broadcasts? What are going to be the differences between each of the conferences? The failure to have some type of policy nationwide, has led to this point. The BIG 10, PAC 12 and Mountain West conferences are trying to get back into the game now. Having that type of fractured failure was at the forefront of my mind. It didn’t seem like it was going to be a month and then we were going to be back.

How has not calling games, which is something that you love to do, made you feel during this time?

It makes me feel like I don’t have a purpose. I can say to myself that I’m going to invest my time into reading books. Great. Well that lasted until about June. It makes it difficult to stay upbeat during this time. “we’ll call you when we need you” is what these networks say. It’s great when there’s games. But when there are no games, there just isn’t that day to day interaction that makes me feel like I’m contributing towards something.

I know these circumstances aren’t permanent and I know that at some point, we will be back in business. I just want to do more than just interview a few of our players on zoom. I let our players know that as a broadcaster, I am in it with you guys and that I will be ready to cover your story whenever that day arrives.

Are you anxious to get back at it?

Yes, very anxious. I don’t do this job for the financial benefits. I don’t do this job to make everyone look at me and look at how good I am. There is a 1% in this industry and we see them on ESPN almost nightly. There’s a group of men and women that are just in a different realm. The middle class of broadcasting has a lot of overlap with the lower level and even with people who are on the cusp of what we view greatness as.

Much of this industry has lost its full time potential, so we are all trying to partner with whoever wants us. It doesn’t matter what sport or what school. It is about how can I contribute or how can I cover your team while adding something extra? When there are no games, everybody is kind of insulated. That makes my wheels spin a little bit and I just want to feel productive again.

What were some other ways that you found to stay seasoned at your craft of broadcasting?

I think a lot of it is just trying to find a creative outlet. I have to put trust in what I’ve done, the reps that I’ve had, and the familiarity that exists when I sit in that seat up in the booth. The seven months off doesn’t make me concerned about what it’s going to be like when I call the Virginia Tech versus North Carolina Volleyball game next week. Some creative outlets for me have been making videos for my family members, doing interviews with them, and bringing their stories into a modern-day element. I would’ve never been able to make a feature video for my mom’s 70th birthday if I was in Louisville calling baseball games.

The time off has at least given me a little motivation to take my creative energy and funnel it somewhere. A lot of people think that we as broadcasters, need to stay relevant during this absence. They ask us “what are you doing to keep your name in the conversation?” If your able to write a blog or start a podcast and it generates interest, great. Now a lot of broadcasters are just going over COVID-19 policies.

We all lived through it. We know what happened. I don’t want to hear about the mask policy during the games. I want to stick to the storylines of the game. I don’t want to replay the what we have been dealing with for the past six months. I know that I have to make my moments matter. If my big moment is going to be 1 ACC Volleyball game, then that is going to be my Superbowl.

You said that you’re covering that ACC Volleyball game coming up soon. Are you covering any other games and what will those broadcasts look like?

I am covering that game and then I think I have one soccer match later on in the fall. It’s all so fluid because the ACC Network understandably is taking every live game and blasting it. The in-house operation that I am used to is going to change dramatically. We are still in charge of the production, but the ACC has a play-by-play guy sitting somewhere remotely calling the game.

The HokieVision team and the ACC network team would normally produce these games but now the big networks are picking up every that it being televised and putting it on the network to be broadcasted everywhere.

Is there a dream job that you’re going for in the broadcasting industry?

I don’t have one. I never have had one and it’s been the best decision mentally that I’ve made because it means that whatever I’m doing at the moment is my dream job. I don’t have to plan for what’s next because I’m living it. If your Joe Davis, Adam Amin, or Jon Laaser then you better have an endgame because they’re that good.

The broadcasters that either stumbled into the industry like I did or started their career path in some other facet of the industry, there is no dream job in sight. When I realized this is what I want to do forever, it wasn’t with a finish line in mind. I didn’t go into the industry gunning for Bob Costas or Jim Nantz. I wanted to find a way to make what I was doing permanent.

I don’t want to just be somebody that comes in and calls Women’s Basketball. I want the voice of Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball to be right up there on the level of professionalism that the voice of our football and Men’s basketball team does. It’s so much more intertwined here. When you’ve seen what it looks like at other places and the lack of stability that exists everywhere right now, the game has changed. Whatever we think our dream is, the reality is pretty rude right now.

What is your favorite part of your job as a broadcaster?

The people. There’s always this point where I feel like there’s an understanding that has been reached. They get me and I get them. Everything else that comes with that is a bonus. The trips, the hotels, and the gameday atmospheres are all bonuses. The players are my boss, the coaches and managers are my boss, and the parents of those people are also my boss. If they don’t like what I’m doing, then they can get rid of me. When the family members of players and coaches are telling me that I’m doing a great job, it’s one of the most rewarding feelings. It changes the way I perceive my job.

That’s what makes my last broadcast back in March so rich. I was calling the George Mason versus Virginia Tech Baseball game which was the last game on campus before the shutdown. The atmosphere that day was just very eerie, and I could almost tell that something bad was coming down the pipes. Right before I went on the air, Coach Szefc’s dad comes into the booth and tells me great job and to keep up the good work. It gave me that feeling of this is why I do my job. I remember just feeling at peace for the rest of that broadcast because of that moment.