‘Shazam!’ Behind-the-scenes look at Suns radio broadcasting playoff games during pandemic

Al McCoy (left) and Jon Bloom were able to broadcast a Suns game courtside before the pandemic. COVID-19 forced radio broadcasters to call games from remote locations. (Photo courtesy of Jon Bloom)

Marco Peralta (left), Arturo Ochoa (center) and Juan Urresti broadcast Suns game in Spanish for La Mejor 106.5 FM, 1400 AM and are excited about the postseason run. (Photo by Marco Peralta)

(Audio by David Payne/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – NBA players and coaches have said the playoffs are a different kind of game compared to the regular season. The pressure. The hype. The excitement. Many young Phoenix Suns players are experiencing it for the first time as they continue to play in the Western Conference Finals.

But there’s another group feeling similar pressure, hype and excitement, too: radio broadcasters.

Al McCoy has been broadcasting Suns basketball games for almost 50 years. Countless Arizonans grew up hearing his “Shazam!” call after a successful shot. McCoy, 88, has been a part of multiple playoff runs and he’s excited the team’s back.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” McCoy said. “You know, it’s easy to forget about all the years the Suns were in the playoffs, the two years the Suns went all the way to the NBA finals. So it’s kind of nice to recall those memories and be back on track with playoff competition.”

Suns fans know. Eleven years have passed since the team last played in the postseason. During the 2009-10 season, the Suns made it to the Western Conference Finals but were ousted by the Los Angeles Lakers. This year, they beat LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round in six games and swept the Denver Nuggets in four.

Related story

Jon Bloom has been a Suns broadcaster for 14 years and believes this year’s team is bringing a new generation of fans.

“I’m getting to see this through my kid’s eyes,” Bloom said. “You know, 10 years ago, 11 years ago, when the Suns were last in the playoffs, I had basically an infant and a toddler. And now they’re at the ages, almost both teenagers, where they can really appreciate why dad is such a freak of nature for this basketball team.”

Broadcasting games in the playoffs is exciting and brings people together but with all the coronavirus pandemic brought, calling games on the radio isn’t quite the same. Typically, broadcasters are courtside witnessing the action. They would be able to see and hear everything happening on the court, on each team’s bench and in the crowd.

Now, radio broadcasters watch television monitors in conference rooms instead of from the arena, yet they are still tasked with helping listeners visualize the game.

“We’re trying to paint the picture,” said Bloom, who’s a jack-of-all-trades and helps with play-by-play, pregame, halftime and post game shows for the Suns radio broadcast.

“On television, it’s different. … The announcers, when they’re describing the action, a lot of times they’re just having a conversation because they know you have the images,” he said. “But when you’re calling for a radio audience, it’s a whole different craft, or I like to call it an art form. And in some cases, this feels like a painter being told to paint the portrait without a paint brush. It’s pretty tricky when you don’t have all the images and yet you’re charged with describing them.”

Juan Urresti, 29, is newer to Suns radio broadcasting. It’s his first year as a color analyst for the Spanish broadcast on La Mejor 106.5 FM and 1400 AM in Phoenix. He works alongside Arturo Ochoa, who has delivered Suns radio play-by-play in Spanish since 2004.

“Any reason that you cannot watch the game, you want to listen to the game. Feel like you’re watching it and understand what’s happening,” Urresti said. “I think that’s what really is our job, you know, on the radio, to picture and build an image on people’s minds.”

The Suns’ playoff run has brought many people together, including those in the Hispanic community. Over 40% of Phoenix’s population is Hispanic, according to Census data from 2020.

“It feels really awesome to be part of this community,” Urresti said. “You know, everyone came out from the rocks they were hiding probably for so many years that we haven’t been in (the) playoffs… And you feel good when you see that, you see that the job is being done and it has helped the team and also the community to be part of this.”

When it comes to the pressure and nerves building up to call a playoff game, veterans McCoy and Bloom said they don’t feel them anymore. Urresti and Marco Peralta, 22, who hosts the pregame, halftime and postgame show in Spanish for La Mejor 106.5 FM and 1400 AM, are both in their first year doing Suns radio broadcasting.

“When I first came in it was all nerves,” Peralta said. “ But the excitement of the opportunity to be on the call and to be helping out with a great organization like the Phoenix Suns is something very special.”

David Payne day-vidh payn (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

David Payne expects to graduate in August 2021 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Payne will be a digital and audio reporter for Cronkite News this summer.