By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Jan 12, 2015 at 9:08 AM

Ted Davis began his broadcasting career in Texas at KDNT radio at the young age of 17 and he came to Milwaukee in 1997 following nine seasons calling the action for the Dallas Mavericks. So, needless to say, Davis has honed his craft on hundreds of games and thousands of calls. He's seen a lot and developed a style that Wisconsin sports fans have come to know and appreciate. 

The two-time Milwaukee Achievement In Radio play-by-play broadcaster of the year sat down with me at the Wisconsin Club last month to talk life, broadcasting, basketball and more. Give us, please, the two-minute overview, the Ted Davis story.  

Ted Davis:  I grew up in West Texas, in the flattest place on earth, Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech University is there, and they had a guy – Jack Dale – doing their football and basketball games. In fact, he was there for 50 years. Nobody here would know him, but I remember listening to him as a kid. And when I say kid, I'm talking under 10 years old. And I thought, "wow, that really would be a fun way to make a living."

We had season tickets to the football and basketball games, so I would go to the games, especially basketball, and I got to watch him as much as I watched the game because he was right there court side.

I also understood the economic model of him getting paid to go see a game that I'm paying to go see. So I thought, "get paid to go to sports, that would be fun." So, one time when I was probably 11-12 years old, I just decided to try to go down and sit by him. I marched right up to him and there was a seat open, believe it or not, so I walked right in, didn't have a (press) pass or anything, sat down next to him … for the entire first half and they brought by stat sheets and everything else. By half time they (even) brought hot dogs by.

My parents were worried because I just disappeared, so I went back to sit with them for the second half and they had noticed where I was and just thought it was hilarious.

Years later, the funny part about this story is when I did the Southwest Conference Games for the TCU Horned Frogs in Texas A&M, Jack Dale was still doing games. I did a game with him, actually, and I told him that story. He thought it was hilarious that nobody moved me, but that's what got me interested in doing (what I do).

OMC:  So, play by play was a bit of a calling?

TD:  Yep. It’s not uncommon.  One thing led to another. I started doing high school football in Texas. From there, I moved to doing college football, like I said, for TCU and Texas A&M and then I started to doing part-time work for the Dallas Mavericks in 1984. 

And due to expansion, I got a chance to go full-time because the guy in San Antonio moved to Miami when the Heat came in in '88 and a guy in Dallas went to the opening in San Antonio, so the job opened in Dallas and they hired me full-time in '88. So that's how I got into the NBA.

OMC:  Did you have other mentors or idols growing up? Obviously, you mentioned Jack Dale.

TD:  Growing up in Lubbock, I would go in my room and I had a radio with this antenna that I stuck way up outside of my window. I could probably get 10 baseball broadcasts from where I was. I could get Harry Caray out of St. Louis. I could get the Royals, the White Sox, Cubs, the Minnesota Twins. I could hear the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, and the best was there was a Spanish station somewhere between me and L.A. And at 10 p.m., it went off the air.

When the Dodgers were playing on the West Coast, they were on a station KFI, which was a 50,000-watt blowtorch. And after 10 p.m., about the second or third inning when the Dodgers were home, I could hear Vin Scully, and he would fade in and out sometimes, but for the most part I could hear it. And so, yeah, all those guys you kind of listen to and I think you like what they do, but the biggest thing you have to do in this business is develop your own style and be comfortable with that and not try to emulate anybody else.

I borrow phrases that I've heard various guys use, but in terms of developing your own personality on the air and your own style, that has to come from you.

OMC: Obviously, you have your catch phrase "in the bank or earning interest."

TD: In the bank earning interest.

OMC: Was that something at the Mavs that you used?

TD: It was at the Mavs. Sadly, I didn't use it that much during my time.

OMC: You were there in the early years of the franchise.

TD: I was there for the dark years. But yeah, there's that and also some of the nicknames I've  come up with. I used "The Alphabet" for (Giannis) Antetokounmpo and the genesis of that was I was at draft night, and I've never heard of him. Never heard of this kid. And so we have the 15th pick and I'm sitting there at the Cousins Center and it comes up on the screen that we picked him and look at that name that just goes on forever and I thought, "oh my gosh, I'm going to have to learn how to say this name. I said, "it looks like the alphabet" and I thought, "OK, that's it."

OMC: There you go.

TD: Khris Middleton is "Deuces," Nate Wolters is the "Jackrabbit" as he went to South Dakota State. So they (the nicknames) kind of come to me. People tell me I need to come up with one for Jabari (Parker) and I haven't yet and I don't think you force these things. If you don't have one, don't use it. So far, I haven't been able to come up with one for him.

OMC: Did you play basketball?

TD: Not competitively. I was very small when I was in junior high and high school, and I'm not big now. Post high school, I started playing pick-up games at a health club for about 10 years between ages of 31 and 41, and we had an interesting group of people. I was working for the Mavericks. 

Once Karl Malone came out and played with since he was living in Dallas at that time and he just wanted to run. One time on a fast break, I stopped and pulled up and hit a little jump shot over him. I would sometimes remind him of that and he would laugh.

OMC: I want to talk a little bit about broadcasting basketball versus the other sports on radio. What's the difference? I think people have their affinity to the baseball broadcast. That's the sport that really works on radio. What's the difference, what are the quirks and what have you learned through the years and then also how is technology changed the delivery, the mechanics of your sports and other sports?



TD:  The pace of basketball is very fast, obviously, so you have to be with the ball and you have to stay with the action, but you also need to do all the other stuff such as ticket promos, team promos, working in other scores, doing all the stuff you've got to do and working in a color guy at home to fit it all in. 

And I think the more you do it, the more you realize how to do it. One of the biggest difference is that baseball lends itself to storytelling more than other sports due to all the downtime.  

I did some Texas Rangers games as a fill-in when their main guy was sick. What I realized is I love the pace of baseball because it does lend itself to storytelling, but you can still do that in basketball by taking the opportunity to talk while free throws are being shot. You don't have to say every free throw is good unless it's late in the game and the game is on the line. There is a way that you can work in storytelling, you can work in personality, you can work in some fun during your broadcast and still keep up with the action. I think some young broadcasters coming in have trouble with that because all (they) want to do is follow the action.

When you you listen to my broadcast, especially when I'm home with Dennis (Krause) and we have some interaction going, nobody has more fun on a broadcast than we do. I mean, we have a good time and, look, I've always maintained that the whole thing we're in is entertainment. It's show biz. We're providing entertainment, so the broadcast needs to mirror what the team is trying to do, which is to present an overall entertaining product that makes people want to either buy it, watch it or listen to it.

And we can certainly be a part of that in terms of helping them promote the game, the sport, selling tickets, and the overall thing. I know that I am very good at dealing with all of those things in one package in a broadcast because I've done it a lot.

OMC: What are your thoughts on this year's team and where they're heading and how they're playing?

TD: I think Jason Kidd and his staff have done a great job of turning this team into a competitive team in a short period of time, and that's not easy to do when you've been a 15-win team and you go to the next year.

I think the players have bought into what they're doing. I think Kidd brings an instant respect factor that you have to weigh because he played not long ago. They know how good he was. They know he's a Hall of Famer and so they'll listen to what he has to say. They've got some good young pieces that if they grow, I think the goal of being a team that can compete deep into the playoffs in three to five years is attainable.

And what they're doing now is what the fan base had been wanting or calling to do for a long time and (former ownership) resisted it and I'm not knocking him (Senator Kohl) because he has his own business model where if they made it to playoffs, there was a difference between breaking even or slight profit or pulling money out of his pocket to meet expenses. So I don't knock him for that, but I think they've got to get out of that rut of being the seventh, eighth seed every year.  Try rebuilding, try going to the draft, try building and just see if it works.  So they're doing that now.

It would be great to have another high draft pick this year. I think they need one or two more pieces to go along with Antetokounmpo, Parker, Middleton and Knight. That core group of young guys that could be very good in three to five years. So if they add one more piece to that, then I think you're further along on the rebuilding process.

And what you want to do is get to the point where you get competitive enough to lure a free agent. I'm not talking about a LeBron or a Kobe, but I'm talking about a guy maybe on that second tier of free agents, not a superstar, but an all-star who will look at what you're doing here with new ownership, with maybe a new building, with deep pockets to do all of the things you got to do now to compete.  They'll look at the box and say, "you know, Milwaukee is now a place that I would consider in three to five years." And then that takes you to that next step. So they're in that process now and I think to be competitive this early is a good sign.


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OMC: Tell us a little bit about your show on AM 920 this year

TD: I’ve been doing a show for WSSP 1250 for about a year and a half. I was on "The Big Show," when AM 920 flipped (to sports).  They wanted to have a Milwaukee presence, so we started talking and we worked something out.

For me, it kind of goes back to what I did 25 years ago when I went to work for a radio station in Dallas. It was KVIL-FM and in fact Craig Karmazin's dad owned it. They had a legendary broadcaster down there - morning man program director overall director of that radio station named Ron Chapman. I went to work for him when I was 21, worked for him for 10 years before I went to the NBA.

It was the best learning experience I ever had, made me into a broadcaster. Not just a broadcaster, but a good one. It was the number one radio station in town for the entire time I was there. We were a ratings juggernaut. And he was the one who really stressed that you have to develop your own style, obviously, but you have to be entertaining when you go on the air because you can have the best information in the world and if you present it in a boring manner nobody cares. Nobody is going to listen.

So, two things. Be entertaining when you go on the air and be prepared when you go on the air. Never open with that microphone if you don't know where you're heading. Have a beginning, a middle, and most importantly know where you're going to finish. And so I did that for 10 years.

And then I got into the NBA, did a lot of play-by-play, but you still retain what you learn. So when I started doing talk shows again, I went back to what I had done for all those years at KVIL where I’d come up with topic ideas and try to present them in an entertaining way.
I'm good at reacting to what people say. I'm really quick with that, so I think that lends to my strengths and I think we do a very entertaining program.

I'm on from 2 to 4 p.m. and I think when people listen to it and I say give us six weeks. Give us six weeks of listening to us, if you don't like it, then fine, but I think if you give us six weeks, you will find that we do one of the most entertaining and informative shows in town and that's what's it's all about. Again, this is entertainment, show business.

OMC: Other than sports, are you a TV fan, you like to read and what are listening now?

TD: I like all kinds of music. I obviously grew up in the rock and roll era. What I find now is I tend to gravitate more toward, I wouldn't even call it country music, it's rock and roll with a cowboy hat – Jason Aldean, the Eli Young Band and I mean all these groups, even Keith Urban. I mean that's not country. That's rock and roll. So it's kind of where I am now in terms of my music.  

I like all kinds of movies and I often use movie references during games. I read a lot. I love all kinds of novels, usually fiction more than anything else, but I have my Kindle, my apps on iPad, read all the time, when I'm on the plane. So, from that point, there's a lot of time to kill on the road so you find a way to do it.

OMC: What about technology? What’s its influence on you and your profession?

TD: One of the things I do on my broadcast, and I started doing this about three years ago, I was not on Twitter three years ago, and the guys at were trying to convince me to do so. I was like, "what?" I didn't understand the whole concept of Twitter, like who cares what I'm doing or what I think in 140 characters and, come on. But they said you should do it because you need help to promote the broadcast.

So I did it, got on, and did my first tweet about three years ago, and then I started thinking, OK, why don't I use this actually during the broadcast where you can tweet me @nbated and I might use your tweet on the air. Give you shout out and it's really taken off. Even in the two bad years we had, Twitter was very active, and one thing I have always known is that people love to hear their names on the air because they feel like they're part of the broadcast. They love to tweet you, and Twitter is hilarious because it's unfiltered. Some of the tweets I can't read. Some of the handles I can't read, but this year has been incredibly active.

I remember our first pre-season broadcast from Green Bay. Normal broadcasts the last two years, I'd get like six, seven interactions at a time. When I checked during that game, I was getting 15, 20, 25 interactions at a time, so it shows you the interest is up because of the new ownership.

Social media is here to stay. Twitter has become where news gets broken. It's amazing that you don't go really to ESPN anymore. You don't go anywhere except – don't you get most of your news from Twitter?

I get tweets from everywhere. I mean, Europe, Finland, Australia, Africa, Iceland, and then all over this area. People have – this is Tom. I'm listening in New Berlin. And one of the things that I learned in the 10 years that I was at KVIL is how to connect with people in their backyard if you say, "hey, Tom is listening in New Berlin" or someone is listening in Milwaukee or in Madison, I get a lot of comments from people who are listening in their dorms maybe because they don't have TV in their dorm or whatever, but University of Minnesota, St. Norbert, Oshkosh, Marquette, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison, all over.  You really get an idea that not only are you reaching people here (in Wisconsin), but everywhere – they always call the NBA a global game. It really is now in terms of where people are getting you and it's also changed because of technology.

OMC: What are one or two things about the league you would change? Rules or whatever.

TD: I would shorten the season, but I understand why you can't. I think a lot of players have said 62 games would be perfect, but they're not going to make $20 million a year then. So there's a trade-off.

The owners then have to get enough money to make what they do. What you would have is you would have fewer back-to-backs, fewer four games in five days, five and seven and seven and 10 where you get to the end of that and you'll see a team just get blasted. It's usually because of the schedule. So I would say 62 games, but I understand why it can't happen.

And let me see, what else? I wish it weren't such a star-driven league, but I know why it is. Baseball can turn things around without having a superstar. You'll be a decent baseball team if you get some pitchers. An NFL team, you have to have a good quarterback, but you can win without one. You can win without a megastar, but in the NBA to win big you have to have a megastar. And there are a lot of markets that don't have that and Milwaukee is just one of them.

There are many markets that have trouble pulling in that kind of a megastar and so you have a pattern of only a few teams winning championships and I wish you could change that model to where more teams had a shot at the ring, but when one guy like LeBron can come in and make that much of a difference, you're probably going to have that and there's nothing you can do about it.

OMC: The last question I always like to ask everyone is to define success.

TD: Oh, that's easy. For a long time, my wife and I ran a summer camp up in Idaho for kids and especially the high school kids. The one thing I would – I didn't talk to them much, but one thing and they knew what I did and they thought it's an interesting job so they’d ask me how I got started, and here's what I would tell them. 

I would say 'find out what you love to do, what you've got a passion for, then find a way to do it and the way to do it and make a living at it and you'll never work a day in your life.'

To me, that's success. 

It doesn't matter how much money you make. I mean, you want to make as much money as you can, but if you're doing what you love and you get to work everyday and it doesn't feel like work, you're a success.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.