Mark Boyle, The Voice of the Pacers

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Writer  /  Ray Compton
Photographer  /  Brian Brosmer

During his 28-year stretch as radio voice of the Indiana Pacers, Mark Boyle has conveyed to his listeners exhilarating moments from all 30 of the lavish palaces of the National Basketball Association, including retelling knuckle gnashing moments from Madison Square Garden (New York), the Forum (Inglewood/Los Angeles) and the United Center (Chicago).

But none of these highly touted stops – including the 1,500 or so broadcasts from our $200 million Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis – offers the broadcasting experience Boyle endured during one of his early career moments when Boyle was describing a high school football game in a wooden press box in Miles City, Montana.

As Boyle was chattering away about passes and tackles uncorked by Montana teenagers, a threatening storm rolled in from the western frontier in Custer County. The game sprinted onward, and Boyle remained undaunted as he depicted the play-by-play action for folks listening to radio station KATL in the community of 8,400. But abruptly, the audience heard a crashing sound. The microphone fell silent. “The wind blew over the press box,” remembered Boyle.

The downward plunge of the fragile press box was only about 10 feet to the ground, so fortunately, Boyle and his peers suffered only bumps and bruises. Unfortunately, there are no pictures available or recordings of the moment. But Boyle returned to the microphone and finished his assignment at the Miles City football game. After all, he earned a bonus of $10 doing broadcasts of high school games.

Over three decades later, Boyle evolved beyond falling press boxes in Montana. He has become one of the top voice talents in the NBA.

As a youngster in pre-cable Minnesota, the 54-year-old Boyle grew up in the same environment as did many young boys hooked on sports in America in the 1960s. He listened to the transistor radio broadcasts of the local sports teams. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the favorites were the professional teams (Vikings, Twins and North Stars) and Minnesota Gophers (basketball, football and hockey).

Boyle became hooked. His career choice was nailed down. The one-time baseball, football and basketball player at St. Louis Park High School envisioned his future as a sports announcer somewhere in the United States.

His hero was Herb Carneal, who was the Harry Caray, Jack Buck and Vince Scully of Minnesota. Carneal provided play-by-play action of the Twins on broadcast giant WCCO for from 1962-2006.

“I never believed in having an idol,” admitted Boyle. “I liked Muhammad Ali and Wilt Chamberlain. But I really admired Herb Carneal and Al Shaver [another longtime announcer for the hockey North Stars].

Eventually, Boyle worked with Shaver at KSTP, another super-sized radio station in Minneapolis-St. Paul and the northlands. From 1985-87, Boyle anchored football and basketball pre-game reports for the University of Minnesota.

Boyle’s landing with KSTP and the Gophers represented a huge jump from his days at the “Cattle Call” KATL in Miles City. That was when Boyle did triple duties, providing farm reports in the morning, gushing as a DJ in the afternoon and calling high school football and basketball games on weekends for parents and girlfriends. His salary was $500 a month, and there was the $10 bonus for broadcasting games.

Boyle’s resume lists seven radio stations, including one-year tours at New York’s WFAN (the country’s first all-sports station) and heartland powerhouse KMOX of St. Louis. Indianapolis native Jeff Smulyan owned WFAN, while in 1988, Joe Buck was an intern at KMOX; not the start of the movie “Midnight Cowboy” but the son of Jack Buck and now the No. 1 football and baseball voice of FOX.

Did Boyle discover broadcast heaven at KMOX, the voice of the Cardinals?

No. “I really didn’t like it there,” he confessed.

And so in 1988, Boyle was on the prowl for another broadcasting notch. It just so happened that an NBA team from Indianapolis was looking for a new play-by-play announcer at the same time.

The Pacers and radio partner WIBC were confident they had the right broadcasting combination for the Pacers and Colts in 1987. Veteran local talent Bob Lamey would serve as the voice of the 82-game Pacers season, while Canadian Mike Inglis would ride into town to broadcast Colts games.

But before the seasons started, Lamey said he preferred doing the Colts games. And Inglis, with little basketball history, was shifted to the Pacers.

Lamey remains with the Colts, but Inglis was forced out of the Pacers booth. (But Inglis may have gotten the last laugh. He became the first announcer for the expansion Toronto Raptors and has done the play-by-play work of the Miami Heat for 16 years, including their three world championships.)

But the Pacers were big winners too. After listening to the audition tape from Boyle, team executives Greg Jamison and Larry Mago snared their next talent. Ironically long ago, Jamison and Mago moved on, but Boyle now enters his 28th season in Indiana.

“I have a great job here,” said Boyle, who has received many overtures from attractive NBA teams. “I can’t see how it could be any better. There are only 30 jobs like this in the NBA, and I have the luck of having one of those 30 jobs. The organization has been very good to me.”

And the feelings are mutual from his employers and front office teammates.

“His use of words to paint a picture never tires you from listening to his call,” said Pacers television announcer Chris Denari. “No one else comes close to Mark in his ability to describe a game on radio.”

Longtime Indianapolis sports observer Bill Benner agrees. “[He is] simply the very best in the business,” said Benner, who now serves as the Vice-President of Communications for the Pacers. “He rarely makes a mistake and always delivers timely and appropriate information. He comes across as a professional rather than a ‘homer’ and only reacts with passion and excitement to truly passionate and exciting moments.”

One of those memorable and passionate moments came when the Pacers eliminated the Knicks in game seven of the 1995 NBA playoffs of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Knick Patrick Ewing missed a winning layup at the buzzer, and Boyle roared, “He missed, he missed. Ring the bell, baby. Ding-dong, the witch is dead. Ding-dong, the witch is dead.”

The rest of Madison Square Garden sat stunned.

“That happened 20 years ago, yet I can rattle off that line like it just happened,” said Greg Rakestraw, general manager at 1070 the Fan. “Mark is a special talent, period. He’s part of the fabric of Pacers history and the soundtrack of the team.”

Some listeners may occasionally wish that Boyle rooted more demonstratively for the hometown team. But he shies away from showering referees with negative reviews.

“I really try not get too emotional,” said Boyle. “Your best chance to be successful is when you have control of yourself.”

Boyle steps aside for the emotional antics of his longtime sidekick, Pacer legend Bobby “Slick” Leonard. Leonard’s Boom Baby exclamation marks highlight three-point makes from the Pacers, and the Slick will occasionally hammer a missed call by an official.

“It’s a unique and interesting experience,” said Boyle in working with Leonard. “He has a rare gift. He connects with everybody. He can make a stranger feel like he is his best friend.”

Interestingly, while Leonard connects with seemingly all friends and strangers, Boyle prefers to keep a slight distance between friend and foe.

For someone who talks for a living, Boyle prefers to text to communicate with inquirers. His voicemail readily admits that he will probably NOT return your telephone call, but he is willing to text back a response.

It would be very unfair to accuse Boyle of being cantankerous or to call him shy or an isolationist, but there are times when it appears he may be a one-man offense. In basketball terms, announcer Mark Boyle sets screens for the pick-and-roll for Mark Boyle, the person.

For those not ranked among his tightest allies, Boyle limits his exposure and inner thoughts to a blog that started on the Pacer website in 2012. Destination Unknown drops in at unscheduled moments as Boyle reveals chapters in his life, including a failing relationship with a brother who struggled through homelessness and substance abuse.

Boyle has also written blogs about the tentative fan support for the Pacers and how he vividly launched an assault on ants that had invaded his kitchen. Indeed, the column can be called unique and unexpected thoughts from the wizard of words.

“I like writing, and the fan base has been good to me for a long time,” said Boyle. “This lets me get in touch with people.”

Boyle readily admits he prefers this type of communication with his audience instead of the bantering provided by talk radio.

“Mark is one of the most unique individuals I have ever met,” said David Benner, Director of Media Relations for the Pacers. “He’s well-read, intelligent and a great guy to engage in conversation. But getting to that conversation isn’t always easy as it takes a while to get his trust and for him to feel comfortable around you.”

The younger Benner and Boyle have engaged in a give-and-take relationship for almost three decades. At first, Benner was a writer with the Indianapolis Star. Now they connect via their jobs with the Pacers.

Though they frequently venture together on road trips, there have been spotty patches during working hours.

“He’s very thorough and very well prepared,” said Benner. “He sometimes wants answers to his questions immediately, so I have to calm him down.”

Radio engineer Scott Fenstermaker has sat beside Boyle for 23 years at Market Square Arena and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, working the dials to guarantee that the radio voice can be heard on the radio at home, in the automobile or now the worldwide webcast.

“Mark is one of the most professional broadcasters I’ve worked with in my 35 years in radio,” said Fenstermaker. “He demands the best out of people, but he is not the tyrant that some people can be. Mark makes those around him better.”

Now it should be noted that Boyle does now roll a perfect game for his mates. Bill Benner confesses that he still shudders when he hears the announcer refer to the Pacers as “the blue and yellow” and not “the blue and gold.”

David Benner also says he helps Boyle in other circumstances away from the court. The man who scores major points in his pinpoint descriptions on the court may fall off the wagon in completing every day tasks. Especially on road trips.

“For a person who leaves nothing to chance in his broadcast regarding preparation, he is the absent-minded professor,” said Benner. “I can’t tell you how many times he has left his coffee cup, car keys, mail or whatever in my office.”

Benner fondly remembers the time that Boyle forgot to pack his dress shoes for a road trip. Boyle’s solution was to wear loud yellow sneakers courtside with his dress suit.

And there was a time in Miami when Boyle took a taxi to return to the Marriott Hotel where he thought he and the Pacers were staying. Alas, it was the wrong Marriott. When Boyle tried to get to his room on the 31st floor, he realized this Marriott only had 20 floors.

“I’m surprised we haven’t left him in some town, wandering the streets,” said Benner.

Also somewhat surprising is that the Pacers have not lost their cherished announcer to a bigger stage in basketball or Boyle’s preferred sport, baseball.

“That says something about Mark,” said David Benner. “The Pacers took a chance on him when he was young and unproven. As he developed, I think he was loyal to the Pacers for that chance.”

Boyle does annually leave the Pacers, his wife Janette and his Broad Ripple home. As part of his summer escape, he tackles new career challenges. The pay, if any, is puny, but the experiences have been huge.

Last summer, Boyle was an announcer for a baseball team in the Cape Cod College League. Other summer ventures have included walking 500 miles in Indiana to raise money for the Wish Fund; competing in the U.S. Chess Tournament; and piranha fishing in the Amazon. He has also done a weathercast for a local television station.

“I am always open to ideas,” said Boyle, who has no deadline on his broadcasting days at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Perhaps there will be a return to KATL, Miles City and that rebuilt press box.