Jim Brandstatter, right, here with former U-M radio partner Frank Beckmann, is preparing for the switch from analyst to play-by-play. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Jim Brandstatter is taking his new job as Michigan’s play-by-play radio voice seriously.
Which means he’s doing some unusual exercises to prepare, like calling traffic.
“Dan (Miller) gave me a tip,” Brandstatter said of his partner on Lions broadcasts. “He said, ‘Look, when you’re driving down a street, call play-by-play of the traffic. You describe the action.’ It sounds stupid, but it gets you aware to see and talk while it’s happening.
“It’s more of an exercise. I don’t do it all the time. When I’m alone in the car, driving down a surface street, I’ll sit there at a light, thinking in my head, ‘The light right now is red, there are two cars in front of me, If I’m not mistaken there’s construction ahead …’ ”
Brandstatter, the longtime analyst for Michigan football, is taking over for Frank Beckmann, who retired after 33 years last season. Dan Dierdorf, an NFL Hall of Famer and Brandstatter’s teammate at Michigan, will work as color commentator.
But, traffic calls aside, Brandstatter‘s getting some practice in whenever he can.
Take a recent practice at Lions minicamp, where he drifted toward one end of the field and began to “call” the action out loud. Admittedly, he said, that drew a few laughs from those close enough to hear.
Plus, he practices play-by-play by watching Big Ten Network’s classic games, focusing on the rhythm of the description and getting comfortable delivering the information.
And that’s important since Brandstatter always has worked as an analyst.
“I honestly felt as a member of the team (play-by-play and color), we were basically equals,” he said. “The play-by-play, I understand, is the leader of the broadcast. He opens the show, he closes the show, he sends it to commercial, he’s the traffic cop in terms of the broadcast.
“But the perception I’ve come to understand, since I’ve gotten the play-by-play gig, is a little bit that maybe it’s the tougher of the two. (Still), from my perspective, I’ve never felt like that.”
Just the facts
As the analyst, Brandstatter provided the “why” and “how” in terms of plays. As play-by-play, he must provide the “who, what, when and where.”
So, a big part of Brandstatter’s plan is to set up Dierdorf, a longtime NFL broadcaster, and give him plenty of time and space to describe the why and how.
“I have to make sure he gets going,” Brandstatter said. “I have to make sure he has the time to be Dan Dierdorf. ... Dan is the guy (fans) want to hear. He brings an NFL career and was an NFL broadcaster.
“I’m like the rest of you — I want to hear him. Neither of us is a shrinking violet. He’s as witty and as good a speaker as I’ve ever heard. Very funny, very quick. He will keep me on my toes. As we go forward, we’ll find a nice rhythm.”
Still, while Brandstatter broadcasts won’t be scripted, both men must be prepared to allow the game-day radio to flow. Dierdorf has been studying Michigan’s games from last season, and Brandstatter is busy memorizing numbers and player names.
They don’t plan to rehearse.
“Anytime somebody says something, and it’s planned, I cringe,” Brandstatter said.
But he wants to go into each game with a particular direction so there are no surprises when they open the broadcast.
“You talk about preparation, I’m already thinking now how I’m going to open the Appalachian State (season-opening) game,” Brandstatter said. “I’m thinking about the Notre Dame game — how do you open that one?”
Brandstatter hasn’t come up with any signature calls yet, because he thinks those develop naturally. He does plan to make a point of mentioning the legacy jersey numbers to honor the players who wore them.
“It’s important to me to mention Tom Harmon,” Brandstatter said. “(Quarterback) Devin Gardner is wearing the Tom Harmon legacy jersey, and that introduces Tom Harmon to a new generation of fans.”
Bob Ufer and Beckmann combined to handle Michigan’s play-by-play for 65 years.
Each had his own style, and Brandstatter will be developing his.
He will have his own spin and take on the job, might even add a little bit of analysis here and there, but wants to call the game fluidly and have Dierdorf fill in all the blanks.
That the two have a long history together already suggests they have a chemistry.
“I keep telling myself, ‘It will just happen,’ ” said Brandstatter, who will continue his role as Lions analyst. “It’s a big deal, and I want to make sure I’m prepared. It’s the back nine of my career — I’m not going to do it 33 years (like Beckmann), but I’m going to try to do it well.
“The most important thing I can do is be me. Not be Frank, Dan ... make sure my personality comes through and this broadcast of Michigan football is descriptive and entertaining for people listening.”