- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
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This WPTS-FM sports director found himself, one month shy of his 21st birthday, a long way from campus, stuck in a snowstorm and broadcasting a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee event that became a special moment in time.
Alex Randall made hockey history.
“First hockey game, first Black broadcaster,” Randall signed off the Jan. 17 game from Erie Insurance Arena. This Saginaw-Erie game was broadcast over the internet and streaming television in the form of the Canadian Hockey League game of the week — it’s the junior-hockey top tier that is the north-of-the-border equivalent of NCAA Power 5 football conferences.
“The reason I’m glad I’m the first is, I know I won’t be the last. I’m just excited for whoever gets the opportunity next.”
It was a small step for hockey. In October, the NHL expansion Seattle Kraken debuted the league’s first full-time Black announcer, Everett Fitzhugh. Little more than three months later, along came Randall breaking the junior-hockey ceiling from a press box about a dozen rink-lengths from Lake Erie.
“None of the pressure of the moment or the historic significance got to him, and he constantly looked thrilled to finally get the chance to call his first game,” said Shawn Bednard, the Erie Otters’ usual play-by-play voice and media relations manager. “I thought he did a terrific job, and if I ever need a fill-in on a game night, he would certainly have a chance to grab the headset again.”
Randall, a communication major, native of Pittsburgh’s Highland Park neighborhood and graduate of the Science and Technology Academy in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, sat down with Pittwire to talk about the past few months and his future.
Pretty cool to say ‘hockey history,’ isn’t it?
It is very cool to say “hockey history” and be a part of it, that’s for sure.
The first seeds of broadcasting, when were those planted?
I grew up listening to Bill Hillgrove do Steelers games on radio because I couldn’t watch the games when they were on at night. My parents didn’t have cable TV; they gave us radios in our rooms and said, “If you still want to do something at night, listen to the radio.” So one night back in 2012, I was listening to the [season-]opening series of Pirates-Phillies. Greg Brown called a walk-off, infield single by Alex Presley, and he started freaking out and yelling, “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog!” I just remember thinking to myself, “Man, this guy just got paid to yell that the Pirates won.” And I didn’t even care about the Pirates at that point. But I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a broadcaster. I transitioned to listening to Mike Lange [broadcast Penguins games] on the radio as well. Really, at that point, the rest is history.
What was your dream coming to Pitt?
I just knew I wanted to call live sports. I didn’t know what opportunities lay ahead for me here at WPTS. I went to [longtime Pirates broadcaster] Lanny Frattare’s sports announcing camp up at Waynesburg University in between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, and [longtime KDKA-TV sportscaster] John Steigerwald just told me, “Hey, get involved in the radio in college as soon as you can.” Got on some women’s basketball games — didn’t sound very good back then. But I’ve climbed the ranks a little bit. Now I’m the sports director, and I’ve gotten to do a bunch of baseball, basketball, football.
Tell us about the award you won recently, how that came about?
I got an award back in November from the Black Play-by-Play Fund. It’s a scholarship started by Adam Giordano, who saw the injustices of George Floyd and other issues during the spring of 2020. He’s a white broadcaster, and he thought he’d like to make the world a better place through broadcasting diversity. So he got a lot of people in the industry together and raised some funds and was able to send some money to young broadcasters. I sent in my tape back in October. Then we had a 90-minute Zoom interview that was supposed to only go 30 minutes, but we just clicked and connected for another hour. A few weeks after that, I got a call right here in the WPTS studios that I got the scholarship.
Now we get to your moment. How did you first hear of this opportunity with the Erie Otters?
So Adam Giordano, I basically told him I was in a pretty difficult place mentally back in early November. I told him, “I’m struggling with motivation, I’m not sure how much more I can do, but I told myself I cannot quit at this until I have done hockey. That’s the sport I really, really want to try.” He said: “We’re going to see what we can do to get you a connection.” Only a week later, he reaches out to me with a link from Shawn Bednard of the Erie Otters saying he’s looking for a Black broadcaster who’s young, who’s excited and who wants to go do the game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It really was a match made in heaven. A couple months later, I’m driving up the western half of Pennsylvania trying to get to Erie in time before the snowstorm hit.
Did you think the game was going to get scrubbed by the snow?
I was worried the game would get canceled from a COVID standpoint. I was worried the game would get canceled from a weather standpoint. So I ended up driving up a day early, on Jan. 16, which was less snowy. But that game day morning was a nerve-wracking one, because I woke up with a whole lot of snow surrounding my car. They sent an intern over in her big Jeep. [Laughs] I’ll never forget climbing into her Jeep and just feeling like I was on a chariot riding through Erie, because nobody was able to go anywhere, except for the Jeep. It was a pretty excellent moment. And I was able to get in the [Erie Insurance Arena] about 90 minutes before the game started.
The game starts….
I was so nervous. I was so nervous. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more nervous to broadcast a game. The game was actually delayed because the refs were late getting there. So I had an extra 20, 25 minutes to just sit with the nerves. I remember being so worried that I was going to botch something or mess something up. I started off a little sloppy, as most people do, but then eventually throughout the game I got better and better. Considering it was my first hockey game broadcast, considering it was the first time I ever got to do that with these teams, I got to give myself a pat on the back. Because it could have been worse.
What does the future hold for Alex Randall?
Ha, I think the future holds whatever God has in store for me. Behind the scenes for this, I felt a lot of things going on — good and bad — in November, and I did pray, “I just need you to take over for me, take the wheel…” And it has led me here. Whatever is left in store is: I’m hoping a lot of broadcasting, I’m hoping a lot of traveling, I’m hoping a lot of joy and the ability to inspire others to follow their dreams.
— Chuck Finder