Sports Media

In CBS broadcast booth, laughs come easily

Fun and games for broadcasters

CBS broadcaster Lesley Visser spoke with Wisconsin head coah Bo Ryan at a TD Garden practice on Wednesday.
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
CBS broadcaster Lesley Visser spoke with Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan at a TD Garden practice on Wednesday.

Spend an enjoyable hour chatting with Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery, and Lesley Visser - the superb broadcasting trio calling the NCAA Tournament - and two undeniable truths emerge:

First, the chemistry and camaraderie that is so apparent on the air is genuine, and it does not hibernate when the cameras are off.

“They both have eloquence and wit, but they measure them out differently,’’ said Visser, who is covering her 33d NCAA Tournament, her first coming in 1980 as a reporter for the Globe. “Billy’s a riot, and Verne’s a great listener with a wonderful laugh, the best on television. We’re like an old married couple that still adores each other.’’


She laughs. “But with three.’’

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As for that second truth, it is probably already evident to fans who consider Raftery the most-liked analyst in college basketball: Every one of his stories is punctuated with laughter, and few are suitable for print.

Raftery, in Boston with Lundquist and Visser as one of the CBS teams calling the East Regional, says he wouldn’t know how to do it any other way.

“I spoke to somebody when I first started [after stepping down as Seton Hall coach in 1981], and he said, ‘You don’t know what you’re going to be like. It will just happen,’ ’’ Raftery recalled.

“We all say to try to be yourself, but that’s hard because maybe you get this preconceived notion that you should try to be somebody else.


“But all of that stuff came naturally. Even ‘man-to-man’ [the rapid-fire phrase he uses to describe the defense after the opening tip] evolved because I was getting in the play-by-play man’s way and had no idea I was doing it.’’

Raftery, also part of ESPN’s outstanding trio with Sean McDonough and Jay Bilas, comes across on air as the charming raconteur, the natural life of the barroom. Which happens to be exactly what he is.

Raftery and Visser dispute the story’s origins - she insists it was after a Penn-Pitt game that starred a player named Koko Archibong, while he is convinced it was a different game - but the plot is the same, with Raftery using some information gathered over a few beverages the previous night to add crucial insight to a broadcast.

Commended by Lundquist for his fact-gathering, Raftery said, “The things you learn late at night.’’

To which Lundquist replied without missing a beat, “By that standard, I must be working with Socrates.’’


All three laugh easily at the retelling of the story.

Visser covered Raftery when he was at Seton Hall (1970-81) and she was this newspaper’s Boston College beat writer. Lundquist remembers the first time he met Visser, at a Georgetown basketball practice in 1983.

“You’ve known me through at least 10 hairdos,’’ she tells him.

It was later in ’83 that Raftery and Lundquist were first paired.

“It was one of those magical made-for-television games,’’ Lundquist recalls. “Idaho and South Carolina . . .’’

“The Vandals,’’ adds Raftery.

“. . . and we got along really well, and the next week, out of all the possible games, we were back there for Marquette and South Carolina.’’

“We got a call on Monday,’’ Lundquist continues, “and CBS said, you guys sound great together and we can’t wait to put you together again. Seventeen years later, they did. We went through the ’80s, all the ’90s, and it wasn’t until I came back to CBS that we were paired up again, in 2000.’’

They’ve been working together during the tournament ever since. Visser has often, though not always, joined them as the sideline reporter. Raftery is quick to acknowledge her importance in another regard. “Whenever we go anywhere, we let Lesley go in first,’’ Raftery says. “That way we get the nice table.’’

Visser lets out a rollicking laugh.

“It’s a party, it’s a party,’’ she says, patting Raftery on the shoulder. “For the three of us, it’s a party.’’

Chatham sparkles

A lot of words have been spent in this space over the past couple of years griping about the cronyism and limitations of certain NFL analysts on WEEI. (Read: Smerlas, Frederic Charles.)

But program director Jason Wolfe and company began amending that when the constantly improving Troy Brown was added to the mix, and listeners who tuned in to “The Dennis and Callahan Show’’ Tuesday heard another former Patriot who clearly has a bright future in the business.

Matt Chatham, the ex-linebacker, was compelling, candid, and articulate while joining fill-in cohosts Dale Arnold and the Globe’s Bob Ryan in studio.

Chatham is not exactly a novice - he’s a regular part of NESN’s Patriots coverage and has also appeared on Comcast SportsNet New England programming as well as WEEI - but the room he was given to elaborate on such topics as Peyton Manning’s decision to join the Broncos allowed him to show the depth of his knowledge.

Wolfe said via e-mail that WEEI is “certainly looking forward to using him more this upcoming season.’’

That’s great news for Patriots fans who prefer genuine insight to middle-school-level punch lines. With Christian Fauria not returning to WEEI’s “NFL Sunday’’ program, Chatham would be a great fit with Brown, Arnold, and Christopher Price.

‘Hard’ choice

The first thought here when Tim Tebow joined the New York Jets no-ring circus Wednesday? The franchise simply has to have an encore on “Hard Knocks’’ this year. Two years ago, Jets coach Rex Ryan was the breakout star of HBO’s reality program that follows an NFL team through training camp. The show was a casualty last year of the NFL lockout, and to a lesser degree the wariness of teams to allow cameras behind the scenes. But the argument can be made that the show was a boon to the Jets. HBO spokesman Ray Stallone said yesterday that the network is planning for the return of “Hard Knocks’’ this summer, but couldn’t comment on the process of selecting a team.

Chad Finn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.