Meet the Man Who Makes Your Favorite Announcer Sound Smarter

Sports fans have been led to believe that the broadcast booth is typically occupied by just two people—play-by-play announcer and former player analyst. But there’s more happening inside the booth than we see.

Originally Published on The Ringer

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On Sunday, Troy Aikman had a funny experience in the Fox booth. Well, besides the thing with the lights. The man who stands at Aikman’s immediate right wasn’t there. Because of the coronavirus, David Moulton had been relocated to a spot behind Aikman, where he stood on his tiptoes to see the whole field.

Moulton is a spotter, a job that’s part football analyst, part announcer security blanket. In normal times, Moulton stands next to Aikman during every Thursday Night Football game. On Saturdays, he moves to CBS’s SEC booth, where he stands at the right of Gary Danielson. Then Moulton rejoins Aikman on Sunday afternoons.

“I know they don’t need me,” Moulton said of the announcers. “I kind of feel it’s like when you caddie for an elite golfer. You know that the golfer is going to be Top 3 in the world without you.” But the services Moulton provides—both editorial and emotional—are important. This summer, as producers reimagined the booth for the age of the coronavirus, they asked: What’ll happen to the announcers’ right-hand man?

For decades, TV has peddled a vision of the booth as a pair of announcers gazing over the field. This is pure illusion. “It’s a working kitchen at a diner back there,” said Joe Buck. Every announcer in Fox’s “A” booth—Buck, Aikman, even Mike Pereira—has an extra football brain within arm’s reach. Additionally, Buck has a spotter, Bill Garrity, and a statistician, Ed Sfida, stationed at his left; a stage manager, a camera operator, and a makeup artist stand behind the announcers. All told, there are usually 11 people in the Fox booth. NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth has more than 20.

Since the support staff dives out of the way of camera shots, viewers mostly see them by accident. During last year’s Florida-Georgia game, CBS caught a shot of Moulton in khakis and a long-sleeve shirt, scribbling a note on a card. “I turned to Gary and I go, ‘How much you want to bet I’m not in another shot the rest of the year?’” Moulton said. “We joked about it. Sure enough, when they reviewed the game, the network folks said, ‘Hey, really good broadcast. The fat spotter guy? Get him out of the shot.’”

Moulton, who is 54, broke into network TV by chance. In 2003, Danielson flipped on Moulton’s Fort Myers, Florida, sports radio show when he was caught in traffic. He was struck by how Moulton broke down a game that Danielson had called on TV that weekend. “I go, Wow, this guy knows a lot,” Danielson said. In 2006, he gave Moulton a one-week tryout in the CBS booth. Moulton has stood at Danielson’s right ever since.

Moulton’s job is different than that of the spotter who helps a play-by-play announcer pick out which player caught a pass or made a tackle. That spotter, along with a statistician, is a standard feature of every football booth. But if you’re a top-tier announcer, you get a second layer of expertise, paid for by the network. Cris Collinsworth is joined by a computer systems engineer named Andy Freeland. In his final years at NBC, John Madden’s right-hand man was his pal John Robinson, the former Rams and USC coach.

Good spotters pass from booth to booth like David Gergen traveled through presidential administrations. In 2015, Fox hired Moulton to stand at Buck’s right during golf events, giving him hand-written cards as players approached the tee. “It was instant love on my part,” Buck said. “I didn’t want to do anything without him.” Buck suggested that Aikman bring Moulton into Fox’s NFL booth. Moulton started doing Sundays in 2018 and added Thursday nights last year.

When he stands with an analyst, Moulton isn’t picking out insights at random. Like a professor’s teaching assistant, he’s looking for the kind of insights his boss would pick out on his own. “He knows what I like to look for, what my hot buttons are,” Danielson said. “I don’t want to get too crazy here, but it’s like quarterback-receiver.”

Let’s say Danielson thinks LSU’s ability to run the ball left is one of the game’s big story lines. As Danielson juggles replays, Moulton will nudge him when there’s a good spot to make the point. Danielson also likes counterintuitive ideas—like if the no-huddle offense, which fans are always calling for, isn’t working. Moulton will scribble that idea on a notecard and hand it to him.

“The fun part is, since we’re close, I can get frustrated with him,” Danielson said. “It’s almost like playing again. You can tell a guy in the huddle, ‘Not now! I got 10 things on my mind!’” Sometimes, Danielson will throw one of Moulton’s notecards in the air. A few minutes later, he’ll decide Moulton had a pretty good point, and they’ll scour the floor to look for the card.

On the night before this year’s Super Bowl, Aikman asked Moulton what stuck out about the game. Moulton said he was curious who Richard Sherman, the 49ers cornerback, was going to cover on third downs. Aikman liked the idea. So in the first quarter, when Moulton noticed Sherman lining up over Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, he told Aikman, “Sherman on Kelce, Sherman on Kelce.”

Moulton refuses to claim authorship of any nuggets. “Spotters don’t want to take credit for anything,” he said. After all, the ideas he gives to Aikman and Danielson might be ideas they were already thinking of. “Gary and Troy watch their own film, they do their own notes,” Moulton said. “They’re doing 96 to 98 percent of the work. I’m just a helper is all I am.”

Even so, Moulton’s suggestions have to be correct. If he puts a faulty piece of information in an announcer’s mouth, Twitter blames the announcer. Like the time at the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open when Moulton told Buck that Lexi Thompson’s caddie was her brother. (They share a last name but aren’t related.) After Buck’s error was pointed out, Moulton realized they had five more commercial-free hours on the air together. “You just want to crawl in a hole and die,” Moulton said.

But such errors, Buck insisted, are few and far between. A good spotter inspires trust. If Buck is thinking of an idea, and Moulton suggests the same idea, Buck said Moulton functions as “a real-time spell-check.”

Moulton talks to announcers in different ways. Danielson is a visual learner, so almost all of his and Moulton’s communication in the booth is nonverbal. Moulton will point at the replay screen to note which defensive back got beaten on a play, or put an idea on a notecard. Last year, Aikman decided he wanted Moulton to speak to him through a headset.

Some of Moulton’s value is practical. At the two-minute warning, he reminds Buck and Aikman how many timeouts each team has. But the spotter’s job has an emotional component, too. Danielson said that being an announcer can feel like a comedian telling jokes to an empty room. Danielson can look at Moulton and see a fist pump or a shake of the head. “It’s someone having an audience,” he said.

A lot of announcers share a nagging fear. They will call a game well but miss something that sticks out to football fans on the couch. Fox and CBS have asked Moulton to be the ambassador to those fans.

During a game, Moulton might ask Aikman, “Why isn’t A.J. Green getting the ball?” Or he’ll ask Danielson: “That all-conference defensive end—why doesn’t he have any tackles?” That question can prompt the announcers to talk football in broad strokes. As Buck said, “To have somebody there to be that guy on your shoulder going, ‘Hey, Moron, step back and give the big picture’—that’s just golden.”

Network executives spent the summer praying football would return. When it was clear it would, they raced to make their booths as safe as possible. Marty Aronoff, ESPN’s octogenarian statistician, isn’t traveling to games this year. Neither is Mike Pereira, at least at the beginning of the season. The Collinsworth slide was replaced by a socially-distanced lurk. NBC even removed its traditional food platter.

Network types noted the irony: The top crews with the biggest headcounts had to make the biggest adjustments. In a series of Zoom calls this summer, executives and producers tried to figure out what to do with spotters like Moulton. Some of the changes amounted to mild inconvenience. On Sunday, Moulton wore a mask in the booth. It muffled his voice when he tried to talk to Aikman through his headset. So Moulton put his microphone inside his mask.

CBS, which broadcasts its first SEC game with Danielson on September 26, has a tricky proposition. Many college stadiums have tiny booths that make distancing all but impossible. Ideas have ranged from Moulton communicating with Danielson via computer to standing behind him with a laser pointer.

It’s not as simple as just moving someone like Moulton around. Football replays unfold quickly—Aikman is often looking at his replay monitor before Buck finishes calling a play. A lot of communication is based on feel and timing. Buck needs to feel when Aikman is ready to make a point. Moulton needs to feel when Aikman is free and can take a suggestion. In a socially-distanced booth, those feelings are being transmitted from 6 feet away or through a pane of Plexiglas. “I’m not going to bet on Moulton being able to scale Plexiglas,” Buck said.

Moulton also has his own health to worry about. On May 17, Moulton thought he was suffering from kidney stones. “It turned out to be a huge cancerous tumor wrapped around my kidney,” he said. Moulton’s left kidney was removed, and during his recovery, he lost 55 pounds. On the day we spoke, he underwent a scan that revealed he was cancer-free. “We’ll cross our fingers and wear a bunch of masks and hope to get through this year,” he said.

A lot of pandemic sports TV is about making a broadcast look and sound as normal as possible. When it comes to a right-hand man like Moulton, any change is more subtle, because viewers were never supposed to notice him to begin with. “A spotter feels like an umpire,” Moulton said. “You want to be part of the equation and yet at the same time forgotten at the end of the game.”

Originally Published on The Ringer

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By |2020-09-21T13:35:52-04:00September 21st, 2020|Miller And Moulton|

Opinion: College Football unlikely to take place in 2020

As the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to believe that we will have a football season of any kind in 2020. I don’t like typing those words, and I can’t imagine having to host a radio show in the fall without college football.

Since June 1, I’ve held firm to my prediction that we will play football this year, but I gave myself the right to adjust that stance on the 1st of each month moving forward. I expected to make my next projection July 1, but instead, I’m doing it now, and unless something significant changes before Aug. 1, I don’t believe that you will see a single snap of college football this year– at least not in the fall.

There are so many aspects of this that we still don’t know, but after more Clemson Tigers tested positive this past week, it seems like a real reach to believe there will be a season at all.

I hate it.

Looking at Clemson’s campus today, it’s an ideal scenario for the football team. There are very few other students in Tiger Town. Even still, Clemson went from announcing 23 cases last week to 14 new cases this week on the football team. That’s 37 total players in two weeks. Even though the first 23 players have completed the 10-day isolation period and there have been no hospitalizations for any individual within Clemson Athletics related to COVID-19, it’s not going to go away or be defeated because every Clemson player has had it.

Think about this: Approximately half of the cases have been asymptomatic, which means half have had symptoms. We still don’t know enough about reinfection rates at this point and how that works with COVID-19, so we can’t assume those players won’t get it again.

For the “Did any of them die?” crowd, yes, death rates have to be considered, but should a player who tests positive for COVID-19 be playing this fall? Absolutely not, especially if they’ve got symptoms.

While COVID-19 is not a death sentence for the majority of young adults who get it, my concern is what happens when the student population gets back on campus? How will student-athletes be able to avoid COVID-19 testing positive, and ending up symptomatic when more and more students return to school?

Professional leagues have the distinct advantage of attempting total isolation by living in hotels and not venturing out. We’ve seen that in European soccer leagues. Even still they’ve had cases pop up.

The NFL has already canceled the Hall of Fame Game, and while it’s only an exhibition, and a poor one at that, the NFL’s preseason opener being shelved doesn’t give me added confidence either.

Also, social distancing doesn’t exist in a locker room environment, and what we’ve learned with COVID-19 is that one case can become 20 cases in a hurry. The outcome doesn’t seem desirable for college football fans.

Yesterday it was announced that Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson would isolate from his wife, Catherine, a cancer survivor, beginning July 12 and doesn’t expect to return home until the season finishes. James Franklin at Penn State is taking a similar approach because he has a daughter with sickle cell disease.

Let that sink in.

While some have shouted that COVID-19 is all about politics, it’s actually about two other things more than anything, economics and health– and the balancing act between the two. Both are undoubtedly political topics, but not concerning how we have to handle this virus. Imagine a scale attempting to balance those two factors. That’s where we are.

The driving factor in pushing for a season is about economics. If universities and athletic departments knew that they could still make the same amount of money without playing football, there is no chance we would see football in 2020. No chance at all.

So we will see a push to get out on the field, health be damned.

However, once enough student-athletes get sick, that balance will shift back. Even if we are lucky enough to get the season started, some teams, maybe even entire conferences, will most likely shut down. Look no further than what’s happened in Texas and several other states right now.

After being shut down, some states began reopening because the economic side of the virus was starting to outweigh the health concerns. Even though those states, South Carolina included, opened without meeting the standards in place to reopen because state governments felt like they had to. They could only hope that the numbers wouldn’t rise– that simply has not been the case.

Yesterday, the United States had its largest single-day growth with more than 40,000 new cases.

Now states are beginning to shut back down and even some cities are beginning to implement mask policies to attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. It is a balancing act that we probably will not escape until a vaccine, and more effective treatments are found.

I recently had someone mention that they thought it could be possible for a team with no shot getting to the playoffs, late in the year, to play COVID-19 positive players to sabotage the Tigers’ season. Now, that’s a bit of a stretch for sure, so I don’t think you have to worry about that, but to be honest, we’ve possibly sabotaged it ourselves.

There has been considerable pushback against wearing masks, and honestly, at this point, I don’t know if wearing a mask will help you get a football season– or school this fall. We’ve possibly already crossed the point of no return on that front. I don’t believe we could have stopped COVID-19, but we didn’t do much to slow it down either, especially after Memorial Day.

My hunch is that real conversations about watching college football might not come around again until we have a vaccine in place or begin moving towards the 80/20 spread necessary to close in on some semblance of herd immunity in our country, but I’m not a doctor. Until then, thinking about watching Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne lead the top-ranked Clemson Tigers on the gridiron this fall is just hope.

It’s an incredibly sad time, but looking at Clemson’s numbers since returning to campus on June 1 and beginning workouts on June 8, makes me believe today, that you will not see football on Sept. 3 or any day this fall.

Spring football, anyone?

By Lawton Swann

 

By |2020-09-21T13:41:09-04:00June 27th, 2020|Miller And Moulton|

After 10 life-altering days, less 1 kidney, David Moulton is back! 

After 10 life-altering days, less 1 kidney, David Moulton is back! 

“Damn, what a battle! Thanks to so many who showed me and my family, when we NEEDED it, how much you cared. I am forever in your debt!” ~ David Moulton

In addition to his local show, he also hosts weekend programming on SiriusXM and serves as the play-by-play voice of Florida Gulf Coast University.”

David recently celebrated his 24th Wedding Anniversary:

Moulton is well-known in the sports media industry. In addition to his local show, he also hosts weekend programming on SiriusXM and serves as the play-by-play voice of Florida Gulf Coast University. Behind the scenes, Moulton also serves as a spotter on a number of top-line broadcasts, including The SEC on CBSAmerica’s Game of the Week on FOX, and FOX’s coverage of the US Open.

Miller & Moulton is a sports talk staple in Southwest Florida. The duo was first paired up in 2006 on Beasley Broadcasting’s 99.3 ESPN. Mark Miller was let go from the station in 2016 with David Moulton following a few months later. They reunited on Sun Broadcasting’s WFSX in September of 2017.

By |2020-09-21T13:41:48-04:00June 8th, 2020|Miller And Moulton|
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