Originally posted Thursday, December 6, 2018 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Steve Craig is best known as the encyclopedia of rock on mornings on 97.1/The River. He has been an Atlanta radio fixture for more than a quarter century, notably his run in mid-days on the groundbreaking alternative rock station 99X.
But Craig has a robust side hustle, too: he is the in-game announcer for the Atlanta United and will be behind the mic December 8 during the MLS Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium between the United and Portland Timbers.
“I have no doubt the fans are ready,” Craig said. “It won’t take much prompting to get the energy level up. I’m resting the voice as much as possible. There’s going to be a lot of goal announcing. I can feel it!”
Pete Soto, who hired Craig, said the announcer “sets the tone, sets the traditions. He becomes part of the ambiance and the landscape of the entire presentation.” The regulars, he said, get to know his cadence. They sing along with him and imitate his goal calls for Josef Martinez, the team’s leading scorer.
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Soto, whose lengthy title is “senior director of game presentation and stadium and events production,” said Craig is a consummate pro who shows up four hours before the game, preps thoroughly and manages to make even the most mundane announcements sound conversational.
Stylistically, Craig isn’t as swaggerlicious as Ryan Cameron, a fellow veteran radio host who has been helming Atlanta Hawks games for 14 years and recently began doing the Atlanta Falcons as well.
In fact, regular United attendee and Grant Park resident Jim Voris, who listened to 99X for many years, didn’t even recognize it was Craig until he was informed of that fact.
“He’s always been a very professional sounding DJ at a time when non-traditional voices were on the air,” Voris said. At the stadium, “it’s just a higher energy version of his pro delivery.”
Holland Coward Muscio, owner of Balloonacy, said Craig’s “voice is friendly, tone is authoritative without being rude and is easily understood. He gets excited about the sometimes blah announcements he has to make and always seems to pronounce all the names properly and with gusto.”
Reid Davis, a former lover of 99X, said he tries to time his arrival at any United home game to Craig’s pronouncement: “Are you ready for this, the beautiful game?”
Relatively speaking, Craig doesn’t have as much to do as Cameron. Soccer games don’t involve scoring every minute or two like a basketball game. There aren’t as many scheduled breaks embedded into the game as there are in football or baseball. During the game, Craig usually announces substitutions and penalties as well as goals, where he gets to shine.
Soto said Craig is normally pretty laid back but when a United player scores, he begins yelling and turns beet red.
“I worry he’s going to pass out,” Soto said. “It’s become his signature. It’s awesome to watch. I videotaped him once screaming for 40 straight seconds and posted it on Facebook!”
Craig is not a neophyte at sports announcing. He recalls doing fake play by play with a friend in the early 1980s at a Salt Lake City minor league baseball game. (“We sat by ourselves,” he said. “There weren’t that many people there.”) Later, he did real minor-league stadium announcing for a two California minor league baseball teams where he got to see the likes of future Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. play before moving to Atlanta in 1991.
In 1999, the NHL Atlanta Thrashers hired him to do game announcing at what was then Philips Arena. He was already well versed in the sport, having played recreational hockey for years. (”Broke several ribs. Tore my groin twice. Ended up with a weird case of bursitis. Then a disc popped in my back in 2015. So I retired.”)
He worked the Thrashers for nine years until he lost his job at 99X and moved to New York. When he returned to Atlanta a few years later, the Thrashers were gone but he was able to take a gig with the minor-league Gladiators hockey team in Duluth.
Craig - who was no more than a casual fan of soccer when he joined the United - said he was able to pick up on nuances of the sport without too much pain. It helped that the fans got into the team so quickly.
“We sit next to the press box area,” he said. “We’re the only ones with an open window. We’re exposed to everything. I like to hear the crowd. It’s hard to describe it until you feel it.”
He said he still gets nervous at the start of a game. “It’s intimidating in a way,” Craig said. “Right before you crack the mic, you hear that echo. After I say, “Welcome ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, welcome to Mercedes-Benz Stadium!’ I look and see 70,000 people there. You kind of get lost in that moment, get in the zone. It all kind of kicks in.”
MLS Cup: Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers
8 p.m., Saturday, Fox, UniMas, 92.9/The Game
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