Moore on Maumelle: My (Sports) Take

Phil Elson with Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn (UA photo)

Elson Takes Arkansas Baseball Broadcasting to a Higher Level 

My love for sports broadcasting goes back a bit. As a kid, my first favorite radio sportscaster was probably Bud Campbell, the voice of the football Razorbacks. Then there was Jim Elder, the voice of the Arkansas Travelers. Elder was famous for recreating games without actually attending the out-of-town games. He would use stat sheets and sound effects to make the listeners feel like they were where the game was.

But a new guy has made a name for himself and he’s my new favorite. 

Phil Elson, 43, was the Arkansas Sportscaster of the Year in 2009, 2018 and 2019. He has been the Razorbacks play-by-play voice for baseball and women’s basketball since 2014 and has served fill-in roles for men’s basketball.

Elson has over 20 years of professional baseball broadcasting experience including spending 14 seasons as the director of broadcasting and media relations for the Arkansas Travelers, an AA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels and now the Seattle Mariners.  Prior to joining the Travs, Elson called games for the Helena Brewers, Ogden Raptors and Mudville Nine.

Paid subscriptions make this reporting possible

Subscribe if you like, pay if you can

Elson has also been the play-by-play announcer for Henderson State University football since 2011. Previously, he served nine seasons as the play-by-play broadcaster for the UALR women’s basketball broadcasts. 

He is now the voice of the Razorbacks baseball broadcasts and the women’s Razorbacks basketball teams, both which have had amazing seasons and a rise to national prominence. 

Here are a few of the questions I asked Phil: 

How fun is it being the voice of the Diamond Hogs? 

It’s a ton of fun. Winning always helps make things fun, and this program wins a lot of games. But it’s also the closest I’ve ever felt to broadcasting Major League Baseball. We have a large and dedicated fan base that rises and falls with every pitch. Knowing so many people are intently listening juices me too, for sure.

You had dual roles for a while, as the voice of the Lady Razorbacks basketball team and the baseball team. How do you manage both roles, logistically? 

This year was a different deal of course because the SEC did not allow radio crews to travel to games this season. I got used to a new routine that did not include travel. That made the combination of the seasons that occurs in February and March easier to handle. There were three instances where I worked a baseball and basketball game on the same day. Only once did we have two home games, and sometimes it looked like the timing wouldn’t work well. But it all worked out perfectly. I’m used to prepping for basketball while handling baseball now since it’s been seven years on the job with the Hogs.

When you travel to a road game, you are without your sidekick Bubba Carpenter. Does that make your job more difficult? 

I wouldn’t say it makes the job more difficult, but it certainly changes how I handle it. I did most of my games with the Arkansas Travelers as a solo broadcast so it’s really just something I’m used to. But when Bubba and I do a game together we’re usually conversing together over the air with the listeners being in on our conversation. When I’m doing a game solo, I try to make it a conversation between me and the listener. Where I might play off Bubba as far as his analysis or for humorous purposes…when I’m solo, I will play off myself or the ballpark we’re playing in or the atmosphere surrounding the game. 

You sound like you do a lot of prep work before the games, especially SEC games. How do you approach that chore? How many Post-It Notes do you usually use during a weekend? 

I don’t use Post-It Notes, but I have a very detailed way of writing in lineups with the stats written in a certain way. I try to keep the information in a central location whether in my scorebook or on clipboards. I take notes on each player that I expect to start in each series. I have plenty of places online to find information. However, I don’t want the broadcast to just be a series of facts or stats or rankings. Part of a baseball broadcast is about the true description of the game on the field and about personality and being entertaining.

Your postgame shows are one of my favorite parts of the broadcast. How do you rack up all of the sound bites and have them ready immediately after the game? 

 All that stuff is taken care of by Zach Jewell, who is our studio engineer at the Learfield/IMG College studios. Thank goodness! But for a while during my time with the Travs I used to cut the highlights for the postgame show during inning breaks and line them all up for playback over my own laptop during the postgame. Much better to have someone else do that now!

You are particularly critical of the new stadiums that have failed to use dirt on the traditional areas of the field. Do you think it should be regulated to ensure that dirt is used on the base paths, pitcher’s mound and home plate area? 

 I’d rather there at least be a dirt mound at the very minimum. But the cost of maintaining a natural surface baseball field seems to be prohibitive for some programs. Still, we remember the days of Astroturf MLB stadiums that didn’t have dirt running paths, although they did have sliding pits. I do think real dirt belongs on a baseball field. The whole field doesn’t need to be grass, although it’s aesthetically more pleasing and smells better. 

What is your favorite road trip? Most unfavorite? 

I’ve always loved visiting Athens, Georgia. It’s a beautiful campus and an exciting city. So, Athens would be my choice with the lone exception of Omaha! I wouldn’t say I have any least favorite SEC road trips because I enjoy the campuses and (most of) the facilities.

A trip to Omaha seems to be the expected outcome this year. Should we go ahead and book our rooms? 

Not sure how to answer that. This team has everything needed to be one of the last eight standing. No doubt about that. Will it happen? Baseball is the most random of the major sports…so I can’t predict anything.  

Phil Elson at work. (UA photo)

Is Coach Van Horn as un-fun as he seems? Does he ever cut up? Have you ever seen him act silly? 

DVH comes across as all business sometimes. He’s very focused on building the program to where it is now and to winning that first National Title. I wouldn’t say he’s un-fun. He has standards that need to be met before he accepts someone. One of those is a respect for the way baseball is meant to be played…and that includes enjoying the game…being joyful about playing ball. But also, being serious about it and treating it like something that is important. He does have a sense of humor. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen him cut up…but I’ve seen him smile a lot and laugh a lot and he’s made me laugh too. 

What do you do between the last game of baseball and the first game of women’s basketball? 

I host a daily sports talk show that airs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on HitThatLine.com and four ESPN Arkansas radio stations. That takes up a good chunk of my “offseason time.” But I love to spend time with my two kids, Sadie and Gabriel. I love to go bike riding too and hiking in the state parks. Still looking for new hobbies all the time.

Is being the voice of the Pirates your ultimate dream? 

I got into radio to be a Major League Baseball radio announcer. The Pirates would definitely be a dream job, although not sure if they win enough to make it truly enjoyable (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Here are some truths…I’d probably be happy with any lead job for a Major League radio network. But if that were to not happen, and I spend the rest of my life broadcasting Hogs baseball and basketball I think I’ll be perfectly happy. I truly love this gig. And all I want out of life is to be happy and to enjoy what I do for a living. So perhaps I’m already living that dream!

Thanks, Phil. We’ll see you on the radio. 

You can listen to Razorback baseball on FM 103.7 and sometimes on FM 106.7. 

And I’ll see you all on the Boulevard. Get your shot. Wear your mask. It ain’t over. 

Neal Moore is a public relations consultant and resident of Maumelle. Send your Maumelle news or comments to neal.moore@sbcglobal.net. Thanks, PJ