A Way with Words

April 3, 2014
BY Jim Williams
Ben Raby is calming voice in the crazy world of the NHL

040414_sports-Ben-RabyIt is 10:05 p.m. and the lights on the phone bank at the studios of WFED-AM radio in Northwest Washington are completely full. The Capitals have just lost to their bitter arch-rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on a last-second goal.

Ben Raby, who hosts the postgame show on the Washington Capitals Radio Network, is poised and ready to play the role of Dr. Phil. For the next hour he will calm down the callers and do his best to answer all of their questions. In other words, just another day at the office.

The Montreal native is in his fifth season as part of the Capitals’ broadcast team. He handles pregame and postgame duties, along with period breaks. He is joined on the network by play-by-play announcer John Walton, color analyst Ken Sabourin and reporter Mike Vogel.

The team’s radio network reaches from Harrisburg, Pa., all the way to New Bern, N.C., with two stations in Baltimore, WJZ-AM 1300 and WHFS-FM 97.5, as part of the family. The games are also streamed for free on the Internet at federalnewsradio.com.

Recently, Raby spoke with the JT about his early career in Canada, his present role as part of the Capitals’ broadcast team and the many fans the team has in Baltimore.

JT: Tell us about your early career in Canada.
Raby:
While I was still attending Bialik High School, a private Jewish school in Montreal, I was contacting newspapers and radio stations. Then I started college at Concordia University [in Montreal] and was very fortunate to land a job at The Team 990, the first all-sports station in Montreal, when I was 19.

I started as an overnight and weekend board operator and producer, but I gradually worked my way up and took advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. I wound up spending four years at The Team 990, taking on a variety of different roles. I served as the station’s beat reporter for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, and I hosted the Montreal Canadiens’ weekend postgame shows.

During my final two years at The Team 990, I added TV work to my resume as a sports reporter with CTV Montreal, where I covered the Alouettes and the Canadiens. I also produced a series of year-in-review pieces in 2006 and 2007.

I left Montreal in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree at Syracuse University.

Did you have any broadcasting role models growing up?
My uncle Jason Moscovitz spent 29 years as a TV reporter with the CBC and more than a decade as its chief political correspondent. I always had an interest in media while I was growing up, so I admired the work he did. I’m grateful that since I started working in the media myself, he has passed along advice and feedback.

When I did TV reporting in my early 20s with CTV Montreal, every few months I’d bring a stack of VHS tapes of my work to his house, and we would review what worked well, what could have been better. He continues to listen to my radio work online and gives me feedback.

What is the key to being a good postgame host and talking to callers?
The key is finding a nice balance of information and entertainment. We may replay some of the game’s best highlights, but we may play them as a montage with an appropriate bed of music and a number of player cuts sprinkled in as well that help tell a story.

It’s also important on a postgame show not to just say what happened in the game, but to try to explain why it happened. For home games on the Capitals’ side, I’m joined by Ken Sabourin, who does an excellent job in answering the why.

It also helps to find storylines and identify broader picture themes. Sure the Capitals may have won a game by a 5-4 score, but what does it mean in the standings, what could it mean it for Player X, who may have broken out of a prolonged slump with the game-winning goal? What was significant about the game?

Our callers like how we break the game down so that when we open the phone lines they have plenty to talk about, regardless if it was a Caps’ win or loss.

What about Baltimore’s hockey fans?
Baltimore had a wonderful tradition of being a great minor league hockey town. Of course, over the past two years we have played the Baltimore Hockey Classic, and that has given us a great chance to see our fans in Charm City. But during the season, there are busloads of fans from the Baltimore area who make their way down to the Verizon Center to watch the games, and then we have plenty of callers from the 410 area code. So yes, Baltimore’s love for the Capitals is strong and continues to grow.

How about your life away from hockey?
I am about to celebrate my six-month wedding anniversary. My wife, Ellyssa, is from Toronto, and she is a volunteer teacher. We live in Bethesda, and we love the area.

As for seeing the rest of my family, by covering hockey and basketball, there is a nice window in the summer months when I can return to Montreal and Toronto and spend time with them.

It’s funny, though, because folks down here say that I have a Canadian accent, and then when I go back up north, my friends and family all say that I sound like an American.

Ben Raby serves as producer for the NBA Washington Wizards’ radio broadcasts when he is not attending to his role as host on the Capitals’ radio network. As for the future, he hopes to return to television while staying in the Baltimore-Washington area.

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