Alumnus and Fox Sports Detroit broadcaster John Keating speaks at GVSU

GVL / Emily Frye      
John Keating on Friday Jan. 27, 2017.

GVL / Emily Frye John Keating on Friday Jan. 27, 2017.

Beau Troutman

He covers the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers, occasionally the Detroit Pistons, and at one time, Grand Valley State University. 

His name is John Keating, and he was back on campus to speak to students about the sports broadcasting industry and his career this past Friday, Jan. 27 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Lake Superior Hall, Room 174. Keating shared advice on breaking into the industry, personal anecdotes and answered questions from students during the 90-minute lecture.

“My first two kids went to Notre Dame, my third one went to Grand Valley. She and I think we’re the smart ones,” Keating said. “When I told her I was coming to speak to you guys, her instant reaction—she didn’t hesitate a minute—was, ‘they couldn’t find anyone else?’

“I don’t know where she gets her biting sense of humor from.”

Keating, who attended GVSU when it was still called Grand Valley State College, was a broadcaster and manager of WSRX, GVSU’s student-run radio station. He began school at Oakland University in Rochester Michigan, but quickly transferred to GVSU.

“I waited until my sophomore year to muster up all my courage to walk into the studio at the student radio station and squeak out, ‘I’d like to be on the radio!’ and five minutes later, I was doing the news,” he said. “At the time, it was just a little 10-watt radio station that barely covered more than campus, and got out to a couple of cows, maybe.

“But it’s like, all of a sudden, you were a part of something.”

Keating covered news his sophomore year, was promoted to news director his junior year and then station manager his senior year. During his senior year he began as a disc jockey at WZZR, now WLHT in Grand Rapids, working the midnight to 6 a.m. shift on weekends.

When he first started at WZZR, he and the station ran into a problem because they already had an on-air talent named John doing broadcasts. Keating thought he could just go by his middle-name and be ‘John Patrick,’ but the solution wasn’t so simple.

“Well the other John on the air, his name was ‘John Petric,’ coincidentally,” Keating said. “So the program director looked at me and said, ‘You are now Steve Knight. Welcome to radio.’”

Keating, then known as ‘Steve Knight’ in the Grand Rapids area, used his job at WZZR to get a job in television at Grand Rapids’ WZZM. Keating eventually left Grand Rapids to work at KMGH in Denver Colorado in the mid-1980s. Keating worked there for a decade before eventually returning to Michigan to work at Detroit’s PASS Sports, the precursor for Fox Sports Detroit.

While working at PASS, Keating had the opportunity of working with legendary Tigers’ play-by-play announcer Ernie Harwell, a personal idol of Keating’s. Harwell passed away in 2010 after battling cancer.

“Ernie was the best,” Keating said. “He said his goodbye at Comerica Park, and as he was coming off the field, we saw each other, I got a hug and that was the last time I saw him.”

Keating, known for his conversational style and frequent joking around while on the air, gave students insight on how he writes material, and gave insight into the process of being true to one’s self while doing a broadcast.

“I try to find some way of satisfying this goofy, gruesome sense of humor,” Keating said. “If I know in the next segment that I’ve got what I think is a pretty good line, I’m looking forward to it. When I sit down next to (former Red Wings goaltender and current FSD announcer) Chris Osgood, he’ll say, ‘What have you got for me tonight?’”

In addition to adapting to today’s social media driven environment, Keating spoke of the importance of aspiring broadcasters’ ability to be quick on their feet, a lesson he learned during the Red Wings 1998 Stanley Cup win.

“When the Wings won their second Stanley Cup in 1998, we went to Washington and we broke in live because it wasn’t our game,” Keating said. “For postgame we broke in live, and I’m working my microphone into a (former Red Wings defenseman Niklas Lidstrom), only to discover he’s speaking Swedish.

“The ability to tap-dance, or be quick on your feet, is something that comes with time.”

Toward the end of the lecture, Keating urged the GVSU students to love their job and chase their dreams, no matter how big.

“I’m thrilled for all of (the students) for your upside,” Keating said. “If you want to do it, eat dirt. That’s pretty much it. Invest in yourself to go somewhere. You might have a $40,000 a year offer to go to work at Steelcase, but that station in Cadillac, they’re offering me $17,500. Invest in yourself.

“If it’s what you want to do, do it.”