With more than three decades of experience, public address announcer Dennis Packer still keeps sports fans cheering
 
 
By Jonathan Horowitz Daily Trojan

Los Angeles, CA (U-WIRE) -- Who's the first person who makes you cheer at USC football games in the Coliseum?

It's not Matt Leinart. It's not Reggie Bush. It's not Pete Carroll.

It's Dennis Packer.

Dennis who?

Packer is the public address announcer for USC football games at the Coliseum, and when he announces, "Now taking the field, your USC Trojans!" 30 minutes before kickoff, the crowd erupts.

"I like doing that," he turned and said after the crowd responded to his voice before USC's home opener against Arkansas earlier this season.

Trojan fans have cheered Packer's voice since he began announcing USC football games in the early 1980s. He introduces the starting lineups, recaps each play and makes game-related and promotional announcements. In addition, he is the only college football public address announcer who also announces the band routine.

When he is not announcing for USC or the San Diego Chargers, Packer, 54, works for the Los Angeles Police Department, where he specializes in drug-related money laundering investigations.

The game

Packer announces from a tiny booth overlooking the 20-yard line on the first level of the Coliseum press box.

He flips a switch on a tiny box with worn black paint and speaks into a microphone, his voice resonating to 90,000 fans.

He is surrounded in his tiny booth by spotters, a representative from the USC marketing office who organizes the promotional announcements and a sound engineer.

Packer prepares for each game by taping lineup sheets to his table.

"You get to know the players' names, both teams, and make sure you sit down with the P.R. guys and have the correct pronunciations," he said.

Once the game begins, Packer uses his spotters to help him follow the action.

At the USC-Arizona game, Bob Richards, who has been helping Packer for more than 20 years, called out the offenses, and Brent Ferguson spotted the defenses.
 

 

Richards and Ferguson follow the action through binoculars and then call out what they see. Packer then relays the action to the fans.

"Almost the most amazing part is that he is able to filter all the information," Ferguson said about the cacophony that takes place in the tiny announcer's booth. "There's a really cool rhythm."

Sara Fillman sits next to Packer with a thick packet of all the promotional announcements to be made during USC football games. Coordinating through a walkie-talkie with people on the field and in video operations, the promotional announcements are organized down to the minute, and she hands the scripts to Packer.

Packer's voice seems to carry great importance.

"When (players) find out that I'm the guy that's announcing at the stadium, then all of a sudden they get real chummy, and they want to make sure I announce their names on a regular basis," he said.

The history

Today the public address announcer is as fundamental to a sporting event as the players' uniforms.

The history of public address announcing can be traced back to the invention of a device called the Magnavox (meaning "great voice" in Latin) in 1915 by Peter L. Jensen and Edwin S. Pridham. It amplified sound and functioned as the first loudspeaker.

The first public demonstration of the Magnavox was Dec. 10, 1915 at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Later that month it was used to play music before a crowd of 100,000 in front of San Francisco City Hall, and to broadcast a speech by California Governor Hiram Johnson from his home to the San Francisco Civic Auditorium.

It would be more than 10 years before a loudspeaker would be installed at a sports stadium.

The first sports public address announcers made game-related announcements from the field of play using a megaphone.

The public address announcers for USC football games in the 1920s at the Coliseum made announcements in this fashion while standing on the 25-yard line.

The first sports venue to install an amplified public address system was Maryland's Bowie Race Course in 1927 when Clem McCarthy began broadcasting horse races over loudspeakers to fans.

The New York Giants introduced the first baseball public address system in a July 5, 1929 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Coliseum did not get its public address system until much later, and indeed the announcements at the 1932 Summer Olympics were still made manually with a megaphone.

In Los Angeles, the roots of sports public address announcing can be traced back to John Ramsey, who started calling Dodger baseball games when they played their inaugural season at the Coliseum in 1958.

Ramsey became the voice of Los Angeles sports and went on to announce Lakers basketball, Rams and Raiders football, Kings hockey and USC football, among others.

With so many engagements, Ramsey needed backup announcers, and Packer became one in 1975.

Packer's start in public address announcing began while he was attending James Monroe High School, Los Angeles Valley College and UC Davis.

It was John Ramsey's uncle who discovered him.

"One day I was announcing a (Valley College football) game, and John Ramsey's uncle walks past the stadium," Packer said. "He hears me announce and thinks it's his nephew. He came up to the press box to see if it was John. And it wasn't, and he said, 'You sound just like my nephew.'"

Their meeting was brief, but nonetheless the short conversation led to a lengthy career.

Ramsey's uncle, who helped launch John Ramsey's career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958, told his nephew about Packer.

"It turned out John was looking for a backup voice at that time," Packer said.

The day after he tried out at a Dodgers game, Packer announced his first game at Dodger Stadium.

"Then I filled in for John wherever he needed a fill-in," he said. "The first four years I backed John Ramsey up, I never got paid. But it didn't matter to me because my foot was in the door of helping me do something that's really out of the ordinary."

Packer's first full-time professional jobs were with the Los Angeles Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum in 1979.

In 1982, when the Los Angeles Raiders wanted to hire a new public address announcer different from the Los Angeles Rams, he began calling full-time at the Coliseum.

He recalls starting announcing USC football games at the Coliseum in the early 1980s.

The band

Just before Packer begins to announce the first band routine of the 2005 season during the pre-game of the USC-Arkansas contest, he says, "Now comes my alter ego."

Packer holds the distinction of being the only college football public address announcer who describes both the game and the band routine.

Packer and USC band director Arthur C. Bartner are good friends and Packer began describing the Spirit of Troy band routines in 1988.

"I actually help him write the shows," Packer said. "We have luncheons every so often and he tells me what his concepts are, and then I try to write those concepts down on a piece of paper."

Packer attends band rehearsals, and before the USC-Arizona game, his voice could be heard during practice around the USC campus almost four hours before the 12:30 p.m. kickoff.

He also introduces the band at away games, such as cross-town rivalry games at the Rose Bowl, every two years in South Bend, Ind., at the Notre Dame game, at the Northern California Weekender against either California or Stanford and at USC's bowl games.

Packer says he enjoys the opportunity to introduce the Spirit of Troy.

"It's the whole fun of being here," he says. "It's 'SC football. This is the best football there is. And to be one little small part of it is a lot of excitement for me."

Off the field

Packer has a unique job off the field as well. He has worked for the Los Angeles Police Department for 32 years.

"I must say I have a really interesting job," he said. "I do money-laundering investigations - investigate large trafficking organizations. It requires a lot of work and research - very time consuming, but they're fun. It's like reading a good novel."

"He's very thorough at it," said Randy Osbourne, an officer from Wichita, Kan., who is currently working on a case with Packer and was visiting him in his booth before the USC-Arkansas game. "He has over 30 years of experience. I've been on for 12 years, so he teaches me. He's a good interrogator."

Years ago when he was the Los Angeles Dodgers' public address announcer, Packer served a search warrant upon a person's house, and he was recognized as the voice of the Dodgers.

"We went in and searched, and we arrested the guy, and just as we were putting him in the patrol car, the guy says, 'You know, you sound just like that guy at Dodger Stadium.'"

Thus there can be no doubt that whether he's calling out your name or calling out the plays, Packer will certainly get your attention.

(C) 2004 Daily Trojan via U-WIRE


 
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