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MLB.com Columnist

Meggie Zahneis

Zerhusen's voice booms at Reds games

Meggie: Zerhusen's voice booms for Reds

Zerhusen's voice booms at Reds games
Do you hear that booming voice declaring "Now batting for the Cincinnati Reds ..." as you squint at the field from your seats at the top of the stadium?

You grin at the sound of the voice as it expertly stretches out the syllables of your favorite player's name.

But where is that voice coming from? The ballpark's speaker system, of course. More accurately, if you're at Great American Ball Park, the sound is coming from the lips of Reds public address announcer Joe Zerhusen.

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You might be surprised to know that Zerhusen holds the same fond memories of the mysterious voice of the PA announcer.

Zerhusen, a longtime Reds fan who grew up in northern Kentucky, reminisced about his childhood visits to Crosley Field, where Paul Sommerkamp did the PA work.

"When I would go to the games, it was like, 'Wow -- [listen to] that big voice coming out of nowhere!' It was a neat thing, and I would actually try to imitate the way he would introduce Frank Robinson and Pete Rose and those guys," Zerhusen said.

But he didn't always dream of having Sommerkamp's job. No, young Joe Zerhusen wanted to serve the Cincinnati Reds in a different capacity: shortstop.

"I didn't want to grow up to be an announcer, but it is kind of funny that [announcing] was so much a part of my childhood. And now it is something that I am fortunate to be able to do [for a living]," Zerhusen reflected.

The man with salt-and-pepper-tinged hair and a permanently affixed smile went into radio in Cincinnati directly after completing school.

"People had told me that, 'You have to go to a small market first: that's where you'll learn,' but I was lucky enough to work here in Cincinnati. One of the reasons I got into radio is because somebody told me when I was in high school that, 'You have an interesting voice and you ought to do something with it.' I had never thought about it. I loved music and thought, 'Hey, if I can make money being a DJ on a radio station playing music, that would be great.' It beats some of the other jobs I could be doing," Zerhusen joked.

And so it was that Zerhusen started his broadcasting career at a radio station that would become Cincinnati's WARM 98. He then moved on to a position as program director at 94.9 FM before being recruited by the University of Cincinnati to broadcast football and basketball.

That's where the Reds came in.

"When Great American Ball Park was being built, there was a game where UC played football against Ohio State at Paul Brown Stadium," Zerhusen said. "I was doing the announcing there. A friend of mine came up afterwards and told me that I sounded good in a big environment like that. [He asked], 'Did you ever think about applying for the Reds' job?' I sent them a tape and I did an audition."

Zerhusen said the transition from radio DJ to football and basketball to the Reds' PA man was difficult, but doable.

"What I do now is a whole lot like what I used to do at the radio station. The songs are kind of like the game. And when you are on the air, you sort of fill in between the songs and you introduce the artists and songs. It is a show, especially with what we do here," Zerhusen noted.

Remarkably, Zerhusen's iconic voice never needed any formal training.

"My mother always used to kid around about the fact that I basically talked this way when I was 2. I really have no idea where it came from," Zerhusen said. "I learned that when you are in radio, you do have to speak properly -- you have to overenunciate everything you say."

Sounds an awful lot like something every kid's mom has told them while rehearsing for a school presentation, doesn't it, Joe?

"That's radio training. That was something I did have to learn. You have to have proper diction and proper pronunciation. It is something that over time, like anything else, you do it. If I hadn't been in radio and had people teach me along the way, I wouldn't be doing this today," Zerhusen said.

So what, exactly, does Zerhusen do? What you might not know is that he also serves as the club's broadcast and affiliates manager. Put simply, it's Zerhusen's job to expand and maintain the network of radio stations commonly known as "Reds Country."

"When the Castellinis [Reds owners] brought the radio network in-house, and when I started working full-time, we had 45 radio stations in our network," Zerhusen said, "Now, we have 92. We have really grown the network. And it is all in the philosophy of the organization.

"The philosophy that we have is that we want them to be the home of the Reds in their area. We don't just want them to carry the Reds, we want them to talk about the Reds. We give them a lot of different features to play, we give them promotional items. We want them to feel part of the team. And hopefully they will convey that to their listeners. And the listeners, as they grow up and hear more and more about the Reds, they will become Reds fans and want to come to Great American Ball Park."

Work with the Reds' affiliates comprises a large part of Zerhusen's offseason. From the months of April through September, though, he is occupied with details of the preparation for the "show" that takes place every home game.

"On a Saturday, for example, I would normally get here around noon or 1 p.m.," he said. "If there's any production stuff that I need to do, as far as the features, I get that out of the way. Some of the things we do on the scoreboard are recorded; I will take care of those. I will take my time getting ready for the game.

"On a weekday, the real prep for a game would start about 3 or 3:30. I will get the game schedule. Everything is down to the second. It is all timed out; a lot of people are involved. It is a production."

Zerhusen says his favorite part of that production is the Reds' Hometown Heroes Jumbotron segment, in which the team recognizes active and former soldiers.

"It is wonderful to see the fans get behind it, to see how people react to it, to see people in the aisles stopping them, and shaking their hands and thanking them," he said. "And also in the dugout, the players and Dusty [Baker] all give them a round of applause. Other than that, [my favorite segment] is the starting lineup."

Zerhusen also noted a few parts of his job that fans may not know about.

"There is a time limit between innings [usually one minute and 40 seconds, I announce the first batter] that the announcer has to be aware of to bring the next batter in," he said. "That helps the umpires. I think it would surprise people to know that that is coordinated, and that everything is so tightly scripted, like a television production, and that there is so much planning in putting the pregame together."

Zerhusen also added that he doesn't perform any routine maintenance to keep his vocal chords in tip-top shape, although he readily admits that "I probably should," with a laugh.

"Right before the season, my throat was bothering me," Zerhusen said. "I was doing a lot of commercials, or it might have been allergies. My friend gave me a concoction of lemon juice and 100 percent pure maple syrup. It helped a little bit and it tasted pretty good."

A birthday card taped up in Zerhusen's office, sporting the logo of the popular TV singing competition "The Voice," gave Zerhusen's chops the same name, and rightfully so.

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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