Today, UCLA alumnus John Ireland serves as the play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers radio broadcast in addition to hosting his own daily radio show 12-3 p.m. with Steve Mason on KSPN (710AM).
Prior to that, Ireland spent time working for a number of television stations including KUSI-TV in San Diego, where he won Emmy Awards for his work.
The Daily Bruin’s Jordan Lee spoke with Ireland about earning his chops at UCLA Radio, breaking into the sports industry and what advice he has for those hoping to follow in his footsteps.
Daily Bruin: You served as the sports director for UCLA Radio during your time at UCLA, how did you get involved there?
John Ireland: My first shift there was a DJ shift on Wednesday mornings from 3 to 5 a.m. That was the very first time they let me on the air there, my fall quarter of my freshman year; they said, “Nobody wants these late-night overnight shifts, do you want one?” And I took it and worked my way up from there.
That’s how I started, and then I worked my way from there. By the time I was a junior and a senior, we had secured a sponsor to travel with the football and basketball teams, so that’s actually how I started doing play-by-play.
DB: Did you have any prior experience before that?
JI: I had played around with it in high school, I always knew that was kind of where I wanted to go. We had a television station on my high school campus, and so I started there. But when I got to UCLA the first time I ever did play-by-play of a basketball team more than once was at KLA.
DB: Did you do anything outside of UCLA Radio that helped you get involved within the industry?
JI: I grew up in Newport Beach and interned at a newspaper there. I was a sports writer part-time at that paper, and that’s where I started to learn how to write, and when I started writing, that’s when I realized that the guys who were making all the money in the business were the guys that were broadcasting, the guys that were doing radio and television. So I eventually transitioned over to radio and TV and that’s kind of what happened at UCLA. I went to the Daily Bruin when I was a freshman, and there was a great Sports editor there, a guy named Danny Knobler who went on to be a really good sports writer. Danny said, “Look, I’ve got so many people who want to do this that I wouldn’t be able to give you many good assignments.” And I went to KLA, and they said “Hey, if you come here, you can do whatever you want.” And so I kind of gravitated toward radio because there were better opportunities there.
I broadcasted everything at KLA from women’s volleyball to women’s basketball to baseball over at Jackie Robinson Stadium where literally there was nobody in the stands. It was me doing the game with another guy and the parents of the baseball players and that was it. But it prepared me … and so we were able to kind of turn me into a decent play-by-play guy because I had to fly by the seat of my pants. That’s where I learned how to do it at UCLA.
DB: You’ve done TV and radio, but what was your initial step once you graduated UCLA?
JI: I wanted to get a sports casting TV job, and I couldn’t find one. The first station that offered me a job was the NBC station in Monroe, La. And they said if I came there and worked as a news reporter, then I could fill in for the sports guys when they went on vacation. They each had three weeks of vacation a year, so I got to do six weeks of being a sports guy, and I was out of there in six months when I got a full-time sports job.
DB: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned now that you’ve been exposed to all these different areas of the industry that maybe you didn’t know when you first started out?
JI: The people who know how to write are the ones that get ahead. Write all your own stuff, and if you learn how to write you’ll be able to broadcast and develop your own style. Writing is really important. I’m glad I started in newspapers because when I learned how to write, you can learn how to say it, and then you can learn how to perform it. You’ll see a lot of people now that are in TV and somebody else is writing it for them and you can tell right away if you’ve been in the business for a long time – you can tell who writes their own stuff and who doesn’t. That’s the thing I learned right away that I’ve always remembered. Everything you’ve seen me do on TV is mostly me writing it.
DB: Do you have any advice for people looking to break into the industry?
JI: It is a war of attrition. If this is what you want to do, do not give up too early. Stick with it. When I got out of UCLA, they were 15 people that wanted to go into sports casting, all of them are out of it now, I’m the only one that’s still going. And I would say at least half of them got out too early. They went to a small market like Monroe, La. or Beaumont, Texas and they were miserable because they weren’t in Los Angeles, they were away from their friends, away from their family. I kind of treated those years as basically graduate school. I said, “Look, I’m not going to make a lot of money, I’m going to go down there, and I’m going to learn how to do it, and I’m going to move up.” If that’s your mentality, if you’re willing to spend five or 10 years moving up you can do it for a career. My advice to people would be don’t give up too early if that’s your dream. If that’s what you want to do, hang in there.
Compiled by Jordan Lee, Bruin Sports senior staff.