Legendary Vol and nationally known announcers, ‘a pretty long list,’ inspired Brian Rice
By Dan McWilliams
New Lady Vol basketball play-by-play announcer Brian Rice is one of the busiest people in Knoxville media, and his days as a student at Knoxville Catholic High School helped launch his broadcasting career.
Mr. Rice, 39, succeeded Mickey Dearstone behind the microphone for the Lady Vol hoops games this season. He also is the longtime radio voice of Lady Vol softball. He co-hosts “The Erik Ainge Show” with the former Vol quarterback weekday mornings on WNML FM and AM. And on Thursday-night TV games during high school football season, he handles radio duties for those contests. As if that was not enough, Mr. Rice did the radio broadcasts for the University of Tennessee men’s basketball games during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas in late November.
A 2001 graduate of KCHS, Mr. Rice spent the first two and a half years of high school at the original KCHS campus on Magnolia Avenue in East Knoxville before the school moved to its current site on Fox Lonas Road in West Knoxville. He was the public-address announcer for Fighting Irish basketball during his school days.
“I did PA for basketball from 1998 to 2001. Might have made a few pinch-hit appearances as a freshman in the 1997-98 season,” he said. “I knew I had an interest in broadcasting even further back, but that was the first time someone agreed to put me in front of a microphone for something related to it.”
Earlier in his life, two legendary Vol announcers helped influence him, Mr. Rice said.
“My mom put a Sony Walkman with WIVK on it over my ears when we went to football games when I was a kid so I wouldn’t ask as many questions,” he said. “She told me that John Ward and Bill Anderson on the radio would answer all of my questions if I listened, and they did.”
The list of everyone who has influenced his career is quite lengthy.
“For broadcasting it’s a pretty long list,” Mr. Rice said. “Obviously, John Ward, Bob Kesling, and Mickey Dearstone from UT. But I watched or listened to Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren call Braves games on radio and TV for years. So, I tried to take the humor of Skip and the obsessive preparation of Pete. I listened to a lot of baseball online and on SiriusXM to continue to find that right balance of humor and information. Some names that stand out are Vin Scully, Jon Miller, and Bob Uecker. Then there are the legends of TV broadcasting across all sports like Marv Albert, Pat Summerall, Joe Buck, Doc Emrick—I listened to those guys and still watch classic clips of them the same way a lot of young players watch clips of famous athletes. You have to make your own style, but what made legends so legendary?”
Many of them coined now-famous phrases.
Mr. Rice says, “Let’s go make some magic” before he goes on air.
“I’m not really sure when I started saying that. It just kind of happened in recent years,” he said. “There’s something a little more crass that I have always said to our softball coaches at UT after I wrap up the taped pregame interview, but it’s not really Catholic magazine-friendly, ha ha.”
Mr. Rice has eight Lady Vol basketball games under his belt and counting so far in the young season.
“It almost feels conceited to say, but I feel pretty natural doing it. I obsess about getting the pregame and postgame shows perfect and things like that, but the actual game itself makes me feel comfortable,” he said. “I’ve prepared enough beforehand that I’m ready to add the right little details here and there, but I enjoy the art of it, the painting the picture for listeners who see the game. I want to give all the appropriate information at the right time to keep the casual listener up to date, but what I really enjoy is describing the flow of the game.”
Taking over for Mr. Dearstone on basketball “felt right because this was the first radio job he didn’t directly hire me to do,” Mr. Rice said. “He tapped me to replace him full-time on softball in 2013 then brought me in to do the daily radio show in January 2017. He’s been at every home game so far, and I’m glad that he’s there. He hasn’t said anything to me about the broadcasts yet, which means I’m doing OK. He’s always been the perfect type of mentor/manager for me because he doesn’t pat you on the back for doing the job you’re hired to do. But he’s always there to hold you accountable when you don’t.”
Working with Mr. Ainge for nearly six years “has been fun from the start,” Mr. Rice said. “We get along very well, and I feel like our strengths and weaknesses balance out as well as any pair can. Doing a daily talk show is fun, but it’s definitely a challenge.”
Mr. Rice’s time with Lady Vol softball dates back more than a decade, but his basketball duties will keep him from doing some early-season softball games as the two sports overlap.
“I started filling in on softball in the postseason in 2010 and took over full-time in 2013,” he said. “I plan on doing as many games as I can around the basketball schedule and once the season is over. I’ve been working with UT to try and identify a person or persons to fill in for me on the early-season games. A lot of people might give up softball, just to move on and move up or to give someone else the break in the business that I got. Maybe it’s a little selfish for me to keep it. But that program is family to me. It was there for me when I didn’t have a wife and son and was a stable force for me when I faced some family challenges. I can’t imagine not being in the booth for them whenever I can. I love the basketball job, but I know when Feb. 10 rolls around and someone else is in Clearwater with them, I’m going to have a major sense of FOMO (fear of missing out).”
The 2022 high school football season was Mr. Rice’s second full campaign doing radio broadcasts.
“I enjoy broadcasting football because there is so much to it,” he said. “From describing formations and personnel, to the many things that can happen during a play, it’s just an exciting sport to broadcast. It definitely wears on me in the fall because there’s a lot going on and you’re kind of at the mercy of coaches as far as the timelines of getting rosters and depth charts and stats, if you get all of that stuff. Working with college sports, you can access all of that information online at any time. Some high schools guard it like the KFC secret recipe. So, it’s a little stressful when I’m trying to put together two game boards at midnight Wednesday with kickoff at 7 on Thursday, but I’ve never missed one.”
He even got to broadcast a game involving his alma mater.
“I’ve only had the opportunity to broadcast one Catholic game,” he said. “I filled in for John Wilkerson on the state semifinal game at Central in 2017 that sent the Irish to the state title game. That was definitely a cool experience.”
Mr. Rice’s resume also includes time spent working for the UT athletic department.
“I was the features writer for UTSports.com from 2014-16,” he said. “I had contributed feature stories for the website and for game programs for several years, dating back to working in media relations as a student from 2001-05, but when they decided to turn what I was doing on the side into a full-time job, I knew that I had to do it.”
Mr. Rice is not Catholic, but “attending school” at KCHS “was great for my faith,” he said.
“I lean Baptist and have always attended Baptist churches,” he added. “But I attended First Lutheran School from kindergarten to eighth grade. Then making the move to Catholic opened me up to a similar, yet very different, religious experience. But I say that it helped my faith because I was able to identify the subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between what we learned on Sunday and what we learned throughout the week. I’m a big subscriber to the idea that if you can’t articulate and defend your beliefs, then you don’t actually believe them. That applies to religion, politics, whatever.
“I think that being exposed to and learning about a slightly different belief set and then defending what I believed helped me strengthen my faith. I think some of my classmates would say the same about learning from my experiences and defending why they believe what they believe. It was quite valuable to me, and I intend to send my kids there one day to get that same experience.”