By Mike Kuntz, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 20, 2011
“It was New Year’s Day 1976, and we’re facing Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl,” said Carl Grapentine, Michigan Stadium’s current play-by-play announcer and, in 1976, a relatively green announcer for the Michigan Marching Band. “The Rose Bowl is running late and (No. 1) Ohio State is being upset by UCLA, so they’re holding the broadcast for the Orange Bowl.”
Grapentine was told to break the Ohio State score, since an Ohio State loss would make the Orange Bowl victor the national champion.
Already relishing one of his only opportunities to announce for the band on the road, Grapentine was now presented with the chance to tell an enthusiastic Michigan crowd the team was playing for a national championship. Hooked up with his own headset in the press booth from his pregame duties for the marching band, Grapentine revealed the news.
“I’m expecting this roar from the crowd that’s here to see Michigan play in the Orange Bowl, and there wasn’t much of anything,” he said, laying on the suspense.
Grapentine didn’t know the cause of the silence until after halftime when he talked to the band director. Apparently, the opening prayer was being given on the field during that time.
“I came in right in the middle of the convocation!” he said.
For someone who has since playfully referred to stadium announcing as something resembling the “voice of God,” the irony was not lost on Grapentine. The commentator spoke with The Michigan Daily in the days following the first night game in Michigan history, when Michigan secured a last-minute win against Notre Dame.
In the years since his Orange Bowl gaffe, Grapentine has remained faithful to the Michigan Marching Band, and he is now in his 42nd season as the band announcer, a position he has held since 1970. But most Michigan football fans might know him as the booming voice over the PA calling the play-by-play during games, a position he has held since 2006.
Grapentine’s first taste of Big House game announcing occurred while substituting for former Big House announcer Howard King, who had fallen ill before the start of the 2005 season.
“I thought about it for a day — well, maybe a day,” Grapentine said, laughing. “I said yes and did the first three games of the 2005 season while Howard recuperated.”
King returned to close out the season, but he announced his retirement at the end of the 2005 football campaign, leaving Grapentine the clear choice to carry the torch. And though he’s been announcing games for the Big House full-time since 2006, Grapentine has remained faithful to his gig with the marching band as well.
Grapentine graduated from the University of Michigan with aspirations to be a choral or music director. Instead, he quickly became involved in radio, getting his start at the now-defunct Detroit classical music station WQRS. After working numerous other gigs, he settled in as the morning disc jockey for Chicago classical music station WFMT — regarded as one of the most reputable classical music stations in the country — where he continues to work as he has for the past 26 years. His favorite composers are Bach and Mozart, and he likes to fit in their shorter pieces during his morning show when he can.
Through all his experience with classical and collegiate marching band music, Grapentine has remained a steadfast football fan his entire life. He was more than up to the task of making the transition to calling the play-by-play for Michigan home games, though he was careful to maintain the tone established by his predecessors.
“Michigan has always been fairly conservative (when announcing home games), and I think that’s the right way to be,” Grapentine said. “Calls should be impartial. If there are 110,000 people roaring, my voice might get higher or louder, but I try to use the exact same terminology when I’m saying ‘Michigan touchdown’ or ‘Notre Dame touchdown.’ ”
He added, “Generally, the PA announcer doesn’t do any fire-up, let’s-hear-some-noise sort of stuff. It’s the way it’s always been.”
Since the beginning of his stint as the Big House announcer in 2006, the Big House has undergone numerous structural changes that have been instrumental in retaining crowd noise. Grapentine says he has noticed a palpable difference in volume.
“My voice sounded louder as more and more structure went up on the east side, and now, there are completely different speakers this year, too,” he said. “The sound engineer (during the night of the Notre Dame game) was telling them to keep it cranked up as high as it could, and it really sounded loud.”
That night — Michigan’s first home night game in more than 130 years of football — marked a special moment for Grapentine, and he could sense that the fans felt similarly.
“It was just totally electric and exciting,” he said. “I remember turning to the Notre Dame band announcer and my spotter, who were both sitting to my right during the pregame show, and I said, ‘Is there anywhere else in the world you’d rather be right now?’ ”
For Grapentine, it would seem the Big House is home.