This morning, Neil Price was announced by Mississippi State as the new Voice of the Bulldogs, taking over football and basketball radio play-by-play for the retired Jim Ellis and becoming the next in the line of MSU’s most recognized voices. A long-time broadcaster, Price joins MSU after a successful stint on the radio for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Shortly after being hired at MSU, we caught up with Price to talk about his new job. The following is a transcript of that conversation.
Hail State Beat: Let’s jump right in and start with the big news: you’re the new Voice of the Bulldogs. That must be a pretty unique feeling.
Neil Price: Well, it’s been a dream of mine, ever since I started my career, to be the voice of a Division-1 athletic program, and preferably one in the Southeastern Conference because it’s what I grew up watching and listening to on the radio, what I feel like I identify with the most. To see that dream become a reality – I’m not sure that it’s sunk in yet. It’s a cool thing to think about. The fact that it’s at Mississippi State, that’s just an added blessing. It’s a place where I feel comfortable. I’ve always enjoyed going to Mississippi State. I’ve never had a bad experience at Mississippi State, even when the teams I went there with lost games. The people are great. I love the town, love the community. It feels like home to me. I’m excited about all of that and just can’t wait to get going.
HSB: When you talk about being the voice of a school, Jack Cristil is, obviously, a name that comes to mind as one of the greats in college athletics, and he’s certainly a legend around here. Did you ever come across his broadcasts growing up in the southeast?
NP: I heard Jack Cristil toward the end of his career, but what stands out to me is that, if you ask any fan of any team in the Southeastern Conference to name you the three best radio announcers in the history of the league, Jack Cristil’s name is always near the top. To me, that speaks volumes. I’ve heard all kinds of wonderful stories about Jack. Jim Ellis has been kind enough to share some of those with me through the years, and he knew Jack better than probably anybody outside of his family. It is humbling to follow in those big shoes, and it’s the same thing with Jim, now, because Jim’s done a great job. And to do it with the grace that he’s done it with these last six years, that wasn’t easy. He was the guy who had to follow the guy, and you don’t always get to pick when the opportunity is going to come. He did it, and he did it with great professionalism and class. I think there’s a lot to be learned from Jim, too.
I told John [Cohen] this during the interview: if I chase the example set by Jack Cristil and Jim Ellis, I’m going to be on the right path. I’ve got no doubt about that, because people loved them, they were great at their jobs – and Jim still is – and they’re great role models for anybody in broadcasting, not just me.
HSB: So, how is it that you ended up in a profession like this? When did you decide that this was something that you wanted to do and how did it end up happening?
NP: I think the moment that it first occurred to me that I wanted to do this, I remember it was on a trip in east Tennessee with my dad. Dad had a little black and gray Ford Ranger, and we were listening to a Tennessee football game. John Ward’s voice just captivated me. I thought, this is a pretty cool deal that this guy gets to go to the game, he gets to watch the game, and he gets to convey all the excitement of the atmosphere and what’s going on on the field to people like me. That’s a pretty cool job, when you think about it. I think I knew even that early, at that age, that I wasn’t going to be an athlete. My future wasn’t in doing that. This was a way for me to still be involved in athletics and be around my friends who were far better athletes than I was, and have some kind of role that people would appreciate. That’s when the seed was planted, and I was probably in the seventh grade.
From there, it was being the public address announcer at middle school basketball games for our teams, and then doing the same thing in high school and eventually getting into radio at 15, doing the basic stuff: playing music, filling in doing news and sports, and occasionally getting a play-by-play assignment for a baseball game that maybe no one else wanted to do, or get to travel with the high school football crew on Fridays and get to help out with those broadcasts. My big break, in terms of getting the reps, was when I got to junior college. We had a president who was committed to athletics and he thought it was important that the games were on the radio and I happened to be the person that was qualified to do that and had the relationships with the college and the radio station to help facilitate that. I did two years worth of basketball doubleheaders, a women’s game and a men’s game during the season, and I had never had those kinds of reps before. That was valuable. Then, obviously, meeting Bob Kesling. Bob’s at Tennessee now. And has been for the most of 20 years at this point, and Bob kind of got me from that point where I had just put my foot in the door and taught me how to be professional, how to prepare, how to take what I was doing in a small town and get to a point where I could do it on a big stage. I think if you’re looking for the keystone moments, those are the ones that come to my mind.
HSB: This may be kind of a vague question as we finish up, but what’s your style on the radio? What’s your approach to the microphone and the personality that you bring to a broadcast?
NP: I don’t know that I have a term to answer that. I’ll tell you what I strive for. I strive to be conversational. When someone listens to a broadcast that I’m on, my hope is that they will feel like I am talking directly to them. That’s always my intent. I believe that the difference between being a good broadcaster, and taking that next step, is being able to be conversational. I don’t know how to tell you how to do it, but you hope, over time, that’s what you develop. I think that, in some ways, I try to follow the example that Jack Cristil set. You knew that Jack wanted Mississippi State to win the game. But I think Jack was very professional in his approach, and Jim has been very professional in his approach to the job, in that it’s not a lot of yelling and screaming, but when the Bulldogs make a big play, you know it.
What I hope I can bring in the appropriate amounts, and what I have been asked to bring by one coach already on campus, is just to bring some juice. I hope I can do that. If a guy breaks a long run in a football game, you’re going to hear those cowbells ringing in the background and I’m going to give the right level of excitement to go with it. Same thing for a big touchdown catch or a quarterback sack or a slam dunk at Humphrey Coliseum. Picking those moments and punching, and showing the energy and enthusiasm of not only the moment but the people who are there too, and trying to tie that all together in a way that’s pleasing to somebody’s ear.