The man behind the voice of the Cavaliers
Dave Koehn’s famous booming voice reaches the Charlottesville community beyond radio waves
A group of volunteers stood in the parking lot at the trails of the Ragged Mountain Natural Area on a Saturday morning. Each had a sleepy enthusiasm — everyone had willingly come to trailblaze, but the early hour wore on some volunteers’ energies. However, one particular member brought a wide grin and booming voice to the group.
Dave Koehn, the director of broadcasting for Virginia Sports Properties, doesn’t just bring his booming voice to everyday activities. He has also been the radio announcer for Cavalier football and basketball games for the past nine years. Optimism in the face of adversity — even if that adversity was the fatigue of being awake early on a Saturday morning to trail blaze and hear about local politics — and community outreach are what Koehn passionately brings to his job.
The niche field of play-by-play announcing requires a certain natural talent of cadence and comprehension of the flow of the game. A college professor at University of Kansas and a high school teacher both told Koehn that he had a chance of making it in the play-by-play world after hearing him speak for class assignments.
Koehn decided to pursue the career path, following his parents’ advice to work a job he could do for free and to find a “labor of love.”
“It’s the closest you can be to being in the game without being in the game,” Koehn said. “It’s the ultimate reality show because it’s not scripted, it’s putting the human spirit on display — what can you overcome in adversity? — and I’m inherently drawn to that drama.”
Koehn makes his job seem effortless, but the business of running broadcasting for the University’s athletics ranges from daily and weekly broadcasts with coaches to interacting with clients to addressing the changing mediascape. He throws much of himself into play-by-play announcing for the football and basketball teams August through March every academic year.
To prep for calling a game, Koehn relies heavily on spotting boards — laminated sheets of paper with detailed, color-coded facts and stories on every player — to aid him in contextualizing the game. For football, prepping these boards can take up to 20 hours, whereas basketball games require about seven hours of research and preparation.
“I just can’t believe that anybody can be more prepared to do a broadcast than Dave can,” Tony Covington, a football analyst who works alongside Koehn, said. “Because of Dave’s preparation, but also because of his personality and our relationship, we’re able to adjust when things hit that we might not have been anticipating.”
Although the boards are filled with facts, Koehn finds his job to be less reciting his notes and more creating the story of the game in real-time.
“You can’t kill it with too much background,” Koehn said. “The story’s on the field, you’re not there to prove how much you know, but I just want to have this all at my disposal.”
Among other difficulties is walking the fine line between gimmick and substance. Koehn once “pumped the brakes” when he began using the catchphrase, “are you kidding me?” which he thinks can detract attention from the event and put it on the broadcaster instead.
However, the other side of that fine line is that Koehn’s job requires him to be descriptive and creative in painting the game in the viewer or listener’s mind. He sees his voice and words as more of a supplement to the game rather than the broadcast’s focus.
“[Fans are] reacting to the substance of the commentary more than the actual commentary,” Koehn said. “To vary up your description is one of the real challenges of what you do because you’re seeing — let’s be frank — the same thing over and over, so how do you say it in different ways so it doesn’t become monotonous.”
The sports Koehn covers today — football and basketball — have admittedly not had the best seasons. The football team went 2-10 last season, and the basketball team had a good year relative to other teams and their overall records, but not in terms of the past three years.
In the stands, students interact most with the marching band and Hoo Crew, two student groups aiming to hype up the crowd in the face of disappointment.
“We’ve kind of become cheerleaders when the cheerleaders are doing other stunts,” Shaw Driggers, fourth-year Curry student and Cavalier Marching Band’s drum major during the 2016 football season, said. “A lot of times we amp up the crowd better when we’re not playing music, interestingly enough.”
Dustin Jones, fourth-year Curry student and outgoing president of Hoo Crew, said the organization loves to get excited and create more enthusiasm for the basketball team in John Paul Jones Arena, even during this past season that left some fans disappointed.
“Our mission as Hoo Crew is to get as many students involved as possible and hype up the crowds,” Jones said. “We try to demonstrate how we want other students to act, but we also give out streamers, we give out big heads and stuff, so there’s a couple things that we do to get students more involved.”
In relaying the energy of a game to an audience not present, Koehn tackles the balancing act of remaining positive for Wahoo fans and maintaining the reality of the game by choosing to address but not dwell on the negative.
“Dave is an optimist, and you try to just paint the picture,” Covington said of Koehn’s attitude toward challenging situations. “It’s a balancing act of just between telling it like it is and then just really speaking optimism in what you see.”
Koehn’s role as a play-by-play announcer has carried over beyond his interactions with listeners and viewers and into a role as a public figure within the University and Charlottesville communities. He is affectionately nicknamed the “Voice of the Cavaliers” and sees himself as an important member within the community.
Although Koehn already plays a significant role in the community through his work, he also chooses to give back in other ways. For the past eight years, Koehn has been a “big brother” through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Blue Ridge, and he currently serves on the organization’s board of directors. On top of this, he still finds other ways to engage in his community, such as volunteering at Ragged Mountain.
“I feel like I’ve got this incredible life and I’ve been given a lot of advantages,” Koehn said. “I got a job where sometimes I’m even surprised they’re paying me to do it, so the least I can do is to help someone else who maybe doesn’t have some of those advantages.”