Malibu Sports Spotlight

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Al Epstein. Photo by Dick Dornan / TMT

Al Epstein, Pepperdine Men’s Basketball Announcer

By Dick Dornan / Special to The Malibu Times

Al Epstein will begin his 27th season this November as the announcer for Pepperdine University men’s basketball games. The “Voice of the Waves” has been a steady fixture for the program since making his debut as a color commentator in 1985. Despite facing challenges such as the stomach flu, sore throat and a sprained neck, Epstein has announced 786 consecutive broadcasts of Pepperdine basketball.

After one season as a color commentator, Epstein inherited the “play-by-play” position when former Waves basketball coach Jim Harrick requested a change. While Pepperdine coaches and players have come and gone through the years, Epstein has been the constant, providing Waves fans with his knowledge and passion for the game of basketball on a nightly basis.

Epstein, a graduate of Beverly Hills High School and California State University, Los Angeles, has announced high school football, basketball and baseball games for numerous media outlets throughout Southern California. He also calls the play-by-play for polo games during the summer months at Will Rogers State Park in Pacific Palisades.

In addition to high school events, Epstein has announced numerous games on the collegiate level, including UNLV football and UCLA baseball. But Pepperdine basketball has been Epstein’s pride and joy as he has watched the Waves win more than 400 games during his tenure.

Aside from his play-by-play duties, Epstein has co-authored a book with Lou Riggs on broadcasting called “Play-by-Play Sportscast Training,” one of the first and only play-by-play texts. The book is a complete fundamental text that includes instruction in areas such as play-by-play, color commentary, interviewing techniques, game preparation and much more. The text is used by Santa Monica College and the Columbia School of Broadcasting.

Epstein has been recognized and honored for his achievements throughout the years. In January 2001, Epstein was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, recognizing his longtime commitment to broadcasting local collegiate and high school sports. He was also named the 2003 recipient of the West Coast Conference “Sam Goldman Media Award.” 

The Malibu Times caught up with Epstein to discuss his time as the “Voice of the Waves” as well as his thoughts on the broadcasting profession.

What was appealing to you about the broadcast profession that made it your career?

I have a passion for sports. As a former athlete in high school, I wanted to stay involved. I was looking for a way and wanted to become a sportswriter. But it wasn’t for me. So in junior college I met a lifelong friend who got me into broadcasting. At first I was horrible, awful and didn’t know what I was doing. I had no training. But people began to like what I was doing. I decided this is what I wanted to do.

Now every time I go to a game, and I’ve been doing this for 27 years at Pepperdine, every game is like the first time. The excitement, the drama, the crowd, the competition. To me it’s something I really enjoy.

What are the keys to success in the broadcast profession?

Every game is a production and I take pride in what I do. There is a challenge every game in doing it right. Preparation is very important. As a matter of fact, this is only July and I’m working on 35 Pepperdine games right now. I review Web sites, magazines and all kinds of stuff.

There is also commitment. You have to have a commitment to what you are doing. You are in this profession not for the money but because you love what you are doing.

Talk about your relationship with Pepperdine and what it has meant to you for so many years.

It’s been great. More important than anything for me have been the people at Pepperdine. From the athletic directors, to the sports information directors to the coaches, they have all been really good. These relationships have been rewarding to me.

We don’t just talk about basketball but life in general. That’s what drives me. I look forward to it every single year. It’s just as much fun now as it was when I first started 27 years ago.

Who are the people at Pepperdine who have impacted your life in a positive way?

I have been able to develop and maintain great relationships with the coaches like Tom Asbury and Marty Wilson; the [sports information directors] such as Mike Zapolski, Tim Wilhelm and Roger Horne, and administrators like John Watson, Steve Potts and David Rhodes. They have all been kind and very helpful.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with former Pepperdine [men’s basketball] coaches Jim Harrick, Lorenzo Romar, Tony Fuller, Randy Bennett, Jan van Breda Kolff and Paul Westphal. It’s been special.

What other broadcasters have you emulated in this profession?

Certainly Vin Scully, Chick Hearn and Dick Enberg. They bring sound, delivery and energy. They are professional and it rubs off on me.

When you speak about these men, two things stick in mind: credibility and believability. If you are slighted towards your team, you have no credibility. You always want to be down the middle. I want Pepperdine to win, but I have to maintain my credibility throughout the game.

Second, you want to be believable. Call the game as you see it and don’t make things up. Provide the listeners with factual information. Be believable.