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Silver Hawks broadcaster follows his own path
by Will Lingo
At this point, Mike Lockert is used to the second looks.
It started with his first full-time job as a radio play-by-play announcer, working for the Huntington (W.Va.) Blizzard of the East Coast Hockey League. It was the middle of the 1999-2000 season, and the team had just fired its radio man.
Through a Winnipeg hockey writer whom he had befriended while covering Los Angeles Kings games (more on that later), Lockert got an interview with the team. He talked to several people by phone and by the next week was flying across the country to start a new job. The woman waiting at the airport to pick him up did not recognize him, so he walked up and introduced himself.
"There was some surprise when I arrived because I was black," Lockert said. "I was hired sight unseen."
The surprise was to be expected. After all, you don't see many black hockey broadcasters. Lockert now does Notre Dame hockey during the winters, and he's sure he's the only black broadcaster in college hockey.
What is a bit surprising is that Lockert, who is the voice of the South Bend Silver Hawks (Midwest) during the summer, also believes he's the only black broadcaster in minor league baseball.
It's hard to state anything absolutely in the minors, especially when you bring in indy ball, but we couldn't find any others. There are few black radio broadcasters in the big leagues, either, with only the Devil Rays' Paul Olden serving as a play-by-play man.
Lockert doesn't attach any particular significance to this. In fact, he just hopes it helps him as he works his way up in the industry.
"Someone once told me, don't worry about being the first, worry about being the best," he said. "But I am in a pretty good place to be a trailblazer."
Finding His Niche
Like those of many broadcasters, Lockert's career path is far from a straight line. After graduating from high school, he attended several colleges before finally finding his niche with broadcasting classes at Santa Monica (Calif.) Junior College.
It seems obvious in hindsight. Growing up in Southern California, Lockert listened to such broadcasting greats as Dick Enberg (who was radio voice of the Los Angeles Rams as well as the Angels before going to work in network television), Chick Hearn (Lakers), Bob Miller (Kings) and Vin Scully (Dodgers). He sat in front of the television with a tape recorder and did play-by-play. He took broadcasting classes in high school.
Finally in 1991, he got serious broadcast training at Santa Monica, where instructors encouraged students to work on their practical skills. That sometimes meant a group of four students would sit in the stands for one of the school's football games, with one doing play-by-play, one doing color, one serving as the spotter and the other doing stats.
Lockert never graduated from college, in part because he was too busy getting his career started. He became a freelance broadcaster, covering college and pro sports in and around Los Angeles and feeding reports to major radio networks.
"That has been my education," he said. "I had on-the-job training."
The first piece he was paid for came from a Lakers playoff game in 1993. Lockert didn't have a press credential and was able to sneak into the game because he had gotten to know the ushers at the arena so well. He got into the Phoenix Suns' locker room, got great sound bites from Charles Barkley and offered it to a national network. The network was impressed with his hustle and paid him $50.
"From there I was able to line up freelance work," he said. "And through that your reputation grows and people hire you to do more work."
Heading East To South Bend
It wasn't enough work to pay the bills, though. So Lockert worked as a waiter and bartender through most of the 1990s and kept doing freelance radio work on the side. He continued to apply for broadcast jobs in the face of repeated rejections.
"My mother told me she had never seen anyone who heard 'no' so many times and kept going," he said. "But I learned from my parents that if you just keep pushing you'll get where you need to be."
In 2001, Lockert was set to go to the Winter Meetings in Boston, but decided not to go after Sept. 11. Instead he e-mailed every minor league team and wound up talking to the people in South Bend, who said they might have an opening in a few months. In March, just a few weeks before the season started, they called back and asked if Lockert was still interested.
"Duh. Yes, I'm still interested," he said. "A few days later I packed up my car and drove to South Bend, and I've been here ever since. It's been what I expected and more than I expected."
Lockert got another break when a local radio station asked him after the 2002 season if he had ever done hockey broadcasting. He had, so the station hired him to do Notre Dame hockey and a month after the baseball season he was in Duluth, Minn. Again, it mattered little that he was one of the only black faces in the arena.
"You're one of the boys, it doesn't matter what you are," he said. "I'd like to believe that most of the world is colorblind. I know that's not the case, but I try not to let it affect me.
"I haven't had problem number one, and part of it may be the attitude I carry. I honestly couldn't care less what some ethnicity someone is."
In fact, the only people who have given him a hard time about becoming a broadcaster were his friends, who found it unlikely he would ever make a living that way. "I was laughed at by two of my very good friends," he said. "I didn't really mind the laughing—but they made fun of me in front of girls."
Lockert doesn't find any deep sociological meaning in the dearth of black broadcasters, but he said he would like to change the trend.
"The number one thing is you have to see someone like you that's doing it," he said. "I do it because it's what I like and I've always liked it, and maybe some kid will see me and like it too. If they do, great. If they don't, I hope they can find something else they enjoy."
Lockert certainly seems to have found it.
You can contact Will Lingo by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.