The voice of the Frogs: Estridge finds his calling in front of a microphone

Ben Hogan Awards dinner at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas on May 18, 2015. (Photo/Sharon Ellman)

With the intensity of a hawk, Brian Estridge focused on the gridiron in front of him. His eyes were trained on the running back’s movement as he listened intently for the cadence of the quarterback’s count. This was his fifth game to call in a promising football season, and he was keenly aware of the significance that a win would bring the University of South Carolina football team.

“Wright leaves the backfield now, as Harper takes the snap from center and fakes to Rogers,” Estridge said. “Harper drops back, looks left. Looks right, now fires toward the sideline. Caught! By Horace Mitchell for a seven yard gain.”

He had to stop the call abruptly because his mother called him for dinner. Estridge turned off the TV and hustled to the table for supper, hoping to return in time to call the second half. After, of course, he had cleaned his plate. The life of an eight-year-old play-by-play man can be filled with interruptions, and Estridge’s career had an understandable share, especially considering that he had to balance a burgeoning broadcast career with things like high school homework and senior prom. When you start calling games professionally in the ninth grade, you have to spin a lot of plates.

“I got my first job at 14 by walking into my hometown station and reading an article out of the newspaper, cold, for the owner,” Estridge said. “He hired me on the spot. So I called my first basketball game at age 14. It was a 2A girls South Carolina state basketball championship, Andrew Jackson High School versus Barnwell High. I still have the tape.”

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Growing up in Kershaw, South Carolina, Estridge called a lot of Clemson University games, as well as those for the University of South Carolina, in a makeshift studio in his family’s house.

“When I was 8 and 9, I would turn down the volume on the TV and do the play-by-play in my room,” he said. “I had a little headset, and a chair in front of my television, so it was my ‘broadcast location.’ I think I knew at an early age that I wanted to do this. I always knew this was my calling. Back then, and where I grew up, I was always emulating three long-time voices at their respective schools: Bob Fulton at South Carolina, Woody Durham at UNC and John Ward at Tennessee.”

It paid off. Imitation, in broadcast, is less a form of sincere flattery than it is an understood method to perfect one’s craft. For Estridge, that led to a position with the broadcast team at his alma mater, Appalachian State, and then at Miami (Ohio) University. In 1998, Texas Christian University’s Athletic Director Eric Hyman called Estridge to Fort Worth, as they had worked together at Miami of Ohio. Estridge has been the play-by-play voice for TCU football and men’s basketball ever since. His professional touch with the airwaves is obvious, and even award-winning. The diction, vocal inflection and enunciation that take some broadcast students years to perfect were instinctive for Estridge before he could drive a car.

During his first couple of years as director of broadcasting for TCU Athletics, Estridge was also in charge of athletic marketing. A partnership with ESPN was formed around the time he arrived on campus, and he was introduced to a cadre of broadcasting professionals. The relationships formed during those early years would later give Estridge the opportunity to build RedVoice Productions, his growing broadcast empire. This season, RedVoice owns the broadcast rights to sell the advertising and marketing behind four college bowl games. In 1998, those dreams were a stratosphere away, but the seeds for Estridge’s future business opportunities were planted with the formation of the partnership between ESPN and TCU.

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In 2001, ESPN started a Fort Worth/Dallas radio channel, and Estridge was invited to join the local ESPN station, while maintaining his position as voice of the Horned Frogs. He co-hosted the midday time slot with KXAS NBC 5’s Newy Scruggs. Estridge then moved to an afternoon drive time co-hosting role with venerable sports writer and radio personality Randy Galloway. Estridge shared the air with the local sports icon until he was recruited away to join WBAP and co-host the morning show with Hal Jay and Steve Lamb. The business lessons learned from networking within the network proved fruitful in 2014 when the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, a broadcast property owned by ESPN, had its radio rights open for bid.

“A couple of years ago, the broadcast rights to the Armed Forces Bowl were available, and we took a chance and purchased them,” Estridge said.

“It was a roll of the dice, and it worked out. It was so successful that we parlayed it into the rights to also broadcast the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and ESPN was satisfied with the job we did,” Estridge said. “We have since added the Bahamas Bowl and the Celebration Bowl to the inventory, and we look forward to adding additional games in the future.”

Today, when not in the WBAP studio or calling a game for TCU Athletics, Estridge can be found serving on community boards or providing emcee work for events. However, over the next few weeks, college football fans around the world will have the chance to hear him provide radio play-by-play for the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Dec. 23 when the Navy Midshipmen take on the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. From there, he’ll venture across town with his radio crew to the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. The University of North Texas Mean Green take on Army in that game on Dec. 27. The Celebration Bowl and Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl, also broadcast by RedVoice Productions, will include members of Estridge’s radio team while he juggles play-by-play duties with the TCU football and men’s basketball teams. The key to executing successful broadcasts, he’s found, is being able to work with the right people.

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“I think it’s solely about relationships,” Estridge said. “Mine with Brant Ringler, the executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and my relationship with Pete Derzis at ESPN were both key. I think Pete knows my track record, and he knew that we were going to give him a first-class product. When it comes to the basics, I’m a true audiophile. I’m as concerned about the technical sound of the game as anything.”

And while not everyone on the air was attempting to cover his own games in elementary school, Estridge looks for comparable passion among his broadcast colleagues while he increases his national presence.

“I hire really good people,” Estridge continued. “The folks doing the games for us are some of the best in the business. Plus, they have experience with the teams that are in the game. Rob Best, for example, is our analyst for the Bahamas Bowl. He was a former coach in the Mid-American Conference, which sends a team to that game. Sam Crenshaw, our play-by-play voice in Atlanta, covers the MEAC and SWAC conferences on a regular basis.”

The network Estridge has established across the country will help his stable of broadcast partners grow as RedVoice Productions continues to add broadcast properties. While he said years ago that Fort Worth was the top rung he’d ascend on his career ladder, his vision is cast widely across the country as the chances to expand his broadcast brand become available.

“We hope to add more college football bowl games and add some regular-season games as ‘Games of the Week,’” Estridge said. “We’d like to take on some post-season basketball tournaments and then hope to venture out into a more rounded sports marketing approach.”

Estridge hopes to add more promotion and sponsorship of post-season games to increase RedVoice’s revenue, along with exposure for his partner programs and institutions. Event management also figures into RedVoice Production’s long-term plans.

But beyond the college football and basketball seasons, listeners will continue to hear Estridge’s familiar voice on their morning commute, along with the team he’s worked with at WBAP. Ultimately, that camaraderie and exchange, as much as calling offensive and defensive schemes, fuels his engine daily.

“I think I need to do more than sports for my brain,” Estridge said. “My interests are varied. I was a political science major, so politics has always been important to me, something I’m passionate about. I am glad to be able to discuss them on a daily basis because that’s where I think we can make a real difference for our kids.”