Silenced by the pandemic, Hokies broadcaster awaits return to the microphone

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — The pandemic has silenced the voices of many play-by-play announcers across the country, including Virginia Tech’s Bryant Johnson, who hasn’t called a game in months.

And with an uncertain future ahead, he’s using his voice in other creative ways.

“Beautiful day on the hayfields. 72 degrees, slight breeze, sunshine has been magnificent,” Johnson says into the camera of his phone. “We’re here for Donkey Kong 2020 where a retired sports broadcaster hangs out at the farm and does play by play descriptions of his donkey friend.”

This is broadcasting in the age of COVID-19, where anything is fair game, including the mundane activity of animals on a farm.

“I’m on a farm about eight miles away from campus. So I hang out with the farm animals. The donkey’s great, I love the cows. I’ve got some ponies, they’re my new friends and that’s all I need in life,” Johnson said. “What are you going to do? We’re all shut down. We’re all trying to re-introduce ourselves to the world we lost and the one we’re trying to build. So at this point, you start to think about what happens when you do return to campus and have games. And that is every day, that’s such a motivating factor.”

Johnson was in his first year calling games for the Hokies when the pandemic struck, providing play-by-play commentary for the Virginia Tech women’s basketball and baseball teams. His final game in the pre-COVID era was a baseball match-up against George Mason on March 11. And he was days away from likely calling the women’s basketball team’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2006.

“In the moment, it was ‘oh I can’t believe this is happening.’ And then reality hits, and wait, a lot of people have this much worse than I do, especially people that have lost loved ones and didn’t get to say goodbye to them,” Johnson said. “That was on my mind.”

The future is also on Johnson’s mind. With the return of sports dependent on containing the coronavirus, there’s no telling when he’ll be back behind the microphone and if that mic will even be inside a stadium.

“If I have to sit on my couch and call a game from afar, let’s do it. Remote broadcasting! It’s become a thing in the industry over the last few years,” Johnson said. “We owe it to our fans to tell the story of these schools because people are missing what they love. And it becomes our job to be even more articulate communicators and storytellers.”

Whether it’s courtside or in a remote location, Johnson is ready to hit the airwaves again. Until then, he’ll be waiting on his farm, providing commentary on the animals’ activities. Though his patience is slowly running thin.

“We’ve done that. It was wonderful. Don’t make me do that again,” Johnson said. “I’m done broadcasting cows milling around my backyard. Give me sports. Give me sports.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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