In an industry of imitators, Buckeyes play-by-play voice Paul Keels understands that everyone borrows, while appreciating that his voice…is the unique sound of Ohio State sports.
Columbus – For eighteen seasons now Paul Keels has put his personal, and unique, stamp on Ohio State University sports.
Which is ironic; for the fact is the average fan that met him face to face probably wouldn’t know him.
But the moment he opens his mouth – the moment you “hear” Paul Keels – you immediately recognize him as being the “voice of the Buckeyes, the man who has made broadcasts of football, basketball, and now baseball, part of the tapestry of our culture. Paul Keels “sounds” like the Buckeyes.
“That’s a wonderful compliment,” he said last weekend, prior to launching into his Sunday broadcast of Ohio State vs. Bethune Cookman baseball on WBNS radio. “But the thing you don’t understand is…your own voice doesn’t sound the same, or as impressive, when you hear it like it does to others. So when people are complimentary it’s great, but I have a hard time of appreciating that it’s something special.”
And people who make their living with their voice…know something about people with special voices!
“There are voices that I hear that do stand out to me,” says Keels. “Barry White had a special voice, and James Earl Jones. Now to me those are the iconic voices. I grew up with a bunch of character actors in the movies and on commercials that made an impression on me…distinctive voices. But I don’t think of myself in those terms.”
He grew up in Cincinnati, graduated from Moeller High School in 1975, and admits to being influenced by the tradition of the great broadcasting names in Queen City sports. Ed Kennedy, Waite Hoyt, Al Michaels and Marty Brennaman all contributed to his aspiration to follow and create his own template.
He earned a degree in communications from Xavier University and set out on a broadcast journey that included stops in Detroit for NBA basketball with the Piston (1980-81) and with WWJ radio where, ironically, he called University of Michigan basketball and football for six seasons.
In 1988 he returned to Cincinnati to become the voice of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats for parts of the next eight seasons, and added the Bengals to his resume in 1996.
But in 1998 another opportunity came calling from central Ohio.
“They (Ohio State) came to me in 1998. The former executive director of the network, Ed Douglas, was a guy that I had worked with when I got my first job in radio in 1979. We had stayed in contact over the years and in the summer of ’98 he called me and said there was a possibility of the Ohio State job opening, and it just took off from there.”
Football, basketball, and now baseball, but his regular duties also include duties as day-to-day staff at WBNS.
“I do those sports for the university, but I work for WBNS,” chuckles Keels. “After basketball’s over people ask me, ‘Where do you work?’, and that’s when I discover that they don’t listen to the radio station very much because I’m on every day. But that’s OK.”
The uniqueness of his broadcast journey is the combination of growing up with a dream…and a gift.
The dream was to recreate the scene from mystical venues like Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the Astrodome in Houston, as he heard from his radio influences growing up.
The gift was that rich, sonorous baritone voice that distinguishes Keels today from every would-be imitator. He’s humbled by comparisons to contemporaries in other markets, but he also takes pride in having his own sound, and one that sets him apart.
“I guess Jim McIntyre and Joe Nuxhall were the first guys that I grew up listening to,” he recalls. “And when the Royals were still in Cincinnati I was a big fan and remember listening to Dom Valentino. When the Bengals came into existence I listened to Phil Samp. I listened to Marv Homan back then doing Ohio State games never dreaming that one day I’d have the same opportunity.
“It was an amazing thing to me that you could sit in the backyard, or in a car, and listen to those voices and imagine from their description that you were there. As to the uniqueness of voice, people compare me sometimes to a Canadian sportscaster name Don Chevrier, who had one of those voices that you just take notice of. And I’ve had people say that I sound like him. That’s an incredible compliment, but again I don’t sound to me like I sound to others. I’m just glad they like what they hear.”
His sound has become so iconic, his on-air persona so symbolic with Ohio State University, that it’s made Keels, or his voice, welcome music to the fan’s ear, whenever, wherever. His popularity is synonymous with a winning tradition, and as one listener recently shared, “When you hear that voice you know the Buckeyes are playing.”
“I think the thing that makes you good, or popular, is when you do it enough that you can develop your own style,” he adds.
“You know when you hear someone who’s doing a bad imitation of someone else. But if you do it long enough you develop an identity. No one sounds like Marty Brennaman. No one sounds like Tom Hamilton (the voice of the Cleveland Indians). I’ve never thought much about sounding like someone else. My biggest concern is making sure they know the score, the time, and where the ball is…all of that stuff. You do that long enough and you develop your own style and your own sound.”
He’s created that style through phrases like, “take it to the house” in football.
In basketball he’s the only person I’ve ever heard use the term “he throws a three”, describing a three-point attempt.
When you hear that you know it’s Paul Keels, whose voice always finds an eager audience in Ohio…whatever the season.
He sounds like the Buckeyes.