By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Al McCoy sits in his Talking Stick Resort Arena office overlooking CityScape. He has a vintage radio on his desk and a typewriter against the window.
He admits he isn’t versed in email, but McCoy has his own style as the Phoenix Suns’ play-by-play announcer. When the Suns hit the floor this fall, it’ll mark McCoy’s 47th season.
“I believe in having a little fun with the broadcast because you’re going to be talking to your listener for a long period of time,” he says. “I try and be as descriptive as possible, and stay on top of the play. It keeps it interesting.”
McCoy grew up on a farm in Williams, Iowa, and he caught the “radio bug” as a kid while listening to sporting events. He stepped behind the microphone for the first time at KJFJ Radio in Webster, Iowa, as a freshman at Drake University, from which he earned a drama-speech degree.
In 1958, he arrived in Arizona to do play-by-play for the Triple-A Phoenix Giants baseball club. He has also covered Phoenix Roadrunners hockey, ASU football and basketball, and filled in as a backup for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He hit the Suns airwaves during a preseason game on September 27, 1972, and created catch phrases like “Shazam,” “Zing Go the Strings” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
McCoy’s contributions to the sport were recognized when he received the 18th annual Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame during Enshrinement Weekend in September 2007 in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Suns honored him with the Al McCoy Media Center in October 2007. Being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame was the last thing he expected.
“I came into my office one day, and I had a message to call John Doleva, the president of the Basketball Hall of Fame,” he says. “I thought he wanted to talk to me about a player or coach or somebody. So I didn’t return his call that day or the next day.
“Finally, he called, and I said, ‘What can I do for you?’ He said, ‘Well, you can’t do anything for me, but I’m going to do something for you that you’re going to be very happy about. We’re going to honor you at the Basketball Hall of Fame.’”
It was a “tremendous shock and tremendous thrill” for McCoy, who has an explanation for why he’s been so revered. “I have a good association with the fans and the listeners and the viewers,” says McCoy, who is married with three sons. “I’ve always tried to maintain that type of relationship. I’m a people person, and I have my own style of broadcasting the games. Apparently, the fans have appreciated that.”
Without hesitation, he calls the Suns’ two championship berths his most memorable moments. That includes the 1976 championship game when Boston topped Phoenix in triple overtime.
“I was fortunate enough to broadcast triple overtime games in the NBA Finals,” he says. “You can imagine how exciting that was.”
The last few years, he admits, have been less than exciting. “They have not been that earth-shattering because the Suns have not been in the playoffs,” he says. “They have not had winning records, but a lot of positive things have happened during the off-season – getting the No. 1 pick in the draft, that only took 50 years. We got Deandre Ayton from the University of Arizona. So I would say it’s pointing in the right direction there.”
Broadcasting is a tough field. McCoy isn’t perfect and admits he’s made errors, but he tries his best. “The two most important things I always have in my mind prior to broadcast is preparation and concentration,” McCoy says, leaning back in his seat. “You have to be prepared for your broadcasts and have the knowledge of the two teams you’re discussing. You have to be able to really concentrate on what’s happening. You can’t be thinking about other things when the game is being played.”
In his nearly five-decade career, he has seen the sport change. Each off-season, he studies the changes and the new players. “The advent of the three-point shot has changed really the way the game is played,” he says. “You have to keep up with the changes as a broadcaster. But it makes it fun, too, because it’s never the same.”
One thing remains.
“I’m the senior citizen of the NBA,” says McCoy, 85, with a slight laugh. “I still enjoy the winning. Losing is part of the competition. Seeing the greatest athletes in the world night in and night out, that keeps me going.”