Man behind the voice: Slayton native announces at Sunday's Super BowlWORTHINGTON — The voice makes an impact. It’s deep — Darth Vader or Barry White deep. It commands your attention, but at the same time is not startling. It’s the kind of voice you expect to hear coming from the heavens — or a public address system. And that’s exactly how most people will recognize the voice of Alan Roach.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The voice makes an impact.
It’s deep — Darth Vader or Barry White deep.
It commands your attention, but at the same time is not startling.
It’s the kind of voice you expect to hear coming from the heavens — or a public address system.
And that’s exactly how most people will recognize the voice of Alan Roach. His is the voice that makes the announcements and introductions at events such as last weekend’s Pro Bowl, Sunday’s Super Bowl and many other prestigious occasions.
Alan Roach is the voice’s professional name, but to friends and family, the face behind the voice is that of Kelly Burnham, a native of southwest Minnesota. He still has relatives in the area, including sister Jean Tentinger of Slayton.
“I was born in Slayton, lived in Slayton until 1980, when I moved to Brainerd. I graduated from high school in Brainerd in 1984,” explained Kelly during a phone interview from Hawaii prior to last weekend’s Pro Bowl.
The road to a career in professional announcing began in Slayton — literally at the starting line.
“Slayton probably had a little bit to do with my desire, whether it was conscious or not, to do what I’m doing,” he recalled. “I used to go to the Murray County Speedway, which back then was a little dirt track where they had stock car races. My dad worked for the auto dealership, Slayton Auto, and he got to drive the tow truck for the races. Every night I got to invite a friend and sit in the back of the tow truck, and every time there was an accident we’d go out on to the race track to get the wreck.
“Joe LeTendre was the announcer of every race every Friday night in Slayton, and I remember going home after the races, sitting down with my Hot Wheel cars and pretending I was Joe LeTendre. I haven’t seen him in 30, probably 35 years, and one thing I should do and want to do is say thank you to Joe LeTendre.”
After high school, Kelly returned to southwest Minnesota for a brief stint at Southwest Minnesota State.
“I did one year in Marshall, ’84-’85,” he said. “I took a lot of radio and TV classes, then after my first year of college I was offered a full-time job in radio, so I quit college and haven’t gone back.
“My first full-time job in radio was sports for the radio station in Brainerd, KLIZ. I came on every half hour and did the sports reports for a couple of minutes. That led to music radio — I played rock ’n’ roll, as a DJ. Between 1984 and 1990, I worked at nine different radio stations.”
Radio is still Kelly’s primary job. He’s been at KOA, an AM station in Denver, Colo., since 1991. He has two children — daughter Katjana, 13, and son D’Artagnan, 9 — and plans to marry fiancée Jen this summer.
“I do the sports reports in the morning on a news magazine show,” he explained about his main assignment.
But Kelly also has “a hundred sidelines,” many stemming from his radio employment, although he does other voice-over work.
“As part of my radio job in Denver — KOA is the flagship station for the Denver Broncos broadcast — I do the sideline interviews, the pre-game and post-game shows while they’re on the road. When they’re at home, I do the PA.”
In 1993, Kelly became the stadium voice for the Colorado Rockies, first at Mile High Stadium and then at Coors Field, a gig he continued until 2006. In 1999, he also became the stadium announcer for the Colorado Avalanche.
“In 2001, the Avalanche hosted the NHL All-Star Game,” Kelly explained. “When it jumps around to different cities, they use the arena announcer, so they used me. Through that, I met two guys, Sammy Choi and Frank Supovitz, and after working with them for the NHL All-Star Game, they asked me if I’d be interested in traveling with the NHL All-Star games wherever they went, including 2004 in Minnesota. After that All-Star game, the NHL was on lock-out, and Frank Supovitz was hired by the NFL. So he got hired, and it wasn’t three months after that that he called me and said, ‘Sorry, you’re not going to be able to announce the NHL game, but how would you like to announce the Super Bowl?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll fit that in.’
“Now, I do every NFL special event, the draft at Radio City Music Hall every April, the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Canton, Ohio. I go to London every year with the NFL (international series), do the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, the Super Bowl wherever that is. It’s a very, very nice job.”
Because his voice is his livelihood, Kelly takes good care of it.
“Thankfully, I have a doctor in Denver who specializes in performance voices, so I work very closely with him,” he said.
Maintaining the health of his voice is especially important during this time of year, when he goes directly from the Pro Bowl in Hawaii to Super Bowl preparations in host city Indianapolis.
“I do the Pro Bowl here on Sunday, then five hours after the game get on a plane and fly to Indianapolis,” he detailed as a hectic couple of weeks got under way. “On Tuesday morning I’ll get up and do Media Day. This is the first year Media Day has been open to the public, they made 2,000 tickets for available to the public, and it’s always kind of a circus anyway.
“On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I’ll be out and about in Indianapolis with a camera crew, doing the man-on-the-street stuff, kind of like (Jay) Leno,” he continued. “I just have fun with people, ask them what they know about Indianapolis, about football, wander around. Then somebody edits that all together for features that will run on the Jumbotron during the Super Bowl. Then there are rehearsals for the national anthem, the halftime show, player introductions.”
When Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, Kelly has to be at the stadium well in advance of the 5:30 p.m. kick-off time.
“Basically I get there four hours or more before the game,” he said. “When the game starts, I’ll announce the national anthem, ‘God Bless America,’ the check presentations, the different things that happen before the start of the game, and a lot of the stuff that is carried by national TV. I do PA for the game, after the game, then we get to go down on the field and the NFL has a little party for its employees down on the field after it’s over.”
After so many years of public speaking, nerves don’t factor into Kelly’s game-time performances.
“I get a sense of excitement,” he said. “What I’ve done, I’ve done for so long, before I ever did the Super Bowl, so it’s kind of second nature. I walk in the booth, there’s a microphone, I’ve got a script, so I know what to say and when to say it.
“I remember my first Super Bowl in Detroit, January 2006,” he recalled. “Sitting down in the booth for the first time and saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Ford Field,’ I got goose bumps, the hair on my arms stood up. I turned to my boss and said, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.’ He said, ‘I don’t suppose I have to pay you then.’ He’s hung that over my head for the last seven years.”
Kelly feels privileged to be a part of some of the biggest sports moments in current history, and he’s gotten to meet many sports and entertainment celebrities along the way. During this year’s Pro Bowl stint in Hawaii, he joined Doug Flutie, Tony Gonzales and Drew Brees for surfing lessons from 11-time world champion Kelly Slater.
He anticipates there will be more close encounters of the celebrity kind in Indianapolis.
“The pregame show is just for the fans inside the stadium, and last year before the Super Bowl I got to interview Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, got to meet Adam Sandler,” he said. “All the stars come out for events like that, and because I’m moving around with backstage access, sometimes they agree to interviews.”
As of the interview, Kelly wasn’t sure if he’d have the privilege of introducing this year’s halftime entertainment — Madonna — or if the task would fall to the network announcers. But over the years he’s welcomed the Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and the Black Eyed Peas to the Super Bowl stage.
“It’s a great, great opportunity every year,” he said. “It’s hard to believe how all of it happens from being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right person at the right time. There are plenty of people who have the talent to do what I do, could easily do what I do. I was just lucky to be in the right spot at the right time, and now it’s up to me not to screw it up.”
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327