Lifelong passion for broadcasting drives Lyn Rollins to peak of his profession
Note: This is the first story in a series on the 2018 inductees to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies are June 30 in Natchitoches. Click here to learn more.
By Bob Tompkins
Written for the LSWA
During the LSU-Rice semifinal game of the NCAA Baton Rouge baseball regional in 2016, the Twitter universe flashed some buzz regarding the play-by-play broadcaster for the game that was broadcast on ESPNU.
“Who’s the play-by-play guy in Baton Rouge? What a classic baseball voice,” tweeted Aaron Fitt, a national writer and editor at D1Baseball.com.
“Lyn Rollins,” tweeted a fan from New Orleans, “is a national treasure.”
“Flat as a fritter,” tweeted another fan from Alexandria, quoting Rollins. “Someone please write a book of all Lyn Rollins-isms please.”
A native Alexandrian and resident of Pineville, Rollins is being inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Saturday, June 30 in Natchitoches as a broadcasting winner of the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism.
It’s a career he felt called to as a child.
“I distinctly remember as a 10-year-old or younger, listening to the radio at night before I went to bed –- clear channel AM radio stations all over the country in the ’50s,” Rollins said, sitting in the coffee shop of an Alexandria bookstore. “I thought it was magical to hear someone who was in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Des Moines, Denver, Atlanta.”
Most of those nights beside the radio, though, young Lyn was listening to St. Louis Cardinals baseball games on KMOX-AM, “the Voice of St. Louis,” and future National Baseball Hall of Famer Jack Buck was the announcer.
“I am a bit of a radio historian,” said Rollins. “I think I’m rooted in the subject. It’s something I truly enjoy, something I wanted to do from an early age.”
Rollins got his start in broadcasting as a freshman at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, working at KNOC, sweeping the lobby, emptying trash cans and doing other odd jobs.
“I got to know Norm Fletcher, the longtime voice of Natchitoches high school sports and Northwestern sports,” he said. “I expressed a desire to get involved, and he asked me to be a spotter for him in football and to work the stats. I jumped at the chance. I’d wear a headset and I’d pretend I was doing a game when he was doing it.”
That extended to the basketball season, when he progressed to handling the broadcasting during halftime for Fletcher. Meanwhile, as a student at NSU, he was a print journalism major — a “marvelous background,” he said, “for having broadcast skills because of requirements for efficient use of the language and the pressure of deadlines.”
As someone who blossomed under the tutelage of Fletcher and later succeeded him as the Voice of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Rollins has always wanted to “use language well” because that was a trait of sportscasters of the time such as Jack Buck, Bob Prince, Lindsey Nelson, Al Wester and Red Barber, all of whom, he said, were “wordsmiths.”
A 1973 NSU journalism graduate, Rollins is a four-time Louisiana Sportscaster of the Year (selected by peers in broadcast and print journalism). For a few decades, he was Alexandria’s premier play-by-play broadcaster in high school sports, especially football, and he was the Voice of the Alexandria Aces minor league baseball team over two spans of the team’s existence, both in the Texas League in the ’70s and in independent leagues in the ’90s and early ’00s.
“Doing minor league baseball in small town America is a joy,” said Rollins, who’d open his Aces’ broadcasts with, “Welcome to baseball in small town America.”
Through those years, he found a groove for calling baseball.
“It may sound corny, but there’s something wholesome and lasting about (baseball),” Rollins said. “It connects us to the past.”
It also provided a bridge to his broadcasting future, thanks to Ronnie Rantz, a former star athlete for Holy Savior Menard who pitched at LSU under Skip Bertman and played briefly for the Aces in 1995.
“In the fall of ’97, I started putting together the Jumbo Sports Network,” said Rantz, the chief executive officer and president of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. “I wanted to set a pretty high bar. I needed a play-by-play guy, and the usual suspects like Jim Henderson (Saints) and Jim Hawthorne (LSU) were taken. This was 20 years ago, a different landscape for sports TV with not as many options as you have now.
“I immediately thought of Lyn,” he went on. “He knows his stuff, he’s done this all his life. He jumped at the opportunity and was really instrumental in securing sponsors to make sure our games got on the air.”
Rollins, who has a master’s in journalism from LSU, was the primary play-by-play man for Jumbo Sports’ groundbreaking baseball telecasts at LSU and other state schools. Rollins and Rantz did the broadcasts for the 2000 NCAA Super Regional baseball series between LSU and Tulane at Zephyr Field in Metairie in what would be Skip Bertman’s farewell as LSU’s legendary baseball coach.
“The Friday night game (won by LSU) went extra innings,” said Rantz. “After 10 p.m., it had a 25 rating, 35-40 shares, in the New Orleans area, which is unheard of. It’s the highest rated college baseball game (in a local market) in Louisiana history for sure, and possibly for the country.”
Rollins seemingly hit full stride during those broadcasts when, because of the size of the audience, thousands of fans in the state were introduced to the broadcaster who graduated from Bolton High School in 1968 and worked for one year as a sportswriter for the Town Talk in ’76-77.
“Lyn knows baseball — he played it, called it (as an official), gets the nuances of it,” said Rantz.
“He has some quirky lines –‘hotter than a Rolex in a pawn shop’ is my personal favorite.
Some others: “hotter than a fire ant on a fever blister,” “he covers more ground than kudzu,” and, “if this at-bat goes any longer, you could count the growth rings in the bat.”
Northwestern State fans came to know Rollins as the Demon Sports Network play-by-play man from 1993-2003. Last fall, during an NSU football game broadcast on Cox Sports Television, NSU president Chris Maggio presented Rollins the university’s prestigious Nth Degree during a surprise halftime visit.
“Lyn has risen to the highest levels in his profession,” said Maggio at the time.
Jeff Brenner, the executive producer of Cox Sports Television, hired Rollins in 2003 as part of a collaborative effort between LSU and CST to televise LSU sports events.
“He reached out to us about doing some work,” said Brenner. “Knowing how much history he had in the state … we needed someone who could bring that out in a broadcast. Lyn is very professional, he cares about his broadcasts and about the kids he’s broadcasting about. He’s never put a kid down because he knows they are still students.
“People will joke about him – some of his puns or his sayings, but that’s what makes Lyn Lyn. He makes you laugh, he makes it fun for you, or he’s going to tell you something you might not have known.”
It was good timing being hired for that CST job in 2003, as Rollins got to follow LSU’s football team, which won that season’s BCS Championship under coach Nick Saban. He also covered LSU’s 2007 national championship season under coach Les Miles. Rollins said the LSU-Georgia afternoon game in ’03, won by LSU when Skyler Green caught a late TD pass on an improvisational route, “one of the most exciting games with which I’ve been involved.”
Rollins has made the drive from Pineville to Baton Rouge more than 1,000 times since 2003.
Kevin Wagner, who oversees LSU’s responsibilities with the SEC Network as LSU’s assistant athletic director for network operations, hired Rollins four years ago to be LSU’s lead announcer in SEC/ESPN network events.
“Even though Lyn lives in Pineville and has to drive a lot,” said Wagner, “because of his love for LSU and his interest in broadcasting LSU events, it was never an obstacle for him, whether it was a soccer match or a big-time basketball or baseball game.”
Ben McDonald, a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer as a former LSU and major league pitcher, has done many baseball broadcasts with Rollins and has won acclaim nationally for his insight and style as a studio or broadcast booth analyst for college baseball.
“I got into broadcasting kind of by accident,” said McDonald. “Lyn taught me more about broadcasting just by doing games with him and listening to him. He’s responsible in a lot of ways for me getting to where I am.
“No doubt this is a business, and we take it seriously,” McDonald continued, “but Lyn always stresses baseball is a fun game, a kids’ game. He keeps it fun, keeps it light. A lot of (play-by-play) guys I work with carry computers around with them. Lyn flies by the seat of his pants in a lot of ways.”
“I’ve never met someone who has done so many sports (as a broadcaster),” said Brenner. “He’s willing to drive to maybe Ole Miss or Mississippi State for a football game and then cover a soccer match or a softball game on campus, sometimes when no flights are available.
“You don’t get that a lot anymore,” he continued. “If someone can’t make a flight, they won’t take the job. He never misses an athletic event over a matter of travel difficulties. His passion of needing to be there and not wanting to disappoint the LSU fans, his fans, drives him. He definitely has a passion about his profession.”
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