Full-Length Pieces

The Voice of a Trojan
By Adam Crouch 

On select Saturdays in the fall, a small crowd gathers in front of the Coliseum in Los Angeles.  Proud fans dressed in cardinal attire enjoy a Little Debbie’s Brownie, as glasses of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider are served and toasted.  For fans of the University of Southern California football team, it represents a milestone of sorts. 

When the Trojans win and the rival Notre Dame Fighting Irish and UCLA Bruins lose on the same day, it’s cause for celebration.  Because it has happened a mere 44 times since 1921, it’s special.  At USC, it’s called a “Perfect Day”.
The inventor of this day, a USC graduate and long-time fan of USC football, has served as the radio play-by-play announcer at USC for 16 years.  His name is Pete Arbogast.
“There aren’t too many of these days,” says Arbogast.  “So when they happen, you celebrate them.”
The son of legendary broadcast and television host Bob Arbogast, Pete first achieved his lifelong goal of being the voice of the Trojans in 1989.
 “I’ve wanted to work for USC since I was 8,” said Arbogast.
But his journey to the upper echelon of radio announcing was a long and arduous one.   After graduating from Marshall High School in 1972, Pete enrolled at Los Angeles City College, where he earned his associate’s degree in radio broadcasting.
“They had the best radio broadcasting program in the Western United States.  My dad had gone there and it was just a slam dunk.”
It’s there that he learned the technical skills necessary to work in radio, such as editing audio, using a microphone and conducting interviews.  He studied beside future radio stars Paul Olden (Yankees public address announcer) and Ted Sobel (KFWB Sports Anchor).
But Pete hardly restricted his learning to the classroom, as he relentlessly worked to improve his voice and broadcasting abilities. 
“As a student at City College, I would take a tape recorder to USC basketball games and sit at the end of press row.  It was major college basketball and I would practice calling the games into my tape recorder so I would get better.”
It was during one of these games that Pete stumbled upon an opportunity to work for the student station at USC, KSCR.  After discovering that the student run station was on the verge of collapsing, Pete decided to move to USC and get to work.
 “I got to go to USC and recruit students to be newscasters and DJs and sportscasters and resurrect the radio station,” said Pete.  “No one told me what to do and how to do it, but we raised money for the equipment, got everything in place, and it’s still going today.”
After covering a multitude of sporting events for the Trojans, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism in 1978.  In search of an opportunity, he landed his first job at a country music station in Twin Falls, Idaho, a city of only 12,000 people. 
“I got my first job playing country music from midnight to six in the morning, but they also let me do the Buhl Indians football games.”
After quick stops in Visalia and Victorville, Pete landed at a station in Porterville, CA.  It was there that he learned the intricacies of how to be a play-by-play announcer under the tutelage of legendary broadcaster Monte Moore.
“We learned preparation, and we learned how to do it right.  He would listen to our tapes for five or 10 minutes, say ‘this is wrong, do this, do that’.  He really fine tuned us.  I hated him then…but looking back on it now, I realize that is where it all started.”
In 1982 Pete made another significant step towards Los Angeles, covering a variety of sports for the University of California at Riverside.  And by 1984, he had successfully found work as a weekend sports reporter at KNX, the flagship station of USC athletics.
After working at KNX and with the Los Angeles Clippers for six years, the USC play-by-play position was finally vacated by longtime broadcaster Tom Kelly in June of 1989.  In an attempt to bolster his chances for the position, a huge letter writing campaign to both USC and KNX was initiated to promote his candidacy.
“By the time the decision was made, I was almost physically ill,” said Pete.  “I was so wound up and nervous and worried…I was just freaking out.  I was almost to the point of hyperventilating. It was killing me.”
In mid-August, while doing new updates at KNX, news director Bob Sims handed Arbogast a note upside-down and said, “read this on the air.  Don’t look at it now, just read it when you get on air,” recalls Arbogast.
At the conclusion of his news updates, Pete turned the paper and began reading.  “The new play-by-play guy at USC is…me,” said the 34-year-old Arbogast, who was rendered speechless.
“It was the culmination of all of those years at small town radio, and as a kid, dreaming about getting that opportunity.”
Unfortunately, the dream lasted only five seasons, as a new investment group purchased the rights from USC and ended Pete’s tenure as the voice of the Trojans.  “That sort of sucked,” Pete remembers.
From 1997-2000, Arbogast moved to Ohio to serve as the play-by-play announcer for the Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL. But in 2001, after USC struck an agreement with KSPN, Pete gladly accepted an offer to return to the booth for the Trojans.
Since 2001, Pete has had the honor of working with on air analyst and former USC great Paul McDonald, with whom he has a great relationship.
“Pete and I mesh perfectly,” says McDonald.  “We leave our ego at the door, respect each others’ talents and abilities, and maybe most importantly, like each other, which allows for a seamless broadcast.”
When asked where Pete sits in the landscape of play-by-play men, McDonald praised the work of his colleague.
“He is in one of the largest markets in the country covering one of the most famous college football programs making him one of the best today.”
For his work, Pete has been selected nine times as a finalist for the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Association (SCSBA) play-by-play man of the year.
“To be nominated in the same breath as Bob Miller, Chick Hearn, and Vin Scully…let’s just say I have never prepared a speech,” remarks Arbogast.  “Maybe once Vin retires, I will have a shot.”
With or without an award, it’s clear that the lifelong Trojan relishes the opportunity to work for his alma mater.  While the USC program is under intense scrutiny from the NCAA following the Reggie Bush scandal, Pete hopes to remain as the voice of the Trojans until at least 2030. 
Though the program has hit hard times, to Pete, it’s just another perfect day.