By Jake Stanley, For The Miami Student
With less than two hours remaining before kickoff, the busiest person at Yager Stadium isn’t wearing pads or holding a whistle.
That designation belongs to Miami University’s fire-eating music man of a play-by-play announcer whose voice has appeared on stage and in Oscar-winning films.
For almost three decades, Steve Baker has served as the “Voice of the RedHawks,” primarily calling Miami football and men’s basketball. He’s also been Miami’s broadcasting director since 2001, overseeing all media production for the athletic department.
“I like the chaos,” said Baker. “It puts a lot of stress on you, but it’s what makes the job fun.”
Before uttering a word over the loudspeaker, Baker sets up the stadium’s PA system, checks all video equipment and hosts a donor function in the parking lot. It’s a daunting schedule. This Saturday, he’ll oversee a volleyball production after the football game against Akron University.
This multi-faceted role falls in line with a broadcasting career that was completely unexpected.
“I got into radio totally by accident,” said Baker. “I do enjoy it because I like painting that picture for people.”
Baker left his hometown of Brookville, Ind. in 1977 to become a music instructor. He entered Miami as a 30 instrument-playing singer, but his college experience was short-lived. After eight weeks on campus, his mother fell ill and lost her leg, and Baker returned home to his family.
He began working at WOXY-FM, an Oxford station that was making little impression as an automated Top 40 station in a college community.
“The owner of the station said it had a negative 10 rating,” said Baker. “Nobody listened and 10 people hated it.”
The station’s staff surveyed Miami’s campus and began crafting a playlist that reflected the students’ tastes, leading to 97X, one of America’s first modern rock stations.
“Our first core artists were Madonna, Prince, U2,” said Baker. “There were literally hundreds of bands that we broke. It was a sound that caught on.”
The format went on to earn national accolades, including four placements on Rolling Stone’s reader poll of best American radio stations. It also led to Baker’s 15 seconds of national fame when actor Dustin Hoffman imitated Baker’s 97X station ID in 1988’s highest-grossing film, Rain Man.
97X’s broadcasting deal with Miami athletics allowed Baker to develop a sports broadcasting career that began in the early 1980s with high school sports in Indiana, Virginia and Florida. Starting as an audio engineer, Baker rose to football and basketball announcing by the late 1980s and held the role until 1997, when Miami took over production of radio broadcasts and hired another announcer.
This led to a seven-year absence from announcing that was born out of Baker’s loyalty to 97X.
“I didn’t feel like it was honest to the radio station to work there and then go announce,” Baker said.
Following the departure of announcer Jim Freeman in 2001, Baker returned to Miami on a part-time basis as director of broadcasting before becoming full-time in May 2004 when 97X ceased operations.
In his current role as broadcasting director, he assists with all facets of production. In a typical week, he produces press conferences, videos and weekly radio shows.
The department’s efforts have also expanded through a contract with ESPN3 that calls for at least 35 live events to be broadcast online each year.
This season, Baker’s role as lead announcer for the men’s basketball team will be reduced as he shifts over to the ESPN3 broadcasts.
He remains the voice of Miami football and maintains a positive outlook of the RedHawks’ future.
“You really want to see these kids do well,” said Baker. “The Miami degree is their ultimate success, but I want to see them do well on the field as well. But, we’re building from the ground up with 62 freshmen and redshirt freshmen.”
Sports dominate his time, but Baker continues to pursue his life-long passion of music , often singing the National Anthem at City of Oxford events and performing in local theater productions.
He even ate fire for a performance in the musical Forever Plaid in the late 1990s. But don’t expect to see him on the field as the halftime entertainment any time soon.
“If you catch me in a good mood, private setting, and I got the stuff, I could probably do it,” Baker said, joking. “But I won’t do it in public anymore.”