You’re 10 years old, falling asleep to the Phillies on the West Coast on your transistor radio. You’re probably not the only boy in Southwest Philadelphia who believed he could someday be that familiar voice.
Even in your games at Finnegan Playground, around the corner from your house at 69th and Chelwynde, you kept an interior play-by-play. Your mother bought you a cassette recorder.
The dream carried to West Catholic, to Temple, ready to set North Broad on fire -- wait, you might not get on the air on the campus radio station until junior or senior year?
Your scholarship money transferred to the American Academy of Broadcasting, Eighth and Chestnut, now defunct. In six months, you learned how to handle a radio board, how lighting works. You learned everything disc jockey Fast Eddie Coyle had to teach you.
You sent out 300 resumes. You got a call from a station within a week. You’re a 20-year-old news director. You left Philly. Four decades later, you haven’t looked back.
You do come back. In the summer, to North Wildwood. Once a basketball season, the San Antonio Spurs show up to play the 76ers. Those soft pretzels with mustard by the visitors' radio console could be a clue.
“Out to DeRozan. DeRozan’s going to drive into the lane, all the way in — shot’s swatted away by Embiid. The ball picked up by Simmons, the Spurs have to get back. Simmons in transition. Right corner three by Shamet … it’s good. Shamet makes it a one-possession game.”
Bill Schoening, now 60, in his 18th season as the Spurs' radio voice, leaned forward, pen in his left hand. His older brother Tom, who worked 37 years for Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation, sat next to Bill on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, keeping count of any runs either team went on.
He nudged Bill … 8-0 run for the Sixers.
The Spurs' last four NBA titles, Schoening was their radio voice. Manu Ginobili’s whole career, Schoening described every game, not missing one. Nobody else except Ginobili could say that. Schoening got to San Antonio for Tony Parker’s rookie season, to capture the glory years of Tim Duncan.
You’d have to work hard to catch the Philly in his voice.
“I can detect a Philly accent better than anybody," Schoening said. “Because I had to lose mine to get on the air.”
Fast Eddie Coyle, who had gotten his gig on WFIL, worked to soften those ORs in the young guy who took the trolley up from Southwest Philly.
“I worked hard at it," Schoening said. “Then I moved away right away.”
That first gig as news director, it was in Pana, Illinois. Middle of the state, middle of the country, middle of nowhere, middle of anywhere.
“He was doing farm reports," said Tom, his brother, who visited Bill once in Pana. “Oh my God, that was so funny. It just blew my mind. He lived in this motel, had a hot plate, and all. He said, ‘I’m going to stick it out.’ “
“There was a junior college there," Bill Schoening said. “I was able to do some games. A couple of small high schools. I got some experience doing play-by-play."
Reading Radio and Records magazine (now defunct), Schoening saw an ad. Do you eat, sleep and breathe sports and want to pay your dues?
“Yes, yes, yes, and yes," Schoening said. “It was a small station in West Texas, Lamesa.” (Pronounced La Misa, he points out.)
For three years, he was the voice of the Golden Tornadoes, on the air for all sorts of sports, plus doing the agriculture report, no big thing by then. He spun country-and-western tunes, gave the news, opened the station in the morning.
Another break came. Huntsville, in East Texas. The voice of Sam Houston State. And then a really big break, KLBJ in Austin hired a 29-year-old with a decade’s experience to back up Texas Longhorns basketball and football and do Longhorns baseball. Except the guy who hired Schoening quickly left for a job calling Missouri sports. Schoening had the big gigs, for a dozen years. Every carry Ricky Williams ever had for Texas, Schoening called it.
“Out of the blue, the Spurs called me in September of ’01," Schoening said. “They were making a change and were interested in me. It was too good a job to turn down.”
He still lives in Austin. His wife had a good job there. Easier to commute the 80 miles down. Plus, he suddenly had four months off in the summer. From the last game to training camp, nobody wanted to see him. He’s now traveled to all 50 states.
If anything carries over from growing up, maybe it’s the cadence. Like Sixers virtuoso Tom McGinnis down the row, Schoening works alone. Somebody gets a touch, he gets a mention, and telling details are important. Second quarter winding down, “no fouls to give for Philly.”
He adds touches, such as the three-pointer San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli hit to seemingly bury his former Sixers team … BELLISSIMO!
There’s a craft to what these guys do, way beyond finding the translation of “very beautiful” in Italian. You can hear it in their descriptive phrases. In the middle of a Schoening fast-paced play-by-play: “He used a little up-fake to create some space.”
It was former Spurs assistant P.J. Carlesimo who tagged Schoening “Philly Billy,” and Tim Duncan never called him Bill, just “Philly.”
His relationship with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is good, he said, especially since their conversations rarely touch much on basketball, more likely about World War II or wine.
Big brother does stats for him when he hits the area, sort of — they both get a kick out of that. The first time Texas got to Madison Square Garden, Bill told his older brother to keep turnovers, nudging him at one point for a count.
“What?" Tom Schoening told his little brother. “I’m trying to watch the game.”
The other night, the visiting radio guy played it straight as the Sixers came back at the very end for a two-point win, the building getting loud.
Of course, if Schoening was going to be a homer, how exactly would that sound?
This is a son of a Bond Bread deliveryman, later a bartender at Hastings in Southwest. Schoening has made a point of getting to at least one Phillies game for 54 straight seasons, and he can tell you about keeping the book and the clock at the 6-foot-5-and-under league at McCreesh Playground, where his brother ran the rec center and Hank Nichols and Joey Crawford reffed and Fran O’Hanlon and Jim Crawford and others took their turns on the court.
The man who didn’t let go of a kid’s dream.
“I was real lucky," Schoening said. “Ten years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”