Glory Days on the Tube: Gator Dominance of the Airwaves

The University of Florida’s strong influence on the broadcasting profession started almost as early as the profession itself. Red Barber is widely considered one of the greatest radio voices ever. Anyone who has stepped foot in Weimar Hall knows Red’s start was on campus at WRUF. From those humble beginnings, Red ended up in the Baseball Hall of Fame after a long career calling games for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Yankees among others.

So what does Red have to do with today’s radio and television landscape? Well, the legend started a trend that has exploded recently as UF grads dot the media landscape.

Arguably the premier analyst calling NFL games is former Gator great Cris Collingsworth. He leads an impressive list of former Gator athletes behind the mic – Jesse Palmer, Nat Moore and Emmitt Smith (football), Andy North and Steve Burkowski (golf) and Elfi Schlegel (gymnastics). Of course, it might be a stretch calling Emmitt and Nat broadcasters given their butchering of the English language. In fact, let’s just forget they are out there representing Florida.

But the reason for our interest in bringing this up in 2010 isn’t Red or the former athletes. It’s the women from UF that have taken over the sports reporting world, creating an especially intense following in the blogosphere.

The queen is of course Erin Andrews. EA has paid her dues, starting modestly with gigs on Fox Sports Florida and Sunshine Network, moving up to Turner Sports and finally landing at ESPN. For the last five years, the former Dazzler has become easily the most followed and most talked about sideline reporter ever. She is an institution at this point, with a passionate and loyal following well beyond just Gator fans.

In the past year, Jenn Brown has followed the example of Erin and made quite a splash on the tube. Brown is a former softball player who took a crack at modeling before turning her attention to broadcasting. She has moved up the ranks at ESPN and will be showcased more often on College Gameday this season.

A newcomer to keep an eye on, especially if you live in the South, is Kristina Akra. You might not be familiar with her now but you will soon. Check out SECgridironlive.com to keep tabs on the next Gator beauty on the beat. Akra is another former Dazzler who cut her teeth working in Boston covering the Patriots (appropriate given Belichick’s love for UF) and the Revolution. We’d be surprised if she wasn’t snapped up nationally in the next year or two.

Last on our list is a relative newbie, Lauren Shehadi. To be honest, I had never heard of Lauren until I started researching this article. But she’s cracked the door and has her foot through with gigs on CBS College Sports and their website. Given the success of the previous three, it isn’t a stretch to expect big things from Lauren.

As if the rest of the country doesn’t envy our success on the field and on the court enough, now the word is out about the University of Florida’s amazing run on the air. If you are a sports fan, you’ll be hard pressed to watch a game without getting some insight and interviews from a Gator. And as anyone who ever lived in Gainesville knows, the talent supply will never run out… so expect a long stay at the broadcasting top.

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