The Man Behind the Microphone
By: Melanie Watson
The look of the Atlanta Hawks has changed countless times over the past two decades but they sound exactly the same.
Nine-time Emmy award-winning announcer Bob Rathbun has been the television voice of the Hawks since 1997. Always dressed in either a black or blue suit, he takes on the persona of a trusted politician the moment he walks into Philips Arena on game day. Rathbun, 59, walks around with his slightly thinning black hair and his trademark black, rolling briefcase. The only indications of his age, other than the bald spot that wants to peak, are the wrinkles around his eyes and his mouth – smile lines. He walks around striking up conversation with everyone from venders and ushers to fans and team management personnel. It’s as though he has all the time in the world and the pre-game production meetings, call times, and voiceover recordings can wait.
Rathbun works all year round. He calls almost every matchup of the 82-game NBA season for the Hawks. During the summer, he calls the home games for Atlanta’s WNBA franchise, the Dream. In the fall, he broadcasts various college football games and he even squeezes in some college basketball games during the winter.
“I call him a pro’s pro because that guy is a road warrior,” said Jerome Jurenovich, the television host for Hawks LIVE on Fox Sports South.
“We’ll come into town, have a day off, and then we’re back at it the next day. On that day off, he’s leaving to do a Southeastern Conference game or something. “He is always pulling a suitcase and heading to a game.”
Rathbun got his start at the age of 12 in North Carolina. He called a little league baseball game and hasn’t been able to walk away from the press box since. Throughout the years, he’s earned a fan base not just from spectators, but also from his co-workers.
“Bob is just the nicest guy you’ll ever meet,” said Val Burrell, Rathbun’s stage manager.
“He’s so fun to work with and very creative. He’ll cut up behind the scenes the entire time and then turn around and say something witty and brilliant completely on the fly while we’re live.”
Rathbun can be caught cracking jokes all the way up to the live signal. A lot of times he’ll even check twitter and correspond with followers during broadcasts. It’s a wonder how he has the time, not to mention the energy, to be such a personality. His job is never really finished.
As soon as one game ends, he watches film of the next team and starts compiling game notes. He keeps detailed game boards for each team that contain special notes for him to refer to during his broadcasts. On game day, he talks to the visiting team’s broadcasters, both head coaches and the players to get the most recent news heading into the broadcast. After attending the pre-game production meeting and going through the rundown of the broadcast with his producer, Rathbun is ready.
It’s a lot for most but it’s clockwork for Rathbun who was born and bred to do this for a living.
“You can ask anything of Bob and he’ll get you whatever you need,” said his producer Jay Hoover, who has worked with him since 1997. “He’s the ultimate professional and he makes all of our jobs easier.”
Basketball Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is Rathbun’s current broadcast partner for Hawks games. Wilkins, who has a history of flourishing on his own, has also benefitted greatly from working with Rathbun.
“He’s a guy who’s been doing this a long time and understands how this is done,” said Wilkins. “He’s played a major role in helping me with my broadcasting.”
Rathbun spends his rare, but precious, spare time with his wife Marybeth and their two children – Court, 19, and Grace, 13. Family life can be a strain with such a rigorous career, but they’re accustomed to it. In fact, if Rathbun is home for too long, his family begins to grow weary.
“It only takes about a day and half before I get restless,”said Rathbun. “Marybeth and Grace will say 'Dad, isn't it time for you to go?'”
Rathbun has been calling games professionally for 40 years now. He can’t tell you how many times he travels per year, the number of times he’s been nominated for an Emmy (nor would he) and he can’t tell you how many games he’s broadcasted. Additionally, he can’t tell you when he’d consider retirement.
“I’ve never really thought about what I might do when my career is over,” said Rathbun. “It feels like I just got started.”