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Edward Bennett Williams, the late owner of the Orioles, had his own impression of great announcers when he hired Miller away from Boston in 1983. Kiddingly, Williams implied that one of the job requirements was to be a homer. Miller, who was not kidding, said, "If I'm not impartial and objective, I'll have no credibility."
In contemporary broadcasting, credibility takes a backseat to likability. Nobody wants to be Howard Cosell. Today's ideal is Willard Scott. Miller, though, seems more of a throwback to Red Barber. Like the Old Redhead, he keeps an egg timer to remind him to give the score every three minutes. "You've constantly got to affirm that things are going on," says Miller. "You've got to provide a structure and establish drama."
Miller leavens that drama with comedy. You've got to be pretty fast on your feet to keep up with the zingers whizzing from his mouth. Miller's radio foil is Ken Levine, a veteran writer for Cheers. "Jon's very unselfish, supportive and open to sharing his knowledge," says Levine, a rookie in big league broadcasting. "I'm working without a net. I can just throw something out, and he'll play off it."
Banter ricocheted through the O's radio booth during a recent game at Memorial Stadium. "The Orioles are rallying!" said Levine.
Miller picked up his binoculars. "The phone is ringing in the Toronto bullpen," he said. "I can see it."
"The call was for reliever Ken Dayley. I can hear him warming up."
Ah, the magic of radio.
Miller put down the binoculars, clicked off his microphone and said, "For all the money and exposure of TV, it lacks spontaneity. You're providing captions for the pictures. In radio, words are everything. You are the eyes of the audience, deciding what stories to tell and which pictures to paint."
Miller watched a foul ball drop between two fans and flipped on his mike. "That wouldn't have happened in the old days," he snapped. "In the old days we had fans who knew how to catch a pop fly!" He paused for effect and continued, "And they knew how to bunt!"