Behind the Booth: The Voice of the Utes


Voice of the Utes Bill Riley on the job. (Photo courtesy Bill Riley)

By Sammy Mora, Sports Editor


Just like everything in sports, play-by-play is an art form. One that takes years to be able to perfect. A good play by play voice is the eyes and ears for those who can’t be in the stands. While the play-by-play voices on televised events can use the sense of sight to their advantage, radio play-by-play is all about the sound. 

Enter Bill Riley, the Voice of the Utes. Not only does he call Utah football games, but he also does Utah men’s basketball and baseball. Riley got the job as the play-by-play in 2006 and held the position until the athletic department decided to go in a different direction. But in 2009, the job was offered to him again and he came back without hesitation. 

“After the 2009 season ended, they came back to CBS Sports properties and said they had made a mistake, and would I be interested in being the voice of the Utes again? And of course, I would, I love it. It’s the best job that I’ve ever had. So I got it back. And I’ve been here ever since. This will be my 12th year as the voice of the Utes,” Riley said.

Calling football and basketball games are not the only sports-related content that Riley provides the Salt Lake Valley with. The two-time Utah Sports Broadcaster of the Year also hosts the popular sports talk radio show “The Bill Riley Show” on ESPN700. 

But being a play-by-play isn’t the easiest job in the sports market. It is Riley’s job to not only inform fans what is going on in the game, but also to make them feel the intensity and excitement as if they are there. 

“I just think the coolest part of being the voice of the Utes is being that connector to the people that aren’t in the game,” Riley said. “Being the eyes and the ears and being able to bring people that are at home or doing yard work or running errands or stuck at work, being able to be their eyes and ears of the game and being able to bring that excitement of the stadium to them wherever they might happen to be.” 

Riley has always wanted to be a play-by-play commentator. Even back in Kansas, where he grew up, he was constantly working on his skills to do the thing he loves. He would go to local high school football games in Lawrence, Kansas with a tape recorder, call the game with some friends and then take the cassette back to his professors at the University of Kansas the following Monday for feedback. 

“It’s all about the reps. I mean, whether you’re doing a talk show or whether you’re a lawyer in a courtroom, or whether you’re a salesperson, or whether you’re a play-by-play broadcaster, the more you do in, the more reps you get, the better you’ll be,” Riley said. 

But reps aren’t the only important thing when it comes to being a good play-by-play. Not only does Riley need to know everything he possibly can about the Utes, but he also needs to know things about whoever the opponent is set to be. Porter Larsen works with Riley at ESPN700 and says that preparation is something that sets Riley apart as the voice of the Utes. 

“I’ve never been around anyone in the business that does more. You listen to a three-hour game and you think that that’s all it is, but Bill puts in three, four or five hours before that, to make sure he has all the names right, to make sure he has all the positions correct,” Larsen said. “He goes up to the football facility several times a week just to make sure he has his charts, which show all of all of the players and where they play to make sure all those are correct and in line with what the coaches are doing. So I think his preparation is kind of what puts him above all else. And it’s crazy. It’s like watching a machine.”

Riley has been on the call for countless iconic Utah athletics moments. From comeback wins versus USC, wild games against BYU, or beating No. 14 Stanford in 2018 showing everyone that Utah had finally arrived to the Pac-12, everyone has a favorite call from Riley. For Larsen, his favorite call came last season. 

“I guess it’s a little personal because Zack Moss is a close friend of mine, but when Zack broke the all-time rushing record against Arizona State, I think is my favorite,” Larsen said. 

“Sometimes, you know, you have a great call of a game but your team, the team that you broadcast for may not win, but it’s still, you know, you’ve got to approach it win or lose, big down big whatever it might be. You’ve still got to approach it the same way,” Riley said. 

Even in those moments when the Utes don’t come out on top, Riley is grateful for every second he is in the booth doing the thing that he loves. 

“There’s not a lot of guys to get to do it. And I absolutely love being part of the collegiate community and, and working with the coaches and the administrators and the athletes. It’s just, it’s a lot of fun. I mean, it was what I wanted to do growing up was to be a play-by-play guy and to be able to bring interviews and information and play by the game action to fans,” Riley said. “It’s like the ultimate compliment that people would bring me into their cars or their homes or their earbuds or whatever it might be. It’s one of the coolest things ever, that people will allow me to bring them the game action.” 


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