Meet the Razorbacks' newest voice

Dolan brings two decades of experience to Arkansas

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, September 16, 2017
Brett Dolan is the new play-by-play voice for TV games produced by the Razorback Sports Network. He previously worked in Houston, where he spent seven seasons on the Astros' radio network.
Photo by David Gottschalk
Brett Dolan is the new play-by-play voice for TV games produced by the Razorback Sports Network. He previously worked in Houston, where he spent seven seasons on the Astros' radio network.

— Spend a few minutes with Brett Dolan and one thing becomes obvious: he loves baseball.

Dolan loves the sport so much that during his early days as a broadcaster, he lived inside the umpire’s locker room at a stadium in Beloit, a small town on the Wisconsin-Illinois border.

“I was giving plasma twice a week, I was doing high school games, I was selling advertising,” Dolan said. “At one point I was acting GM and mowing the field in the off-season.”

Paying those kinds of dues helped him reach the pinnacle of his sport when, in his mid-30s, he landed a coveted play-by-play gig with the defending National League champion Houston Astros in 2006.

Along with the late Milo Hamilton - a legendary radio figure in Houston - and now-Texas Rangers TV voice Dave Raymond, Dolan was part of a three-man booth that saw the Astros go from immense popularity following the World Series to the low of a 107-loss season in their final year before moving to the American League.

By his early 40s that job was over. Dolan wasn’t retained during an ownership change in Houston and has spent the past four years working every TV job he could get his hands on, from Astros pregame and postgame reports for a regional cable channel to calling games as a freelancer for ESPN.

“I had a few people approach me about some No. 1 opportunities (while with the Astros) and I passed on those because we were getting established in Houston,” Dolan said. “I liked it there and thought I would stay for a long time.

“They say about players that it’s harder to stay than it is to get to the majors. Well, for broadcasters it’s harder to get there than it is to stay. Once you get there you typically stay for a long time. I just happened to be the exception to that rule.”

Now the veteran broadcaster is in Fayetteville, where he took over as Arkansas’ TV voice last month. Dolan, 47, will serve as the lead broadcaster for games produced by the Razorback Sports Network and aired on ESPN-affiliated platforms like the SEC Network and its digital companion.

The gig includes work for all sports, but as Dolan looked over Baum Stadium on a warm day in early September he couldn’t help but envision more nights with the game he loves.

“I’m really excited about baseball with the team they have coming back and with the expectations,” Dolan said. “I’ve watched the Razorbacks closely because they recruit so well in Houston and they are a lot of kids we know. Kevin Kopps went to the same high school as my son and I know Jax Biggers’ dad really well. I’ve known Cole Turney forever because his brother played with my son on a team.

“I talked to Dallas Keuchel briefly before I took this job and told him I came to Baum. He gave me a little smile and said, ‘You’re going to like it.’”

Dolan spent 20 years in professional baseball, including 12 years in the minor leagues to get the shot with the Astros. While calling games in Tucson he was twice named the Arizona Sportscaster of the Year. He calls his style “enthusiastic and descriptive.”

“I come from the Midwestern style, I think, of enthusiasm,” said Dolan, who grew up in Casey, Iowa - a population 399 pitstop on Interstate 80 between Des Moines and Omaha. “I grew up listening to Jack Buck and Harry Caray and I was able to pull in all these radio networks - the Royals, Twins, White Sox, Brewers - because of where I was in Iowa.

“Hopefully I don’t put anybody to sleep. I enjoy the big moments and like to share those with the listening audience. I don’t play it down the road, so to speak.”

Chris Freet, a senior associate athletics director at Arkansas, said Dolan was one of three finalists for the position with the Razorbacks. It was a job that expanded after Arkansas parted ways with Alex Perlman earlier this year and now includes more correspondent-type work for stories aired on digital platforms for the Razorbacks and the SEC Network.

Dolan’s first month included a sit-down interview with Jerry Jones at his office in Frisco, Texas.

“Brett’s resume stood out above the rest,” Freet said. “His time in Major League Baseball and his work with ESPN was really attractive. When we approached those three finalists, we kind of took the on-air factor out of the equation and said, ‘OK, who is going to fit best with our team and who is going to be the best storyteller?’

“The thing that hooked us on Brett was the process by which he integrates with the team and unearths stories about all the things going on around a program.”

Dolan is a graduate of the University of Iowa - a school that produced Arkansas’ greatest play-by-play voice, Paul Eells. He graduated from Iowa in 1992 in the same class with Bret Bielema.

Although Dolan is best known for baseball, his work is diverse. Take into consideration a sampling of Razorback games he has called.

He was behind the mic for Arkansas’ baseball games at Minute Maid Park in Houston in 2016, and within a week in December 2014 worked an Arkansas basketball game for ESPNU at Bud Walton Arena, and the Texas Bowl for a Houston-area radio station.

“It’s a challenge that I’ve grown to love over the last few years, doing multiple sports and becoming more experienced in television instead of just radio,” Dolan said.

The month since his hire has been a whirlwind. His family - wife Betsy, son Will (15) and daughter Katie (11) - still live near Houston in Sugar Land, Texas, and their home of more than a decade narrowly escaped the floods that devastated the region during Tropical Storm Harvey.

“We’re right around the Brazos River and the levees held,” Dolan said. “That’s all that kept my house from having about 5 feet of water in it.”

At the same time, Dolan has been learning about the Razorbacks during the week and calling college football on the weekends. Working alongside former Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta, Dolan is the play-by-play voice for a syndicated broadcast on Touchdown Radio that will take him to Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi and California in the first month of the season, including the Mississippi State-LSU game this weekend.

He likely will call Arkansas’ game at Alabama next month and is in line to work the Iron Bowl at the end of the season.

“It really is a nice sampling and gives me a chance to see some programs around the country that I haven’t seen before,” Dolan said. “It’s an intense stretch between getting my feet on the ground here and doing football somewhere around the country.”

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