P.A announcer Gene Honda the busiest man in Chicago sports
If you don't know who Gene Honda is, well, you're just not trying hard enough.
Honda can been seen -- and mostly heard -- in so many places inside and outside of Chicago, it's almost impossible to miss him.
"I'm getting the chance to do a lot of fun things that I would never have dreamed of," said Honda, a 59-year-old lifelong Chicagoan. "It's funny, there are certain points where you're reminded of it. Things like when Thunderstruck starts at White Sox games, when they do the national anthem at Blackhawks games, when you walk into a cavernous facility like AT&T Stadium in Dallas. You're reminded that you're pretty darn lucky to be able to do all these things."
Anyone that's ever looked for a job likely has been advised to keep the resume short and concise. Honda would be the exception.
In addition to making frequent appearances on PBS in Chicago (WTTW), Honda has been the White Sox' public address announcer since 1985, and he has been behind the microphone full-time since the 1991 season, when the Sox moved into new Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field.
There's more, much more:
• Honda was the P.A. announcer for the CBA Chicago Rockers, who lasted two seasons at the UIC Pavilion (1994-96).
• He has been the Blackhawks' announcer for the last 14 seasons.
• He has been the P.A. announcer for DePaul men's basketball since 1998.
• He has been the P.A. announcer at the Maui Classic the last five years.
• He has been the P.A. announcer at college basketball's Final Four the last four years.
• He has been the P.A. announcer in Champaign for Fighting Illini football the last two years.
• Oh yeah, you can hear Honda on the mic every fall at the Chicago Marathon.
Everyone seems to be maxed-out busy these days, but Honda takes it to a stratospheric level.
"It just kind of developed," Honda said. "I always thought I was going to be an Engineer."
When he arrived at the University of Illinois-Champaign in 1972 after attending Senn High School, Honda wasn't quite sure of a future career. The process of elimination, however, was already in motion.
"I went to Illinois for anything but broadcasting," he said.
Engineering was Honda's first choice, but: "I didn't like that."
Finance was up next, and again, it was thumb's down.
"Thanks to my father's advice, I tried something that would help me to speak in public a little better," Honda said. "So I wandered into the student radio station."
Honda found himself spending more and more time at WPGU radio in Champaign, and he also started working at WKIO. He did a little bit of everything on the airwaves, including Illinois club hockey.
"I got some advice along the lines of, you never know what you're going to be doing," Honda recalled. "In broadcasting, too many people narrow their focus by just being in one discipline. The more things you know the more valuable you can become."
Honda continued to take classes at Illinois, and he continued broadcasting on radio and the evolving cable TV market.
"I like to say I was at Illinois for four terms -- Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan," Honda said with his infectious laugh. "I was there for 12 years, but I kind of look at it as a lot of postgraduate work. After '78, I was working full-time at two radio stations down there. That's really where I got my start, and it was a great time to be down there for a whole host of reasons. It gave me the opportunity to learn a lot of things."
The broadcasting bug bit Honda, but he was still skeptical about actually making a living in radio or television.
So he finally left Champaign and headed home to Chicago for a job in marketing.
"That was 1984," Honda said. "Four months into it, I heard a familiar voice on the radio station. I gave him a call and we wound up having dinner."
That meeting led to Honda being offered a weekend disc jockey job on WLAK radio, which is now WLIT.
"I said, 'No, I can't do that,'" Honda remembered. "That's why I left this business. Two weeks later, I was working there."
About six months later, Honda was the morning man at WLAK, and his P.A. career was about to launch.
Welcome to the Sox
From 1982-84, Wayne Messmer was not only the Sox' P.A. announcer, he also sang the national anthem.
When Messmer headed north to join the Cubs, Honda saw an opportunity.
"I didn't know any better, so I called the White Sox and said I'd like to apply," he said. "They told me to send them a tape, so I did. About a month and a half later I got a phone call from the Sox asking me to come to lunch. Hey, free food, I'm there. They sat me down and said, 'By the way, can you sing?' I said no. They said, 'That's all right; you got the job anyway.' "
Honda was thoroughly enjoying the new gig with the White Sox when he ran into an unexpected conflict.
"Two weeks before the '86 season, the radio station changed my air shift," Honda said. "I went from 6 to 10 in the morning to 3 (p.m.) to 7. I was crushed because I was having a wonderful time. I thought, 'OK, it was fun while it lasted.'"
After moving into management at WLAK, Honda again had some time to get behind the microphone at Comiskey Park, and he split the 1990 season with Bob Finnegan.
"The White Sox moved to the new park across the street in '91, and they said, 'It's all yours,' " said Honda, who is still going strong nearly a quarter century later.
The Sox gave Honda his first big break in P.A. announcing, and the floodgates soon opened.
The Blackhawks. Final Four. Illini football. DePaul. Maui Classic. Chicago Marathon.
With such an impressive body of work, Honda must surely be comfortable in his profession. Not quite.
"Every time you work, it's not just a job, it's an audition," he said. "You can't take anything for granted. These are all positions where I have no contract. The White Sox could replace me by the next homestand if they wanted to. I wouldn't say it's something that keeps me up at night, no. But it keeps my bartender happy."
To keep himself grounded, Honda said he still heeds the advice he first heard from Jeff Syznal, the Sox' senior manager of scoreboard operations and production.
"Since my first year there in '85, Jeff always tells the staff at start of season, 'You are the second-most watched team in this building,'" Honda said. "He's right, and you have to remember that. There are so many things we do once the fans come into the arena, come into the ballpark. You have to do your job and you have to remember that ... you know, we look at it as Game 44, Game 81.
"But you have to remember and remind yourself, it might be Game 44 or Game 81 for us, but there is someone who just walked through the turnstile that is going to their first major-league game. We have to do our job and put on a show."
When he was unsure of his future while attending Illinois, Honda received career advice he still remembers today. In turn, he helps raise money for PBS and is particularly proud of his role with After School Matters, the brainchild of the late Maggie Daley.
For the last 13 years, Honda has been teaching sports broadcasting to Chicago Public School students at Curie High School. He is there for two 10-week sessions, one in the fall and one in the spring.
"You have to give back," Honda said. "I got the chance to learn from some really good people, so you've got to do those same things for others. I'd like to say yes, this is very noble and all that, but you also learn things for yourself. It's good for me, too, going back to the basics, going back to your fundamentals.
"And people my age, a lot of them say, 'I hate new things; I can't learn new things.' But with these kids, I have no choice. I have to learn new things."