Marty Brennaman, the radio voice of the Cincinnati Reds since 1974, has announced that he will be retiring after the 2019 season. Perhaps you’ve heard my initial reaction on the podcast. You’ve probably also read Doug’s piece on Marty’s retirement, or Mary Beth’s eloquent take.

I’ve had a few more thoughts about Marty’s retirement clanking around in my head. It seems like a good time to reflect on the guy who has been the soundtrack to my entire life. But first, watch Marty’s video announcing the big news.

It’s not surprising that Brennaman teared up in that video. After all, he’s an emotional guy. Of course, I can guarantee that he wasn’t the only person getting a little misty. For good reason: what a career Marty Brennaman has had. If you watched the press conference, you heard Reds owner Bob Castellini say that Marty has been a part of the Reds organization for more than thirty percent of the franchise’s existence. That’s almost unfathomable.

My earliest memory of Marty Brennaman is pretty hazy. It’s better described as a set of memories that all run together. Because there was never a time in my life where Marty wasn’t in the background. I vividly remember playing wiffle-ball games in the front yard with my brother, one on one, with our own created set of rules. Hit it past the end of the porch, it’s a double. If it goes past that tree, it’s a triple. Into the driveway next door, that’s a home run. If the pitcher catches a grounder before it stops moving, it’s an out.

We kept records; I was the all-time home run leader, despite the fact that my brother ended up being a vastly superior baseball player. Many of the games ended in bench-clearing brawls, as will happen with brothers. I remember those days fondly now…but in every memory, there is one constant. On the porch was a radio — always and forever — with Marty and Joe Nuxhall calling the games of those awful early-1980s Reds teams.

As I got a little older, I eagerly anticipated every single west coast road trip for the Redlegs. Sure, Cincinnati almost always went out west and played terribly. But there was something about laying in the dark, listening to Marty and Joe. Like many of you, I never made it to the end of those games, but slowly drifted away with the Reds in my head.

This is what I mean when I say that Marty Brennaman has been the soundtrack to my life. It’s not just a good turn of phrase. Marty has been there at every pivotal point in my life, in a very real sense (to me). How many thousands of kids over the last four and a half decades have a similar story?

I was a teenager in 1989, a cliched version of every teenager you’ve ever known. Awkward, often moody, trying to figure out where I fit in this world. One Thursday afternoon in early August, I was compelled to help with the construction of a deck on the home to which we had just moved. I had no talent for construction, to put it lightly. It’s also not an exaggeration to say that I wasn’t particularly interested in picking up a hammer on that fine summer afternoon. There were about a million things I would have rather been doing.

But there I was. As always, however, there was a radio and there was Marty Brennaman. Tom Browning retired the Astros in order in the top half of the first inning. Mariano Duncan walked to lead off the bottom half and stole second. Duncan advanced to third on a Luis Quinones bunt single, then scored when Eric Davis singled up the middle. Ken Griffey Sr. stepped to the plate next, and here’s where Marty takes over.

…and Griffey swings, long drive, deep right-center field, going back to the walllll…gone!

It was 4-0 Reds, and my mood had begun to turn around. I then listened in wonder as the Reds continued to hit. That homer was followed by singles from Rolando Roomes, Todd Benzinger, and Jeff Reed. Then a double by Ron Oester. Browning grounded out…then I listened in wonder as Marty described nine more consecutive hits. In the first inning!

…and the inning is over, but one to be remembered. Fourteen runs, sixteen hits!

By that time, I was deliriously happy. All of a sudden, a little construction work on a gorgeous summer day didn’t seem like such a bad way to pass the time after all.

A year later, I listened to Marty and Joe all year long as the Reds marched to a division championship. (You kids won’t believe this, but you couldn’t watch every Reds game on television in those days.)

When the playoffs rolled around, I watched every single pitch. The Reds were in the playoffs for the first time in my memory. (Which meant that I was a somewhat less-angsty teen for a few weeks.) During some of the games, I listened to Marty and Joe with the television’s volume down. After every game, I listened to the radio postgame show. Marty was right there in my living room as I celebrated one of the happier moments in my history as a Reds fan.

When the eighth inning ended in both Game 6 of the National League Championship Series and Game 4 of the World Series, I ran upstairs to my bedroom and popped a cassette tape into my cheap Emerson stereo system, the same system that permitted me to listen to all those west coast road trips. I turned on 700 WLW, then hit the “record” and “play” buttons simultaneously. (Again for the kids: you had to be there). I had to capture Marty’s call of the decisive innings in both series.

Sure, I was able to watch it downstairs, but I wanted to hear what Marty had to say about it. I wanted to be able to replay it over and over. And I’ll never forget the chills when the baseball settled into Todd Benzinger’s glove and Marty said:

…and the 1990 World Championship belongs to the Cincinnati Reds!

Marty Brennaman was 2,547 miles away at that precise moment, but he was also right beside me.

A few years later, I went off to college. While my home on the Kentucky border was well within WLW’s “Reds Country,” Charlottesville, Virginia was a different story. We were still a couple of years away from online broadcasts of Reds games, so the fact that I wouldn’t be able to keep tabs on the Redlegs seemed like a big deal to me (it’s possible that I didn’t have a clear understanding of what college life entailed).

My birthday was a couple of months before I planned to move to Charlottesville. As a gift, my parents gave me something called a GE Superadio (here’s what it looked like). That thing was a beauty. Marty’s voice came in loud and clear even in central Virginia, at least at night. I was away from home for the first time, taking my first steps into becoming an independent adult…and Marty was there with me.

My last year in college, I interned with the Virginia Sports Network. My duties included helping out with radio broadcasts of University of Virginia football, soccer, and men’s/women’s basketball games, along with in-studio shows at an AM station, WINA. It was a fun experience, permitting me to get some time on the air (long before podcasts were a thing). I had to stick a microphone in Bobby Bowden’s face after his first defeat in the ACC, one of the biggest wins in Virginia football history. (Bowden could not have been more of a class act.) I interviewed players in the locker room at University Hall one year after they had advanced to the Elite 8. I was occasionally permitted to do some post-game analysis after basketball games. The first time I ever flew was with the women’s team on the way to the ACC tournament.

At the time, I was still unsure about my future career path. Among other options, it seemed like following Marty into sports broadcasting might be a fun way to make a living. After all, Marty was a fellow Virginian, right? (I decided to ignore the fact that he had been the voice of the Virginia Tech Hokies before moving to Cincinnati.) So I tentatively talked my boss into broadcasting a handful of Virginia baseball games that spring, with me doing play by play. To prepare, I sat in my apartment night after night, Marty on the radio beside me and a notebook in my lap, taking exhaustive notes about the way he called the game. I studied the way he approached his craft, and I came away even more impressed than before.

Ultimately, I took a different path (though another intern that year, Robby Robinson, still does play by play for VCU basketball). I wonder occasionally whether I could have made broadcasting my career. There’s one thing I know for certain: I couldn’t do it as well as Marty Brennaman. Then again, that’s not really a valid self-criticism. After all, almost no one has ever been able to do it that well.

Here’s a story I’ve never told publicly before. A couple of years later, after my second year of law school, I spent the summer clerking with in-house counsel at Eastman Chemical in Kingsport, Tennessee. By that time, you could listen to games online. So there I was, alone all summer in a strange town in east Tennessee, but Marty was there with me.

As the end of the summer approached, a couple of weeks before I was set to return to school, I made the momentous decision that I was going to propose to my girlfriend. As I tried to decide how I was going to pop the question, I decided to ask for advice on how to do it. I decided to Ask Marty, of course.

On a lark one evening, I dashed off an email, asking Marty whether I should propose marriage at an upcoming Reds game. If we’re being honest, I was never going to do that (my girlfriend would have killed me). But Marty read my question on the air. He gave very sound advice: the Reds were in last place, 17 games out of first at that time and playing terrible baseball. Marty thought it would be a bad omen to propose marriage under those circumstances, and he offered some kind words. It was good for a smile anyway.

In August, my wife and I will celebrate twenty years of marriage. She’s been listening to Marty for those two decades too.

As you know, I realized a dream last April when the book I wrote with Chris Garber — The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds — was published by Triumph Books. What many of you may not know is that the book was finished a year earlier, but publication was delayed for reasons outside our control.

In the meantime, the publisher urged Chris and I to find someone to write a foreword to the book. We put together a short list of dream names, and at the top of that list was Marty Brennaman. I reached out, there was some back and forth, we sent him the chapter entitled “Marty & Joe” and (thanks to the facilitation of Reds Director of Digital Media Lisa Braun and Amanda Brennaman) ultimately he agreed to provide the foreword to the book.

It will always be a thrill that Marty’s name is on the cover of our book. With perhaps just one exception (Vin Scully), I have never heard anyone that could describe the action in a baseball game like Marty can, and — whatever you think about the way he “tells it like it is” — he’s never lost his fastball when it comes to vividly painting a picture of what was happening on the field. When asked to describe what made him so good, his longtime partner Nuxhall said this: ”His voice is excellent, he’s smooth, he’s right on the ball with the action in the game. If you sit there listening to him at the stadium, you can follow the ball with him. That’s one of his biggest assets.” Indeed.

I can’t speak for all Reds fans, but I imagine that most will agree with me: we’ll miss Marty. And not just because he’s a legendary broadcaster (but make no mistake: Marty is a legend in his field). I’m going to miss all the ways he finds to laugh during his broadcasts, and I’ll try to remember what he always has always said: “You gotta have a little fun in this life.” As Garber noted, “any glimpse at his Instagram reveals that the man is living his best life. I can’t imagine anyone who will enjoy retirement more.”

I’m probably going to be sitting on the deck a lot more this summer, listening to “a good ol’ good one” on the radio broadcast rather than watching the games on television. When his final game gets here — in the 2019 World Series, of course — we’ll all be listening, just like we did when Nuxhall retired. We’ll probably get a little emotional.

And soon, Marty will be gone from the airwaves. Someone else will take his place. I’ll miss him, but I won’t be able to forget him. After all, Marty has been there, in the background, every step of the way.

10 Responses

  1. CFD3000

    A fine tribute Chad. I’ve never lived in or near Cincinnati, and I’ve got about 10 years on you, so radio was for a long long time the only way to catch a Reds game. My love for the Reds is due in no small part to the simple fact that Marty and Joe were very very good at calling the baseball games of the Cincinnati Reds. A tip of my Reds cap to Marty, and to you.

  2. Scott C

    Good article Chad. I spent a lot of summer nights listening to Marty and Joe. I feel really bad for those that do not remember Marty in that way. I wished that he had held back on some of his criticism, especially of Votto, I think it turned a lot of fans against him, but he did some of the best play by play around. The games I remember best of the thousands that I have listened to are Tom Seavers no hitter in June 1978 against the Cardinals. They had some pretty decent hitters in the lineup including Lou Brock and Ted Simmons. I set there recording each out and counting pitches right along with Joe and Marty. And then Tom Browning’s perfect game ten years later. I was in NC at that time so the reception wasn’t great and I had to strain to hear the calls but Marty brought each pitch into my home. I haven’t listened to Marty a lot over the last few years thanks to MLB TV but none of the TV announcers today can shine a candle over Marty.

  3. MS Reds Fan

    I grew up and still live in rural Mississippi. I became a Reds fan as a youngster in the late-70’s. The main reasons were: 1) The Reds were the most popular team at the time 2) for a 6 year old Mr. Red was a cool logo and most importantly 3) we couldn’t get but 3 channels in 1978 and the Saturday NBC GOTW(which featured the Reds a bunch) and ABC MNB as well as a few Tuesday and Thursdays was all the baseball we got. I found Marty and Joe one night tuning through the AM dial and that cemented it. I’ve been a Reds fan ever since going on 41 years. Even indoctrinated by son. Makes me feel my own immortality now that another vestiage of my youth is gone. Likewise, I’ll cut down the TV volume(I get MLB Extra Innings so I can watch the Reds) and listen to 700 WLW a little extra this year. Thanks Marty for helping make me a Reds fan.

  4. NorMich Red

    Always a Reds’ fan since a little lad growing up in the other end of the state where the baseball (and its voices) back then along Lake Erie were completely awful and forgettable, I was lucky enough to come to U.C. for my Master’s degree during the BRM years of the mid-70’s. After saying good-bye to Al Michaels after his call of the walk-off wild pitch pennant winner over the Bucs, I got to welcome Marty to Cincinnati. I was in the crowd when Hank Aaron hit # 714 on Opening Day. (So I missed that call live…) But I was in the QC long enough to see them win the 1975 World Series, and enjoyed a couple of Summers in Cincinnati listening to Marty and Joe on the sultry summer nights while working on my thesis. West Coast road games while burning midnight oil at my grad student office on campus are an etched and great memory. It was an absolute treat to hear his early MLB broadcasting years, and as everyone on this site will attest, there was nothing that compared to Marty and Joe together in their broadcasting prime. After completing my degree, I was away from the Midwest and WLW’s broadcast range for over 20 years. But I would get a few nights of reconnect every Summer when leaving the Southwest or West for some time fishing in the wilderness of Northern Ontario. I’d savor that night-time signal coming through for a few hours after coming off the lake. Then, 23 years ago, I moved back within signal range in northern Michigan.
    Add that to the ability to stream radio feeds(FINALLY, a crisp signal from afar!) in recent years, and I’ve gotten to hear the best (and occasionally not-so-best) of Marty’s twilight years behind the microphone. I grew up with Ernie Harwell (and Claude Sullivan/Jim McIntyre) on my old box AM radio as a kid. So I have great memories of two of the best. Perhaps those two are eclipsed in painting a picture of the game only by Vin Scully (who, unfortunately, called games for the despised Dodgers…but still amazing to listen on the handful of opportunities I’ve had). I may never get the chance to thank him in person…but this forum serves as a chance to thank The Voice for the joy that he has brought to so many of my Summers. I wish him and Amanda a wonderful retirement and the opportunity to pursue many adventures that his career prevented him from doing in these last 40+ Summer seasons. And I hope that Castellini et al. give him a good team worthy of making his final season a far more enjoyable one!


    Whether you love him or not, Marty has outlasted many less talented play by play men and stamped himself deeply into the memories of thousands and thousands. I really like the Cowboy, but Marty and Joe, were probably the best duo, as far back as I go. I remember ruing the day Al Michaels left, thinking they could not and would not find anyone as good as him. I was wrong. As others of you have acknowledged, Marty was/is one of the best ever. That’s why he is in the HOF. Yes, he has become acerbic in his old age, but as others have suggested…losing Joe seems to have coincided with that attitude. Additionally, who can know the trials and tribulations of another’s life?

    Each year, I relish the return of the baseball season and anxiously await the first spring training call of Marty Brenneman. I plan to savor this final season and hopefully it will end with greater success than what we have had the last few seasons. Oh, and Marty, thanks for the memories!

    • David

      I don’t think Marty is so ascerbic in his “old age”, but just kind of fed up with the losing. Marty has seen a lot of games in his 40 plus years of broadcasting the Reds, and seen a lot of good and bad ball players. He may not be “your” kind of expert on baseball, but he does know a lot about the game.
      As an employee of the Reds, he is not quite ready to unload on Bob Castellini, but it might come at the end, or after retirement.
      Advanced metrics are one thing. A player must also pass the “eye” test, to see if he is really any good. You have to watch a guy play. This team, lately, has had a lot of problems. And I think Marty just expresses his sometimes disappointment in how some players perform on the field. It’s hard to be negative with four straight 90 loss seasons. This is not the way the Reds have performed for most of their history. Bad years, yes, but this has been really lousy for quite a while.

  6. Chad Dotson

    Thanks for all the kind words!

  7. Ralph Ciotola

    This was absolutely beautiful. I started listening to the Reds when I was five years old. I turned 5 in 1974, so like you, Marty has literally been the soundtrack of my entire life. My brother and I played the exact same game in our backyard. I thought we invented it 🙂 We played Reds vs Dodgers, had to bat each team’s lineup. All the while, doing our best Marty Impressions to call the action. I could read this tribute a hundred more times, it’s as if I wrote it myself (if I could write). Thank you Chad.

  8. EH

    Please don’t compare Vin to Marty…even as a lifelong Reds fan, there is no comparison to Vin Scully. As much as I used to enjoy listening to Marty and Joe, Vin was on a different level, and never did he just blatantly rip players and their ability the way Marty unfortunately has begun to do over the past several years. He’s become almost unlistenable, much to my disappointment after growing up listening to a completely different guy, it seems.