Story and Photographs by Christian J. Stewart, Island Sports News
September 29, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – In this ISN exclusive, Christian J. Stewart profiles the radio voice of the Victoria Royals hockey club, Marlon Martens. Enjoy!
As a Vancouver Canucks fan living in the Lower Mainland in the 1970 and 1980s, Victoria Royals radio announcer Marlon Martens grew up listening to the radio play-by-play broadcasts of the esteemed Jim Robson, and like any true Canadian kid, would emulate Robson and other popular Hockey Night in Canada announcers he heard on television, by creating his own play-by-play during his neighbourhood road hockey games, or while playing video games in his living room.
A few years later in 1999, it was with those play-by-play voices in the back of his mind, that a now 25-year old Martens, working as a power engineer in a feed mill in Langley, decided that there was a greater career calling ahead and off he went to pursue his passion, enrolling in the radio program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).
The Voice of the Victoria Royals, Marlon Martens, high up in his broadcast location at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
After doing a bit of colour commentary and play-by-play for the Burnaby Bulldogs (BCHL) while at BCIT, Martens would graduate in 2001 and land his first radio gig at the now defunct Z95 in Vancouver, working in an overnight control room position. Shortly thereafter, he landed his first on-air job in 2001 with CJNL in Merritt, where in addition to working the morning show, he also provided colour commentary for the Merritt Centennials of the BCHL.
A move to Lethbridge, Alberta would soon follow and in addition to his radio gigs as an afternoon drive-time personality, Martens would become the colour commentator and eventually the play-by-play voice of the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL.
When the Victoria Royals announced plans to join the WHL in 2011, and as part of that, announced a game broadcast arrangement with The Zone 91.3 radio station in Victoria, Martens jumped at the opportunity to come back to his home province to work at the radio station and more importantly, become the play-by-play announcer for all Royals’ broadcasts.
“For me it was an easy decision and a great opportunity,” says Martens. “To come back to my home province, where it all began for me and to broadcast for a new WHL team…I was excited and very grateful when they asked me to come on board. I love this job.”
And love this job he must, as despite having the capable assistance of a colour commentator during home games (for the first two seasons, CHEK-TV’s Mike Walker) and usually an intern to help run down in-game stats and do other background research, when hockey season is on, Martens is living and breathing hockey pretty much 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
The job entails much more than having a great voice and a knack for calling the action. Martens describes it as a non-stop cavalcade of preparation and research, interrupted by a couple of hours of game action.
“On a typical game day, I’ll be at the rink for morning skates, get interviews from coaches and players, get material for the intermission features, get the lineups and start memorizing the opposing team names and numbers, update the blog I write and send audio clips and other material back to the radio station. I’ll then get a bit of a break, but then have to be back at the rink about two hours before game time to interview coaches, maybe another player, and then get up to booth where (at home anyway) I record the pre-game video, edit those clips, go through my notes and the stats, and run through a number of other activities. You are constantly researching teams and players to look for interesting things you can let the audience know while on the air.”
His work does not end there, as following the broadcast, which itself can run almost three hours, Martens hosts a post-game radio show in the Lion’s Den Restaurant after home games and then does all his final reporting, blogging, Twitter updates and radio features before calling it a night.
And then there is the road. Martens travels with the team to broadcast every Royals’ road game and unlike the friendly confines of Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre where he has assistance and a nice, comfy, centre-ice broadcast location, he is on his own and sometime in some not so comfortable surroundings.
“Most of the road rinks are OK in terms of sightlines and such,” says Martens, “but they don’t give you a ton of space to work. Other rinks like Everett are very loud and in Seattle, they put me way down in one corner of the rink, which can sometimes be challenging to try and call action that is almost 200 feet away from you.”
The extended travel and long bus trips can also be an issue, but Martens handles it well. “That first year when we had our long trip out to Brandon, was a pretty gruelling ride,” noted Martens. “The new bus though, I must say is incredible. With 30 bunks on it, we can actually lay flat and get some decent sleep on the longer trips and travel in relative comfort. It is such a plus for the players and coaches. I also don’t mind the travel too much as it allows me to get a ton of research and writing done, especially on the ferry.”
As a family man with a 3-year old and 6-year old at home, one aspect of travel that perhaps is a bit concerning to Martens is the time away from his kids. “When they were younger, as long as my wife had someone to help out, it wasn’t too big of an issue, but now that the kids are developing their own personalities, you start to miss that. Fortunately things like Skype help a ton and my 6-year old can now text me and we manage to stay in touch quite often when I am away.”
While Marlon’s son can join him every so often in the booth while at home, on the road, he uses Skype and texting to stay in touch with Dad.
“My wife has been very understanding too,” added Martens. “She has been on this ride with me since the beginning and she understands that this is my big love, my passion. Her support is just incredible.”
Over the course of his, to date, 12-year hockey broadcast career, Martens has seen some interesting things during broadcasts like fans winning vehicles at intermission, coaches throwing sticks on the ice, line brawls and fights in the stands, but acknowledges that it is the play on the ice that serve as his highlights so far. “That other stuff can be entertaining for sure,” said Martens, ” but it is those come from behind victories, or a goal in overtime, or an amazing playoff victory that are the things that really stay with you and that you don’t forget. On a personal note too, one of my highlights was calling my first game from the Pacific Coliseum, the arena that I was at regularly in my youth to watch the Canucks play.”
On the other side of that coin, Martens credits a player for providing one of his most embarrassing on-air moments to date. “We had a player drop the “F-Bomb” on us once in a live interview. We were all a bit astonished and our jaws kind of dropped, but I just had to keep moving on and pretend it didn’t happen. I’ve saved that clip though just as a reminder that it did!”
When asked what would be his ideal game to broadcast and player to interview, Martens did not hesitate to say it would involve the Canucks. “I think definitely the Canucks versus perhaps the Bruins, or maybe the Rangers, just to see if we can elicit a bit of payback [for the Canucks two most recent Stanley Cup final losses] and as to a player, probably Stan Smyl. He was my favourite player growing up and I think it would be cool to have a chat with him.”
Martens clearly has a passion for what he does and it is clear he made the right decision back in 1999 and will no doubt be involved in the broadcasting world until he retires. He sums this up nicely, “Yes, I’ll be involved in this as long as I can. I love this. A hockey game is different every time. It’s like opening a book. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You know the story is going to start and end, but what happens in the middle and how you get there, and the drama and everything that’s going to be involved, the emotional roller coaster you might be on, you just never know. It’s that excitement that brings you back.”
“It’s so cool, nothing is ever stale, and there is always an exciting story to tell,” added Martens, ” and if I can be part of that and somebody is able to enjoy listening to that at home and I can bring it to them, then I am thrilled.”
You can listen to all of Martens’ Victoria Royal broadcasts, both home and away, on CJZN-FM, The Zone @ 91.3, Victoria’s Modern Rock Station.
Be sure to visit Island Sports News (www.islandsportsnews.net) for comprehensive news and game action photography from the Victoria Royals 2013-2014 season.