Steve Jones in the booth

Broadcast beginnings

Steve Jones’ voice is well known by Penn State students, alumni and fans: He’s been the play-by-play announcer at home football games since 2000 and home basketball games since 1982. The man with the voice got his start in radio at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, where he began to develop his skills and fell in love with the profession.
By: Goldie Van Horn
Play-by-play announcer got his start at Penn State Wilkes-Barre

Steve Jones’ voice is well known by Penn State students, alumni and fans: He’s been the play-by-play announcer at home football games since 2000 and home basketball games since 1982.

The man with the voice got his start in radio at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, where he began to develop his skills and fell in love with the profession.

Jones is a native of Enfield, Connecticut, and as he grew up and thought about college, he was only interested in attending Penn State.

“When I was young, my father’s uncle was in charge of the dairy herd at Penn State,” he recalled. “We came out to State College a few times and I thought it was an incredible place, especially when they showed me the football stadium, which only had 46,000 seats at the time.”

When it came time to apply to college, Penn State was the only one Jones applied to. Required to list three campuses on his application, he put down Penn State Wilkes-Barre second because of its proximity to Connecticut. He was accepted there and began his college studies at Penn State Wilkes-Barre in the fall of 1976.

During his time at the campus, Penn State Wilkes-Barre had four buildings: two classroom buildings, Hayfield House and the Student Commons. The campus radio station, WPSI, was housed on the second floor of the Commons.

“I really wanted to give radio a try and wanted to do play-by-play,” Jones said.

He got his first shot on December 8, 1977, when Penn State Wilkes-Barre played the Allentown Business School at Lake-Lehman High School and won.

“When I was done doing that game, I looked around and said, ‘This is what I really want to do,’” Jones remembered. “I probably made 1,242 mistakes during the time I was on, but I really loved it and had a blast.”

He said he learned a great deal through his radio experience at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, which gave him a foundation he continued to build on.

“It instilled a passion in me for the profession as something I really wanted to do,” Jones said. “If I hadn’t gone to Penn State Wilkes-Barre and been able to get into that radio station, I don’t know what would have happened. You get a lot of opportunities at a small campus. I was able to be on the radio almost every day.”

After two years at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Jones transitioned to University Park, where he continued honing his craft and earned his degree in speech communications broadcasting.

“I ended up with a great two-pronged experience by being at Penn State,” he said. “The first two years, I got to experience a small campus where everyone knew each other, and my last two years I got to spend at University Park.”

Soon after arriving at University Park, he became the assistant sports director of radio station WDFM and then sports director his senior year.

“It was a great experience. I had a chance to do Penn State basketball, football and baseball, and it really set me up where I was on the air all the time,” Jones said. “The more you do and the more experience you get, the more your capabilities expand and you become more comfortable. That’s what the experience at WDFM meant to me.”

Upon graduation, Jones had three job offers to consider and accepted a position with radio station WMAJ in State College, working in both news and sports. He was also the play-by-play announcer for State College High School’s football team for 10 years.

Jones began his time with the Penn State Radio Network in 1983 as the men’s basketball play-by-play announcer. He also began working with the Penn State football program doing the pregame, halftime and post-game shows. That led to his high-profile position doing football play-by-play at Beaver Stadium starting in 2000 after former announcer Fran Fisher retired. He also did the play-by-play for Lady Lions basketball for six years and is currently the play-by-play announcer for the State College Spikes Minor League Baseball team.

Jones has cut back on his workload since his busiest years and now estimates he works about 40 to 50 hours a week—down from 60 to 70 hours a week. He does two talk shows every day for WKOK in Sunbury from his home studio in State College, 3 miles from Beaver Stadium. He refers to the home studio as “a slice of gold” and has also used that space for network talk shows with Penn State football coach James Franklin.

James Franklin being interviewed by Steve Jones.

Steve Jones, right, speaks with James Franklin, Penn State football coach.

Credit: Steve Jones

In addition to announcing for various teams and his talk shows, he teaches a sports broadcasting course for the University each fall and spring. Jones was asked to teach when the Bellisario College of Communications opened the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism in 2004.

“I teach it the same way I was taught: let’s talk about all the things you’re doing right, so we can build your confidence,” he explained. “I tell my students, ‘My one goal is for you to be better at broadcasting than when you started.’”

When he’s not announcing sports games, he loves to play golf and spend time with his family. He and his wife, Kathy, whom he calls “the rock in this whole thing,” have been married for 42 years. They have five children and seven grandchildren. Jones spent 14 years as a baseball and basketball coach, a role he relished because it allowed him to be involved with his children.

When asked to name some of his career highlights, Jones displayed an incredible memory as he rattled off numerous games and moments from multiple teams.

In basketball, he mentioned Penn State’s Atlantic Championship victory in 1991 that gave the team an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. He also recalled Penn State’s win at Kentucky in 2000, only the second time Kentucky had lost a season opener; and Penn State’s win in the 2018 NIT Championship.

“In football, one that’s really important to me—but means nothing in the history of Penn State football—was my first game with Jack Ham, which was at the Meadowlands against USC,” Jones said. Ham was a linebacker for Penn State and the Pittsburgh Steelers and is now a sports analyst with the Penn State Radio Network.

“I was working for the first time with Jack and I got all of the play calling right,” Jones recalled. “At that point, I won his respect right away. For me personally, that was important.”

“Jack Ham and I have had a front-row seat to history,” he continued. “We’ve been there for (former football coach) Joe Paterno’s 324th win, his 400th win, his 409th, Larry Johnson going over 2,000 yards in a season, the three-overtime Orange Bowl, the four-overtime win over Michigan.”

“The signature moment for me was in 2016 versus Ohio State as Marcus Allen blocked a field goal that Grant Haley picked up and ran in for a touchdown,” he said. “If I had to pick a single moment out of my career, I’d have to argue that was the best of all of them.”

The 2016 Ohio State-Penn State game he referenced was an 8:00 p.m. game with so much fan energy that the stadium—including the press box where Jones sits—was shaking. Another time the stadium was shaking was during a Penn State win over Ohio State in 2005.

“We were hearing Zombie Nation play left and right and the press box kept shaking,” Jones said. “Jack looked at me and asked, ‘Are we OK up here?’ and I replied, ‘I’m a broadcaster, not an engineer. I guess we’re going to find out.’”

“All these moments were set up by going to Penn State Wilkes-Barre,” he said. “Every moment I’ve had in my career was set up by that 10-watt radio station above the Commons.”

Jones has fond memories of his time at Penn State Wilkes-Barre and appreciates his return visits to the campus. He served as commencement speaker in 2011.

“I love going back. To me, it was an important part of my life and I really cherish it,” he said. “Every time it’s All University Day during football season, I always mention I went to Penn State Wilkes-Barre."

He’s also been able to tell some Penn State football players who attended Lake-Lehman, such as Connor McGovern and Nick Eury, “I know where your school is. That’s where I did my first game.”

Steve Jones and Rick Barry

Steve Jones, left, with fellow Penn State Wilkes-Barre alumnus Rick Barry.

Credit: Steve Jones

It was at Penn State Wilkes-Barre that Jones met and became friends with Rick Barry. Barry and his wife, Sue, are generous supporters of the University and have made gifts for the Abram Nesbitt III Academic Commons and the John R. Murphy Student Services Center at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. The Barrys also made one of the largest gifts in the history of Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics in 2010 for the creation of the Steve Jones Student Sports Broadcasting Complex.

The complex is located in Rec Hall at University Park and provides hands-on experience to communications students and professional broadcasters. It includes two control rooms, an editing lab, an HD viewing room and a dedicated media room and is connected directly to the Big Ten Network’s studio in Chicago.