STRASBURG – If you were to listen to a radio broadcast of a high school sporting event in Shenandoah County over the last 30 years, you’d hear Craig Orndorff calling the action from the press box of a local football field or baseball diamond, or from the sidelines of a nearby basketball court. Tuning the radio dial to the Valley Sports Radio broadcast of a local football game on Friday nights these days still brings that familiar voice flowing from the speakers – but there is another voice alongside it that is starting to find its own way on the local airwaves.
Kyle Gutshall, a 15-year-old who is in his sophomore year at Central High School, has been teaming up with Orndorff for the better part of the last two years, serving as an on-air sidekick younger than any Orndorff has ever worked with over his three decades in the business.
Gutshall, who serves primarily as the color commentator to Orndorff’s play-by-play analysis, is getting an early start in an industry he thinks he could one day turn into a lifelong career, and it’s a journey that began when he reached out to Orndorff about three years ago.
Gutshall recalled before the Strasburg-Warren County football game last week how he got his start in a way perhaps not unlike most broadcasting aficionados. When he was younger, he would sit in front of the television, tune it to a game, turn the volume down and provide commentary for an audience of two – his parents, Kevin and Alicia.
When that no longer was enough, Gutshall sent a request to Orndorff, whom he knew as the broadcaster for the Valley Baseball League’s Woodstock River Bandits. Gutshall, around 12 years old at the time, wanted an inning or two of airtime on the team’s internet-only radio stream.
Orndorff, who knew that Gutshall understood baseball well enough, recalled thinking, “Why not?”
“He was awesome to let me do that,” Gutshall said, as he peered out of a press box window overlooking Glenn Proctor Field at Ram Stadium about an hour before he and Orndorff went on air to call Strasburg’s homecoming contest against the Wildcats.
“I mean we knew each other, I’d been sitting there (beside Orndorff during VBL games) a long time, but he didn’t really know what I had, and just him giving me that opportunity was huge. I’m so thankful for that. And hopefully I can continue to do these calls like this. … I mean a guy who’s never really heard me announce before, giving me a chance, you don’t see that too often. But I think I’ve done a good job for him, and we’ve done pretty well together.”
Gutshall’s foray into radio that day with the River Bandits ultimately led to a regular gig calling high school basketball games in Shenandoah County last winter alongside Orndorff for Valley Sports Radio broadcasts on WSVG 790 AM.
Next came high school baseball games last spring and then football games this fall.
All the while, Orndorff has been there to offer advice while watching Gutshall grow into his own voice on-air.
“Early on you could kind of see him thinking about what he was supposed to say,” Orndorff said. “Like if something happened on a play, like a baseball play, a lot of things would happen and he was … just trying to take it all in instead of painting the broadest picture and then going back and filling in the details later. He’s gotten much better at that, of just giving the basics.”
Gutshall said Orndorff’s most influential advice to further his development has included tips such as staying confident on air, not trying to do too much, letting the game play out and comment as needed and, most importantly, being prepared.
“One thing for me is just being prepared and studying the teams is really key to being ready,” Gutshall said. “You don’t wanna come to a game not knowing anything about the teams. And it helps on what you can say. But I think just take your time, don’t talk too fast. It’s tough at first to not overlap on each other’s conversations but I think we do a good job of knowing when to lead into the next person.”
When on air together Orndorff carries the broadcast, while Gutshall’s primary responsibility as the color man, he said, is to “paint the picture a little bit clearer” by adding his observations to Orndorff’s recounting of the action.
Gutshall upped the ante this past summer when he took the job as the internet radio broadcaster for the Strasburg Express during the VBL season. That meant flying solo for the entire season, something Gutshall had yet to experience.
There were a couple hiccups along the way – Gutshall said he was overly enthusiastic on a deep fly ball to right field that was caught on the near edge of the warning track (he covered himself by blaming the wind), and he had a “duh” moment when he informed listeners that an Express game had been “rained out because of rain.”
But it was an otherwise smooth experience for Gutshall, who also got to join Harrisonburg Turks veteran broadcaster Dave Norman on the call for the VBL All-Star game in July.
“I had never really done play-by-play other than with some River Bandits games, so it was a learning experience for me throughout the season,” Gutshall said. “But I definitely think I progressed. I got to do a lot of playoff games and big games in the league. I think that was key for me to just keep practicing and keep getting better every night.”
The doors are continuing to open for the Central sophomore.
He was recently approached about doing play-by-play for postgraduate boys basketball games at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock for the upcoming season, he said. The games will air on WUDS 94.9, a radio station owned by the academy, and Gutshall said he would call every Colonels home game and select road contests – alongside a pair of color commentators from the academy – depending on his schedule and travel distance.
He also plans to continue calling local high school sports alongside Orndorff for Valley Sports Radio and will retain his role with the Strasburg Express next summer. All of it is in the name of preparing himself for the big-time, should he choose that path when he graduates from high school in 2 ½ years.
“It’s something I really like. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. I do like a couple other things, for sure, but radio is something I enjoy doing. Hopefully I can continue to do it,” said Gutshall, who had a chance to meet Washington Nationals broadcasters Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo at Nationals Park this past summer.
“I also want to have a backup plan, of course. Just the toughest part is getting a good opportunity. You see these guys in the MLB, those are once a lifetime opportunities and there’s so many broadcasters out there that it’s tough to move up. You’ve just gotta know people, so hopefully I can have those opportunities to move up and keep on going.”
“I’m glad he’s going after something that he has a passion for,” added Orndorff, who was four years older than Gutshall when he snared his own opportunity for radio air time as a college sophomore.
“For him to have that experience here, to see what it’s like and to get that experience, a little taste of it – I hope he does something with it and goes a long way. Even if it’s just taking my place.”