For more than 20 years, Joe Beninati has served as the play-by-play announcer for CSN’s live-game coverage of the Washington Capitals, and he also regularly provides play-by-play for the network’s airings of college sports, including football and basketball, and has worked as announcer for the Washington Kastles of WorldTeam Tennis.
But, unlike most sports broadcasters who dreamed of such a successful sports-centric career since they were young, Beninati had other plans for his life.
“I have a degree in biology and I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon,” he says. “I wanted to help people and possibly do sports medicine. It was going to Bowdoin College and then hopefully Harvard Medical School, but it didn’t turn out that way.”
Beninati was a goalie for both lacrosse and hockey in high school and hoped to play at college. He couldn’t play hockey in the fall, and some friends asked him to help out at the college radio station announcing the hockey games.
“I tried it and I turned out to be really good at it,” he says. “There was a three-camera, cable access TV station in Brunswick, Maine, which is where Bowdoin was and they asked me if I wanted to do the games on TV.”
He was just 18 at the time! The station also had Beninati do play-by-play for football and basketball games and his career was underway.
“Sophomore year rolls around and I’m taking all these super-duper, upper-level biology courses and I tell my parents I don’t know about medical school anymore,” he says. “I told them I wanted to be a sports announcer.”
Not that there wasn’t a part of him that seemed destined for such a career. As a kid, he would play street hockey or touch football with his friends and he was the guy who had all the names in his head and would call the games while they were playing.
In 1994, he came to Washington and has been announcing sports professionally ever since.
“I love sports. I’ve called eight different sports, although hockey is what I’m best known for,” he says. “I’ve also done football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, soccer, lacrosse and tennis. I don’t have favorite teams anymore like I did when I was a kid. I root for great theater. You want it to be a competitive game and a compelling game.”
Not that he doesn’t want the Capitals to win and take a sip from Lord Stanley, as he’d love to finally see them finally win the Stanley Cup.
Some of his favorite highlights from his career include calling play-by-play as Sergei Fedorov scored five goals in a 5-4 Detroit OT win over Washington in 1996; working the longest game in Division 1 Men’s Lacrosse history, as Virginia defeated Maryland 10-9 in a game that went into the 7th overtime in 2009; Alex Ovechkin scoring “The Goal” in Glendale, Ariz., back in his rookie year, January 2006; and the emotional season-opening 2016 college football season for Nebraska when the Cornhuskers honored Sam Foltz, their outstanding punter who died in an auto crash during the off-season, with a missing-man formation.
“I’ve done a lot of really, really great games,” he says. “But it’s the individual performances that stand out a lot more to me.”
Now a nine-time Emmy Award winner, Beninati has called hockey games during the NHL regular season, Stanley Cup Playoffs, and World Cup of Hockey for other national outlets, including ESPN and NHL Radio, and served as the radio announcer for Westwood One’s coverage of the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
“The chance to do the two Olympic hockey tournaments that I did, both in Salt Lake City and Torino, those were incredible experiences,” he says. “That was for radio, and most of what I’m doing now is for TV. But to get a chance and go back to being one-on-one with the listener, that’s where it all started for me and where I live.”
One sport that Beninati would love to try announcing someday is golf. He plays and watches a great deal on TV and has enormous admiration for the professional men and women who play the game. He’d also like to do a major tennis tournament.
Regardless of the sport he is broadcasting, Beninati notes it’s important that he sticks to his philosophy of not taking the attention away from the athletes or games themselves.
“We’re accent pieces,” he says. “It should never be about the announcer, it should be about connecting to what you see and what you’re describing and what matters most is what the athlete’s doing, not what you’re saying.”
For those who want to follow in his vocal footsteps, Beninati shares that success is not just about having a good voice and being a fan. Plenty of research and work is involved.
“You have to be prepared for anything, and you never know how much of that preparation you’re going to use, but when a college football team runs out 120 kids on to the sideline on a Saturday, you better be ready for at least 70 of them, so there’s memorization that goes in,” he says. “With the Internet today, you can do a ton of research. And I feel I have to and I need to. So, when someone makes a play, if there’s something of human interest that can connect him to the listener or viewer, that’s what I’m there for.”