Class Year: 2007
College: Arts and Sciences
Major: Communication Studies
In an area rich in sports history – both the memorable and utterly forgettable – Josh Heller, AS’07, also found himself awash in a sea of top-notch broadcasting talent. Gil Santos has been calling New England Patriots game since 1966 and hasn’t missed a beat. Sean McDonough handled play-by-play of Red Sox games on New England Sports Network before he was replaced by Northeastern alumnus Don Orsillo.
“You could tell they both loved doing their jobs,” Heller said. “They were talented and well prepared. You could close your eyes and see everything happening just as they described it.”
So like many young, impressionable Boston sports fans, Heller easily envisioned himself behind the microphone describing the action on the field.
“I figured out at a pretty young age that I wasn’t going to be playing sports at a very high level, but I always thought working in a sports-related field would make for a great career,” Heller said. “But I never really gave it much thought until I got to college.”
Heller enrolled at Northeastern and majored in physics, “but I quickly realized physics wasn’t for me.” He switched his major to communication studies in his sophomore year and began working for WRBB, the campus radio station. He began slowly, providing commentary and updates between periods of men’s hockey games.
“I remember being really nervous and self-conscious,” Heller said. “But I loved it. I remember it being a lot tougher than I ever thought it would be. My first time on air I was horrified, and I had a three-hour show. We had a call-in portion of the show, and no one was calling in. I was pretty sure absolutely no one was listening.”
Each time the “on air” light went on, though, Heller was feeling more comfortable. By his junior year he was doing play-by-play for men’s hockey and, thanks to his work with a former player who served as color commentator, he learned more about the game’s subtleties. That season, the first under current coach Greg Cronin, was tough as the Huskies struggled to a 3-24-7 mark.
But as the Huskies got better in 2006-07 – winning 10 more games than the previous season – so too did Heller.
“I wasn’t sure I had the chops when I first started out, but I got more confident with each game,” Heller said. “I quickly realized that this was something I wanted to do.”
The day after graduation he moved to Pensacola, FL, to take a job with the Pensacola Pelicans, a baseball team in the independent American Association, and then on to the South Carolina Stingrays of the East Coast Hockey League, where he served as media relations manager /broadcaster. In his second year with the Stingrays, he broadcast the league’s All-Star game and was honored as the league’s Broadcaster of the Year, an award given based on a vote of his peers.
Unfortunately, he received word of the award a week after he was laid off by the team for budgetary reasons.
Heller utilized the many networking connections he’s made in the industry and landed on his feet in Toledo, however, where he is the lead radio announcer for the first-year Walleye of the ECHL. Through March 8, the Walleye were 31-25-1 in the American Conference’s North Division, but Heller couldn’t be happier.
“My ultimate goal is to hook on with an NHL team, but there’s a lot of competition out there,” Heller said. “I’m paying my dues, getting the experience I need to become a better announcer. From here I want to move up to the [American Hockey League], hopefully by next season, but we’ll see where it goes. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”