The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 13, 2013

‘Stat rat’ Howell knows the game he calls

By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Matt Howell just can’t help himself.

Each time a pitch is fouled back, Howell, perched well above the baseball diamond, looking down from inside David Allen Memorial Ballpark’s press box behind home plate, Chisholm Trail Broadcasting’s sports director and a regular fixture on Enid’s sports airwaves reacts the same way.

Always mid-sentence — how else would a listener know the pitch was fouled off? — the lefty and longtime pitcher and first baseman cocks his right hand forward, as if gloved, to snare the ball off the bat.

Sure, there’s a net, an awning, and on colder nights, a window, between Howell and the ball, but old habits, and the instinct to protect one’s face, die hard.

“When you play baseball from 3, up until 18, it’s just muscle memory,” said Howell, whose other habit, that well-enunciated radio voice, has become his day-to-day one.

“I hope that I can paint a picture for the listeners at home,” Howell said. “I’m really a ‘stat rat’ kind of guy. I like to provide little bits of information that fans at home don’t know, or would like to know,”

Howell figured he puts 16-20 hours a week into studying stats and facts to make that happen, allowing the near-10-year pro to give context to the real star.

“To me, it’s a broadcaster’s job to really get out of the way and let the game describe itself,” Howell said.

Upwards of a thousand games ago, Howell was a fresher-faced student in Oklahoma State University’s broadcast program, going to big-time college games and recording his own voice as if he himself was a big-time sportscaster, preparing himself for a career that already has taken the 32-year-old from the grizzled aftermath of a Missouri tornado to parts as far as Blacksburg, Va., to now one of the best-known voices in Enid, calling EHS baseball, football, summer baseball, and basketball from high school to junior college.

That long story started in 2004 in Moberly, Mo., a city of 14,000 just north of Columbia.

Howell, a native of Emporia, Kan., graduated from OSU, his parents’ alma mater, less than a month before he started his first job in the radio business. At 5:30 a.m., Howell read news. At night, he talked sports, his weeks culminating with coverage of area football games.

With that schedule, it didn’t take long for Howell to end up on his first big story.

On the night of Sept. 12, 2006, with severe weather in the forecast, Howell and his soon-to-be wife Emily sought preemptive refuge in the basement of one of Howell’s coworkers, Chad Speakar.

The storm left Moberly mostly untouched, but not Renick, a community close by that was wrecked by an F-3 tornado, killing four and injuring 13. That’s where Howell and Speakar were sent.

“Being on the scene, literally 30 minutes, 20 minutes after it happened, and being 15 feet away from where the coroner was standing over people who had died, it was just such a harrowing experience,” Howell said. “You never expect — at that point, I’m 26, 27 years old. I’m not sure it’s something you’re ever ready for, but you know that you have to do your job, to cover that story and get that information out to people that the storm had moved through this area, that this is what’s happening … There was just an odd color to the sky. You could see the lightning. It was dark, but you still knew what was right in front of you.”

The next year, Howell moved to Enid, taking a position as Chisholm Trail Broadcasting’s news director and eventually voicing CTB’s area football game of the week with then-broadcast partner Cullen Sheppard. Later on, when Howell was promoted to sports director, he and Shepard moved to covering Enid High School football.

That promotion had a rocky start.

Enid visited district rival Sand Springs that night, when one of the worst things that can happen to a traveling radio team happened to the newly-promoted duo: When they tried to reach the station back in Enid, the connection couldn’t be made.

“I couldn’t get on the air,” Howell said. “My pregame was already supposed to have started, we can’t figure out what we’re going to do.”

When the hardline connection failed, Howell and Sheppard tried to connect their equipment to the station with a cellphone. No go there, either.

So the pair went to the last resort, feeding Howell’s voice directly to the airwaves through an old flip phone. Sheppard connected the phone to Howell’s headset, meaning the new play-by-play voice of Enid High School football on KCRC was a one-man booth on his first night.

“(Sheppard’s) first game to do Enid High after 15 years of doing the game of the week — he came over with me to do Enid High — and he’s not on the air. He’s relegated to being my stat man and our spotter,” Howell said through laughter. “I knew it had to get better from there, right?”

It has.

Howell, now a father of a 2-year-old daughter, Hailey, has tested the waters at the next level, calling an Oklahoma State basketball game against host Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., last season. The voice of the Plainsmen would like to call the college game full-time someday, but for now, high school sports in Enid will work just fine.

“There’s something special about a football Friday night,” Howell said. “It’s such a big event. With the lights on, there’s something special about that.”쇓