- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

Charlie Slowes hunches over a desk in the home radio booth at RFK Stadium and prepares for another Washington Nationals broadcast. If the Nationals lose, it won’t exactly shock him. He is much too used to being the “voice” of lousy teams.

For nearly 20 years, however, Slowes has suffered along with the teams he covers. His career includes 11 seasons with the mediocre Washington Bullets, seven with the terrible Tampa Bay Devil Rays and now two with the last-place Nationals. Almost literally, he has seen and described it all — except a championship.

Championship? What’s that?

Only once in those two decades has Slowes worked for a winner, the 1996-97 Bullets who finished the regular season 44-38 but lost three straight to the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs. During his tenure with Tampa Bay, the expansion Devil Rays lost 100 games twice and at least 91 in each of his seasons. And since the midway point of last season, the Nationals have gone 77-108.

Yet Slowes, a youthful 45, perseveres. Somehow he does not let all the defeats get him down, on or off the air. But he’s not exactly the kind of guy you want to have around as a good-luck charm.

Good luck? What’s that?

“I don’t have a problem keeping my enthusiasm up,” Slowes insisted last week as he and partner Dave Jageler shared the mike for a — surprise! — victory by the Nationals. “This is a transitional time for the Nats, but the team and its new ownership have a bright future. And even when you broadcast for a good team, you have bad games.”

Good team? What’s that?

To the credit of Slowes and Jageler, they manage to turn in a strong job even when the Nationals don’t. Their broadcasts over flagship station WTWP (AM-1500, FM-107.7) are cluttered annoyingly by the usual promos and local ads, but the play-by-play guys are unfailingly professional. Jageler, who is in his first season working at the major league level, takes his cue from Slowes, literally and figuratively.

The Washington-Baltimore area has enjoyed many outstanding radio baseball broadcasters over the decades, among them Arch McDonald, Bob Wolff, Tony Roberts, Chuck Thompson, Bill O’Donnell, Jon Miller and Jim Hunter. Slowes keeps the average happily high.

“Charlie does a terrific job,” said local public relations guru and P.A. announcer Charlie Brotman, who has been listening to baseball hereabouts since World War II. “He’s the ultimate pro, a guy who knows the game well, uses stats well and has a good personality.”

Slowes returns the compliment. As Brotman announced the starting lineups at RFK the other evening as part of the Nationals’ grand reopening promotion, Slowes remarked admiringly, “Charlie still has it [at age 77].”

Slowes’ audience has been boosted considerably the last two seasons because the impasse between Comcast and Peter Angelos’ Mid-Atlantic Sports Network prevents many fans from watching the MASN telecasts. Yet Slowes doesn’t gloat — that would be unprofessional.

“Hopefully, we’ll hook [the fans] now and keep ‘em after the TV situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction,” he said diplomatically. And although Bob Carpenter and Tom Paciorek do an equally competent job on the MASN telecasts, the feeling is that some viewers will turn off the TV sound to catch Slowes and Jageler.

Nowhere else in sports broadcasting is there so intimate a link as that between a good baseball radio play-by-play man and his audience. He can seem almost like a member of the family because he’s there every day or night for six months a year whenever you want him, whether it’s for an entire ballgame or an inning here and there.

“It’s funny because guys who do radio usually don’t get recognized that much,” Slowes says. “But here lots of people come up and say, ‘I like what you guys are doing.’ That’s gratifying.”

When Slowes filled in for Carpenter on one MASN telecast earlier this season, however, instant stardom did not result. Short and dark, he has what might be described, unoriginally, as a face made for radio.

“Charlie spent two hours in makeup before the game that day,” Jageler said, getting in a little dig.

Slowes demurred. “Not true — it was only an hour and a half.”

The two men are friendly, a quality that comes through strongly on the air. The interplay between them can be a welcome relief when the Nationals are losing by, say, 10-1.

“You learn to tell lots of stories during that kind of game,” Slowes said. “I remember doing a couple of playoff games when the Bullets were down by 40 points, and it doesn’t get any tougher than that. The first half of last season [when the Nationals were 50-31 and in first place] was the easiest time I’ve ever had.”

First place? What’s that?

Hall of Famer broadcaster Wolff, recalling his days with the lackluster original Senators from 1946 to 1960, said he frequently gave the score “but you didn’t have to say which team was leading — people just assumed it wasn’t Washington.”

Slowes doesn’t go that far, but over the past year he has had many fewer chances than he would like to hail a Nationals victory by exclaiming, “A curly ‘W’ is in the book.” But he figures more days and nights to do so will come, as during the recent six-game winning streak.

“Is this a dream job?” Charlie Slowes said. “Absolutely!”

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