How did an aspiring country music songwriter from Columbus, Ohio, replace a broadcasting legend and become the next voice of the Huskies?

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If life had turned out a little differently eight years ago, Tony Castricone might be headlining a country music tour with Brad Paisley rather than spending his days cataloging every bit of information on Washington Huskies football.

It’s an illuminating story about the unexpected events that led the newlywed 36-year-old Columbus, Ohio, native to Seattle where he landed his dream job to become the next voice of the Huskies – and in the process replace a broadcast legend.

Castricone, who was hired in August 2017, spent last season in the radio booth watching Bob Rondeau, one of the most beloved broadcasters in Pacific Northwest history, who announced his retirement four months earlier in April.

“It doesn’t matter who went before me from the standpoint of how hard I’m going to work and how I’m going to approach what I do every day and how much I’m going to enjoy this job,” Castricone said. “That part to me was going to be the same regardless of who came before me.

“But what I love about following Bob’s great run is that Bob has made listening to the broadcast on the radio a tradition here. He was so good at what he did and he was passionate about the Huskies that people wanted to hear what he had to say.”

Now UW fans will tune in to listen to Castricone, who makes his Husky football debut Saturday, when No. 6 Washington plays No. 9 Auburn.

The Seattle Times caught up with Castricone to talk about his how he plans to replace Rondeau; if he’ll reprise Rondeau’s trademark “Touchdown Washington” catchphrase; his broadcast heroes Keith Jackson and Brent Musberger; the summer in 2010 when he spent 40 days touring the country playing music and and the 14-hour days ahead of his first UW football radio broadcast.

(You’ve been doing this for awhile, what do you think my first question will be?) “What’s it like to replace Bob Rondeau?”

(Bullseye. So let’s get into that. What is it like?) “I’m not really sure because it doesn’t matter who went before me from the standpoint of how hard I’m going to work and how I’m going to approach what I do every day and how much I’m going to enjoy this job. That part to me was going to be the same regardless of who came before me. But what I love about following Bob’s great run is that Bob has made listening to the broadcast on the radio a tradition here. He was so good at what he did and he was passionate about the Huskies that people wanted to hear what he had to say.

“In a world where every game is available on some video platform whether that’s TV or you’re streaming on your iPad, there are many schools where people don’t listen to the radio broadcast. And maybe some people won’t tune in as often as they used to because Bob is not on the play by play anymore, but he has a great reputation and he’s made Huskies fans want to listen to the games on the radio.

“So that to me makes it very appealing to step into a situation where people like listening to the team on the radio. And there’s a high standard. I’m pretty excited about it quite frankly. I look at it as a positive.

“I’ve had some people tell me I feel sorry for you to have to follow such a great broadcaster. Or some people have said Tony has the undesirable job of trying to fill Bob Rondeau’s big shoes. I’m like man, you think my job is undesirable? I’ve got the best job in the world. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have this job. And I feel extremely blessed to have it.”

(Have you talked to someone like a Rick Rizz, who had to follow a legend in Dave Niehaus?) “I haven’t talked to Rick, but I have talked to Aaron Goldsmith quite a bit.

“Rick has been in the market for awhile and people knew who he was. Aaron was not the guy replacing Dave. It’s different when you’re the new guy, but you’re the No. 2. But Aaron did the same thing that I did. He moved here from across the country. He went all in with this opportunity. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.

“You’re super excited coming in. You’re joining a great broadcasting team. We have talked about that. We both agreed that’s OK for people to miss the guy before, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have unbelievably cool jobs. And it doesn’t change the fact that people still listen to the games on the radio here and enjoy it. I look at it as an opportunity and a blessing.”

Broadcaster Bob Rondeau in 2017. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Broadcaster Bob Rondeau in 2017. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

(I know you spent last year in the booth watching Rondeau. What did you pick up?) “Everybody prepares in their own way. I didn’t so much pick up so much the how to call a game things from being around him. What I picked up from Bob this past year was more just figuring out how to identify things from a high-up location and just watching his process for communicating with other people in the booth. Spotters and the statistician and the behind-the-scenes stuff. Managing all of that in an efficient manner.

“Those are the things I was really paying attention to. But as far as how he prepares and how I prepare, two totally different things. He hand wrote these gigantic boards and he would tape statistics all over the place. I’m more Microsoft Excel. I’m very meticulous. Everything is typed in a tiny 6.0 font and I know exactly where to find everything in my own way.”

(What are you going to say when Washington scores a touchdown?) “When it comes to, ‘Touchdown Washington,’ what made it great was Bob’s great voice and his enthusiasm and passion for saying it. But he was just saying what happened. It wasn’t like a catchphrase. It wasn’t like ‘pull out the mustard and rye bread.’ It was just pure. It was just what happened. It was touchdown Washington. And it was good news. That combined with the way he did it, that erupts the joy out of your heart when you hear that.

“For me I’m probably just going to describe it as best I can to paint a picture that will evoke an image for the listener and try to get the most essential information out there as quickly as possible. I think the key to doing great radio play-by-play — because there is no visual for the listener — is that you just need to leave the listener asking as few questions to themselves as possible. You don’t want them asking, I just heard the crowd swell and what happened there? Or what’s the score? Or how much time is left? And why haven’t I heard from this player in awhile?

“You’re just supposed to answer those questions for the listener and that to me is basic play-by-play 101. I’m really not focused on trying to create a catchphrase or anything like that. I just want to react. And I want to be prepared to know exactly what’s happening and hopefully do that with great enthusiasm and whatever comes out, comes out.”

(So each touchdown could have it’s own call?) “I’m not planning on it. One might develop over time. I’ve got some phrases that I’m trying to work out of my vocabulary right now that are crutches and sometimes catchphrases develop because they are crutches. You say the same thing every time something happens over and over again. That could possibly turn into a catchphrase, but for me I’m just trying to describe it as I see it.

“‘Touchdown Washington’ will probably come out a handful of times because that is literally what’s happening in those scenarios, but I don’t think it’s going to be intentional, at least not quite yet.”

(Who are your favorite college football broadcasters?) “I grew up on Keith Jackson and Brent Musberger. I loved those guys. Two totally different styles, but both were kind of folksy a little bit. But they were different. Brent had this ability – the ‘You are looking live’ – and with the enthusiasm and the way he voice would burst in a big moment and the way he would craft a narrative throughout the game, I thought Brent was impeccable at that.

“But then there as Keith Jackson with his strong vocabulary, but his down-home phrases that you wouldn’t hear that often from anyone else created a persona for him. And his voice just sounds like the Rose Bowl to me. When I hear Keith Jackson, I think of the Rose Bowl. So I grew up on those guys.

“When it comes to radio, in the internet era I’m blessed to have the ability to listen to anybody, anywhere at anytime. I listen to guys at Syracuse and UCLA. I worked with Don Criqui at Notre Dame for several years. I listen to guys at Florida State, Ohio State and all of these guys all over the country. Craig Way at Texas does a great job. There’s a lot of guys all over the nation that I’ve been listening to for a long time and Bob Rondeau was one of them. I’m probably a little bit of a melting pot of all of those guys. And another guy that I love who has picked up college football recently is Gus Johnson. I love Gus Johnson. I just love that enthusiasm.”

(I know – like me – you were born and raised in Ohio and we’ve talked about that quite a bit. But I don’t know what your parents did for a living?) “My dad was a traveling salesman. He was a middle man that placed products in retail stores. He would go around an pitch products and fulfill mass quantities orders for stores. He was a toy salesman actually. That’s how he started, then he picked up other products along the way. He always had tons of baseball card samples that he would show to places like Toys R Us, then after he was done with the sample he would use that as an incentive for me to go do my chores.

“So rather than getting an allowance of $2 a week, I would get baseball cards. I’ve got 50,000 at my parent’s house back in Ohio. That’s how I grew up a gigantic Mariners fan. From right out of the get-go, right when Ken Griffey Jr. was coming up, I was like I love this guy. I was the biggest Griffey fan. I have over 300 Griffey cards still. I’ve got the Upper Deck Griffey. I’ve got an autographed Griffey baseball. And the Mariners were my favorite team growing up in the non-internet era in Ohio. I would follow them on 36-hour delay and ripping open the Thursday morning paper to get the Tuesday night box score. I know that’s a bit tangential, but that’s what my dad did. My mom is a bookkeeper and does some accounting work. She works at a law firm now, but she stayed home with us when we were kids.”

(Are both of your parents still alive?) “Yeah. I’m like so excited to be in this position and to share it with my parents. They’ve been my cheerleaders in this whole entire process for the last 15 years wanting to have a job like this. Obviously, not knowing if you’d ever get one, but just trying and trying. They’ve listened to me call high school games in some of the most remote areas of America on 26-watt radio stations in the middle of nowhere. They’ve come to college baseball games. They’ve come to women’s basketball games. My dad went to school at Ohio State – a lifelong Ohio State fan – my dad would listen to Michigan games when I would call Michigan.”

(That’s love.) “Yeah, right. That’s love. It’s been a dream of mine to be in a position like this. I think they’re sad to see me move 3,000 miles away but at the same time they’re happy knowing that I’m living out my dream. They listen online all the time. In basketball season when we were tipping off at 8 p.m. Pacific, they would be up at 11 p.m. Eastern time listening to the Seattle U game. I’ve got big fans in them and a big fan in my wife who doesn’t know a whole lot about Xs and Os, but she’s super supportive.”

(What’s her name?) “Selena.”

(How long have you guys been married?) “We got married Sept. 16 of last year and then we moved straight here after the wedding. It coincided with the move.”

(How long were you guys dating?) “We actually just met in January 2017 and we got married eight months after we met.”

(You crazy kids.) “I know right. Us crazy mid-30s kids.”

(Getting back to your dad, it had to be the coolest thing in the world to have a dad who sells toys. Are you the oldest, youngest or only child?) “I’m the oldest and I’ve got two younger sisters. And going back to the whole having an opportunity to fill-in on Michigan games, my sisters are both Buckeye fans too. I remember I filled in on a basketball game, I think it was against Coppin State. Michigan versus Coppin State the day after Thanksgiving. And my sisters drove up to Ann Arbor from Columbus the weekend of the Ohio State-Michigan game. And they bought Michigan T-shirts and wore them at the game. And I was like, I don’t even know you guys anymore. But yeah, it’s been a lot of fun to have their support all the way through trying to chase down a dream gig like this. It’s been really cool.”

(Did you always know you wanted to do this or did you stumble into it?) “I had a weird fascination with play-by-play at a young age to the point where I remember having college football games on VHS and I would just watch them. Some kids would watch Sesame Street on VCR, I would watch ABC college football and I would watch so frequently that I had memorized Gary Bender’s play-by-play call. I would just go around the house reciting that rather than singing Barney or whatever other kids were doing. So yeah, I’ve really been into it. I’ve always wanted to play, but I was like probably 10th percentile in size growing up so I was too small to play football. And basketball, I played as long as I could but didn’t make it to varsity basketball. When I was that age knowing that I wasn’t going to play that’s when I decided I’m going to major in broadcasting and see what I can do. I didn’t really know if it would work out. I just figured, my parents had always taught me just throw yourself in whatever you do. Give it your absolute best effort and whatever is supposed to happen will happen.”

(I remember from our first conversations that you went to Ohio University for broadcasting, but I have since learned that you also dabble in music. What’s that about?) “I’ve been playing guitar since my 17th birthday. I’ve always been in to it, but it was always more of like a party trick or a thing with friends. It wasn’t anything that I ever took very seriously. I’m very marginal in my ability to play and sing. I’m not awful.

“But after college, I started to write some songs for fun. I tried to share them with some friends and I got some feedback like, ‘Hey, that one is not so bad,’ or whatever. I didn’t take it all that seriously until I got laid off a job in 2010 when I was working in Columbus (Ohio). After that, I didn’t have anything else going on. So I took that summer off to just travel the United States and fly into open mics and some bars to play in and stuff like that.

“I just had a lot of fun with it, but again not anything that I would ever do for a living. But then when I moved to North Carolina, I found out about the National Songwriters Association. I joined that and learned there’s a little bit of a formula and a pattern and some objectively good and bad things in the whole songwriting process. I started working on the craft a little bit.

“What I started to realize is songwriting and play-by-play on the radio really aren’t that different. You got no visual and you’re just trying to use sound and words to stir up an emotion and paint a picture. I started to apply the same ideas to both things and I started to have a little bit of success. It became a passion. I really, really loved it.

“I’m now at my dream job, so I don’t really have the time to do it anymore, but maybe when things slow down I’d like to pick it back up. I’ve had some songs pitched to record labels that seriously considered having them recorded by some major artists. So the songs don’t suck like they used to, is what I’m saying. But it’s still just a side hobby.”

(What genre?) “Mainly country, which is funny because I never grew up listening to country. But I’ve also learned that country — and not so much the pop country that’s out there now on mainstream radio — but old-school country is a storyteller’s genre. There is a pattern to it that you can master if you work on your craft enough. I got really, really into that. I met some incredible writers and we would co-write. I made some trips to Nashville. I had a lot of fun with it, but I’m definitely doing what I’m supposed to do.”

(So if I went on iTunes, could I find something?) “There used to be and that would be more from the embarrassing era of not very good. You know what, there is one song I have on SoundCloud and if I can find it I’ll send you a link. I’m really proud of this song. It’s called ‘What Big Brothers Do.’ I co-wrote it with a guy named Steve Williard. We actually had a pitcher, it’s someone who pitches songs professionally, we had a pitcher say she got it in front of Brad Paisley in Nashville. I don’t know if he ever did actually listen to it, but I’m pretty proud of that song. It’s a pretty good song.”

(Well if Brad Paisley didn’t listen to it before he’ll read this story and will know all about it.) “I know he loves college football so that’s a foot in the door.”

(That’s a cool hobby. So be honest, do you occasionally do some open mics around town? Can we find you in Auburn or Kent on a random Thursday night?) “Yeah, I have done one and it was in Columbia City somewhere. I don’t even remember the name of the place. … People who attend hole-in-the wall open mics and people who follow college football, there’s zero overlap. Nobody is recognizing me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show ‘Parks & Recreation’ where (Nick) Offerman’s character is a jazz flutist on the side. It’s not like that.”

(Switching gears, do you plan to have in family members in Atlanta for your first Husky football broadcast?) “No, not for the football game. They actually wanted to come, and I said I’m sorry I am a little bit stressed out for the first game and I’m studying my tail off. I’m working about 12-14 hours a day trying to get prepared. I said I might be a little focused for the first game, but they’re going to come down for the Auburn basketball game, which I’m really excited about.”

(You just said you’re working 12-14 hours a day. I think that would surprise some people who might assume you show up, call the game and go home. But it’s not that simple.) “No, it’s not. I should probably be more precise. There are days that I’m working 12-14 hours, but I’m working long hours every day. I’m in it seven days a week right now.

“Part of that is being new to a program. With the new redshirt rule, we’re probably going to see any of the 109 players on the roster at some point during the year. So I don’t want to be like I’m not sure who that Husky is. I want to have a deep knowledge on every body.

“This offseason I’ve done my homework getting to know Husky history as well as anybody possibly can in the short period of amount of time. I printed off every box score back to 1976 and I highlighted and color-coded it and put all the information on spreadsheets. I’ve typed out into an Excel document every score of every Husky game all-time so I can sort them all by year and ranking and day of the week. I’ve done my homework.

“But there’s other incentives to it as well … I think one of the things that was a plus for me is that I didn’t want to just call games. I wanted to really dive in and create new multimedia assets in this evolving media landscape. I wanted to tweet and I wanted to blog and I wanted to create this website that we just launched, washingtonimgnetwork.com. I wanted to emcee events. I want to meet donors and I want to do all of this stuff.

“It’s a lot. It’s not showing up on game day and calling a game. But showing up on game day and calling a game is what I’m going to be known for, and so I am really trying to make sure I do the absolute best job at that.

“It’s funny how you can easily get into this rhythm like ‘Browning back to pass. Throw is caught.’ I don’t think that’s good. I’m trying to get a deeper vocabulary. I want to be precise in how to paint the picture. What kind of throw was it? Did he spin a spiral? Did he float? Did he loft? Did he shovel? That to me is painting a picture and I’m trying my best to get ready to do the best job that I can.”

(Have you had a chance to do any dry runs with Damon Huard and Elise Woodward?) “No real dry runs, but it’s funny, when you called I was watching the Apple Cup from last year, and I do just kind of mumble to myself what’s happening. I do try to locate spots on the field. Moving left, right and all that stuff. I do try to practice describing in front of my TV and in front of my computer. I’ve watched all the games on YouTube from the last two years and tried to get the speed of the game down.

“That’s the thing. I’m a long-winded person, as you’ve been able to tell in this conversation. (Laughs) You can try to describe a little bit too much and get behind in the play, so keeping up with the speed of the game is something that you just have to practice. I’ll just do it in my living room when I have the house to myself. I’m just hanging out and getting ready.”

(Do you and Selena have any kids or pets?) “No pets, dogs, kids or any of that. That’ll change some day, but right now we’re just adjusting to life in Seattle, trying to make friends.”

(Have you guys bought a house?) “We’re renting. We’re in Green Lake right now. The area is just unbelievable. There’s so much to walk to. Until the smoke, we were walking around the lake all the time. But it’s great. This is a great spot for us until we’re ready to buy.”