USC radio announcer not just a voice, but a volunteer

USC football radio announcer Pete Arbogast (center) has provided commentary for over 300 games in 23 years with the program. (Photo courtesy of USC Athletics)

If you’ve tuned into a USC football game on the radio, you have probably heard the raspy tone and signature “How do you do?” of announcer Pete Arbogast, who has been the voice of Trojan football for the past 23 years. As Arbogast sits in the press box many Saturday afternoons equipped with his headset and binoculars, he calls the radio play-by-play for USC football in his trademark style.

Growing up in Los Angeles, sports was Arbogast’s first love. He never missed listening to Vin Scully’s “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” or Chick Hearn’s play-by-play broadcasts of Lakers games. But the 64-year-old, who now holds the record for most broadcasts of USC football games on Los Angeles radio of anyone in history, first fell in love with USC football at just 8 years old after growing up with a radio host for a father. 

Arbogast went on to attend college at USC, and he said it was his enthusiasm for USC football that led to his unique rasp on the radio.

“I was sitting in the Coliseum stands next to the [USC] band, screaming at football games and drinking too much beer,” Arbogast said. “It ruined my vocal chords to the point where I sound like this now. My dad has a higher-pitched comical voice, but I got this. Darn.” 

Arbogast’s gee-whiz attitude is known far and wide, especially among the Trojan faithful.

“The announcer is the one that’s bringing the action and putting it in [their] own words – — the eyes and ears of the games,” said Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor Jeff Fellenzer, a longtime friend of Arbogast’s. “You are painting a picture. It’s a powerful dynamic that exists and a relationship that starts. That person has been in your home, your car, in your living room. [Arbogast’s] impact is significant.” 

During his 300th game announcing for USC, Arbogast’s voice raised in excitement as former USC cornerback Ajene Harris ran back an interception for a touchdown against the University of Colorado last season.

“How do you do!” Arbogast said loudly into the mic. 

This is one of Arbogast’s most popular phrases. But, surprisingly, he didn’t invent it himself. After listening to Scully announce on the radio as a kid, Arbogast was able to adopt one of Scully’s lines and make it his own.

“Vin Scully actually loaned that line to me,” Arbogast said. “I was the public address announcer at Dodger Stadium for a few years. Every once in a while, [Scully] and I would have lunch together. When I asked him if I could borrow his phrase to use on my broadcast, he said, ‘It’s all yours. I’ll never use it again.’”

Arbogast says the biggest accomplishment of his career so far was being inducted into the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame, joining the ranks of legends such as Hearn and Scully.

Arbogast has a great voice, but many say that he boasts an even better character. His job as announcer only takes up 13 days of his year, so Arbogast consistently looks for meaningful ways to occupy the rest of his time.

For the last 50 years, Arbogast was in charge of 300 kids in a full-time position running the YMCA’s youth basketball team in Santa Monica. Although he retired from the job last year, Arbogast continues to give back by spending his time away from the press box volunteering.

Arbogast is an active volunteer of the No One Dies Alone program run by Providence Saint. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, where he comforts patients who only have days or hours to live. While many people know about his job as USC’s longtime football announcer, his volunteer work was relatively unknown until Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke wrote a moving column about it in August 2018.

“Did any of us know this? Did he ever talk about it?” said Larry Stewart, the Times’ longtime TV-radio sports columnist who sits on the Southern California Sports Broadcasters board with Arbogast. “Did he ever pat himself on the back or bump his chest and say ‘Do you know what I’m doing?’ It shows you that he just [volunteers] to be a good guy.”

Arbogast’s compassionate nature not only serves the patients with whom he spends time, it extends toward everyone around him.

“He’s not Pete the USC guy, he’s just a gentle, compassionate giant named Peter,” said Erin Pickerel, the volunteer services coordinator at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. “He brings this calmness, this assurance. You can feel his presence.”

While Arbogast’s broadcasting career is far from over, he has also started writing three books, including one about his time at USC. But while Arbogast admits that he is a die-hard sports enthusiast, he says he finds that some of his greatest joys are his volunteer job and other opportunities that are unaffiliated with sports.

“Maybe the best part of it all is that I am happy, and that’s not an easy thing to get anymore these days,” said Arbogast. “I’m a pretty happy guy.”