Chris Kelley, the man who does the voiceovers for SportsCenter, is a 59-year-old Nutmegger with a recording studio in his basement and a penchant for weed. He’s been profiled a few times during his 19-year stint as the voice of ESPN’s flagship program, most notably in a 2012 Front Row podcast (which has since disappeared from the internet) and a recent Deadspin feature.
To hear Kelley tell it, he more or less stumbled into doing voiceover work in 1990 when an an agent gave him his card between Kelley’s sets at a New York City club called Tramps. By then, Kelley had already found regional success touring the Northeast with his band, Rods and Cones. Per Deadspin, the band “sold out 1,200 seat venues in Boston,” and even recorded a live album at CBGB, but broke up by the end of the 80s.
Kelley credited his ability to walk into “one of the highest-profile jobs” in voiceover work–he recorded two national commercials in his first week–to his time as a professional musician. “I had a good enough sense of performance,” he explained. “And I was a good enough little boy to follow directions, because that’s really all you were there to do, just give them what they wanted. It’s not rocket science; it’s just getting a feel for it. I already had that with music.”
One time Kelley appeared not to have a feel for his job: the only time he ever appeared on camera on SportsCenter itself, back on June 11, 2012. Part of the reason was that a cameraman walked in front of Kelley, who’d been reading off of a teleprompter (the pages in his hand are just props) and lost his place. And part of the reason, in his own words, was that he was a little bit high:
They called me at two o’clock in the afternoon. I had just fired up a big, fat joint and they’re like, ‘Chris we need you to drive in here right now. I shaved my beard off, I put a sport coat on. They put me in makeup.
Additionally, Kelly said he didn’t know he was going to be introduced. But no one at the network seemed too upset by the snafu–Kelly, who began working for ESPN in 1995, has become almost synonymous with SportsCenter; at this point, he is to the show and the network as Dan Castellaneta’s Barney is to The Simpsons.
As for how much ESPN pays the SportsCenter voiceover actor, Kelly would only say that he’s able to start considering retirement for the first time. That’s partly because the network has only granted him one-year contracts since 2013 and partly because the yearly negotiations are rather unpleasant. But Kelley–who records all his work at home and who stopped watching ESPN four years ago when the network, using a particularly “hardball” tactic, threatened to replace him outright–says he’s excited about “all [the] possibilities” that retirement will bring. Plus, he’ll still be able to afford to support his two children, both of whom are currently in college.
Finally, here’s Chris Kelley and a family member (looks like his son, Curtis) jamming “Tuesday Morning By the Waterside” back in 2011:
(Photo credits: Who does the voiceovers for SportsCenter via ESPN)