By Mark Ambrogi
When Chris Denari arrived at Wabash College as a freshman basketball player, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.
His father, Bob, gave him some direction as they browsed tables advertising clubs on campus.
“My dad pointed over at the radio station WNDY, and he said, ‘You love sports. You like to talk. You’ve always messed around with this as a kid. I think you ought to go over there and learn about the radio station,’” said Denari, a Carmel resident. “I did and I started from day one as a freshman, and I was locked in.”
Since his introduction to broadcasting in college, Denari’s career has included covering high school games, Butler University basketball and sports on television news. Since 2006, he’s been the television play-by-play announcer for the Indiana Pacers.
“I try to work as hard as I can, because I know there are hundreds of people out there who would love to have my job,” said Denari, 55. “Kids tell me that all the time when I meet with high school students and college kids. I know how fortunate I am.”
The Carmel resident has come a long way from that youngster who pretended to announce Strat-O-Matic baseball, basketball and football games into his tape recorder to the young man getting paid $10 to do high school games. Denari will be honored April 10 when he will be inducted into the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Valle Vista Country Club in Greenwood.
Fittingly, his proud father will deliver the presenting speech for his son at the ceremony. Bob, an 82-year-old Westfield resident, was his son’s high school basketball coach at Westfield High School.
“He’s so prepared,” Bob said. “He can tell you the color of the eyeballs of most of the players.”
Bob said his son could play the game as well.
“I think he still holds the season school record for free throw shooting with 90 percent his senior year,” Bob said.
After Bob retired from coaching, he joined his son in broadcasting some high school basketball games for the WXLW radio station.
Pacers color analyst Quinn Buckner uses the word fastidious to describe his partner.
“He’s as well prepared as any play-by-play guy I’ve ever worked with, so it makes it very easy for me,” Buckner said. “He does a terrific job in pulling things from me. He works very hard at his craft.”
Denari often puts in several hours to prepare before each game, making a color-coded chart to quickly reference information about each player.
“One thing I’ve learned is even though you have all this information, you don’t have to use it,” said Denari, who had a 17-year run as the Butler University basketball radio play-by-play announcer before working for the Pacers. “You don’t ever want to be caught on air sounding like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Then you open yourself up for criticism.”
While his dad put him on track, Denari credits his wife Terry’s support and patience for him following his love.
“There were times I had full-time jobs at Butler and Methodist Sports Medicine, and I was doing all these games, and I was able to do that because she knew that was my passion,” Denari said. “When you start doing games 30 years ago for $10 you don’t know if you are ever going to make it. I was diligent. People liked my work. And she was right there every step of the way to support.”
Meet Chris Denari
Personal: Graduated from Westfield High School in 1979. Graduated from Wabash College in 1983, playing on the 1981-82 NCAA Division III national championship basketball team. Lives in Carmel with his wife, Terry, his high school sweetheart. Has three sons, Evan, 26, Wilson, 23 and Max, 19, all Guerin Catholic High School graduates. Was sports director for WXIN-59. Has served as a radio and TV play-by-play announcer for WNBA’s Indiana Fever for the past 16 years. Member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Network.
TV debut: “The first TV game I ever did was Butler beating Indiana at Hinkle Fieldhouse in 1993. I did the game with George McGinnis and John Laskowski. Butler had negotiated with channel 4 for the rights. I remember going out to dinner with my wife that night, and I was so hyped up. I was Butler’s marketing director, and it was a huge win. I had such a headache, but it was worth it.”
Other broadcasters he admires: “I’m a Reds fan, so I listen to Marty Brennaman. I like Bob Costas. Fish doesn’t like me to say this, but I grew up listening to (Indiana University broadcaster) Don Fischer, too. You take some stuff from all kinds of people.”
Game-day ritual: Takes his dogs on a trip to the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through.
Favorite way to relax: “I love to play golf. I plan to play more. I didn’t want to play a lot in summer when my kids were playing summer basketball and baseball.”