‘Shazam!’ Watch behind-the-scenes playoff games on Phoenix Suns radio during the pandemic

PHOENIX — NBA players and coaches have said the playoffs are a different kind of game than the regular season. Pressure. The hype. Excitement. Many young Phoenix Suns players are experiencing this for the first time as they continue to make it to the Western Conference Finals.

But there’s another group that’s also feeling similar pressure, hype and excitement: broadcasters.

Al McCoy has been broadcasting Suns basketball games for nearly 50 years. Countless Arizonans grew up hearing his “Shazam!” call after a successful shot. McCoy, 88, has been to several playoffs and is thrilled with the team’s return.

“It brings back a lot of memories for me,” McCoy said. “You know, it’s easy to forget all the years the Suns made the playoffs, the two years the Suns went all the way to the NBA Finals. So it’s kind of nice to remember those memories and to be back on track with playoff competition.”

Suns fans know that. Eleven years have passed since the team last played in the playoffs. In the 2009-10 season, the Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals but were ousted by the Los Angeles Lakers. This year, they’ve beaten LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round in six games and swept the Denver Nuggets in four.

Jon Bloom has been a Suns broadcaster for 14 years and believes this year’s team is bringing in a new generation of fans.

“I’m starting to see this through my child’s eyes,” Bloom said. “You know, 10 years ago, 11 years ago, when the Suns were last in the playoffs, I basically had a baby and a toddler. And now they’re at the age, almost both teenagers, where they can really understand why dad is such a freak of nature for this basketball team.”

Broadcasting playoff games is exciting and brings people together, but with all the coronavirus pandemic brought in, calling games on the radio isn’t quite the same. Typically, broadcasters watch the action on the ground. They could see and hear everything that happens on the field, on each team’s bench and in the crowd.

Today, broadcasters watch television screens in conference rooms rather than from the arena, but they are still tasked with helping listeners view the game.

“We’re trying to paint the picture,” said Bloom, who is a jack-of-all-trades and helps with play-by-play, pre-game, halftime and post-game broadcasts for the Suns radio show.

“On TV, it’s different. … Announcers, when they’re describing the action, a lot of times they’re just having a conversation because they know you have the footage,” he said. “But when you’re calling for a radio audience, that’s a whole different craft, or I like to call it an art form. And in some cases, it’s like telling a painter to paint the portrait without a brush. It’s quite tricky when you don’t have all the images and yet you’re tasked with describing them.”

Juan Urresti, 29, is the newest on Suns radio. This is his first year as a color analyst for the Spanish show on La Mejor 106.5 FM and 1400 AM in Phoenix. He works alongside Arturo Ochoa, who has delivered Suns radio play-by-play in Spanish since 2004.

“Whatever reason you can’t watch the game, you want to listen to the game. Feel like you’re watching it and understand what’s going on,” Urresti said. “I think it’s really our job, you know, in radio, to imagine and build an image in people’s minds.”

The Suns’ playoff run brought many people together, including those in the Hispanic community. More than 40% of Phoenix’s population is Hispanic, according to 2020 census data.

“It’s really great to be part of this community,” Urresti said. “You know everybody came out of the rocks that they’ve been hiding probably for so many years since we made the playoffs… And you feel good when you see that, you see the job is done and that he helped the team and also the community to be a part of that.”

As for the pressure and nerves building up to call a playoff game, veterans McCoy and Bloom said they don’t feel it anymore. Urresti and Marco Peralta, 22, who hosts the pre-match, half-time and post-match show in Spanish for La Mejor 106.5 FM and 1400 AM, are both in their first year to broadcast Suns radio.

“When I first arrived, everything was nervous,” Peralta said. “But the excitement of the opportunity to be on call and help a great organization like the Phoenix Suns is something very special.”

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