Kirk McEwen wasn't nervous when he entered the radio booth at Oriole Park last Saturday. The Sykesville resident had been behind a microphone a few thousand times during a long broadcasting career.
But this was different. McEwen was one of 25 semifinalists who participated in an open competition on Feb. 11 to determine the new public address announcer for the Baltimore Orioles.
Even though he wasn't among the eight finalists chosen by Orioles' officials, McEwen will remember the experience.
"Working in radio for 30 years gives you a lot of microphone technique," said McEwen. "My love of announcing and the opportunity to do it stadium-style were two of the reasons that I applied."
McEwen started his radio career in 1984, working as a DJ at Baltimore's 98 Rock. After six years, he moved to DC101, but came back to 98 Rock in 1993. For the next 13 years, he was a key member of the station's highly rated "Kirk, Mark and Lopez" morning show.
He left 98 Rock in 2006 for WHFS, then spent 2009-2011 at WVRX. McEwen's resume also includes several acting jobs, including a part in the John Waters film "Cry Baby" and NBC's Baltimore-based detective drama "Homicide: Life on the Street."
If all that wasn't enough to prepare McEwen for Saturday's tryout, he had one more thing going for him. In 1998, McEwen was also one of the 25 semifinalists in the search to replace the legendary Rex Barney, whose August 1997 death left a giant void behind the Orioles' public address microphone.
But the job went to Dave McGowan, who spent 14 years as the public address announcer at Oriole Park before resigning in December.
"This was an opportunity to get my name up there with Rex Barney and Dave McGowan," McEwen said. "I grew up sitting in those gold seats in the bleachers at Memorial Stadium, listening to Rex. And Dave did a great job while he was on the mic."
Barney, a former major leaguer with the Brooklyn Dodgers who was noted for his signature "Thank Youuuu" and "Give that fan a contract" greetings to generations of Oriole fans, was one of the best in the business from 1974-97. McGowan became the Orioles' voice in the spring of 1998, and was the positive, consummate professional during the most trying seasons of the team's 57-year existence.
When McGowan left, the team decided to hold an open competition to replace him.
"We were looking for an announcer with a deep voice, a smooth delivery and a traditional style, because Camden Yards has a very traditional feel," said Monica Barlow, the Orioles' public relations director. "We were pleasantly surprised that so many people applied for the position, which speaks to the interest in the Orioles.
"There is incredible talent out there, and it was tough to narrow the field down to 25,' she said. "These were the best of the best."
McEwen's experience and lifelong love of baseball led him to take another run at the position. From an original field of 670 applicants, he was chosen as one of 25 semifinalists by Orioles' officials and asked to come to the 20-year old stadium for Saturday's audition.
It wasn't the first time McEwen, a 1982 graduate of Old Mill High School in Millersville who attended the University of Maryland, had been in a major league ballpark.
"I was 12 years old in 1977 when I entered the national Pitch, Hit and Run competition," he said. "I got to Memorial Stadium, and had the chance to meet Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson and a coach wearing No. 47 that turned out to be Cal Ripken Sr. I still have the Orioles jersey that I got that night."
Eventually, McEwen made it to the national finals of that skills competition.
"The finals were at the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium," he said. "Jim Palmer, who is my all-time favorite Oriole pitcher, and Ken Singleton were there. I remember when Joe Morgan hit a home run off Palmer. I didn't win, but it was a night I'll always remember."
He was competing in a big-league ballpark again on Saturday, albeit an empty one. Despite waiting a long time before his name was called, McEwen was pleased with his tryout.
"I was the 24th of 25, so I was really ready to go," he said. "The feeling that you get is incredible. The curveballs were not really curveballs. After doing radio on the fly, that was nothing."
Had he gotten the call, the job would have required McEwen to be away from his wife and two young children for most of the summer. The Orioles play 81 home games each season, and the public address announcer is required to be at the park for every game.
"It's hard to find a better seat in the house than in the lower level of the press box, but the job certainly requires someone with a flexible schedule," Barlow said. "Dave (McGowan) only missed four or five games in 14 years. We require the commitment because we want fans to hear a consistent voice when they come to the ballpark."
But the rabid baseball fan from Sykesville would gladly have accepted what he called a "dream job".
"Hey, I grew up saying 'now batting for the Orioles, number 10, Terry Crowley,' " said McEwen. "My wife knows that if I want to do it, it's important. After a while, I would probably have known the ushers more than my own kids, but I still would have loved it."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times