Vol. 15 No. 3
Winter 2005-06


“When I was 3, instead of dreaming about being a policeman or fireman, I wanted to be a newscaster, or a game show host,” says Matt Thomas. The potential loss for CNN or Jeopardy has been a gain for Utah fans. Thomas arrived in Salt Lake City in October 2004 as the successor to the legendary Bill Marcroft as the “Voice of the Utes,” a position Marcroft had filled for 38 seasons. Thomas joined Marcroft in the booth as a color man for two football games and started his play-by-play with the Utes for basketball. Now, in addition to play-by-play for University of Utah football and men’s basketball, he also pulls double duty for Hot Ticket 700, hosting a sports talk show from 1 to 4 on weekday afternoons. Thomas has thrived in both roles. “Listening to Matt is like listening to your next door neighbor describe the game to you,” says Casey Fox, director of marketing for the U of U Athletics Department. “He has a great sportscasting voice, but the voice doesn’t overwhelm you. He prepares for the game and has a great knowledge of sports.”

Growing up in Houston, Thomas loved sports and participating in speech and choir, a perfect combination for his future endeavors. He also donned the mascot suit for his high school, the Rams. “Those who can play the game, play. Those who can’t play become mascots,” he quips.

After graduating from high school in 1990, Thomas began attending the University of North Texas. A friend working at a small Houston radio station helped him get his foot in the door there. “The station had a morning sports show and also featured this new national talk show with some guy named Rush Limbaugh. As Limbaugh got popular, our station got popular. I worked behind the scenes for about a year, then I got to be the sidekick on the morning sports show.”

Thomas’s first “big break” came in 1994 when he became the public address announcer for the Houston Rockets while still doing the morning radio show. He visited Salt Lake City for the fi rst time in 1994 to cover the Rockets-Jazz playoff series. The job with the Rockets led to more exposure, including an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman introducing the then-famous Mujabir and Sirajul.

In 1996, Thomas got his own weekday sports talk show and started a two-year stint as the play-by-play man for the University of Houston. “What was strange about that was that I was not only the announcer, but I was also enrolled as a student. I would be in some classes with football players, and I was calling their games on the radio. I was only 24 years old at the time, so it was a really bizarre situation.”

Thomas moved to another Houston station in 1998 and became the voice of the Rice Owls for three seasons of football and six seasons of basket- ball before opportunity knocked in Salt Lake.

With Marcroft’s retirement looming, Clear Channel Broadcasting, owner of Hot Ticket 700, launched a nationwide search for his replacement. Thomas quickly became the leading candidate. “I had visited Salt Lake City maybe a half-dozen times, and I really enjoyed the area and the fact that there was a broadcasting opportunity in a city with good listeners,” says Thomas. “I loved the family atmosphere. I like the fact that college sports are a much bigger priority here than in Houston. With Texas and Texas A&M as good as they’ve been over the years, it’s hard for Rice or Houston to get much attention. I always said to myself that I wanted to go someplace where people would actually listen to me, as bad as that may sound.

“When I was up here a few years ago for a Rice-BYU football game,” he continues, “I happened to mention to some local people how much I enjoyed the area. Then a couple of years later I found out that Bill was retiring and that they were looking for someone not only for play-by-play, but also to host a sports talk show. That fit what I was looking for.”

How does one replace a Utah legend like Bill Marcroft? “With all of the competition in the broadcast industry, with all of the egos and the people you have to keep happy, from management to fans, if you hold a job for 38 years you must be doing something right,” explains Thomas. “Bill could have been really bitter towards me, he could have not spoken to me—but he was as pleasant and gracious as a man could be. If I’m fortunate enough to have this job for 38 years, the man who someday replaces me will get the same treatment because that was the way Bill was to me.”

Thomas himself is already developing big shoes to fi ll when that day arrives. In 2002, the Associated Press named him the Play-By-Play Broadcaster of the Year for Texas, and in 2003, he was dubbed Sportscaster of the Year for the Houston area. He sports two NBA championship rings from his years as public address announcer for the Houston Rockets, a role considered a vital member of the team. And he was one of four public address announcers for men’s basketball at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games, and was selected as announcer for the World Championships in London and the Goodwill Games in New York City.

Thomas also has developed his own unique mode of broadcasting. “The number one rule is that you can’t steal anybody’s style. You can’t do a verbatim of Vin Scully, or Bill Marcroft, or Bob Costas, or Marv Albert. I’ve taken little things from all of them. I hope that the people I’ve followed don’t mind me taking things from them, and I hope someday that I can give advice to others.”

Thomas claims his greatest broadcasting thrill to date was the Utes’ run to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen last season. “I experienced a lot of great moments being courtside when the Rockets won NBA championships,” says Thomas. “I’ll never forget that. But that wasn’t as a broadcaster. My previous broadcasting highlight was when Houston played Syracuse and Donovan McNabb in the Liberty Bowl. But anyone who listens to me knows that I was like a kid in a candy store when the Utes went to the Sweet Sixteen. Sportscasters are supposed to keep emotions in check, but I was literally on the edge of my seat every play. There’s a different feeling in an NCAA game than in a regular season or conference tournament game. Being on the road, beating Oklahoma and knowing that you’re going on to the next round, you just can’t match that.”

In 1997, Matt married his wife, Kimberly, an avid sports fan, too, especially of Duke University (and the U, of course). That explains why their oldest son is named Cameron, after Cameron Indoor Arena, where the Duke Blue Devils play basketball. Their other son, Peyton, is named after star Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. “It’s really nice to have a wife who is a big sports fan. She takes the boys to as many football and basketball games as she can by herself. If you see a lady dragging two boys around wearing jerseys with Thomas on the back, please help her out.”

—John Fackler BS’89 BS’94 MprA’95 is director of business relations for the U's Alumni Association.

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