How does a PA announcer address an empty stadium? The new Bears voice will try to ‘make it feel pretty normal for those watching on TV.’

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears’ new public address announcer has no public to address.

Tim Sinclair still will be there with a microphone, his voice booming across an empty Soldier Field during Sunday’s game between the Bears and New York Giants.

If you hear “Touch! Down! Bears!” in the background while watching the game on TV, that’s him.

“It’s to create a game-day atmosphere for the players, so they feel as at home as much as possible, and then the rest is a TV show and trying to make it feel pretty normal for those watching on TV,” said Sinclair, 42, looking ahead to his debut as the in-stadium voice of the Bears without fans to inform and energize.

“Everything you’re doing is … to make it feel like it’s a regular game day. You make adjustments as you go to make it sound legitimate but not forced or overdone, and I think we’ll find our sea-legs pretty quickly.”

Sinclair emerged last month as the winner of the Bears’ search for a successor to Jim Riebandt, who stepped down after 38 seasons as the team’s full-time announcer.

A final try-out in the empty stadium in June helped clinched it for him.

“I talked to George McCaskey and a couple of others who said that when they listened, they could hear it on game day,” Sinclair said. “During the audition, they could hear that being part of game days and it just fit and made sense.”

Sinclair, who has earned his bona fides as the PA voice of Illinois basketball, the Fire, Indiana Pacers and this winter’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, has spent much of his summer as an in-arena announcer within the NBA and WNBA bubbles.

So, he already has worked a bit within something of a void.

“I find that once competition starts, you forget pretty quickly and you just call the game,” he said. “But it is hard. The temptation would be to notch it down a little bit because you’re not part of the noise in the stadium, you’re all of it, and that might take some getting used to. This all of a sudden, from a live event, becomes a TV show.”

Pro basketball and Major League Baseball have used sweetened crowd noise that changes along with in-game situations. Giants-Bears will be different.

“The NFL has allowed some static — and by static, I mean it can’t rise or fall in volume — crowd noise, so it sounds like people are there,” Sinclair said. “It won’t be cheering, per se.

“It’s just one dull roar at a certain (decibel) level. The rest, if you hear it, will be done by TV networks on their own if they choose to add some over the top. But you won’t hear it in the stadium.”

Sinclair’s basic game plan doesn’t change in any case.

“Be clear, concise, correct,” he said. “Those are the three main pillars of public address. But also I try to bring some sense of authenticity and a little bit of personality.

“Never, ever, ever, should any event I do be about me — and if somebody’s talking about me when they leave, there’s probably something wrong. But I do want to be more than just that voice of God in the sky that’s relaying information.”

That may mean building excitement — or reflecting disappointment.

Sinclair said he doesn’t want to sound detached, but there are limits to how far he will let himself go.

He considers himself a Bears fan — “I just happen to be the one with the microphone” — and will strip down his announcing for an opponent’s first down, touchdown or interception, going decidedly low-key.

When the home team is on the march, he’ll amp everything up, especially if the game is on the line.

“I think there are all sorts of things that you can be authentic with in the job without being over the top, and that’s what I try to do,” he said.

“Some public address announcers either try to be the robot or always be turned up to 11, and I think there’s room in the middle for ebbs and flows and rises and falls in how we do what we do.”

Without a crowd to respond, Sinclair doesn’t expect to reprise the Riebandt routine of announcing “There’s a time out” and pausing so fans can yell “Where?” with Riebandt responding, “On the field!”

But the door is open to resurrect it when Soldier Field is full again.

“You might hear it from time to time,” he said. “We’re working on all sorts of potential ideas for how to do certain things. I, thankfully, have been given the green light to use my style, but there’s also times when we want to pay homage to the past.”

Sinclair has lived in the Champaign area most of his life after his family moved from outside Detroit when he was 11. He spent three semesters at the University of Illinois studying architecture before getting caught up in radio.

Among his ventures is a lifestyle program, “ciLiving,” on WCIA-TV, Champaign’s CBS affiliate. During football season, he handles press box PA for Illinois games and fills in for Gene Honda when necessary on the stadium loudspeaker system.

The occasional Illini function and some soccer matches have brought him to work at Soldier Field in the past.

This time there will be plexiglass separating Sinclair from his spotter. He’ll wear a mask, although he’ll pull it down so he doesn’t sound muffled.

“There’s nothing better,” Sinclair said, “than getting into a venue like that and hearing it sort of bounce around — ideally with fans in it, but at the moment just bouncing around the seats and the walls.”


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