Not many people can say they’ve been working with the New England Patriots longer than the Kraft family. Not Bill Belichick or Tom Brady. None of the team’s coaches, and not a single player. However, John Rooke can.
The team’s public address announcer is in exclusive company when it comes to the franchise, and continues to add notches to his belt as prepares for his 28th season on the mic during the team’s home games.
Rooke’s been around the business for a long time, but the local broadcasting legend’s career may not have taken off if it hadn’t been for an injury in high school and a story in the school’s newspaper.
“I fell into broadcasting by accident,” Rooke said. “I tore up my knee playing basketball in high school. I wanted to stay with my friends on the team, so coach told me I could try out for the position of athletic trainer, so I had to learn how to tape ankles, knees, wrists and fingers and things like that.”
“A buddy of mine who was a year older than me in high school, he thought it was kind of cool that I was doing this to stay with the team,” Rooke continued. “So he said, ‘Would you mind if I interviewed you for the school newspaper?’ And I said, ‘No, not at all!’”
The reporter sat him down, conducted the interview and the feature came out a week later. As Rooke celebrated his fame as what he called the “BMOC” (Big Man on Campus), a light bulb turned on in the junior’s head.
“I loved the whole process of it, and six months later, I was co-editor of the newspaper, and that’s literally how it started,” Rooke said. “I had ripped up my knee, and all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends because I thought my life was over. But, I discovered at a very early age that when one door closes, another one always opens.”
Rooke then pursued his newfound passion at the University of Texas in Austin, earning a Bachelor’s of Journalism and landing numerous opportunities to push his career forward.
While working on the school’s newspaper, The Daily Texan, Rooke received a release from the athletic department about campus-wide auditions for the very first voice of the Lady Longhorns, as the 1979 women’s basketball team earned a top preseason ranking.
“They were going to do radio broadcasts for the very first time,” Rooke recalled. “I said, ‘Oh my god, that’s too cool.’”
Rooke landed the new gig to add to his resume, and continued to grow during his time in Texas. He handled play-by-play duties for the USFL’s San Antonio Gunslingers, the AA-affiliated San Antonio Dodgers and NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, adding in some experience as a public address announcer for the Spurs, as well.
The work then transitioned up to the northeast, with Rooke working for local radio and TV stations in Rhode Island starting in 1988.
After losing a television job, however, it was fill-in work for a local radio station that led to the broadcaster finding a new home for his voice.
“[The station] asked me to come out and kind of host the crowd during the commercial breaks,” Rooke said. “I’d do some giveaways, and I would kind of work the crowd up, and we’d just entertain, and so that’s all it was. There happened to be two or three members of the Patriots marketing department in the audience, and they all three came up to me after the show was over and introduced themselves.”
The team’s representatives told Rooke about their search for a new public address announcer for the upcoming football season, and invited him to a public audition for the position.
‘They said, ‘We loved how you captivated the crowd and we like how you sound and we want you to be a part of that audition,’” Rooke said. “And I’m like, ‘Uh, okay.’ I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but I said, ‘Sure.’ So they invited me to the audition, I did like a quarter of one of the exhibition games and I got the job.”
Much like how important his knee injury was for jump-starting his journalism career, it was the short stint as the public address announcer for the Spurs that helped give Rooke the mental boost to pursue his new position with the Patriots.
“That one year of experience in San Antonio gave me the confidence of ‘Well, if I can do it for an NBA arena, I can do it for an NFL stadium,'” Rooke said. “This will be season 28 for me with the Patriots. I’ve been there longer than the Kraft’s have been there.”
Rooke has stuck around with the Patriots for nearly three decades, and has also been the voice of the Providence College Friars for even longer, becoming a mainstay across New England sports with a Tom Brady-esque mindset.
“I think I’ve wanted to stay with it as long as I have because I keep hearing people on the air who don’t do it well enough,” Rooke said. “Or they sound good but they butcher something, or I hear somebody on the radio and I’m like, ‘God, he’s awful, he’s terrible, I could do it better than that.’ It’s probably a little bit of vanity involved in that, but I think when the time comes that I feel like I can’t do the job at a high level any longer, it’ll be my time to step aside.”
Among an endless list of other jobs in the area, including writing jobs for WEEI.com and Patriots.com, Rooke also works for Dean College, currently holding the title of director for the college’s Center for Business, Entertainment and Sport Management.
“I like to stay involved because I think I can offer something, but I also like teaching it because I want a new generation to understand the importance of paying your dues,” Rooke said. “The importance of doing your homework, the importance of prep, the importance of the entertainment value of what it is that you’re doing, all the above. I think that’s probably what keeps me going.”
Even with a laundry list of different responsibilities and titles, Rooke is still able to separate his skills when needed for his specific jobs.
“What I do with public address and what I do with radio or television play-by play, they’re three different beasts,” Rooke said. “If I’m doing radio, my job is to paint a picture where there is none. If my job is television, then my job is not to get in the way of the pictures telling the story, and hopefully augment those pictures with relevant facts and information. If I’m at the arena, my job is to make the paying customers in the arena or in the stadium feel like they’re getting bang for their buck.”
While the numerous play-by-play jobs are easy to transition between, the public address announcing requires Rooke to tap into a whole new version of himself.
“The public address is probably a little bit more of what I would call an entertainment value, a little bit more showmanship,” Rooke continued. “You can stretch your voice out, and you can go deep, and you can sound like the voice of God, which I’ve been accused of from time to time. I have no idea how God sounds, but I appreciate the compliment anyway.”
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Rooke’s voice carries, whether it’s on the phone, on the radio, inside an area or echoing throughout a massive stadium. It’s only fitting, however, that the voice would carry over to his son, Austin.
Austin Rooke, a graduate of Marquette University, recently landed a spot as the play-by-play announcer for the Providence Bruins, helping to continue the Rooke family’s legacy when it comes to the New England sports scene.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Austin told the Providence Journal. “It’s really, really exciting and I’m so grateful for the opportunity and that the Bruins thought of me. To do this in the same building where my Dad has worked for 30-plus years is pretty amazing.”
While it was surreal for the younger Rooke, the elder described it on social media as a “proud dad moment.”
“I was actually incredulous because I was on vacation,” Rooke said. “I’m like, ‘Really?’ I knew that he would probably be a candidate for it, but I figured there are a lot of candidates that apply for that job. He plowed his own trail and I was very proud of him.”
While it may have seemed like a natural path for Austin to follow, his father never wanted him to feel forced to pursue the family business.
“I never wanted to encourage him to go one way or the other, I want him to blaze his own trail,” Rooke said. “I never want it to feel like he had to ride my coat tails or something, not that I have long coat tails anyway. I want him to be his own man.”
Rooke had a key analogy to describe his mindset not only for his son, but also for the students he teaches at Dean College.
“You can open the door, but you can’t push anybody through. It’s like the old adage, you can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” Rooke said. “Most people aren’t going to let you shove their heads into the trough. So that’s all you do, you open the door for somebody based on your abilities and your relationships and your experiences, and if they want to step through that door, they’ve got an opportunity to step through it and I’m proud of my son for obviously doing that.”
In the end, whether it’s for his son or his students, the long-time broadcaster is looking to inspire and inform a new generation looking to get into the business that he fell in love with decades ago.
“I would tell young broadcasters to learn to write, learn to communicate conversationally,” Rooke said. “Take as many opportunities as you can to practice, whether you’re by yourself, on a campus station, in a classroom, whatever it may be, and then don’t say no when someone asks you to do something. Take advantage of every opportunity you can get, and if you do that, I think you’ll be just fine.”