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Sound Judgment

by Seth Burton / Los Angeles Kings

As most Los Angeles Kings fans walk into STAPLES Center and settle into their seats, they might not fully notice the sound. With the swirl of activity surrounding them as they gear up for another exciting night of Kings hockey, the collective adrenaline of 18,230 screaming Kings fans can simply take over. It is only later that they realize what is accompanying and oftentimes driving that excitement – one of the best soundtracks in professional sports, supplied every game by Dave Joseph and Dieter Ruehle.

For Joseph and Ruehle, it is all part of the experience. Joseph is the Kings Public Address Announcer, and he teams up with Ruehle, the long-time Music Director who has been called by no less than Kings legend Luc Robitaille as one of the “most highly respected musicians in hockey.”

For the players on the ice, the opening face-off every night is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication, not to mention hours of practice and preparation put in to be ready for that night’s opponent.

And while it might not be foremost on the minds of the packed house at STAPLES Center, Joseph and Ruehle make sure to put the same level of effort into making every single Kings home game a special and exciting event.

“I feel the anticipation and the build-up of big games just like the fans and players do,” Ruehle said. “And I love it!”

Joseph agreed with his STAPLES Center entertainment partner.

“It is all about preparation,” Joseph said. “That is the one thing I have learned, from having worked so many different places – this is the NHL, this is the Kings and I have to be ready every single night.”

Joseph started to prepare for his role with the Kings early on in his life, first working for a radio station at the age of 16 in his hometown of Ishpeming, Mich., at Q107.

“I learned everything from that experience,” Joseph said. “There was nothing better for me then starting out at a small-town radio station like that. There I could really learn the business from the ground up and I had a mic and I was able to see what worked and what didn’t.”

A hockey player in high school and college at Hofstra University in New York, Joseph has been able to meld his love of hockey and broadcasting throughout his career as he developed his own unique style. It is a style that combines influences from long-time Northern Michigan Public Address Announcer Tim McIntosh, as well as the experience and dedication to his craft that Joseph gleaned from years of learning from the late David Courtney, the legendary Southern California public address voice and the man who announced the Kings for so many years.

“It is still an evolving process for me, and I think for the team and the fans,” Joseph said. “I will never forget what David did for me and what he taught me. He was one of the best of course, and over the years filling in for him and learning from him – so much of what I do is based off of him.”

Now in his second full NHL season as the Kings Public Address Announcer, Joseph knows he will stand out, however.

“I think I bring an energetic, up-beat and up-tempo style,” Joseph said. “I try to bring that for anything I do, whether it is on ESPN Radio or at the Kings game. Some guys can be more monotone, but I like to be exciting and let the fans really feel that emotion.”

Following college in New York, Joseph jumped right into the broadcasting business, working as a producer at WABC 770 AM in New York City – thrown right into the heart of big-time radio working with such luminaries as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

“It was a great opportunity and experience for me,” Joseph said. “You could tell that each one of those guys knew what they wanted to do and they were driven to succeed. It was a great way for me to see what it takes to succeed in broadcasting. Their focus and the way they prepared was unbelievable and I learned that is how I had to be.”

Joseph has now been in Los Angeles since 2000, a veteran of the Southern California radio market where he currently provides sports updates on ESPN L.A. 710 AM. He also served as the Public Address Announcer for the minor league Long Beach Ice Dogs and the Los Angeles Temptation of the Legends Football League, and continues to fit into the L.A. scene.

‘I’m from the Midwest and lived in New York, but now I’ve been in L.A. for 13 years,” the recently engaged Joseph said. “And I love it. I don’t spend a lot of time at the beach, but I love going to concerts – I enjoy really all types of music from the Foo Fighters to hair metal bands. I am usually at a show or hanging out with my wife and our dogs if I’m not at a Kings game.”

But it is at a Kings game where he experienced his most rewarding professional experience when he was working for ESPN Radio when the Kings won their first Stanley Cup.

“That was very special,” Joseph said. “2012 was amazing, and being able to cover that team like I did for ESPN L.A. was just a great experience. To be there for all the games, to see the ups and the downs and then to be out on the ice interviewing players after they had won the Cup was something I will never forget.”

Now, Joseph is hoping to re-create that championship excitement for fans every night at STAPLES Center, and he is aided completely by Ruehle and a host of game entertainment personnel.

“The whole crew meets before the game and we go over everything,” Joseph said. “Everyone does a great job and is so professional. It is truly about the preparation and putting in the time to make sure everyone does a great job. Dieter of course does that. That is why he is the best in the business.”

One of the most accomplished music directors and organ players in professional sports in the country, Ruehle has put together a resume that sparkles in 25 seasons working in the NHL. He has worked at four Olympics (Salt Lake – 2002, Athens – 2004, Torino – 2006 and Vancouver – 2010), performed at numerous NHL and NBA All-Star Games and been the Music Director at the U.S. Open Tennis Championship in New York since 2006. His work is also ingrained in the minds of an entire generation of video game playing hockey fans as the musician who played on EA Sports NHL ’94, ’95 and ’96.

“I think I’ve just been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” Ruehle said. “Combine that good fortune with preparation. I’ve been able to work so many big games and events without any huge blunders, which I think is why I get asked to return. Hopefully I’m consistent and reliable enough to where the folks in charge have one less thing (music) to worry about when they hire me.”

Ruehle is more than just reliable. His attention to detail and ability to get an arena rocking has led to him getting noticed by fans, arena managers and players throughout the years as they all recognize his importance to the game experience.

“He’s so well respected amongst the world of hockey,” said Robitaille, the Kings President of Business Operations. “He’s respected in the world of music, but the world of hockey, especially.”

The Los Angeles native is truly living out his childhood dream, a dream that began when he started taking piano lessons at nine years old and really took off the day after his 12th birthday when he was selected to play the organ at a Kings game through a segment on the KABC-TV local newscast called Sports Fantasy.

“I was lucky at such a young age to get a taste of something I really enjoy doing,” Ruehle said. “And now to be in my 24th season of doing something that I love, well, I feel quite fortunate about it.”

Ruehle went on to get his first job as a full-time organ player with the Los Angeles Lazers of the Major Indoor Soccer League at The Forum, and then at the age of 20 took over in 1989 to be the Kings Organist.

“I do remember auditioning for the Kings in the summer of 1989,” Ruehle said. “I remember The Forum was quiet on that summer day, and while I might have played several songs, the one song that stands out to me that I played was Kalinka. It’s a Russian song that I still play to this day during Kings games.”

Today, Ruehle selects songs with an ear toward what he knows fans want to hear, and what he thinks will fit in at appropriate moments in the hockey game – but also what the players want to hear.

“I think it’s important to play music that is recognizable by as many fans as possible,” Ruehle said. “I’ve heard over the years that the players are too focused on the game to really pay any attention to in-game music. However, they do listen to the music during pregame warm-ups. Over the past few years, Kings players have requested specific songs to be played during warm-ups. I really like this idea because it makes the players happy while they warm-up, and because I think it gives fans an idea of what the players like to hear.”

After starting for the Kings, Ruehle went on to work five seasons for the San Jose Sharks and the Phoenix Coyotes before returning to L.A. and the Kings for the 1998-99 season. Since the opening of STAPLES Center, Ruehle also has worked for the Lakers, Sparks (WNBA) and Avengers (AFL) and seen his job and the league drastically change since first entering the league.

“I’ve seen the league grow from 21 teams to 30,” Ruehle said. “I believe Vancouver was the closest team to the Kings when I started in ’89-’90. I’ve also seen the elimination of the two-line-pass, the addition of the trapezoid in the corners, much less fighting, and the change from home teams wearing white to now wearing dark.

“And when it comes to my job, my role has grown from Organist to Music Director. When I started with the Kings in 1989, I was playing live music all the time…at EVERY whistle break and during intermissions. There was NO recorded music at all. Then in my second season, recorded music was introduced to our games by way of a cassette deck. Running that tape deck during live games was challenging for sure. Fast forward (pardon the pun) to today, I use a full DJ rig, laptop and instant replays for recorded music. For live music I use a Roland A-90 keyboard with a full pedal board, and layers of sounds from modules.”

Every game, from high above the ice in Section 317, Ruehle ignites the STAPLES Center crowd into what can seem like a spontaneous combustion of athletic achievement, fan frenzy and a musical crescendo. But almost all of the moments, even the most dramatic, have a foundation in the hard work put in by Ruehle before the games.

“Before games, I make a playlist of recorded songs and live songs,” Ruehle said. “Yet the lists are never set in stone. They’re just a guideline, something for me to fall back on. I try to go off of feel as much as I can. In hockey, you never know how many goals, penalties and just plain whistle breaks there will be. The key is to be prepared.”

As the Kings enjoy another season, Kings fans can be sure that Ruehle and Joseph will be prepared to once again deliver the ultimate hockey soundtrack.

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