NASHVILLE, Tenn. – What do baseball, country music and kids television programming have in common with the Red Wings?
The answer: Buzz Brainard, the metamorphic voice of everything from computer chips to the Walt Disney Empire, who grew-up in Michigan idolizing the Red Wings. Though, by his own admission he may have attended just a couple of games as a young boy, this Nashville transplant hasn’t forgotten his hometown sports roots.
“It was really tough growing up in Flint because we weren’t really able to go to games,” Brainard said. “I was a Wings’ fan. I was a Lions’ fan. I was a Tigers’ fan. But I didn’t get to see a lot. It was more about the mystery of it. We didn’t have a lot of money so it wasn’t like we traveled to Detroit. Occasionally we’d go to a Wings game or a Tigers game, but it was enough to build in my head that it was cool to follow it. … To be able to go occasionally made the whole thing crazy big.”
Red Wings’ fans likely don’t know the man behind the voice who moved from Michigan in the early 80s to pursue an acting career. However, some may recognize Brainard as the host of “This Week in Baseball”, while music aficionados hear him weekdays on “The Highway” the road to new country on Sirius XM, and kids of all ages acquaint him to being the benevolent voice of The Disney Channel.
Born and raised in Clio, a northern Flint suburb, Brainard studied theatre and communications at Central Michigan University. But a semester before he was scheduled to graduate a job offer came in from Lansing’s BoarsHead Theater. He accepted the acting role and never looked back on a career that has since taken him from New York to Los Angeles, and Nashville where he now lives.
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“I had some success at (acting) and that took me to New York and I was doing TV commercials, a couple of small roles in movies, things like that,” Brainard said. “Then somehow got into the voice-over end of it because my television commercial agent had a voice-over department, and I asked, ‘What’s that?’
“They gave me a shot at it. I got lucky and then realized that I could go away for three days, shoot a TV commercial, and make a certain amount of money. Or I could make almost that same amount of money by doing the voice-over in an hour.”
Work’s never been difficult to get for the 50-year-old Brainard. His voice has been associated with countless corporations and products from Home Depot to Coca-Cola and Intel, the chip-making company that builds essential technologies for the world's computing devices. He was also the smart aleck commentator on the TV show "Maximum Exposure", narrated "Breed All About It" for Animal Planet, and was the promotional voice for the wildly popular TV series ‘Friends’ in syndication.
“There’s just so much out there that you can do,” Brainard said. “It’s a great job that over the years has gotten more difficult because more people started finding out about it. But it’s like the mafia because when I started once you got in you became a made man and then you were able to get work from that.”
From an illustrious man-cave of a sound studio that he had built in his Franklin, Tenn., home, Brainard still cuts voice tracks there for Disney and other clients. But his radio show is done in the SiriusXM studios, which overlook the main entrance to Bridgestone Arena, where hockey is almost as big a Carrie Underwood in this country music capital.
“I’ve been loyal to the cities that I’ve moved to,” said Brainard, who often speaks of his love of the Wings and Tigers on his national radio show. “When I was in Los Angeles I was able to adopt the Dodgers because they’re a National League team, so I didn’t feel bad about that. But nobody can take the place of the Red Wings. Everyone goes nuts for the Preds in this town, which is phenomenal. But it’s completely different if the Wings are in town.
“Working here at SiriusXM you can look out at where everyone comes in, and when the Wings are here it’s just a sea of red. … There are a lot of transplants in this town, but Red Wings’ fans come out of the woodwork and it’s nuts. It makes me very proud.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose