Voicing the Final Four: Ken LaVicka ’06 and His Broadcast Journey

Ken LaVicka '06 and His Broadcast Journey

When the ball is tossed into the air to kick off the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in Houston Saturday night, Ken LaVicka ’06 will be right where he’s been all season long — courtside calling the action as the play-by-play voice of the Florida Atlantic University radio network.

But while the Owls’ storybook run has LaVicka preparing to broadcast a Final Four game for the first time in his career, he is ready for the big moment in large part thanks to experience he gained as a sports broadcasting major at Valparaiso University.

“Nothing’s too big for me, because I’ve had postseason experience,” Ken says. “The chance to be able to join the broadcast rotation immediately at Valpo and the relationships WVUR and the communication department had with Athletics allowed me the opportunity to go to three straight NCAA tournaments with the volleyball program.”

Ken, who also does play-by-play for FAU football, hosts a weekly FAU coaches show and hosts a sports talk radio show on the West Palm Beach ESPN Radio affiliate, leapt feet-first into the WVUR Sports department when he arrived on campus in 2002. Taking full advantage of the breadth of broadcast opportunities available, Ken was on the air throughout his four years on broadcasts of basketball, football, volleyball and soccer, covering roles from play-by-play and color analyst to sideline reporter to studio host.

“There’s not a chance I’d have been able to step into the Division I play-by-play role at FAU at the age of 23 were it not for WVUR,” Ken says. “Getting those immediate, consistent reps across a wide variety of sports prepared me immensely for my career.”

Veteran Valpo play-by-play voice Todd Ickow ’18H immediately recognized not only the talent Ken possessed, but also that he possessed an even more valuable trait. 

“What stood out to me about Ken was his great work ethic,” Todd says. “He wanted to be great; he wanted to do a great job, no matter what role he was filling on any given broadcast. He worked at it, and combined with his talent, it was clear that Ken would be able to make it professionally in broadcasting.”

Part of the work Ken put in was recognizing the asset that was available in Todd, getting his feedback and implementing it as Ken continued to grow as a broadcaster.

“I can’t tell you how big of a confidence boost it was to have Todd’s respect,” Ken says. “He didn’t have to invest in the student broadcasters the way he did. He never felt threatened by us or that we were in the way — he worked with us and helped us become better broadcasters. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how much broadcast talent has developed and come out of Valpo.”

Just as Todd served as a mentor of sorts to Ken, Ken was able to pay it forward to the next generation of WVUR Sports broadcasters, a group which included Adam Amin ’09, the television play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bulls who also works on NFL and MLB broadcasts as a play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports. Ken and Adam grew up in the same hometown of Addison, Illinois and ran in many of the same circles — in fact, Ken’s mom, Joyce, was Adam’s preschool teacher. Ken showcased to Adam the opportunity he would have to broadcast immediately at Valpo.

“I almost consider myself a protégé of Ken’s,” Adam says. “I remember the summer before my senior year, he came back home and was talking to me about Valpo, telling me he’d put me on the air if that was something I wanted to try. Then when I got to Valpo, the strong example Ken and the other veterans on staff set in how they approached broadcasting stuck with me. They showed the joy in doing the job, but they also showed how to treat the broadcasts as if we were professionals.”

Ken gained experience in a number of roles during his time at Valpo beyond WVUR Sports, ascending to the role of general manager at WVUR and writing for The Torch. He credits his work at The Torch, and later at an internship with the Northwest Indiana Times, for helping him develop as a broadcaster even though they weren’t broadcasting positions.

“Writing for The Torch and The Times helped me establish how to tell a story,” Ken says. “If you have a solid writing background and the ability to put words onto paper, you can apply that to how you broadcast. I wasn’t a particularly good writer when I first started, but working with writers like JR Radcliffe and Eli Gieryna at The Torch really helped improve my writing, which in turn helped my broadcasting. Then having the opportunity to intern at The Times was an example of the type of opportunity afforded at Valpo — as a sports broadcasting major, it was unconventional to do an internship in sports writing, but you’re given that chance to dictate your own path.”

Ken is also quick to point out how having a range of experiences in sports media is vital in the communication field today.

“Being able to show versatility is an asset which makes you attractive in today’s job market,” Ken said. “So many of these media positions are cross-platform. If you have a writing background, if you have a broadcast background, if you have a production background going into this realm, it’s golden.”

Ken and Adam are two of a number of WVUR Sports alumni who have had professional opportunities in sports broadcasting after their time at Valpo. In fact, while Ken was on the air Friday, March 17 in Columbus, Ohio calling FAU’s first-round tournament win over Memphis, Keaton Gillogly ’11 was calling Montana State’s first-round game against Kansas State from Greensboro, N.C. simultaneously. Valpo had representation on the radio side in the 2022 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament last fall as well, as UNI radio broadcaster Chris Kleinhans-Schulz ’12 called the Panthers’ pair of tournament matches.

As Ken pointed to his breadth of broadcast experiences at Valpo and the ability to learn from Todd as keys to his development as a broadcaster, Todd and Adam make similar points as to how Valpo has been able to develop so many strong sports broadcasters.

“You come in as a freshman, you have a good group of talented broadcasters on staff and you get the experience working alongside these talented broadcasters,” Todd says. “You almost can’t help but become a better broadcaster in that space — it becomes a snowball effect, each one spurring on the next.”

“Resources and opportunities are the two biggest things which provide an infrastructure conducive to allowing growth,” Adam says. “That infrastructure exists at Valpo in sports broadcasting — there is plenty of opportunity to gain experience, and a number of resources available who will help you get better. If you’re a student who wants to put in the extra hours, who wants to get the most out of their experience, you’re going to see that growth, and we’ve seen that in the number of broadcasters Valpo has produced. It’s a credit to both the student and to Valpo.”

Saturday night, Ken will call a Final Four game — a dream for any broadcaster. And the foundation of his broadcast will be in his growth and the experiences he had during his four years at Valpo.