Dave Snell got the big break of his broadcasting career — literally — when he was a sophomore at Pekin Community High School.
He broke a finger on his throwing hand a week before baseball practice began, so he decided to get involved in the high school’s acclaimed forensics program.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I found my niche, and my career as an athlete went into the rear view mirror,” said Snell, 57, who will do the radio play-by-play for his 1,000th Bradley University basketball game tonight when the Braves host No. 24-ranked Creighton at Carver Arena. He’ll be honored before the game.
Snell graduated from PCHS in 1972, but not before he made a name for himself in state and national speaking competitions and got to meet President Richard Nixon and soon-to-be President Gerald Ford.
PCHS certainly owns a spot in Snell’s heart. So does Wilson Intermediate School in Pekin, where Snell was a student from kindergarden through sixth grade.
Snell remains close with his sixth-grade teacher, Chuck Predmore.
“Chuck was the first male teacher I had in school, and we bonded,” Snell said. “He was a high school sports official at the time, so we were always talking about sports. We still talk, and he’s done some painting in my house.”
Snell went to Illinois Central College for two years after graduating from PCHS, then it was off to Bradley, where he graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in communications (radio and television) and served as the school’s co-sports information director as a senior.
He worked in the front office of the Phoenix Suns during the 1976-77 NBA season, then he returned home and began his radio broadcasting career by calling high school football and basketball games on WTAZ while also doing sports reports for WIRL from 1977-79.
Snell was the sports director at WMBD television from 1979-2001, when he joined the Bradley development staff. He’s now the school’s assistant athletic director for communications, a job he’s held since 2010, the same year he was inducted into the Bradley Athletics Hall of Fame.
His first Bradley basketball broadcast was Nov. 30, 1979, a game against No. 2-ranked Kentucky in the Great Alaska Shootout. He was 24 years old at the time.
Snell has done the play-by-play for all but two games since then, all on WMBD-AM. He became ill during the pre-game show before a game against Creighton in Omaha, Neb., in 2006 and was rushed to a hospital, but he was back on the air for the post-game show three nights later after Bradley faced Indiana State.
Needless to say, a lot can happen in 1,000 games on the air.
Snell has broadcast the longest game in NCAA basketball history (Bradley’s seven-overtime marathon with Cincinnati in 1981), the longest game-winning shot in a college basketball postseason postseason game (Chris Roberts’ 75-footer at the buzzer that gave the Braves a win over Oakland in the 2009 CIT), and he called all of Hersey Hawkins’ Bradley and Missouri Valley Conference-record 3,008 points.
He loves his broadcasting gig, even though it isn’t as glamorous as it might seem.
“You don’t mind the long hours and the traveling because there’s always three or four people you can’t wait to see when you’re on the road, and I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to work at many wonderful arenas,” he said.
Even though he’s a Bradley employee and the acknowledged Voice of the Braves, Snell said it’s important to be fair when calling a game.
“I’ll never embarrass a college athlete, but I owe it to my audience to be honest,” he said.
He isn’t impartial when it comes to new Bradley basketball coach Geno Ford.
“He’s a great guy,” Snell said. “Very personable, very easy to work with. I have no doubt he’ll bring success to the program.”