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Going Strong

LOHS graduate John Strong, founder of Laker Broadcasting, is the play-by-play voice of the Portland Timbers
by: VERN UYETAKE 
John Strong, a 2003 graduate of Lake Oswego High School, is the producer for John Canzano’s The Bald Faced Truth radio show on 750 The Game and is the play-by-play commentator for the Portland Timbers, getting the job for the franchise’s inaugural season as part of Major League Soccer.

John Strong is living his childhood dream - a dream that was spawned a comparatively short time ago.

At the age of 26, the Lake Oswego High School graduate has his own radio show and gets to travel around the country doing play-by-play commentary for Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers.

While doing some form of broadcasting was Strong's aspiration as a young boy, he didn't imagine that dream would come true as the voice of his hometown soccer team.

Like most native Oregonian sports fans, Strong grew up listening to radio broadcasts of the Trail Blazers highlighted by Bill Schonely's legendary play-by-play work.

He grew up as a big fan of football, basketball and baseball but, as a teenager, the game of soccer began to pique his interest more and more.

"My dad traveled a lot and he would come back with jerseys from different clubs and talk about the games he watched," Strong said.

His fandom increased when he began playing the hugely popular FIFA Road to the World Cup 98 soccer video game; and when his family got digital cable, making a bevy of international soccer games available to watch, he was hooked.

Since starting his career on the radio, Strong has become somewhat of a soccer guru in Portland, talking the sport up on his show Strong at Night and hosting his own program Talk Timbers even before the Timbers made the jump to MLS.

It has been an incredibly fast and impressive rise for Strong since graduating from the University of Oregon in 2007.

But his start in broadcasting actually came as a senior in high school. Strong thought it would be a fun project to broadcast Lake Oswego football and basketball games and read about software that was available and a website that made it possible to stream broadcasts online.

"It's funny now but that really was the cutting edge of live streaming back then. It was just me and my friend and a pair of $25 headphones from Radio Shack," Strong said.

But it was the dawn of Laker Broadcasting, the successful student-run program at Lake Oswego High School that now broadcasts video of nearly every Laker football game plus important contests in a variety of other sports.

"It was really low key starting out. We technically needed oversight so the journalism teacher was our advisor. She knew we were mature enough to run it and basically said 'just don't swear on the air.' Toward the end of the year we started bringing in a few people to pass it off to. Spencer Raymond took over and instantly raised a ton of money, got professional headsets, a mixer and started doing video. It's been pretty fun to see where it's gone," Strong said.

And that experience, which included a trip to the state football semifinals, paid huge dividends for Strong in college.

Strong began studying broadcasting in Eugene and was a reporter for the campus radio station.

When the lacrosse program came to the station wondering if it would be possible to broadcast some of the team's games, Strong got the job as the play-by-play man due to his work in high school.

"Play-by-play is not something you learn in a classroom. It's a job where you have to do it to pick it up," Strong said.

That led to opportunities broadcasting softball and soccer games.

Later, when Strong was interning with the Timbers, he would occasionally fill in for the team's play-by-play man.

Three days before he even graduated college, Strong was offered a job with radio state KXL which was retooling its sports department at the time.

"They were going from a three-person staff basically down to one and wanted to bring in somebody young," Strong said.

Later that year, KXL brought in The Oregonian columnist John Canzano to do a daily radio show.

"Canzano came in and they said 'here, this kid is your producer.' I got the job pretty much just because I was there," Strong said.

But Strong and Canzano instantly developed a good rapport on the air and a friendship and Canzano has been a big advocate for Strong ever since.

For Strong, it was a perfect opportunity.

"I've never been a huge talk show guy but I can let John do the heavy lifting and contribute here and there," Strong said.

He was eventually given a one-hour show, Strong at Night, and was the host of Talk Timbers.

Strong eventually took over as the radio play-by-play announcer for the Timbers and, when the team moved up to Major League Soccer, he was the logical choice to become the television broadcaster.

Since he first started calling soccer games, Strong had to learn on the fly, something that he has always excelled at.

"In most other sports, there is an accepted vocabulary with how you call a game but in soccer that doesn't exist and it's something you just have to figure out for yourself. For me it's just trying to be as descriptive as possible and staying on top of the play. It's a lot of trial and error," Strong said.

Not only did Strong land a professional play-by-play job at the age of 25, he now gets to call games for a new franchise playing in front of an exceptionally passionate fan base.

"I couldn't be living my dream any more than I am right now. This is the thing that made me giddy as a little kid. I'd love to be the voice of the Timbers for 40 years, to be to the Timbers what Schonely was to the Blazers," Strong said.

He is also excited about the steady increase in popularity of soccer in the past few years.

"It's never going to supplant football as the most popular sport in the country and probably not baseball or basketball either and it doesn't need to. I think MLS has found a foothold with young adults. You take a look at how it is covered now as opposed to just two or three years ago with Sportscenter highlights and it's definitely growing," Strong said.

Strong will continue playing a big role in the rise of the Timbers' franchise and aspires to potentially call World Cup games in the future.

"My absolute pipe dream would be to call the World Cup final and for that to be the first year that the United States wins it," Strong said.