The Sounds of Beaver Stadium
There’s a reason Penn State football games are regarded as some of the best entertainment in college sports. Between the cheerleaders, the Blue Band, the Nittany Lion and, of course, the team, few venues in the world can compare to what Beaver Stadium offers on fall Saturdays in Happy Valley. And all of those elements are tied together by the people who create the sounds inside the stadium.
The Beat of the Lions
PJ Mullen, who plays the music at Beaver Stadium, is all about making the game-day experience enjoyable for everyone, whether it’s somebody’s first Penn State game or their 101st.
“Ninety-nine percent of everyone in that stadium is there to have a good time and get away from the redundancy of other things going on in the real world,” Mullen says. “It’s a big party. My job is to help keep that party going.”
Mullen, 31, who also serves as the director of player development and community relations for the football team, is in his fifth season as the sound guy at Beaver Stadium.
Anyone who’s been to a game there knows the classics that have become staples of the Penn State football experience. Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” can all be expected to get the crowd going every game.
The tough part for Mullen is keeping up with new music. Since new, catchy tracks are constantly being released, in a way he’s always on the clock.
“We’re always adding to our library,” Mullen says. “When I’m taking my trips from State College to Sea Isle City in the summer, anything I hear that sounds decent or upbeat, or has a good beat or pump-up feel to it, or even if it’s a commercial, I Shazam everything on my phone.”
Because he also works for the football team, Mullen is responsible for making sure the pregame festivities run smoothly. Between staff meetings, emceeing for team arrival and showing visitors around the stadium, Mullen is the man behind it all.
“I do a mixing/DJ session deal from the field for warm-up to get them going, and then I head upstairs right when the team warm-up begins,” Mullen says.
After the players start their pregame routine, Mullen has seven minutes to get from the field to his perch below the “B” inside Beaver Stadium, where he gets all his equipment ready to play tunes.
“By the time I get hooked up, the team’s wrapping up and we’re ready to bring the Blue Band up and start the whole pregame show,” Mullen says.
But make no mistake, his job isn’t just plugging in an iPod and hitting shuffle. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into making sure the songs hit the chorus at just the right time.
“There’s no such thing as going in and showing up at a certain time and then just turning it on,” Mullen says. “You gotta be fully prepared to have every single solitary song and beat. You have to have five different cuts of every song.”
While it may be hard to notice, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into choreographing the entire program. For Mullen, communicating with the Blue Band, cheerleaders and Lionettes is crucial. He has four others in the booth helping him with the soundboard, which also controls the referees’ microphones, and other sound effects like the lion’s roar. Still, the music is what most fans are interested in, which means Mullen is constantly on the spot.
“We live in 2016. People aren’t patient,” Mullen says. “So you gotta make sure you’re getting to the hooks of these songs fast enough, before the end of the TV timeout, or that it’s in between the 30 seconds you have in between the turnover on downs.
“That ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ song by Bon Jovi has a 47-second intro, which is all instrumental. If you just play that, your TV timeouts are only 2 1⁄2 minutes to 3 minutes long, you waste 47 seconds on the intro, you’re putting yourself in a spot where you’re losing people right off the bat,” he says. “And 107,000 people turns into 10,000 real quick if you’re losing their interest.”
More than anything, it’s important to play songs that people of all ages can bob their heads and shake their pompoms to. Everyone has different tastes in music, Mullen says, but the key is to play the most popular songs from various genres that are catchy and fit what’s happening in the game.
Mullen says he gets so many song requests from fans, friends and relatives tweeting and texting him during the game that he doesn’t look at his cell phone notifications. And as a professor in the College of Communications, Mullen’s students always have feedback for him before and after games, too.
Though it may not be obvious, he’s partial to the classics.
“I love playing any of the sing-alongs,” Mullen says. “I like killing the song when you’re about to hit the hook, bringing the song down and letting the crowd yell. That’s my favorite part.”
Singing along to the music at Beaver Stadium with 107,000 friends is certainly something that everyone looks forward to on game day, but Mullen says his job would mean nothing without the people who make the Penn State football experience the best in the nation.
“The reason we call it the best show in college football is the cheerleaders, the Blue Band, the Nittany Lion, the Blue Sapphire, the drum major who does the flip before the game, and the team,” he says. “The music and the videos that we play — that’s the cherry on top of what’s already the greatest show in college football.”
The Voice of the Lions
While Mullen is the guy who provides the sounds for Beaver Stadium, Dean “DeVore” Otthofer is the voice of Beaver Stadium.
DeVore, 50, has been the public address announcer for Beaver Stadium since 2000 and has made quite a name for himself with his distinctive voice. But it hasn’t been without a lot of hard work and dedication.
Before the start of each season, DeVore heads out to a few practices to see who’s playing on offense, defense and special teams. When the season begins, he has a meeting each Tuesday before an upcoming home game to discuss the plan for how the whole show will be run.
“There’s about a one-hour meeting I go to on Tuesdays before game week. That’s with all the people that are involved in game-day production,” he says. “Usually the group meeting lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, then we may break off into smaller groups depending on what presentations we may be doing and how the band may be interacting.”
Each Thursday before a home game, DeVore communicates with the opposing team’s sports information director (SID) to get a feel for the names he’ll be announcing often. When game day arrives, DeVore meets with the visiting SID a couple of hours before kickoff to go over any name pronunciations of which he’s unsure.
DeVore says he takes the most pride in correctly pronouncing names that other announcers may butcher.
“I don’t take anything to chance,” DeVore says. “If there’s any doubt about pronunciation, I’m gonna go up to that athlete and say, ‘How do you say your name?’ I think the players appreciate that.”
In the booth, DeVore uses a chart color-coded by position to help him identify key players after a play. He uses the assistance of two spotters, one who concentrates on the offense and another who concentrates on the defense, to gather the correct information.
“The information I am getting from my spotters is the number of the player that’s involved in the play, then that’s my job to translate that number into a name,” DeVore says. “I do that based on visual queues with my chart.”
Trying to keep track of the down and distance, watching the play unfold and having two guys in his ear at all times means things can get pretty hectic in the booth.
“There’s a lot going on and it’s kind of crazy,” DeVore says. “I’m not gonna lie, there’s pressure. The worst of the pressure is from myself. I want to be accurate. I know I’m gonna make mistakes.”
As the voice the fans are listening to during the game, DeVore knows how important it is to make sure his delivery and descriptions are clear to the fans in attendance.
“The way I always approach it is I’m trying to tell people things that if I were in the stands, I’d be asking, ‘What’s that?’ or ‘I didn’t understand, what was that call?’”
And sometimes, even the referees need some help, too.
“At times, I’ve corrected the official. I try not to show them up, but I will say what he should have said.”
DeVore, who is also a meteorologist for AccuWeather, has even become Beaver Stadium’s personal weatherman.
“In an afternoon game, one thing we’re finding is — especially early in the season, with the potential for weather — the sound system now is a really good communication tool for the immediate area around the stadium,” DeVore says. “They’ve asked me at times to come in. I’ve had to stay late. Two years ago, there was a game where I stayed for an extra hour and a half because a bad thunderstorm rolled through and we were warning people to take cover.”
In addition to working as the university’s football announcer, DeVore has called games for virtually every other Penn State sport. Most notably, he is the PA announcer for women’s volleyball, and even announced five NCAA Women’s Volleyball Final Four games in the late 1990s. He’s developed a reputation among PA announcers, but says he’s constantly looking to get better.
“Anywhere I go, I listen to PA,” DeVore says. “I’m always trying to learn. I take pride in what I do.”
Of course, the experience at Beaver Stadium would be nothing without the players and the fans, something DeVore takes to heart.
“It’s important for Penn State to have a voice they’re proud of. It’s important for Penn Staters to have a voice that feels like home when they get into Beaver Stadium,” he says. “I think it’s important that the athletes feel like they’re the most important things going on and what I’m doing is amplifying what they’re doing. Those are the three main points of why I do what I do.”
Add 107,000 clad in blue and white to cheer on their beloved Nittany Lions, and Beaver Stadium is all set to sound off. •PD