Chris Kroeger never set out to be a play-by-play announcer. It really just turned out this way.
In a radio career that budded while he was a student at Appalachian State, Kroeger’s been a producer, a studio host and a talk-show host, among other things, since graduating in 2010.
With each job, Kroeger found success. He hopes that trend continues as he moves into his most prominent role yet.
Kroeger was named the new radio play-by-play announcer for the Charlotte Hornets on Monday. After four years working at Charlotte radio station WFNZ, the 31-year-old said he’s making a natural move.
“I never thought to myself, even out loud, ‘Man, I’ve got to be an NBA play-by-play guy, and I would love for it to be in Charlotte,' because I never thought it was possible,” Kroeger said. “But when you take a look back and realize all the things I was so passionate about over the last few years, it just makes perfect sense.”
Kroeger built his interest in radio by working at WASU, the student-run radio station on App State’s campus. He made the steady progression from music deejay up to assistant sports director. Kroeger worked into the station’s sports rotation, putting him in many roles surrounding Mountaineers football and basketball games.
That time at WASU let him develop his initial interest in sideline reporting, a job he held during Hornets broadcasts since 2015. While at Appalachian, he said his time wandering around Kidd-Brewer Stadium let him appreciate the way players and coaches adapted throughout games.
Kroeger said none of those experiences would’ve been possible without Dan Vallie, who oversees WASU as a practitioner in residence, and the freedom he gave students.
“Those were reps that you could get that were so invaluable. Those are my early memories that he really put that kind of fire in my belly, so to speak,” Kroeger said. “So when I got out of school, I was so confident — not in a cocky or arrogant way — but just so confident that I was so well equipped to be a professional broadcaster in whatever I was asked to do because I’d been doing it for two or three years.”
After App State, Kroeger began his career at IMG College in Winston-Salem. There, he said, he both learned and failed. He recalls a particular broadcast while serving as studio host for UCLA men’s basketball.
A mistake he made caused the radio announcers to be off the air for a couple of minutes. After calls started streaming in, Kroeger realized he'd forgotten to feed the broadcasters' microphones back in. That gaffe came with consequences, the worst of which was a dropoff in listeners during a primetime game, but IMG allowed him to learn from it.
“Such a simple mistake, and it’s easy to make, but it was such a huge monumental mistake,” Kroeger said. “I got my rear end chewed out for days and weeks. I thought I was going to get fired. I really did, and I deserved to be.”
Kroeger joined WFNZ in 2014, allowing him to return to his hometown. He now replaces Steve Martin, the Hornets longtime play-by-play announcer who retired at the end of the 2017-18 season.
Kroeger’s job will be a slight adaptation from Martin’s. On top of radio duties, he will produce content for the team’s website and mobile app. That flexibility, he hopes, will allow him to tap into his past job experiences and bring dynamic content to the team he grew up rooting for.
Kroeger’s last day on his midday talk show is Friday. Since announcing his new position, his cell phone has been served a steady diet of congratulations.
The transition has helped him remember people who helped him throughout his journey, starting from his time as a Mountaineer.
“About a week ago (after already accepting the Hornets job), I sat down and started putting pen to paper on those names, and before you know it, you’ve got a laundry list of people that you’ve just come into contact with over the years that have been, either in a small or large way, a meaningful part of my life and my career,” Kroeger said. “It’s been really humbling, but it’s been a really cool exercise.
“I think it’s probably one of those things that if you could ever take the time to kind of stop and take inventory of the people that have mattered in your life, it’s pretty humbling.”