Bonnie Oleson didn’t set out to become the public address voice of University of Wisconsin women’s sports. It just turned out that way.
Oleson recently completed her 20th season as the PA announcer for the UW volleyball team. Over the years she’s also taken on the same duties for the UW softball team and the women’s basketball team.
“I feel like I’ve been doing it for a very short time, but apparently it’s been a long time,” Oleson said.
Oleson, a Palmyra native and UW graduate, was working as a disc jockey in Madison when she was asked if she could do the public address duties for a volleyball match that featured a number of former UW players. Some members of then-coach John Cook’s staff heard her and asked if she’d be interested in doing a UW match.
“I said, ‘Sure, sounds fun,’” Oleson said. “I’ll never forget my first game because I was scared to no end because I was told if you say ‘Point Wisconsin’ wrong they will come down and tell you about it.
“It’s the cadence of it. It’s funny because people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, are you the Point Wisconsin girl?’ Yes, I am.”
Oleson, 46, added softball duties in 2004 and started working basketball games a couple years later, keeping her occupied from August to May at the UW Field House, the Kohl Center and Goodman Diamond.
It’s a calendar that meshes well with her day job as an event planner for Mid-West Family Broadcasting, a group of eight radio stations in Madison. Her tasks include planning such major events as Taste of Madison and doing music for the Dane County Fair.
“I tell people my job is to order porta potties because I do that a lot,” she said.
In her down time, Oleson is drawn to quieter pursuits.
“I’m a geek,” she said. “I do a lot of quilting and crafting. I deal with a lot of people in my work, so it’s nice to go home and sit in front of a sewing machine. I love being crafty.”
A woman’s voice for women’s sports, how important do you think that is?
I didn’t think too much of it till people started making comments to me about it. I get other teams commenting to me about how cool it is that there’s a woman announcing women’s sports. I don’t want to say I take it for granted because I think it’s important for the little kids to see that too. You don’t realize that the little girls in the stands are like, “Oh, there’s a girl announcing.” They go to men’s basketball and there’s a man announcing. I didn’t even think about it, really, until I got comments from other teams that thought it was neat that there’s a woman announcing these sports. I think it’s neat too.
As the PA voice you’re part of the fan experience. Do you think about that and how do you try to enhance the fan experience by what you say and how you say it?
I’ve never thought about it that way. Of course you want to sound happy. I’m very conscious to get names right. I just try to make sure I’m right on things. They let me have my freedom in volleyball because I’ve been doing it long enough. The big thing now is that people leave their flashes on, so I tell people if you don’t know how to turn off your flash, ask the kid next to you. I just try to do fun, spontaneous things. It’s a lot easier with a volleyball crowd because they’re so condensed. I try to make it entertaining but not be invasive. The fans know the sport so they know if something’s happening.
When you go to a game as a spectator do you pay close attention to the PA announcer?
Totally. I go to men’s basketball games and I listen to Mike (Mahnke). I used to never say who the assist was from and Coach (Jonathan Tsipis) wanted me to say who the assists were. Cool, I could do that. I came to a men’s game and I was in the 300 level and I took notes. I barely watched the game. I was just listening to Mike the whole game, how he said who had the assist, how he was calm with the other team and excited for us. I listened to things a lot different. I went to the regional volleyball tournament at Illinois and did the same thing.
It used to be that the PA was a dispassionate voice, which might be identifiable with the facility, but was basically nonpartisan. More recently the PA announcers have become more a part of the show. How much do you try to do or not do along those lines?
It’s hard doing the neutral games. I have to be neutral when we do post-season because that’s when the NCAA people are here and I have to be neutral. But I always say as long as I’m happy for both teams I can be as happy as I want for us. So instead of bringing it down, I try to bring everybody up because it’s a fun time in the postseason tournaments. I love having people give me ideas on how to say things. They’ve given me total freedom, which is nice. But it’s nice when people say, “You should try this or you should try that.” OK, I’ll give it a whirl. Why not?