As the 2018 racing season continues to wind down, the announcing career of a veteran race-caller will come to an end this weekend. The long career of announcer “Bullet” Bob Meyer will be celebrated this weekend at Saratoga Casino Hotel when on Saturday, the track will host Meyer’s family on a night that will feature a race named in his honor. On Sunday afternoon, Bob will voice one more set of races at the Spa before hanging up his legendary microphone contraption.
As a young aspiring sports broadcaster, Meyer lived and worked in New York City where he took a job as a statistician for the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, assisting the legendary Marv Albert along the way. In the late 1960’s, Albert, who befriended Meyer, heard of an opening in the announcer’s booth downstate and knowing Meyer was a fan of the horses, approached him with the idea. Bob went to Yonkers and started to learn to call races the only way anyone can- by grabbing a pair of binoculars and a recorder and taping his calls while announcing from the roof to an audience of just himself. That’s how all it started for the man that’s known as The Bullet.
Meyer called his first race at Roosevelt Raceway in 1969 before announcing at Monticello for a couple of years. He was hired full time at Yonkers Raceway in ‘72. While still honing his craft, Meyer continued to improve until he found his style, one that became recognizable to so many fans of the sport going back several decades. It wasn’t only his voice and style that became very discernible but the contraption he used to call the races did as well, at least for those that knew of it. While most announcers use some sort of headset, Meyer never did. He had a piece of “equipment” made for him which could best be described as a contorted metal coat hanger with a place to hang a microphone in the front that connected behind his neck with a bike chord and rested on his chest. Certainly unique and just simply The Bullet.
Bob Meyer came to Saratoga to become the announcer in 2000 after wrapping up a 27 year tenure at Yonkers. In his second year at the Spa, The Bullet was more than willing to help out a 21 year old fresh out of broadcasting school that had voiced some interest in calling races. He was overly gracious and helpful to the young “apprentice” and helped groom him as his backup, allowing him to call the last race every night as a method of gaining experience. He went a long way in helping the young man become a track announcer. I know this, of course, because it was me that was the apprentice. I filled in for The Bullet when he would take a day off which helped me start to hone my announcing skills. When I went to Ocean Downs in 2004 to become the announcer at their seasonal track in Maryland, I just figured this mic contraption was the norm in the industry. I didn’t know any better. So when asked by the TV department asked what I preferred to use, I attempted to describe the “Bullet mic stand” until about a dozen people each gave me the same look of utter confusion. At that point, I knew it was just one of those things that made Bob Meyer unique.
At the conclusion of the 2005 racing season, Bullet Bob retired from announcing eventually assuming the role as a back-up for me when I took the job in ’06. Bob served in the role as my lone fill-in for years and continued to “pinch hit” at times in recent seasons. Following the celebration of his career on Saturday night, Bullet will announce one more race card on Sunday. He has always said that he wanted to have his grandkids see and hear him call a race. They will get that chance on Sunday afternoon when his grandchildren and children will make their way to Saratoga to be on hand for the final ride in what has been a race-calling career that has spanned almost fifty years! My appreciation for Bob as an announcer and more specifically as a mentor and person in the years transitioning from apprentice to full-time guy is too great to put into words. Though my style is certainly much different than his (for better or worse!), I learned a lot from listening to The Bullet and definitely picked up some tendencies from him that I know I have incorporated into my work over the years. After almost fifty years behind the mic and closing in on the age of 80, Bob Meyer will officially retire his patented mic contraption at the conclusion of Sunday races at the Spa on a weekend when the track will celebrate his long and illustrious career.
What will happen here as far as guys to fill-in in the booth? Well, John Horne, who is the voice of Tioga Downs, has been coming to town to pinch hit at times over the last few years. On a couple of occasions, longtime Monticello announcer Howard Oil has even come north to Saratoga to wear the headset. While these two are terrific options, having a local person capable of calling races in a pinch is something that is a must. Local youngster Kenny Livengood has been a horse racing fan his entire life and upon graduation of Colonie High School a couple of years ago, he reached out and voiced desire to become a back-up. Livengood, admittedly, has been more of a thoroughbred fan than harness over the years but has been behind the scenes a bit learning some of the nuisances of harness racing and announcing its races. Kenny took a job at Chippewa Downs in North Dakota to gain some experience and will hopefully call a couple of races on one of our remaining programs this year to get a couple of harness races under his belt. So if you hear a voice that is unfamiliar to you in the coming weeks, that is probably Livengood doing a race or two some afternoon. But as for this weekend, it will be about Meyer as his career comes to a close. For the veteran harness racing fans who have at times mentioned to me or even sent emails to the track saying that they enjoy the trip down memory lane of listening to him, close your eyes on Sunday afternoon. You might just take yourself back to “old days” of Yonkers Raceway circa the 1970’s, 80’s or 90’s and the legendary and recognizable voice of Bullet Bob Meyer for one last time.
Live racing takes place on Thursday and Sunday afternoons with first post times at 12:15pm while action on Friday and Saturday evenings begins at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!