Halby's Morsels

Halby’s Morsels: Ex voice, survivor of Wichita State’s 1970 plane crash, is 100!; ESPN’s analysts-only game

Jim Gray getting heat for HOF recognition; Would Vin Scully have been hired in Brooklyn had Walter O'Malley already bought out Branch Rickey

There aren’t any 100 year old sports announcers, current or retired, at least anyone I know.

Felo Ramirez called Miami Marlins games on Hispanic radio until a couple years ago when he passed at 94. Bob Wolff, a longtime New York sportscaster, remained somewhat active until close to the end. Bob died at age 96 in 2017.

There’s one we did find. It’s a story of calamity for many and a twist of fortune for others.

Fifty years ago this fall, tragedy befell the Wichita State football team. On October 2, 1970, the Shockers were headed to Logan, Utah where they were scheduled to play Utah State the following day. But the game never happened. One of the two chartered planes that carried the team and non playing personnel crashed in Colorado, west of Denver. There were 31 fatalities and 9 survivors on the flight.

The radio play-by-play announcer, Gus Grebe, survived the catastrophic day. As luck had it, Grebe was on the other plane which had no issues.

Image result for gus grebeBut not so fast. Shortly before takeoff, Grebe (left) was comfortably seated on the second plane when an official came on board to ask him if he wanted to switch to the other aircraft, the one that would crash. But Grebe, then 50 and a voracious reader, was already engaged in a conversation with a player talking about a book that they happened to both be reading. So Grebe told the official that he was fine and would stay on the plane that he already boarded. And that’s how he escaped becoming a victim himself. Call it happenstance.

Grebe called Shockers football and basketball games with great passion and enthusiasm from 1966-73. At age 100, he reads newspapers and books every day. It is an integral part of his routine in his suburban Los Angeles home.

Wichita State gave up football after the terrible tragedy. Mike Kennedy has called Wichita State basketball games for the past 44 years.

Grebe left Wichita for Kansas City where he did pre and post game shows for the Chiefs. But word was that he was too critical of the team for management’s liking. Grebe still remains active in regular memorial services for the poor souls who lost their lives on that fateful October day. Last month, Gus told Taylor Eldridge of the Wichita Eagle that he recently had a heart attack, yet is doing fine.

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ESPN runs two analysts, no play-by-play voice

Jimmy Dykes (left) and Fran Fraschilla

Last week, without much fanfare, ESPN covered the University of San Francisco – Gonzaga game, a late-nighter. The network did so without using a trained play-by-play announcer. ESPN had served up a rich buffet of options while covering the college football championship game. Through its family of cable networks, streaming services and apps, ESPN provided viewers 15 separate ways to follow the title game. From an audio perspective, ESPN plugged in the local radio calls of both LSU and Clemson and an Hispanic feed, in addition to running the lead English announce team on its flagship channel.

ESPN assigned Fran Fraschilla and Jimmy Dykes, two ex coaches,  to the Gonzaga colorcast. Both generally get a full schedule of games by from ESPN each season. It was an interesting approach, one that merits more lab testing. Neither of the two men was asked to keep an eye on the rudimentary, basics that play-by-play announcers generally note for their audience, number of fouls, timeouts and the like.

ESPN’s David Ceisler, senior coordinating producer for men’s basketball, was asked what stimulated this idea. “We’re always looking for new and fun ways to change things up. For this game, the two analysts knew Gonzaga head coach Mark Few well and had great insight into one of the top programs in the nation.” Ceisler pointed out that the two broadcasters combined have almost 40 years of analyst experience. 

Did the offbeat approach work from ESPN’s perspective? “It worked very well. Jimmy and Fran figured out a good rhythm early in the game and found ways to let the game breathe and do their own coaching,” Ceisler added.

Would ESPN be open to mix it up, say, only play-by-play, only public address? Remember the NBC no-announcer experiment decades ago? Ceisler answered cautiously, “There always has to be a reason to create impactful content and not just do a stunt to be different.”

You would think it would be relatively easy for ESPN to activate and execute broader audio options. Ceisler: “Advancements in technology gives us a blank canvas to be creative and open to many ideas. While we have that license, we also want to make sure we are servicing the fan and our presentations are interesting and wanted by viewers.”

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Hall of Fame media award

A few broadcasters with whom I communicated were bewildered why the oft chided Jim Gray is being bestowed an honor by the Naismith Hall of Fame. Gray’s basketball claim to fame is his hosting of the lambasted 2010 Decision on ESPN; Yes,  basketball fans won’t forget the tacky free agency announcement by LeBron James that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami. Meanwhile, Brent Musburger (l) who called a combined 12 NBA Finals and Final Fours on network television has been mysteriously ignored. Un/Necessary Sports passed these numbers along. On NBA alone (not including tons of critical college games), Brent did 223 games on CBS, 10 on ABC, 56 on ESPN, 4 on ESPN2 plus multiple NBA Finals on ESPN Radio. What’s holding up the HOF?

**

No Marv Albert at MSG’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Knicks’ first championship in 1970

It is almost like not inviting your twin brother, the one you grew up with, to your own 50th birthday party. No excuses.

Phil Mushnick, the media sentinel of the New York Post, reports this morning that Marv Albert won’t be invited to the recognition and celebration of that unforgettable championship team. Albert’s name is interchangeable with any member of that club. See:

50th anniversary of Knicks’ first title: Will longtime voice Marv Albert be invited to partake in MSG ceremony?

**

Sculy’s hiring in Brooklyn in 1950

My warped mind. Vin Scully was hired by Dodgers’ lead voice Red Barber in 1950. Team boss Branch Rickey approved the hire. Barber and Rickey had a solid relationship. At the end of the ’50 season, Walter O’Malley took ownership of the club, managed it and forced Rickey out. Famously, O’Malley and Barber did not get along.

O’Malley was also tight with the dollar. Had Barber waited a year, who knows what would happened to Vin? Would O’Malley have approved the hire? Of course, O’Malley loved and appreciated Vin as he got to know the young announcer. But before Scully began to call games in Brooklyn, he was an unknown commodity and unknow to O’Malley.

I watched some tape of Vin’s football. Simple comments, you won’t hear elsewhere: “He breaks into a run,’ “Montana darts it into the corner” or on a subsequent throw, “He arrows it.”

**

Reading Travis Burger’s profile of Colin Cowherd this week, I was surprised to learn that Colin has a team of writers, researchers and contributors. I guess some of those ad-libs I hear on-air are scripted. Could have fooled me.

Fox’ Colin Cowherd: His common sense, 30,000 foot view resonates with cross-sections of sports fans

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Count your blessings! Two announcers who can see out of only one eye: ESPN’s Dick Vitale and the late Bill Chadwick who did color on both television and radio for the New York Rangers. Chadwick was a referee before he turned to broadcasting.

How about two announcers who had the use of just one arm? Let’s go to hockey again. The longtime and late Red Wings voice Budd Lynch, lost his right arm during combat in World War II. Lynch began with the Wings in 1949. Gene Stuart served as an analyst, working with Marv Albert on Rangers broadcasts. He had no use of one arm. Stuart was a chain smoker. Watching him light a match effortlessly was almost an optical illusion.

**

Things I heard and found

Something I discovered while looking up something else. In the early years of the Super Bowl, the telecast was blacked out in the host city. Yes, Super Bowl III wasn’t seen in Miami. By SBV, fans in Miami sought a court order to disallow the blackout but couldn’t get a judge to agree.

**

howard cosell headphonesFormer CBS President Neal Pilson tells a story of walking on the beach on Long Island one summer day and spotting Howard Cosell (l) sitting all alone on a bench, smoking a cigar and wistfully gazing out over the ocean. Howard looked in a fog of sorts. His career had come to a sad end and he didn’t leave ABC on his terms, Howard was somewhat bitter. Pilson thought it would not be a good time to go over to say hello.

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Michael Green
4 months ago

What a great bunch of morsels! On Scully: if O’Malley had gotten the team a year earlier, under the same circumstances, he probably would have deferred to Barber at that point, and there’s a book where Harold Parrott, who worked for and hated O’Malley, talked about how in getting rid of Barber and moving up Scully, he saved a lot of money; Vin didn’t make too much money, and I suspect O’Malley wouldn’t have minded THAT. And Barber noted in his autobiography that for all of his criticism of O’Malley, he gave a second chance to an employee who had… Read more »