Commentary and Notes

Halby’s Morsels: Should Doris Burke be honored by the Basketball Hall of Fame before Brent Musburger?

More: Color men who won't shush; Fighting in the booth; Adam Schein, Hubie Brown, Ted Leitner, Johnny Holliday, Lindsey Nelson +

Brent Musburger and Doris Burke

Curt Gowdy Award

Doris Burke will receive this year’s Curt Gowdy Media award  from the Basketball Hall of Fame. Not to rain on Doris’ parade, she does good work, but please!  Before Brent Musburger?

Brent did 6 NCAA Final Fours and 6 NBA Championships for CBS Television. He also announced several more NBA title rounds for ESPN Radio. Musburger called basketball at the highest level, network TV, for over 40 years. He was also somewhat of a pioneer in the sense that he made it permissible for play-by-play  announcers to offer opinions. Brent was more than a set-up man.

When it comes to basketball, you might argue that after Marv Albert, Musburger was the most influential network television play-by-play announcer ever.  He left his fingerprints on the coverage of both the NBA and college basketball .

Curt Gowdy

Doris is knowledgeable and well prepared. But she wouldn’t know Alex Hannum from Alex Karras. I can recall a glaring mistake she made and never corrected herself. Burke praised the late Chuck Daly for taking Penn to the 1979 Final Four. If Bob Weinhaeur was tuned in, he must have cringed. Bob coached the Quakers that season. Daly left Penn a couple years earlier.

Somewhere in heaven, Curt Gowdy is sipping his favorite adult beverage and telling his buddies, “Doris, a fine broadcaster. Before Brent?” The late Gowdy used his good business acumen many moons ago to help the HOF tackle major financial challenges.

By my records, other than Brent, the only announcer who’s done play-by-play of both the Final Four and the NBA championship on network television is Gowdy himself.

Before getting to more broadcasting morsels…a sports related note:

Fifty years ago

Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated late the night of June 5, 1968, 50 years ago last week. He had completed his victory speech in California, having just won the critical Democratic primary for president.

A couple sports connections. Former Giants and Penn State football star Rosey Grier and Olympian decathlete Rafer Johnson served as unofficial Kennedy bodyguards. In his victory speech, moments before he was shot, RFK congratulated the late Dodger pitcher, Don Drysdale who was on a record-setting shutout stretch that summer.

Kennedy said; “I want to first express my high regard to Don Drysdale, who pitched his sixth straight shut-out tonight and I hope that we have as good fortune in our campaign.”

The Ambassador Hotel, near downtown Los Angeles where the shooting took place, was razed years later after it fell upon hard times. The land now houses the RFK Community School.

Back then, the Secret Service protected only incumbent presidential candidates. The Kennedy assassination triggered governmental change, covering protection of presidential candidates.

The NBA Finals: 50 years ago vs. Today—-Growth? You bet!

Going back 50 years, the 6th and final game of the NBA Finals was May 2, 1968, The Celtics defeated the Lakers at the LA Forum to win yet another title.  This year, in a four-game sweep, not a series that went the distance, the final game was on June 8th.

From a broadcast standpoint fifty years ago, national cable was nonexistent. ABC Television had the NBA Finals and ran only two games (#1 and #4). The final game, #6, was not on network television. You know though that Johnny Most and Chick Hearn were there for the Celtics’ and Lakers’ broadcasts respectively.

In 1968, the NBA had only 12 teams! In 2018, the NBA has 30 teams.

The NBA Finals

Hubie Brown did color on radio again this year; hopping from city to city. He turns 85 on September 25th. He’s still as sharp as a tack.

NBA Finals History – network television

Lindsey Nelson, known for colorful sports jackets, Mets baseball, pro and  college football, also did the NBA on NBC in the league’s formative years

Did you know that Lindsey Nelson, known for baseball and football, did the NBA Finals on NBC from 1956-61? NBC did only select games of each championship series those years, none in primetime.

Marty Glickman did the NBA Finals in 1954 on the old Dumont Television Network and in 1955 on NBC. Nelson did color those couple years.

Glickman, considered the architect and pioneer of basketball broadcasting, shared with me and others what he was told when he was taken off the network broadcasts in 1956. NBA boss Maurice Podoloff said to him that the NBA was seeking ‘less of a New York sound’ in the hope of  increasing league-wide interest nationally. (Let it be noted that the title of the NBA head was changed from President to Commissioner in 1967 when the league was run by Walter Kennedy.)

From Southern California

In Los Angeles last week, I mentioned the name Chick Hearn to several  Lakers’ fans of age, those who grew up listening to him. Invariably, Hearn’s name triggers a chuckle and an ear-to-ear smile. “Chickie Baby,” they’ll say fondly. Although Chick never took a shot on the floor, many say the Lakers haven’t been the same since Chick died in 2002. The truth is that the team did win two titles since his death, in 2009 and 2010. The outpouring of support and love when he passed was remarkable. Local television stations carried Hearn’s funeral live.

Bring up Vin Scully and fans lower their voices to a hush and nod their heads reverentially. Scully was and still is deified not only in Southern California. He’s considered a once in a century broadcaster and respected across America. Hearn was the brilliant carnival barker and Scully the incomparable artist.

Talk of LA, I’m reminded that Red Barber insisted that ‘Los Angeles’ be pronounced with a hard G, as in the word golf. He also added a Spanish twist to his pronunciation; ‘Los Angle -ees.’ Barber often liked to make a point and stand out. He was a complicated man.

I had lunch with Ken Levine, a former baseball broadcaster himself, with Seattle, San Diego and Baltimore. Ken’s an award-winning television comedy writer. He shared some interesting tidbits. When Scully arrived in Los Angeles, he spent a couple off-seasons doing fifteen-minute, evening sports reports on radio. Ken also tells me that Jerry Doggett, Scully’s partner for 32 years, did hockey on television when Los Angeles had a minor league team (the Blades of the Western Hockey League). Apparently, when the Astros (then the Colt 45s) went into business in 1962, Doggett was approached by the team to be the franchise’s number one announcer. Jerry stayed put and Gene Elston got the gig. He was Houston’s lead voice from 1962-86.

Talking of Doggett, Levine remembers how good Scully felt for Jerry, on-air, when in 1961 he was selected to announce  the MLB All-Star Game on network radio. Doggett worked with the late Jimmy Dudley. In those years, there were two all-star games. Doggett did the one in San Francisco. The second one was played in Boston.

Doggett did some basketball too. In fact, in 1959, he did an NBA game played in LA and televised by NBC TV. Jerry whispered to me once, “I don’t think Chick Hearn was too pleased.” Chick was in LA at the time, doing USC football and basketball. Like Doggett, he was also doing work for NBC Television, including horse racing. Chick apparently felt that he should have been given the basketball assignment. In 1961, during the NBA playoffs, the Lakers got a radio contract, Hearn got the gig  and never turned back.

Down the road in San Diego, Ted Leitner, longtime Padres radio announcer and San Diego State football and basketball, is battling kidney cancer. Ted has taken time off from his play-by-play responsibilities while recuperating. We wish him well of course!

Adam Schein -Use of Putrid

Adam Schein of SiriusXM and CBS Sports Network

Last month, Adam Schein, host of Time to Schein, heard regularly on SiriusXM and seen on CBS Sports Network, defended the Raptors’ firing of coach Dwight Casey. Of all talkies on-air, Schein’s verbal cadence is unmistakable.

He called the Raptors performance against the Cavs putrid.

We live in a different world today. In 1931, when the man regarded as America’s first sports announcer, CBS’ Ted Husing, referenced a play by Harvard quarterback Barry Wood as putrid, it caused a major fuss. So much so, Husing was barred from attending Harvard Stadium. CBS founder and CEO Bill Paley had to address the press to settle down the backlash.

Every time I hear Schein, I’m reminded of Steve Somers of WFAN. Schein sounds just like him. His deliberate tempo is identical to Somers. They’re so similar they can easily be confused. Somers is a WFAN original. He’s been with the station since it went all-sports in 1987.

Johnny Holliday (U of Maryland and Washington Nats) and Jim Gordon (New York Rangers and Giants):

On April 19, 1965, AM radio changed forever in New York when WINS went all-news. It had been a top-40 rock station and couldn’t make a profitable go of it. Johnny Holliday, who continues as the Voice of Maryland football and basketball, was a disc-jockey back then at WINS and the last voice listeners heard before it turned news. Holliday tells me that the last song he played was Shangri-la’s ‘Out in The Streets.’ “I thought it was appropriate,” Holliday says. He lost his job when the station changed formats.

Holliday adds, “It’s been a great ride for me . I’m in my 62nd year in broadcasting, heading into my 40th at Maryland and currently in my 12th on TV with the Nationals (doing pre and postgame shows).”

It’s interesting to note that Jim Gordon, longtime voice of the football Giants and New York Rangers, was the first news anchor heard on WINS after it went all-news that April 19th. This was more than twenty years before the first all-sports station. It was well before cable and any mobile technology. The all-news station ran sports reports twice an hour, giving fans an opportunity to get updated scores faster than ever before.

In those days, play-by-play broadcasters like Gordon and Holliday held more diverse roles.

Lesson for budding announcers from Hall of Famers Bob Murphy and Joe Tait

On radio, underscore subjects’ names so that it is ingrained. Use ‘he’ less frequently. Radio is not a visual medium.

Mark Price to forecourt, Price to the top of the key, Price to the baseline,” Joe Tait knew that following the game on radio was difficult enough so rarely did Tait use the word he in these situations.

Bob Murphy on Mets’ broadcasts would do something similar. “Dwight Gooden on the mound. Gooden pitched last a week ago in Pittsburgh. In that game, Dwight went five innings and allowed 8 hits. Dwight Gooden was born in Tampa, Florida.”

More Murphy: In the early 1970s when NY Daily News columnist Dick Young wrote influential columns, he told me that of the Mets trio of announcers (Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner) he received more reader complaints about Murphy than the other two. Funny, twenty years later, Nelson was gone and Murphy was a Mets icon.

My late mother-in-law often told me, “There’s little bad that good doesn’t come from it.”  In 1982, when Murphy was taken off television and put on radio exclusively, he thought his world collapsed around him. As it turned out, the move then by Mets’ GM Frank Cashen was a godsend. Murphy sparkled on radio and built an indelible bond with Mets’ fans.

In Cleveland

Hearing from Indians fans that Tom Hamilton, the team’s radio announcer, screams too much. I hope not.

More Cleveland—as in LeBron and the Cavs

Jim Chones, former Cavs’ star, now a radio color commentator for team

Shush already – Jim Chones – Cavs’ radio color commentator talks after virtually every play on radio broadcasts. While he’ll make a good point every now and then (“When the Cavs defense collapses around the man driving in, the Warriors’ outside shooters are open.”), he bellows too many inanities. (“The Cavs got to stay close. You can’t let it get out of hand.” Really?)

After sufficient disgust, I switched to the Warriors broadcast and was equally disappointed by Jim Barnett, a TV guy who moves to radio when Golden State isn’t producing a local telecast. (His voice tenor reminds me of Hank Stram.) Not only did he talk after almost every play, Barnett talked in middle of them too. He unabashedly jumped all over play-by-play man, Tim Roye, breaking his concentration and that of listeners. Come on, Jim! Radio is a play-by-play medium. This isn’t TV.

Listening to Chones and Barnett flood the airwaves disruptively, you wonder what two of the greatest basketball announcers ever would think; Tait the unparalleled Cavs’ voice who worked alone on radio for almost 40 years and the renaissance man, Warriors’ announcer, Bill King whose broadcasts were legendary in the Bay Area. King worked solo too! At the end of his broadcast career, Tait worked with Chones for a short final stretch. He told Chones to raise his hand when he had something to say. I can assure you that Chones isn’t doing so with the current Cavs’ play-by-play announcer, John Michael. If he did, his hand would be tired.

And years ago in Cleveland – Fighting in the Booth

Get along with your boothmate, please! Jimmy Dudley and Bob Neal (not the same fellow who later did NBA broadcasts for Turner) worked together on Indians radio. In this reference, the word together is a misnomer.

According to baseball historian, Curt Smith, these fellows despised one another so much that when one was doing play-by-play, the other announcer put his briefcase on the counter to block the other’s view. Sometimes one would crackle peanuts in the booth so loud –  to distract the other guy and make him sound lousy. (Curt Smith; Voices of Summer). In the end, Gabe Paul, the Indians’ GM fired Dudley on the eve of spring training in 1968. Neal survived in a powerplay.

This Wednesday and Friday

A two part interview— with the talented and popular radio announcer of the Chicago Cubs, Pat Hughes. He worked with Bob Uecker, Ron Santo and traveled with Harry Caray. He did Marquette basketball and will regale us with great Al McGuire and Ron Santo stories. He will also share his thoughts on a trio of broadcasters he puts on a pedestal above all others, Bob Costas, Scully and King.







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 and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Barry Kipnis
5 years ago

Regarding WINS changing their format from top 40 rock to All News, Johnny Holliday may have lost his job and moved on to sportscasting but I recall other long-time record spinners who were retained on the station to become newsmen, Stan Z. Burns and Paul Sherman to name two. Matter of fact in his music hey-day, Sherman was known as the “Prince” to Alan Fried’s “King.” of the rock ‘n roll DJs. Stan Z, he dropped the Z somewhere along the way, worked on the station for many years after the format change.