Unmistakable Skip Caray is on national HOF ballot
The National Sports Media Association distributed ballots last week for its annual national and state-by-state awards; the results of which are eagerly awaited by candidates throughout America. The respected industry group has recognized top broadcasters and scribes since 1959.
Dave Goren, NSMA’s energetic head since 2008 and a former North Carolina sports television anchor, continues to streamline an association that’s been around for almost sixty years. NSMA works on a shoestring budget and functions entirely as a nonprofit, supported essentially by its members. Goren tells me that “the association gets some additional support from sponsors and the community.” NSMA’s offices are in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
The income range of its members run the gamut. Some make millions, not many; the big network sportscasters do. Others, particularly some of the young local writers, are trying to make ends meet.
Each year, there are state and national winners. In 2018, Kevin Harlan won the national award for broadcasting and Adrian Wojnarowski for writing. Installed in NSMA’s Hall of Fame earlier this year were Tom Boswell, Woody Durham, Bryant Gumbel and Dick Weiss .
Examining the list of winners through the years, there are voids in smaller states some of the years, likely due to not having a quorum. But Goren adds, “Some states such as South Dakota have as many members as Florida. The only state where we have a void now is Alaska, where there are no members.”
I began poking around at the state by state winners and was astounded by a number of observations.
- Winners are often repetitive and the selection tends to be slanted toward the distribution of each state’s population. In Pennsylvania for example , all winners since 1980 worked in the Philadelphia market. There hasn’t been a selectee from anywhere else in the state since 1979. Back then, it was the colorful Myron Cope, a Pittsburgh institution who created the popular Steelers terrible towel. I would guess it’s because the winner is selected by members, more of whom are exposed to Philly sportscasters than any other market in the state.
It’s likely difficult to fairly address distorted population contours. Still, Bill Hillgrove has done Steelers and University of Pittsburgh for eons and has never been selected. Then again, the late Phillies announcer, Harry Kalas was honored 14 of 15 years. It’s surprising that there’s no love for Hillgrove or Mike Lange, the colorful commentator for the Penguins. Neither of these two gents has ever won.
- Similarly in California, the early winners only represented Southern California. The first 17 years belonged to either Vin Scully, Chick Hearn or Dick Enberg, all among history’s best. Until Bill King of the Raiders and Warriors won it in 1976, the award went only to SoCal announcers. I see that this year the retiring Ralph Lawler of the Clippers is up for the award, which he has never won. Ralph is outstanding and will be missed when the Clippers season ends.
- Paul Schneider called Boise State football and basketball in Idaho for 35 years. I would think it’s the biggest sports broadcast job in the state. The games are carried by KBOI, a station with an impressive signal. In analog days, before broadcast streaming, a powerhouse stick meant a ton. But Paul has never been recognized. Yet, a fellow I’m not familiar with, Bob Curtis won the award 33 times from 1959-2004. It turns out that Curtis called University of Idaho football for fifty years before retiring in 2004. He died six years ago at 87. Still, every year? No room for Schneider? Boise State is a perennial national power. (I must admit that only a broadcast nerd like me would pick up these remote issues.) Paul was popular in a sparsely populated state. Still, it shouldn’t diminish the recognition of his ability or his popularity. Schneider is on the ballot this year.
Suggestion to streamline statewide votes:
- A couple thoughts on streamlining the process. Perhaps the organization should weight each vote in smaller areas of the state, giving it a higher percentage than those in densely populated areas. Isn’t that what our founding fathers intended when they created an electoral college?
- Another suggestion might be to limit the number of consecutive years a candidate can win. Goren adds, “This was done at some point. But, because this vote is supposed to be a vote of peer respect for a person’s work that year, I don’t think it’s fair to tell people that they can’t vote for a person.”
- Some interesting quick observations after taking a quick look at candidates, In North Carolina, voters should do a write-in for Chuck Kaiton, the fantastic NHL radio play-by-play voice, silenced this year after 39 seasons, by the team’s shift to a simulcast which does radio an injustice. While I suggest this somewhat tongue in cheek, Goren says, “We don’t offer write-ins. It’s why we do a nomination vote before the final vote. And Chuck did win in North Carolina three years ago.”
- In Ohio, I’m delighted to see Dan Hoard on the ballot. He’s won the statewide award a couple times already. He’s an understated announcer who gently and mellifluously presents game broadcasts simply and clearly. He and Ohio State’s Paul Keels are an excellent one-two punch in the state on both football and basketball. Both are beloved and wonderful meat and potatoes broadcasters. Seeing that Joe Tait has won the Ohio award eight times triggers thoughts of a man who arguably was the NBA’s best ever broadcaster on radio. He connected those dots fluently and flawlessly. Joe’s 81 and caring for his wife Jean who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, Joe has health battles himself. I badly miss his broadcasts and so do Cavs fans in Northeast Ohio.
- The award started in 1959. Broadcast titans Red Barber and Marty Glickman were active then but never honored with a yearly award. The organization did recognize them by electing both icons into the NSMA Hall of Fame.
- In Oregon, Bill Schonley won it three times. He was the original voice of the Blazers. Brian Wheeler who’s been with the team for twenty years has won it only once. Schonz couldn’t shine Wheeler’s shoes. Mike Parker has won it a handful of times. He calls Oregon State and is excellent. If you ever wondered what Vin Scully would sound like doing hoops, listen to Mike. It’s a similar cadence. No one will ever come close to Vin himself but Parker will give you a taste for what the great master would sound like doing basketball.
- Hawaii is interesting too. Al Michaels, Harry Kalas and Ken Wilson, all of whom won best in the 50th state, doing minor league ball there, later moved on to call MLB in the contiguous 48. And why didn’t the colorful Les Keiter ever win it there? He was known as The General in Hawaii, where he anchored sports on television, called minor league ball and University of Hawaii sports. Les was a creative master of baseball recreations. When the Giants left New York for California, he recreated the Giants games on New York radio, using sound effects and other entertaining tools.
- In Florida, there’s a treasure, as I’m sure there are in other states. He’s Gene Deckerhoff and a tough guy not to love. Gene broadcasts with heart and with enthusiasm. Unlike others, when the teams he covers (Bucs and Florida State) are being badly beaten, Gene still sounds like he’s having fun. As such, so is the listener. Other announcers play the victim when their teams are down. They are solemn; it’s a turnoff. The late Larry Munson, the iconic voice of Georgia football was one of the few guys who would be down when the Dawgs were losing and would rasp about it in colorful jargon. Munson made the broadcasts fun, win or lose.
National Hall of Fame
The NSMA also selects a Hall of Famer for both writing and broadcasting. I’m delighted to see that the wry witted, understated and distinctively voiced Skip Caray is on the ballot this year. In the 80s, when the Braves were on Turner, the country enjoyed Caray’s work. We haven’t heard much about him since his passing in 2008. Frankly, I don’t know why. He was comfortable behind the mic doing baseball, football or basketball and in fact did all these sports nationally for Turner; Braves, an NFL package, the Hawks and other NBA games. He did it all with a unique and dry style. Fans loved imitating him. Skip was the son of the legendary Harry Caray and the dad of Chip Cray, now a Braves announcer himself.
Let me recognize a few writers who are up for national Hall of Fame honors. Most know Tony Kornheiser from Pardon the Interruption. He spent most of his years writing and was exceptional. Peter King who too has crossed both worlds; columnist and on-air. Peter has made a smooth transition from SI to nbcsports.com . Peter was once a sports media critic in Cincinnati. I always liked the New York Times’ Bill Rhoden. He was never afraid to voice his strong opinions, even 35 years ago when it wasn’t so fashionable to do so.
Suggestion: National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association’s State by State Hall of Fame:
Still, given the unevenness of the state selections, it might be worth considering establishing a figurative state by state Hall of Fame. A national committee can determine those who gets in. Like politics, sportscasting and writing are essentially local. These are the first names I would include in these states:
|Idaho||Paul J. Schneider|
|New Mexico||Mike Roberts|
|New York||Red Barber|
|North Carolina||Woody Durham|
|Oklahoma||Bob Barry, Sr.|
|Rhode Island||Chris Clark|
|South Carolina||Bob Fulton|
|Utah||Hot Rod Hundley|
|West Virginia||Jack Fleming|