Announcers

SoCal Voices of the past: Scully, Hearn, Enberg, Miller, Kelley and Lawler were among the best

As Los Angeles’ population ballooned, in the 60s through 80s, no two local announcers will be praised with such heartfelt enthusiasm than Vin Scully and Chick Hearn. For that matter. there were sports debates on the streets of SoCal as to who of this duo galvanized fans more, Are they doing it with unique individuality or catchy deliveries.

In Southern California, the pro teams came pushing into town with even more alacrity, the second with more energy than the first.

1946 – Catching up with the Rams today is harder than finding their way through a maize. The adventure might turned into a subway from Cleveland to Los Angeles, to St. Louis, and back to SoCal.  There were bankruptcies and mergers. After a peripatetic trips to SoCal,  the Rams had an excellent radio caller, Bob Kelley, who traced his roots from Cleveland. But in 1966, at age 49, he suffered a heart attack and passed. He was succeeded by Dick Enberg, who spent 11 years with the club. For the NFL, SoCal was like a Wild-West.

1958 The Dodgers’ home was labeled Brooklyn and Scully with a microphone was called Magic. Vin fell in love with So Cal and extend his career there. Owner Walter O’Malley made it lucrative for him otherwise, every paycheck The baseball team is worth close to $4.5 Billion. In 1998, Rupert Murdoch sold the team for $311 million. Few argue that Vin Scully was baseball’s most truly golden voice ever. He began in with the club in 1950 at age 22 and retired at 67 in 2016. Learning assiduously from his magnificent use of the English language is to be educated by Einstein.

Billy Packer, Dick Enberg and Al McGuire were very special. They’re all gone now. 

 

1960 – The Lakers arrived in SoCal from Minneapolis, made the playoffs that very first year. It’s when the Lakers found a radio outlet. After the season, Short hired Chick Hearn to call games exclusively on radio and TV. The club had fellows like Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. The owner was Robert Short who sold the club in 1965 to Jack Kent Cooke. In 1979, Cooke sold the Lakers to to Jerry Buss for $68 million and real estate property. It’s now valued at an estimated $6.4 Billion.

1967 – When the NHL doubled in size from six to twelve, the Kings shared the Forum with the Lakers under the aegis of Kent Cooke. More and more Easterners moved West and hockey grew in time. Jiggs McDonald did the games the club’s first five seasons, 1967-’72. Bob Miller came along in 1973 as a simulcaster. He retired in 2017. Nick Nickson is still with the club, having joined the team in 1981.

1977 All the years after arriving from Buffalo in San Diego, one of the precious gifts for many was Ralph Lawler. Right on it and now retired. Never made a to-do of himself, He just painted a pretty and simple picture. The Clippers were bad perennially. Sterling wanted The league had to chase Donald Sterlng to sell the club .  

* * *

One hundred plus years after his birth, we can all learn lifelong lessons from Chick Hearn. Yes, talent, energy and creativity are gifts given him at his birth. Yet glittering success comes only though dedication, commitment, preparation, loyalty and passion. Hearn didn’t miss a Lakers’ broadcast from 1965 to 2001. Whether it was an illness or a travel challenge, he found his way to the microphone every single night. One day, the team was playing in Houston and Chick’s heart acted up. He was taken to a local hospital where he underwent a blood transfusion. Doctors insisted that he stay in the hospital for observation. Chick would have nothing of it. Strong willed, he proceeded to the arena.

The longtime Los Angeles columnist, Jim Murray, put it best, “Chick and the Lakers were a match made in heaven. Romeo meets Juliet stuff.”

Hearn was an excellent advertising salesperson when he returned from the military after World War II. He actually sold pharmaceuticals before diving into broadcasting.

Chick had wit and Scully grace. Both appealed to Hollywood. Scully kept his baseball opinions to himself, rarely second-guessing. When the Lakers were hurting so was Hearn. He wore the pain on his sleeve. (“The Lakers need to make a trade!” he’s shout or “Can’t anyone around here shoot the ball?”) You would never hear that from Scully. Vin’s broadcasts were were crisp, restrained and his face inscrutable.

Hearn was the first voice of the Lakers’ NBA Championships and hosted celebratory parades. He also did Bowling for Dollars. His first was in 1972 and last in 2002. He was out for a chunk of change when he turned ill. It put some extra meals on his table.

Boston’s Johnny Most and LA’s Chick Hearn partnered together in Chicago for the 1988 All-Star Game on national radio. By then, these two men were the most senior all-time, NBA Voices. Most learned hoops and how to call games descriptively under his mentorship of Marty Glickman. Both were native New Yorkers.

Once Marty established Johnny as an apprentice. he recommended him to his friend Red Auerbach, the celebrated Celtics coach. His throaty voice and broadcast career were off and running.

I asked Chick later too what it was like to be a bigtime voice in SoCal in 1956. “The man had no more than a roster in his hand. That was it. Brent Musburger on CBS interviewed them at halftime.” The Dodgers came in 1958 and I’d bet that Hearn wanted the gig. But Walter O’Malley wanted his own man and he rarely lost.

Johnny did MLB pre and post game shows in 1952 and 53. Therein after, he joined the Celtics and stayed through 1990. He developed about as raspy a voice that you can imagine. 

 

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

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Michael Green
1 year ago

This is great, and it’s interesting that LA’s two most beloved voices, Vin and Chick, were so different in so many ways in how they approached the broadcast. The reference to Chick as fan and critic reminds me of one of my favorites: “Marge could have made that shot.” Everybody knew he meant his wife. How often did Vin mention his beloved Sandi? I can remember one when suddenly Jerry Doggett was back on to do the 9th, and eventually Vin came back on and said that he had just gotten a call that Sandi was in a minor auto… Read more »

rjeffclark
rjeffclark
1 year ago

Bob Starr spent several years with the Angels (and Rams?) as well and was a really good announcer. Also spent time at KMOX in St Louis and with the Red Sox.

Michael Green
1 year ago
Reply to  rjeffclark

He’s often overlooked in comparison, but there are people who say he was one of the best radio football announcers ever. I should have mentioned him. And I always got a kick out of a long drive when he would say, “That ball is well struck.”