The Voice of the NBA turns 77 next month
The pioneer and icon Marty Glickman showed him the ropes. Marv Albert was more than ready. It didn’t take much time before his name sprouted like skyscrapers off the Manhattan streets. As Madison Square Garden rocked so did his Knicks and Rangers radio broadcasts. Marv was a star.
These were the days when video coverage of games from Madison Square Garden was available only on cable; still a media novelty in the late 60s and early 70s. But limited to parts of Manhattan, the metropolitan area hung on Marv’s every word on the radio.
Marv was still in college in 1963 when Glickman had him broadcast a Knicks-Celtics game on New York’s WCBS. By his own admission, he was scared out of his wits; sitting at the Boston Garden not far from the beloved Celts' voice Johnny Most.
If ace Bob Feller was on the mound at 17, there was Vin Scully in the Dodgers’ booth at 22. If eye-popping LeBron James was a phenom at18, there was Marv Albert behind a mic at 21.
Everything about Marv’s youth and rise were remarkable. And If you’re good, you get lucky. Marv rode the coattails of successes of the Garden’s teams.
After doing Army football for a season nationally, he was voice of the Giants at 32. He then started doing television of regional college basketball games. In time, he also anchored sports on WNBC TV’s 6 and 11 o’clock news.
New York is a prosperous place to shine. The biggies in the suits watch every day. Before long, Marv did the NFL and boxing nationally for NBC. Another huge break occurred in the 90s when NBC got NBA rights. While Dick Enberg was the network’s lead voice, Marv was the NBA thoroughbred already in the stable. So his career grew in lockstep with Michael Jordan’s whose soundtrack he essentially voiced. Life couldn’t have been better.
It came to a screeching halt in 1997 when Marv was involved with a woman and guilty of a sexual indiscretion. He was almost immediately dropped by NBC and MSG. Marv then smartly stayed away from the public limelight.
Americans get a charge from the downfall of a public figure but they’re also good about forgetting and forgiving. Not long after his precipitous fall, Albert rose from the ashes and was given the mic again at center stage. He was back in the good graces of his previous employers and he began to reinforce his legacy as the ultimate television voice of the NBA.
But now Marv fights a battle that no one has won yet; Bernard Kalb called it the tyranny of the clock. Albert is fighting odds that are not promising. He’s the road team going into the old Boston Garden to win a seventh game of a playoff series.
History doesn't bode well. There's never been a network play-by-play announcer who maintained prominence deep into his 70s. They're generally gone, retired or put out to pasture. Think of the big network names of the past who’ve faded off screens as they got older; Verne Lundquist, Tom Hammond, Curt Gowdy, Keith Jackson, Mike Patrick, Pat Summerall, Ray Scott, Dick Enberg and Jim Simpson.
Brent Musburger is gone too, someone who’s called NBA titles, Final Fours and college football championships. But he’s versatile and equally comfortable in a studio, on the field or in the booth. Smartly, he took his wares to Vegas and is vibrant on VSiN. The Supreme Court vote on gambling won’t hurt him either.
Announcers will tell you that they or their wives will know when it’s time to quit. But it doesn’t work that way. The networks know first. Announcers can be in denial. Aging, fading voices and mistakes tend to intersect and load on executives’ radar screens. Still, if Marv maintains his sharpness, his health holds up, his voice remains in sufficient fettle, he might be the first to call network games in his 80s. He turns 77 next month and told the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand that he feels 35.
If there's any one guy who can break new ground it's Marv. He defied odds at the front end of his career and now he's at the precipice of doing it on the back end.
Vin Scully was remarkable. His word retention and retrieval were flawless at 89, his last season with the Dodgers. Like Scully, the Suns’ Al McCoy is a remarkable story. Imagine, he still hops on and off midnight charters, has his routine uprooted, sits in the nosebleeds and paints beautiful pictures on radio. McCoy turned 85 in April and works a full and enduring NBA schedule. Locally though it's one thing. Network is another. There are no lifetime play-by-play contracts.
Maybe 80 is the new 70. But if Marv slips, would fans rather have a new commoditized voice or Marv at 90%? Ask NBA fans who the announcers are on Turner, they’ll likely have an immediate opinion on Kenny Smith, Shaq and Charles Barkley. Play-by-play and color teams are not quite the focus they were.
Retirement is one of those things. Keith Jackson enjoyed special time with his bride, soaking in Southern California sunsets. Enberg kept active writing and looking forward to teach before his sudden death in December. Some announcer can't retire. They’re just so identified with their work that they can't move on.
Network play-by-play announcers are always under the microscope. Social media lets nothing slip. Then the networks pounce.
Five top-class giants whose legacies have permeated my sportscasting workplace
My mother, god bless her, has a love for old classical music. Listening to her favorite composers, her eyes still well up today as they did when I was a child. As I got older, I learned that mom's tears are of appreciation, not sadness. Her emotions are triggered when classical compositions reach depths beyond my comprehension.
My escape was broadcast sports. Announcers took me to stadiums and arenas crosstown and across America. I developed a fondness for the art of broadcasting sports, from the basics to the nuances, to the theater of the mind.
Whether cheerfully distant or naturally warm, these five gentlemen fostered my love for the beauty of the craft. Through the last five decades, each cultivated a lasting bond; transmitting a spark of sorts that washed over me indelibly.
In alphabetical order, allow me to pay homage to each one:
Bob Costas is extraordinary at whatever he does. His mind is encyclopedic, He's fantastically quick on the learning curve and delivers impromptu dissertations on a wide range of topics as no one in broadcast sports can do extemporaneously.
He spins humorous yarns and takes serious stands, whether on football concussions, baseball playoffs or even politics. He is never ever at a loss for the right word whether it’s a simple phrase, "Vin Scully's broadcasts have a melody to them” or dubbing a non-reformer as an “intransigent ideologue.” This July, Bob will receive the Ford Frick Award for baseball broadcasting excellence. Cooperstown will recognize his wonderful baseball play-by-play and obliquely, his passionate work as an unofficial ambassador of the game.
The gifted Costas blends the best of the past and the present, whether Jim McKay in the studio, Jack Whitaker at the track, Bryant Gumbel doing a probing interview or Howard Cosell's oratorical might. Bob's work at the Olympics will never be duplicated. His interviews regaled and informed viewers and his coverage was concise and eloquent.
The man's legacy is overshadowed only by the good he does for others; budding broadcasters, authors and those who appreciate his kindness and counseling.
As Marty Glickman put it to me, Enberg sounds like he simultaneously smiles when he talks.
A network mainstay for so long, Dick captured human interest angles better than anyone. Whether it was tennis or football, a game show or baseball, Olympic gymnastics or the Super Bowl, Enberg put viewers in players’ cleats and sneakers. He assimilated players’ trials and tribulations with their real-time accomplishments and agony. His play-by-play was a blend of anecdotes, theater, personal profiles, poetic scripts, essays, sentiments, pedagogy and life’s lessons.
The event he covered was his palette and he would then fashion the event as a microcosm of life. He sounded professorial but not pedantic. From his signature “Oh My!” nationally to “The Halo Shines tonight," during his early years calling Angels baseball, Enberg was a gifted linguist.
Late in his career, he said, “I’ve been so blessed in my more than 50 years of broadcasting to have the opportunity to do so many different sports. Each one is like a beautiful woman. I feel like I’ve been marching through a beauty contest all these years.”
Glickman’s sonorous voice filled rooms and cars for decades. In his sportscasting career in New York, from 1939 through the early 1990s, he was associated with just about everything. Ask him to do a marble match and he would find a way to paint a picture on radio. When the sightless were taken to the circus, Glickman hosted them, graphically drawing word pictures for them of elephants, clowns and high wire acts.
A pioneer basketball announcer he gave the game its broadcast nomenclature and served as the first voice of the Knicks. He called Giants’ games in the days when home games were blacked out and hosted pre and post game shows for the Brooklyn Dodgers and later the Yankees. Saturday mornings, he did local high school football games with the same zeal as an NFL playoff game. His star pupil was Marv Albert and he coached Bob Costas. He had his fingerprints on Frank Gifford, Johnny Most, Jim Gordon and so many others.Tens of other successful sportscasters felt part of his extended family.
He would sprinkle words like torpid into his broadcasts when a team was lethargic or phlegmatic when a player had a lifeless look. These were not scripted words. He was just well read.
When they say, "He put you on the 50 yard line,” they’re referring to Marty Glickman.
Scully is a once in a century broadcaster whose interest in broadcasting took root when he was a kid growing up in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. He would crawl under the family’s oversized four-legged radio to listen to college football broadcasts from faraway places. It was the roar of the crowd that gave him the goosebumps.
The New York baseball teams banned radio for fear that it would weaken attendance. It wasn’t until 1939 when Scully was 11 that the big city had daily baseball on radio. It was then that Red Barber and Mel Allen brought their southern drawls to the New York microphones.
Scully was a prodigy. At 22, he joined Barber on Brooklyn Dodgers’ broadcasts and at 25, he was with Mel Allen on NBC’s World Series coverage. His reputation swelled across the baseball world, particularly after the Dodgers moved west. He is undeniably baseball’s best announcer ever after a 67 year stellar career that ended in 2016.
As a play-by-play announcer he had every quality imaginable; charm, eloquence, the perfect word and phrase for every possible occasion (“Gibson is using the bat as a cane.”), graphic descriptive powers (“The tall righthander looks like 6 o’clock on the mound."), the art of proper pausing, a mastery of delivering punchlines, a keen eye for baseball, disciplined preparation, warmth on air, a sense of history, a storyteller galore, the restraint to keep quiet to defer to the roar of the crowd and an unparalleled ability to punctuate the big occasion with the perfect caption (“In the year of the improbable, the impossible has happened.”).
In his years doing the World Series on national radio, I sat with a notebook, transcribing his phrases and marveling over his brilliance. It sounded so natural but the only one who could do it immaculately was Scully. I can't imagine that anyone in the foreseeable future will ever reach Scully's stature.
Joe Tait was a regional phenom who paled in visibility to others on the national stage. Yet to fans in Northern Ohio and to all budding broadcasters that he influenced nationally, he was an absolute giant. From the 1970s until he retired in 2011, Joe Tait was a basketball announcer’s basketball announcer. He called games with consistent and glistening accuracy. If the radio play-by-play announcer’s job is to connect the dots, no one did it better. He was flawless; rhythmically graphic and never missed a pass. Through Cleveland's 50,000 watt powerhouse, his Cavs' broadcasts were heard on most nights from the Rockies to Brooklyn. I wasn't the only one he touched. There were many others, including broadcasters Al Albert and Kevin Harlan.
Basketball is a game of repetitive moves and Tait found a thousand fresh ways to describe the same sequence. He had the time-in-grade, a dedication to the NBA and was duly honored by the Naismith Hall of Fame with the Curt Gowdy Award for excellence in broadcasting.
We each have our guy. Mike Emrick talks about the longtime Voice of the Ft. Wayne Comets, Bob Chase, who influenced him. Tait is mine and many others too. There should be a picture of Joe Tait, near the old line that reads, “seeing it on the radio!”
We all have those artists we lionize. For mom it's classical composers, for me it's sports broadcasters. Art is art, for some it's sheet music for others it's a microphone. Under the right mood and setting, the work of the great ones can evoke a tear of appreciation.
Lundquist: Vin Scully has no peer; Didn't attend any SEC football last year but will this season, Unsure whether he'll do basketball next winter
Whether he marveled or shuddered, emoted or agonized, Verne Lundquist was never about shtick or fabrication. Emotional, yes, scripted lines, no. Jack Nicklaus’ birdie at the 1986 Masters still resonates, “Yes Sir!” Lighthearted enthusiasm, of course. A hard hit, “How do you do!”
Lundquist’s unmistakable hearty laugh has been comforting and reassuring for half a century. He’s covered it all, from the smashingly popular to the arcane. From the crunching hits of the gridiron to the elegance of figure skating, his resume defines versatility. It would take quite a reach to identify a sport in the last half century that he didn’t broadcast.
His assignments ran the gamut; covering the beefy on the football field to the awkward on Bowling for Dollars, No matter the venue, his intonation was unhurried.
The nation got to know him on network television where he was visible from 1974 through 2017 when he drastically cut down his workload. He started at ABC, did a couple long stints at CBS and spent time at Turner too. That’s over 40 years of bellyaching joy and lots of plane connections. In his SEC days, Lundquist, 77, says the three most dreaded words were, “Delta, connection, Atlanta.” His main home is in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, not exactly an airline hub.
When I reached him by phone, he was in his apartment overlooking downtown Austin, Texas; marveling over the view and recalling spots across the area that bring back nostalgic memories of his childhood. He tells me that he is a third of the way through Lawrence Wright’s God Saved Texas. I sensed that he was well read years ago when he used the word synchronicity in an Iron Bowl broadcast.
Verne’s dad was a Lutheran minister whom he called a dominant figure. He tells me that he had recently driven around town with his better half, Nancy, and showed her his dad’s first church. It was built in 1865 and is now a Texas museum of sorts. The oldest of his siblings, Verne was 12 when the family moved from Everett, Washington to Austin. “I was blessed with dad’s sonorous tone and a set of parents who instilled an ethical foundation. Treat people with dignity.”
Growing up in football centric Texas, he listened to lots of Southwest Conference football, made up then of Texas teams and the University of Arkansas. Games weren’t televised then. The conference had one radio package that covered all schools. The voice of the league was a Texas icon, Kern Tips, known for his colorful phrases. A fumble was a “malfunction at the junction.”
Older fans say that Keith Jackson was close in homespun lingo to Tips . When the ball was inside the one yard line, Kern would say “The ball is on
[caption id="attachment_2181" align="alignright" width="299"] Former President Obama, a basketball junkie, joins Verne Lundquist at courtside[/caption]the lip of the cup.” A knee-high catch by a receiver in Kerneese was “pickin 'em off the daisies.” Lundquist didn’t go that road of jargon. Still, Tips' broadcasts influenced his love for football. It is said that in the 1950s, most homes had Tips’ play-by-play bellowing from virtually all porches and door steps, so much so that a radio wasn’t needed in Texas on football Saturdays.
Verne and I caught up. He was generous with his time and we covered lots of ground.
Let’s start with people. You’ve had close-knit friendships with many of your broadcast colleagues. The one with Bill Raftery strikes me as special.
Raf and I hit it off when we worked our first game together. It was in Columbia, South Carolina a long time ago. We developed a close friendship and relished working together. When Mark Wolf and Suzanne Smith, CBS production people, referred to us years later, we were simply known as “The Sunshine Boys.”
At Turner, your partner was Hubie Brown. He’s in his mid 80s and going strong?
Hubie is extraordinary and easy to parody. It’s part of his charm.
Vin Scully. Thoughts?
I can recall being with the Cowboys in Thousand Oaks, California and watching a Dodgers’ game on television in my hotel room. I was staggered by the way he regaled his audience with anecdote after anecdote during a 45 minute rain delay.
A number of years ago, I was honored with Fordham University’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Vin, of course, is a Fordham alum. The next day Bob Costas called to congratulate me and says “Did the hair on your arm not stand when you listened to Scully’s introduction of you; recorded in the Dodger’s booth?” You bet!
Scully is without peer.
So you’re doing the NFL for CBS in the late 1990s. Life’s pretty good and the winds of change start blowing. Tell us about the move to the SEC.
There were rumblings that Dick Enberg would leave NBC which had lost the NFL, be hired by CBS and assigned my role as #2 on the NFL. Enberg was still doing NBC’s Notre Dame football.
I saw Dick that May at the Kentucky Derby. I told him what a good job he was doing with Pat Hayden on the Irish broadcastss. He winced and said to me, “It’s not the NFL!” But I wasn’t convinced that Enberg would accept a number two role at CBS to Jim Nantz. Then I heard from Sean McManus who asked me something like, “If we get Dick, would you have an interest in the SEC package?” I told my wife Nancy, I think we’ll be packing our bags for Tuscaloosa.
Did you go back to the SEC last season, your first year off the assignment. Keith Jackson said he had pangs on Saturdays, feeling he should be at a game somewhere.
I didn’t have pangs and I deliberately stayed away. I kept my distance last season. I thought I would be an unnecessary distraction. Nancy and I did watch the games every Saturday and we really looked forward to them.
Sean McManus (CBS sports chief) and I had mutually agreed that I would step aside. We both wanted a smooth transition. I’m delighted it was Brad Nessler who got the assignment. In fact, Sean asked me what I thought of Brad and I agreed he was perfect. I’ve known him for years, from the time he did Falcons radio.
But you’ll be going back to watch a game or two next season. What will it be like being there, but not announcing?
I did the SEC for 17 years. It was so much a part of my stature and my craft of broadcasting.
Other than being invited to attend one Cowboys’ game with Roger Staubach, I haven’t been to a football game in the last 40 years unless I was calling it. So I’ll let you know how it goes when I go back in the fall. I’ll find out. I’ll be as far away from the booth as possible. I won’t be standing behind anyone or anything like it.
You were back to broadcast the Masters this year but didn’t come back for basketball. What happened?
I had back surgery. I really wasn’t up to it. Doing four games that first day of the tournament is a challenge for anyone, particularly for someone recovering from surgery. That first day is fraught with peril. By the nightcap of the evening doubleheader, you’re drained. It’s easy to lose concentration or to drift. It requires great discipline. Younger guys feel it too.
Will you be back for hoops next season?
Unsure at this point. We’ll readdress it in September.
You did NBA games for CBS and then Turner. How would you compare it to the college game?
The NBA experience is more form. The entertainment is more scripted. In college, everything that surrounds the game, the bands, the cheerleaders and the chants are wonderful.
You did radio for the Cowboys. How do you compare the medium to working television?
As a broadcaster on radio, you can dictate the direction of the broadcast as long as you stay on course. Television is dictated by so many factors. There are many people involved and people talking in your ear. You have to keep your eye on the monitor, not to stray too far from what the viewer is seeing. Radio, you are very much on your own.
You did a Cowboys game on radio, filling in for Brad Sham not very long ago.
It was lots of fun. I was excited. I hadn’t been to the Cowboys’ new stadium. But I was warned by Brad, “Wait till you get there.” He said, “You’ll need to use the monitor.” From the 20 yard-line in, there are spots the radio announcer just can’t see. Thank goodness for the big video board.
For so many years, the old Southwest Conference football games were called by the legendary Kern Tips. Televised games through the mid 1970s were a rarity. Tips was known statewide. Tell us about him. Did he influence you?
Yes, he did. Absolutely.
He really had no color man as we know it today. There was a professional announcer alongside, (Alec Chessor) who read the commercials and provided an occasional stat.
In those years, the announcers were told not to share news of injuries, not to alarm parents or family tuned in. I remember listening to a Texas game at Southern Cal. All of a sudden, Chris Gilbert, Texas’ running back, was out of the game. Nothing was said of why he left. All we hear about is his back up. Different times!
I grew up listening to Tips. One of the great thrills I had was standing by his side on a broadcast and keeping his stats. Kern’s phrases were legendary. He was very descriptive, used good adjectives and was loved throughout Texas.
Other guys who influenced you?
Charlie Jones recommended me for the Channel 8 job in Dallas where he was working. I started my career in Austin and Charlie came down to cover the Texas Relays. He had the lead role on the broadcasts and I was interviewing the winners. He pulled me aside and told me that he was leaving to join NBC and suggested that I apply for the Dallas job. I didn’t get it then but I did get it after his successor left. Charlie was tremendous. He did NBC football for years. His track coverage was outstanding too but his career was done in when he called the wrong winner in the 800 meter race in the 1988 Olympics. Dick Ebersol (longtime NBC Sports boss) took him off track and relegated him to diving.
If you were asked by budding broadcasters for three tips, what would they be?
Recently, Verne, who admits he's emotional, was reminded by a friend, how choked up he got at the end of his parting comments on his final football telecast (Army-Navy, 2016). Verne told him, “I’m surprised, I made it through the beginning!"
Lessons from Vin Scully, Cawood Ledford and Harry Kalas, The uproarious Francesa debate, How Mel Allen was hired by the Yanks + the NBA announcer who's also a firefighter
The Preakness is scheduled for tomorrow. Contributor Barry Kipnis reminds us of what is likely the Triple Crown’s most famous (or infamous) broadcast call ever. The interesting and historic story is below.
Jerry Schemmel: Rockies’ Radio Voice and Survivor of Deadly United Airlines Crash Tests Life’s Limits
11 month old Schemmel pulled from wreckage of ’89 crash, died of drug overdose in ‘09
Jerry Schemmel stared death in the eye and survived. Of the 296 on board, 111 didn’t.
He played college baseball at DII Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. After getting his undergraduate degree in 1982, he earned his law degree there in 1985. Schemmel pursued a career in sports and before long was deputy commissioner of the Continental Basketball Association, reporting to Jay Ramsdell, the league’s commissioner.
At 75, Brennaman makes his broadcast plans one year at a time
My good friend Andy Furman, a Cincinnati radio figure for decades, sat down for a question and answer session with the area’s celebrated play-by-play announcer, the Reds’ Marty Brennaman.
By Joey Wahler
Did you ever know that you’re my hero?
That’s what I recently asked Jim Paige. Growing up in Brooklyn with no sports interest until age 10, Paige was the first great athlete I saw. I became sports obsessed, drawn toward sports broadcasting. Two motivating factors were hearing Marv Albert as Knicks radio voice and watching Paige play hoops.
Rome started his career by selling office equipment
Say what you want. Jim Rome is the father of national sports talk, the dean who presides over shows that are less free-form and more tightly formatted than most.
Emrick on less fighting: With 90 percent of the players in visors, it’s hard to find something to hit
NBC’s NHL voice Mike Emrick reminds many of the incomparable Vin Scully. Yes, if Scully was baseball, Emrick is hockey. And neither man is ever lost for the right word, on-air or off. Several years ago, thebiglead.com counted 153 separate verbs that Emrick used to describe the movement of the puck. Indeed, very Scully like!