They are the voices in the night, the play-by-play announcers, whose calls have spouted from radio speakers since August 5, 1921 when Harold Arlin called the first baseball game over Pittsburgh’s KDKA. That fall, Arlin made the premier college football broadcast. Thereafter, radio microphones found their way into stadiums and arenas worldwide.
The first three decades of radio sportscasting provided many memorable broadcasts.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics were capped by the stunning performances of Jesse Owens, an African-American who won four gold medals, although Adolph Hitler refused to place them on his neck. The games were broadcast in 28 different languages, the first sporting events to achieve worldwide radio coverage.
Many famous sports radio broadcasts followed.
On the sultry night of June 22, 1938, NBC radio listeners joined 70,043 boxing fans at Yankee Stadium for a heavyweight fight between champion Joe Louis and Germany’s Max Schmeling. After only 124 seconds listeners were astonished to hear NBC commentator Ben Grauer growl “And Schmeling is down…and here’s the count…” as “The Brown Bomber” scored a stunning knockout.
In 1939, New York Yankees captain Lou Gehrig made his famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. Baseball’s “iron man”, who earlier had ended his record 2,130 consecutive games played streak, had been diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative disease. That Fourth of July broadcast included his famous line, “…today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth”.
The 1947 World Series provided one of the most famous sports radio broadcasts of all time. In game six, with the Brooklyn Dodgers leading the New York Yankees, the Dodgers inserted Al Gionfriddo in center field. With two men on base Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio, representing the tying run, came to bat. In one of the most memorable calls of all time, broadcaster Red Barber described what happened next:
“Here’s the pitch. Swung on, belted…it’s a long one to deep left-center. Back goes Gionfriddo…back, back, back, back, back, back…and…HE MAKES A ONE-HANDED CATCH AGAINST THE BULLPEN! Oh, doctor!”
Barber’s “Oh, doctor!” became a catchphrase, as did many others coined by announcers. Some of the most famous sports radio broadcasts are remembered because of those phrases. Cardinals and Cubs voice Harry Caray’s “It might be, it could be, it is…a home run” is a classic. So are pioneer hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt’s “He shoots! He scores!”, Boston Bruins voice Johnny Best’s “He fiddles and diddles…”, Marv Albert’s “Yes!”
A few announcers have been so skilled with language that special phrases were unnecessary. On April 8, 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers voice Vin Scully watched as Atlanta’s Henry Aaron hit home run number 715, a new record. Scully simply said, “Fast ball, there’s a high fly to deep left center field…Buckner goes back to the fence…it is…gone!”, then got up to get a drink of water as the crowd and fireworks thundered.
Announcers rarely color their broadcasts with creative phrases now and sports video has become pervasive. Still, radio’s voices in the night follow the trails paved by memorable sports broadcasters of the past.
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