Mourning Broadcasters

In a span of a short seven days, we have lost three broadcasters. Each man has helped to shape the industry. And as we go into Father’s Day weekend, we find that Jim McKay, Charlie Jones and Tim Russert were devout family men.

Last Saturday, June 7, Jim McKay of ABC Sports died in Maryland at the age of 86. McKay, the longtime host of Wide World of Sports has been remembered as a globe-trotting broadcaster, but was best known for calmly anchoring coverage of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre that killed 11 Israeli athletes. At his funeral, the Baltimore Sun reports that not only did people from the broadcasting industry attend to say goodbye, but so did people who only knew him from television. In a day of 24 hour information, McKay was well thought of. Of the tributes I have read, there has not been a negative word said about him. And sports media critics who can be some of the most jaded individuals, all came out with kind words about McKay. Jim was a man who started his career in the early days of television and defined hosting Olympic broadcasts. And there was no one better when it came to finding that one tidbit to humanize an athlete whether it be at an Olympics or at a barrel jumping event.

On Friday afternoon, word came out that Charlie Jones had died at the age of 77. Jones had a stellar career with ABC and NBC. While Jones did not have the star quality of McKay or Bob Costas, he was a solid play-by-play man. He had died Thursday just four days before his 54th wedding anniversary. While Jones called as many as 28 different sports in his career, he was best known for his calling of American and National Football League games from 1960 until 1997. When NBC started to make its own Olympic tradition, Charlie called track & field, swimming and kayaking. And he could sit in the 18th tower for golf tournaments as well as host Wimbledon. He was very versatile and had a reputation for being one of the nicest men in broadcasting. And just this year, he had started a blog. His last entry was on Monday, paying tribute to his friend, Jim McKay.

But overshadowing the news of Charlie Jones’ passing was the sudden death of NBC News Washington Bureau Chief and long-time host of Meet the Press, Tim Russert. It seemed fitting to me that Russert died at work Friday. Russert had hosted Meet the Press since 1991 and was recording a voiceover for Sunday’s program when he collapsed. Russert became Washington Bureau Chief in 1988, joining NBC News after being press secretary for New York Governor Mario Cuomo. One of the best tributes to a journalist is to say that he/she was tough, but fair. One by one, politicians and fellow journalists have paid tribute to Russert, paying him the ultimate respect. The one thing you hear from the cable news channels tonight is how devoted Tim was to his family. He adored his father, known as Big Russ, and the subject of a New York Times bestselling book, “Big Russ and Me: Father and Son: Lessons of Life“. He also adored his son, Luke who had graduated from Boston College just last week. And Russert was also a big sports fan, constantly cheering for his Buffalo Bills and the New York Yankees. From MSNBC, here are the past and present anchors for NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams talking about the impact of Russert on Sunday morning television.

All three men, McKay, Jones and Russert influenced broadcasting in one way or another. There’s one common denominator about each and every one of them and it’s a lesson for those who want to get into the business. All were no nonsense broadcasters who did not call attention to themselves. McKay, especially in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, wanted to make sure the information he reported was correct. He refused to pass along an erroneous report that the 9 surviving Israeli athletes had been freed and were alive. When it came time to report the news that all of the athletes were dead, McKay used the simple words, “They’re all gone.”

Jones called NFL games passionately and objectively. He gave the down and distance before every play. Identified the offensive player carrying the ball and the defensive player making the tackle. And after every change of possession, gave the score. He didn’t yell, he didn’t scream. When a big play happened, Charlie used the right tone of voice to convey the importance of the moment. And he was one of the best at calling track & field. Here’s Charlie’s call of the men’s 100 meters in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul that Ben Johnson won, but was later disqualfied for steroids use. To help set the scene, Charlie and his partner, Frank Shorter were silent for more than 3 minutes.

And this is Charlie’s call of the women’s 200 meters won by the late Florence Griffith-Joyner.

Finally, one of the lasting thoughts I have from the tributes to Tim Russert come from Russert himself. He said when he was given the job of hosting Meet the Press, he talked to its original host, Lawrence Spivak. When Tim asked Spivak how to host the program, Spivak told him, learn everything you can about the guest and take the other side. For 17 years, Russert has asked tough questions of his guests, but they came out knowing Russert was fair in every sense of the word.

Each man will be missed as broadcasting has lost three men who greatly influenced the industry.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.