"AS I SAW 'EM"
by Gil Stratton
The early practitioners of Sportscasting were always the announcers with the "pear-shaped" tones and immaculate diction. Ted Husing was the most erudite, who when setting a college football defense, referred to the secondary and even the “tertiary”. Other names that may flog your memory of those early days of radio sports include: Graham McNamee, Clem McCarthy, Ed Thorgeson, and my personal favorite, Bill Stern.
Stern got his break when he was reporting from the beach in Atlantic City on a fire aboard the cruise ship Morro Castle, just off shore. Several reporters took part in the coverage of a serious disaster, but when they gave the mike to Stern he took off and never returned it to his colleagues.
Announcers covering special events made a smooth transition into broadcasting sports, and Bill Stern was the most dramatic. One of his plum assignments every season was the Army-Navy game. It was Stern who first called the cadets, “the black Knights of the Hudson” for their black jerseys and gold helmets. If Army was moving toward a first down with short yardage to go, this might have been Bill Stern’s description.
"It’s so close they are going to have to measure. I will let the crowd call it for you. If Army made the first down, you’ll know by the roar from the cadets rooting section across the way. However, if Navy stopped them, the midshipmen will shout their approval". And so it went, always descriptive and always colorful. Stern had a clipped delivery, and used his voice as dramatically as any actor. He was fun to listen to, and it was always exciting. Some say he made even dull games sound exciting with his colorful calls. He was my idle as a kid, he was the best, he was what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Stern also hosted a weekly show for Palmolive Shave Cream, "The Sportsreel", that took his drama to new heights. After building up some athlete, and describing his wonderful achievements, Stern would take a beat and sum it up with something like, “and that boy today, is known the world over as Pope John the 3rd. Following another dramatic pause, Bill would then say, “Reel Three”, and they cut to a commercial. Facts never interfered with a good story.
Unfortunately for Stern, Television came on the scene. You see in radio football broadcasts he could say Jones was running from the 40 to the 30, to the 20, and then laterals to Smith at the goal line for the touchdown. That way, the Sunday newspapers would have the account of the game with Smith scoring , and Stern with late help from his spotter, would have finally gotten the correct ballcarrier for the score. But his inaccuracy on the tube ended his career.
For example, in Los Angeles local fans knew that USC’s star running back, O.J. Simpson wore number 32, and Jon Arnett was number 26. If during his Rose Bowl coverage Bill Stern would credit Arnett with carrying the ball on a play, and viewers at home could see it was number 32 not 26, they knew it was O.J. during his earlier happier days, and not “Jaguar Jon”. No dramatics could overcome Stern’s inaccuracy, and his career was over.
Sports fans know their players and insist that sportscasters get it right the first time, and TV has allowed the fans to judge the accuracy.