Monday, February 20, 2006

The American Sportsman

Since this blog is partially devoted to radio reminiscences, it's appropriate to mention here that sportscaster Curt Gowdy died today. His name won't mean much to you unless you grew up in the 1970s, when he was one of the best-known and most recognizable sportscasters in the business. The standard one-liner on Gowdy is that he's the former voice of the Boston Red Sox--but that's East Coast media bias talking. As his obituary notes, he called Sox games on radio from 1952 through 1966, which means that he's only the voice of the Red Sox if you're over the age of 50, and from New England at that. To millions of other Americans, he was a TV guy, the voice of NBC baseball coverage. He broadcast the World Series and the All-Star Game, but most importantly, NBC's Game of the Week, in an era when that really meant something--when we'd sit down on Saturday afternoons and watch whoever was on, because it was on.

Gowdy was also NBC's primary voice on AFL football--his obit mentions the famous Heidi game of 1968, but doesn't mention Super Bowl III, when the upstart New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in the most famous Super Bowl ever played. (His call of that game surfaces on ESPN Classic occasionally, as do some of his NBC baseball games.) He was also the voice of NBC's Rose Bowl coverage--for a TV sports geek such as I, it was strange to hear him do college football, but then again, that was an era when NBC did only two games a year. He also hosted the ABC outdoor show The American Sportsman.

People wonder who the Gowdys are today--the versatile next-door-neighbor types who sound, in John Updike's famous characterization of Gowdy, like your brother-in-law. There are guys who do lots of different sports, like Marv Albert, but Albert's got an edge that means he'll never be a beloved figure. There are guys who sound neighborly, like Jim Nantz of CBS, but Nantz is also fairly colorless. Most guys who become broadcasters today are colorless--the bleaching of personality and the sanding of edges is part of the training process now, unlike in Gowdy's day, when the guys in the trade made it up as they went along. Plus, the changed face of sports media--more teams, more channels, more opportunities--makes it harder for any individual broadcaster to reach a mass audience, like Gowdy did.

So I guess what I'm saying is that with Gowdy's death, we irretrievably lose a little bit more of our media history. It's a natural-enough process, but bittersweet nonetheless.


At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curt Gowdy was one of the greatest sportscasters of his time. He was NBC's answer to Ray Scott. He colored the brightest pictures with so few words. Somwhere in my stash of junk, I have Curt Gowdy's autograph. My Dad got it for me back in 1971. It turns out my Dad was staying in a hotel in Colorado and was snowed in. Curt Gowdy, Maury Wills, and the crew from The American Sportsman were filming out there and they were snowed in, too. So, my Dad got to meet Curt Gowdy and Maury Wills. I talked to my Dad today and he said he fondly remembers that. ---Shark

At 7:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about Bob Costas as Gowdy's heir?

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob Costas bugs me -- he's too perfect. I always have enjoyed Jon Miller's radio work (I grew up near Baltimore and listened to his Orioles work constantly), and he's great on ESPN doing Sunday night baseball. But then again, he's just a baseball guy. -- Dave P.


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