They are the voices in the night, the play-by-play announcers, whose calls have spouted from radio speakers after August five, 1921 when Harold Arlin named the first baseball game over Pittsburgh’s KDKA. That fall, Arlin made the premier college football broadcast. Thereafter, stereo microphones found the way of theirs into arenas and stadiums worldwide.
The initial three years of radio sportscasting provided many memorable broadcasts.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics were capped by the spectacular performances of Jesse Owens, an African American who won four gold medals, although Adolph Hitler refused to put them on his neck. The games had been broadcast in twenty eight different languages, the 1st sporting events to achieve worldwide radio coverage.
Many prominent sports radio broadcasts followed.
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On the sultry evening of June 22, 1938, NBC radio listeners joined 70,043 boxing fans at Yankee Stadium for a heavyweight struggle between champion Joe Louis and Germany’s Max Schmeling. After only 124 seconds listeners were surprised to pick up NBC commentator Ben Grauer growl “And Schmeling is down…and here is the count…” as “The Brown Bomber” scored a stunning knockout.
In 1939, New York Yankees captain Lou Gehrig created his famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. Baseball’s “iron man”, who earlier had ended the record of his 2,130 consecutive games played streak, had been identified with ALS, a chronic disease. That Fourth of July broadcast included his popular line, “…today, I consider myself probably the luckiest male on the face of the earth”.
The 1947 World Series provided among the most prominent sports radio broadcasts of all time. In game 6, with the Brooklyn Dodgers reputable the New York Yankees, the Dodgers inserted Al Gionfriddo in center field. With 2 men on base Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio, representing the tying run, came to bat. In probably the most unforgettable calls of all time, broadcaster Red Barber described what happened next:
“Here’s the pitch. Swung on, belted…it’s much an individual 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 well known sports radio broadcasts are remembered due to those phrases. Cardinals and Cubs voice Harry Caray’s “It might be, it can be, it is…a home run” is a standard. So are pioneer hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt’s “He shoots! He scores!”, Boston Bruins voice Johnny Best’s “He diddles…” and fiddles, Marv Albert’s “Yes!”
Some announcers are actually so good with words 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 brand new track record. Scully simply said, “Fast ball, there’s a very high fly to deep left center field…Buckner moves to the fence…it is…gone!”, then got up to purchase a drink of water as the group and fireworks thundered.
Announcers seldom color the broadcasts of theirs with creative phrases today as well as sports video is becoming pervasive. Still, radio’s voices in the night stick to the trails paved by memorable sports broadcasters of previous times.