Friday, March 20, 2015

Sports Announcers I Grew Up With: Jim McKay

There is a special place in my heart for the radio and TV sports announcers I grew up with. From ABC's Wide World of Sports to roller derby and wrestling, and everything in between, sports was a big part of my life growing up. At my house, we watched on TV whatever sport was 'in season,' especially on Saturday's. If there was a sports event on radio, we listened to it. I was very blessed to grow up with many now- legendary voices and characters. Today, I want to pay tribute to Jim McKay.

Growing up, one of my favorite things to watch on Saturday afternoon was ABC's Wide World of Sports. Jim McKay was the host of that program for 37 years, from 1961 until 1998. ABC's Wide World of Sports had other hosts but no one ever matched McKay's long tenure. Several well-known play by play announcers worked on the program, including Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, Curt Gowdy, Keith Jackson and Brent Musburger, as well as McKay. Reporters included David Letterman and O. J. Simpson. Analysts included Mickey Mantle and Bill Russell. In 2007, ABC's Wide World of Sports was named by Time Magazine on its list of the 100 best television programs of all-time.

"Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport... the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat... the human drama of athletic competition... This is ABC's Wide World of Sports! ” (Jim McKay)
ABC's Wide World of Sports'melodramatic introduction, voiced by McKay, became a national catchphrase that is often heard to this day. While "the thrill of victory" had several symbols over the decades, ski jumper Vinko Bogataj, whose dreadful misjump and crash during a competition on March 21, 1970 was featured from the early 1970s onward heard over the sentence "...and the agony of defeat", became a hard-luck hero of sorts, and an affectionate icon for stunning failure. Previously, the footage played with that phrase was that of another ski jumper who made a long, almost successful jump, but whose skis lost vertical alignment shortly before landing, leading to a crash.

The Munich Massacre

McKay did other things for ABC outside of Wide World of Sports, including the Kentucky Derby, the British Open and the Indianapolis 500. Who can forget his memorable reporting on the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics? While covering the 1972 Summer Olympics for ABC, McKay took on the job of reporting the events leading up to the massacre live on his only scheduled day off. He was on air for fourteen hours without a break, during a sixteen hour broadcast. When the rescue of the athletes held hostage failed, McKay came on the air with this statement:

"When I was a kid my father used to say "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized." Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were 11 hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone."
- Jim McKay, 1972.


McKay was born into an Irish American Roman Catholic family in Philadelphia in 1921. When he was 14, his family moved to Baltimore. Later, he received a bachelor's degree from Loyola College. During World War II, McKay served in the United States Navy as the captain of a minesweeper.

In 1947, McKay gave up his job as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun newspapers to join that same organization's new TV station. He joined CBS in New York in 1950 as host of a variety show, called The Real McKay. Through the 1950s, sports commentary became more and more his primary assignment. He moved on to ABC and in 1961, became host of ABC's influential Wide World of Sports for 37 years.

Jim McKay died in 2008 at the age of 86.

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