The probably least known of the three was Charlie Jones, a sports announcer for most of his career with NBC-TV. Jones, who died at 77 June 12, came to NBC from ABC when the American Football League switched networks to NBC in the mid-1960s.
Jones was a versatile announcer, covering, while at NBC, the NFL (he called the famous Packers–Steelers Yancey Thigpen game at the end of the 1995 season, the Packers’ first division title team with Brett Favre at the controls), a college football national championship game, baseball (he also was the first announcer for the Colorado Rockies), college basketball, Olympic track and field, golf, tennis, figure skating and other sports, including the 1970s oddity "Almost Anything Goes."
If you didn’t know who Jones was from his face, you knew him from his voice. Jones came from the generation whose voices were shaped by smoking and adult beverages. (The most notable example of this may have been the gravel-voiced Boston Celtics announcer Johnny Most, who smoked so much that he once set his own pants on fire during a Celtics game he was announcing.)
Despite that, if you’ve ever wondered why so many sports announcers lasted long into their 70s, or why there are so many second- and even third-generation sports announcers, it probably has to do with Jones’ quote: “I never felt like I ever went to work. I’ve got the best seat in the house.”
A memorial service is being held for him Wednesday at the La Jolla,
McKay, who died at 86 on June 7, introduced a lot of different sports (more than 100 in 40 countries, according to ESPN) to a lot of households. When “Wide World of Sports” debuted in 1961, sports on TV was basically limited to college or pro football, pro basketball and baseball, with a rare pro hockey game thrown in. “Wide World of Sports” introduced viewers to sports now shown on TV all the time, including golf (he announced each of the four majors, including the Masters for CBS, where he worked before he went to ABC), track and field, gymnastics, horse racing and auto racing, plus the Harlem Globetrotters, jumping various large objects with motorcycles, Irish hurling, lumberjack sports in northern Wisconsin, snowmobile races in northern Wisconsin, Mexican cliff diving, and Little League baseball. (He also announced perhaps the two most improbable U.S. Open golf wins of all time, both won by Wisconsinite Andy North. The two U.S. Opens were two of the three golf tournaments North won in his career.)
McKay also brought the Olympics to millions of TV viewers as the host of ABC winter and summer Olympics coverage. The worst, from anyone’s perspective, would be the 1972 kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists. McKay covered the entire 15-hour crisis and had the duty of announcing that all 11 had been killed — “They’re all gone,” he said.
The best, besides introducing
McKay was one of a seemingly dwindling number of sports announcers who never, ever thought that he was bigger than whatever event he was covering. He never spoke down to viewers (unlike his ABC colleague Howard Cosell), but he also never treated whatever sport he was covering, however obscure, as being beneath him. To quote Sports Illustrated, he was “preironic,” someone who thought of sports as “fun than funny.”
The saddest media death of the past week was Tim Russert, host of NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” who died at NBC’s
Russert came to the media from politics, where he worked for New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. For that matter, he came to the media as an executive, not an on-air face, but his position included running NBC’s
Cuomo and Moynihan were Democrats, yet Russert was rarely accused of liberal bias, although some of his interview subjects confused tough questioning for bias. Russert was famous for reading back, or playing back, quotes from whatever politician was on the hot seat that week when they were directly opposite whatever said politician was arguing at that moment. “Meet the Press” became known as the “Russert primary,” although, as with McKay, you never got the feeling he felt he was bigger than the story he was covering — in other words, he earned his status because he did the work, not because he was famous.
Russert’s most famous single moment came during NBC’s 2000 election night coverage, when he figured out that the key to the presidential election was going to be Florida. He grabbed a whiteboard at one point and wrote “
Russert obviously loved politics, but not to the exclusion of everything else. He wrote a best-selling book, Big Russ and Me: Father and Son: Lessons of Life, about his father, from whom he got his blue-collar work ethic and values. He was married for 25 years and had one son, Luke, with whom he had recently vacationed in
As the Associated Press put it Sunday, “The abrupt void Russert leaves is unprecedented in network TV news. … There was no immediate word on who would host "Meet the Press" next week, or in the weeks after that.”