They’re the voices in the night, the play-by-play announcers, whose calls have spouted from radio speakers since August 5, 1921 when Harold Arlin named the original baseball game over Pittsburgh’s KDKA. That fall, Arlin made the premier college football broadcast. Thereafter, stereo microphones found their way into arenas along with stadiums worldwide.
The very first 3 years of radio sportscasting provided many memorable broadcasts.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics were capped by the beautiful performances of Jesse Owens, an African-American who won four gold medals, although Adolph Hitler refused to position them on his neck. The games were broadcast in twenty eight different languages, the first sporting events to achieve world-wide radio coverage.
Many famous sports radio broadcasts followed.
On the sultry evening of June 22, 1938, NBC radio listeners joined 70,043 boxing fans at Yankee Stadium for a heavyweight fight between champion Joe Louis and Germany’s Max Schmeling. After only 124 seconds listeners were blown away to hear NBC commentator Ben Grauer growl “And Schmeling is down…and here is the count…” as “The Brown Bomber” scored a spectacular 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 his record 2,130 consecutive games played streak, was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative condition. That Fourth of July broadcast included the popular line of his, “…today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the experience of the earth”.
The 1947 World Series provided by far the most famous sports radio broadcasts of all time. In game 6, with the Brooklyn Dodgers best 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 Reddit Boxing Streams of the most memorable calls of all time, broadcaster Red Barber described what happened next:
“Here’s the pitch. Swung on, belted…it’s a great deal of one 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!” grew to become a catchphrase, as did many others coined by announcers. Some of the most well known sports radio broadcasts are recalled because of those phrases. Cardinals and Cubs voice Harry Caray’s “It could be, it could be, it is…a home run” is a traditional. So are pioneer hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt’s “He shoots! He scores!”, Boston Bruins voice Johnny Best’s “He fiddles and diddles…”, Marv Albert’s “Yes!”
Several announcers are actually very great with words that specific phrases have been unnecessary. On April eight, 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers voice Vin Scully watched as Atlanta’s Henry Aaron hit home run number 715, a brand new history. Scully just stated, “Fast ball, there’s a very high fly to deep left center field…Buckner heads back to the fence…it is…gone!”, then got up to buy a drink of water as the herd and fireworks thundered.
Announcers seldom color the broadcasts of theirs with inventive phrases today and sports video has become pervasive. Still, radio’s voices in the evening follow the trails paved by memorable sports broadcasters of previous times.