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Famous Sports Radio Broadcasts – Keep the Thrills Alive

They are the voices of the night, the play-by-play announcers, whose calls have erupted from radio loudspeakers since August 5, 1921, when Harold Arlin called the first baseball game on Pittsburgh’s KDKA. That fall, Arlin made the first college football broadcast. Subsequently, wireless microphones found their way into stadiums and arenas around the world.

The first three decades of sports broadcasting on radio provided many memorable shows.

The 1936 Berlin Olympics were crowned by the stunning performances of Jesse Owens, an African American who won four gold medals, although Adolph Hitler refused to place them on his neck. The games were broadcast in 28 different languages, the first sporting events to gain worldwide radio coverage.

Many famous sports radio shows followed.

On the sultry night of June 22, 1938, NBC radio listeners joined 70,043 boxing fans at Yankee Stadium for a heavyweight bout between champion Joe Louis and Germany’s Max Schmeling. After just 124 seconds, listeners were stunned to hear NBC commentator Ben Grauer rumble “And Schmeling’s down…and here’s the count…” as “The Brown Bomber” scored a stunning knockout.

In 1939, New York Yankees captain Lou Gehrig gave his famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. Baseball’s ‘Iron Man’, who had previously ended his record 2,130 consecutive game streak, had been diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative disease. That 4th of July broadcast included his famous line, “…today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

The 1947 World Series provided one of the most famous sports radio broadcasts of all time. In Game 6, with the Brooklyn Dodgers leading the New York Yankees, the Dodgers slotted Al Gionfriddo into center field. With two men on base, Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio, representing the even run, came up to bat. In one of the most memorable calls of all time, broadcaster Red Barber described what happened next:

“Here’s the pitch. Swinging, belting…it’s a long deep left cross. Back goes Gionfriddo…back, back, back, back, back, back…and…HE MAKES A ONE-HANDED CATCH AGAINST THE BULLPEN! Oh, doctor!”

“Oh, doctor!” de Barber became a slogan, like many others invented by advertisers. Some of the most famous sports radio shows are remembered because of these phrases. Cardinals and Cubs voice Harry Caray “It could be, it could be, it’s…a home run” is a classic. So did pioneering hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt “He shoots! He scores!”, Boston Bruins voice “He fiddles and fools…”, “Yes!”

A few announcers have been so adept with the language that special phrases were not necessary. On April 8, 1974, Los Angeles Dodgers voice actor Vin Scully watched as Atlanta’s Henry Aaron hit home run number 715, a new record. Scully simply said, “Fast ball, there’s a high volley to deep left center field…Buckner goes back to the fence…it’s…gone!”, then got up to drink from water as crowds and fireworks thundered.

Advertisers rarely color their shows with creative phrases, and sports video has become ubiquitous. Yet the voices of radio at night follow the trails blazed by the memorable sportscasters of the past.

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