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Wednesday, 12 February 2014 18:25

Remembering the glory of sports radio

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Let’s talk some sports radio. I began thinking about this piece the afternoon before the Super Bowl. The Panthers were out of it … but I still listened. I’d listen to the play-by-play of a ping-pong match, so long as it’s broadcast on the radio. 

 

We don’t have a TV. I do have six radios. Two are in my vehicle: the AM-FM regular receiver, and a Sirius XM satellite hookup. There are three Sirius XM hookups located, respectively, in the kitchen, my office and the bedroom. That way I won’t miss a play if I have to change rooms when Tar Heel football or basketball are on the air. (I probably need one in the bathroom, too.)  And just in case the satellite crashes or an ice storm trashes the power lines, I can pull out Old Faithful: my CC Radio Plus battery-powered DX model receiver with a TV Band Weather Alert system.              

If the Tar Heels aren’t playing, I can crank up as many as four football games at any given moment. That way, I can walk from room to room and out to the car and back, listening to Clemson-USC in the kitchen; Tennessee-Vanderbilt in my office; Alabama-Auburn  in the bedroom; and Miami-FSU in the vehicle or the yard.

The clarity of satellite radio has spoiled me. For decades I spent thousands of hours slowly scrolling through static-ridden AM-FM signals, trying to catch the score of a game that was going down to the wire. I thought nothing of driving up on the knoll in town where the graveyard is located to get a better signal. And more than once I have driven up to the parking lot at Clingmans Dome. This will sound obsessive to some. But I’ll bet not a few guys out there are nodding their heads, remembering similar behavior.

Starting about 1995, hardcore politics practically drove sports talk radio off the AM-FM air waves. From about 1965 until then, however, was a golden age of radio sports programming: Pete Franklin in Cleveland, Bob Trumpy and Chris Collinsworth in Cincinnati, Bill King and Bob Bell in Nashville, Bernard “Buddy” Diliberto in New Orleans and the immortal Larry Munson in Atlanta.

 “Hunker down you Bulldogs! … Hunker Down you hairy dogs! … Here comes Alabama down the field and we can’t stop them! … They’re coming at us and we can’t stop them! … They’re marching down the field like Sherman’s army and we can’t do anything about it! … Lord God Almighty! … Hunker Down!”

That’d be Munson doing an Alabama-Georgia game. You’d have thought the world was ending. Then he’d take a station break and you’d find out Georgia was ahead 24-10. But Munson was a piece of work.     

When I don’t have a dog in the fight, as they say, who I root for is more often than not based upon geographical considerations; that is, the team farthest South will be mine. It’s a simple system. I’ve grown up in ACC country, so that’s my home base. I’ll pull for Georgia Tech versus Georgia. But if Georgia is playing Ohio State, I’ll pull for the Bulldogs. There are exceptions, of course. I wouldn’t root for Notre Dame if they were playing the North Pole. 

I don’t like or understand ice hockey, but the only “sport” I won’t listen to is the one in which grown men dressed in jumpsuits sit on their behinds and drive machines counterclockwise in a circle. But I digress. The first sports radio event I can remember hearing was the Giants-Dodgers playoff in 1951 at the Polo Grounds in New York. Russ Hodges was calling it. I got all wrapped up in the broadcast and started rooting for the Dodgers. Charlie Dressen, the Dodgers’ manager, brought in Ralph Branca to seal the deal in the bottom of the ninth. But, alas, Branca served one up in Bobby Thomson’s wheelhouse and he hit “the shot that was heard around the world.” 

Losing that way, for some reason, made me a diehard radio listener and Dodger fan. One of my great regrets is never seeing a game in Eddet’s Field. I can still name the starting lineup for the 1955 squad that beat the Yankees in the World Series: Campy  catching, Gil at first, Junior at second, Pee Wee at short, Jackie at third, Sandy in left, The Rifle in right and The Duke in center. 

Duke Snyder was, in my unbiased opinion, better than Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle rolled into one. Carl Erskine was Greg Maddox before Maddox was born. The rest of the staff wasn’t chopped liver: Don Newcomb, Preacher Roe, Clem Labine, Joe Black, Johnny Podres, et al. 

Because of the influence of radio, the Dodgers were “my” team, until they moved to LA in the late 1950s. When I went off to college my mother promptly threw about a million dollars worth of pristine Dodgers baseball cards I had collected from Topps bubblegum packets.

In my opinion, the best sports talk guy on the radio right now is, hands down, Mark Packer, Billy Packer’s son. I listened to him for years on a station in Charlotte. Now he’s on Sirius XM (channel 91) weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. Mark is one of the few modern-day talk show hosts and commentators who could hold his own with Buddy D. or Munson or the others from the golden age sports radio.  

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