A Pair of Jacks

 

In a fractured media landscape it is odd to think of anyone as a “broadcaster” these days. Most of those with the microphone in their hand narrowly tailor their messages to a specific audience, a base that can provide a rating point, anything to create a “base” and turn a dollar.

It dates back to the 18th century, originally an agricultural term meaning to cast the seeds broadly upon the ground. By the 1920’s it became associated with radio, a man with a microphone tossing information and entertainment to the masses. In the last two days we’ve lost a pair of Jacks, two gentlemen who carried that label well.

On Sunday legendary play-by-play and essayist Jack Whitaker passed at age 95. He went ashore at Normandy on June 9, 1944 as a replacement. Wounded at Saint-Lô, and again shortly afterward, Whitaker always considered himself fortunate. In 2014 he told The Desert Sun, “I had a good friend that went the other way. We went to training together but he went to Asia, with Merrill’s Marauders (a jungle warfare unit) and he had nightmares until the day he died. I didn’t.

“It’s easy to forget. Part of the forgetfulness, I found out when I went back and visited the cemetery in Normandy, that it’s that guilt complex. That survivor guilt. I survived and the others didn’t. That’s the only effect I have and I still have.”

After the war he went from small town radio to CBS in Philadelphia where he would call games for the hometown Eagles and begin his long affiliation with the NFL. He was the last living link to the broadcast booth of Super Bowl I.

In the 1980s he would move to ABC and join that network’s long and storied coverage of the Olympic Games. It was in Los Angeles when he had one of his favorite career moments, calling Mary Lou Retton’s “perfect” performance in the ’84 games.

“I came along at the right time. I’ve just been a lucky guy. I’m the luckiest man you’ll ever talk to. Got out of the war in one piece and got into television on the ground floor. You can’t go bad with that.”

On Tuesday, we lost Jack Perkins. Understated, he learned at the elbow of David Brinkley at NBC, staying for 25 years. But he is probably best remembered as the host of A&E’s Biography series. He was smooth, articulate and a one-take wonder. He retired to the Gulf Coast of Florida where he did work for the local PBS affiliate and wrote two books about his faith, Finding Moosewood, Finding God and Island Prayers: Photographs and Poems of Praise.

 

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There are 8 comments.

  1. Kay of MT Member

    Thank you EJHill for this beautiful obit.

    • #1
    • August 20, 2019, at 7:53 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Gary McVey Contributor

    Nobody does broadcasting history better than EJ Hill. One funny thing about early TV was the amazing opportunity it was for young men just after the war, and how many established radio people shunned it at first, giving newcomers a break. 

    • #2
    • August 20, 2019, at 8:43 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  3. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Gary McVeyNobody does broadcasting history better than EJ Hill.

    Thank you, my friend. A fine compliment coming from you.

    This business was my first love. She is my muse, my passion and my unforgiving mistress. She has both thrilled me and scorned me. As I wind down my own time as a small, almost minuscule part of her larger story, she is poised to break me. Her daring heart has been replaced by that of an accountant. Hundreds of creative people pushing her story forward have been replaced by a handful of corporate decision makers – shrouding her into a conformity where one broadcast looks like the next and each announcer sounding like the last.

    I am in my 36th year in the business and I am about to start my 13th covering college football. For each of the last 5 of those seasons I have left the truck at the end of the season finale wondering if that will be my last. One day it will be and I will mourn. There is nothing better than that countdown from :30… 15 to air… stand by to roll and track “Red”…. 10 to air… remote is in black…. in 3… 2… “Roll Red!” and we are hot. And now the three-and-one-half hour dance in front of several million…

    God help me, I love it so. I feel so fortunate to have worked in the glory years and worked along side some terrific people.

    • #3
    • August 20, 2019, at 9:22 PM PDT
    • 20 likes
  4. Gary McVey Contributor

    I’ve mentioned elsewhere that anyone with a family visiting the New York City area with a bit of extra time should visit the Moving Image Museum in Astoria, just across the river from Manhattan. There, you’ll find a simulated sports broadcast control room that shows how total, intimidating chaos on multiple screens, graphic displays, and packaged spots are turned into a smooth, well paced program that usually catches every action on the field at its exact moment of relevance. All of these media streams were recorded during one specific baseball game almost 30 years ago; certain challenges never go away.

    (BTW, in case you do in fact have an interest: it’s cheap and family friendly, and tends towards the watered-down technical, for example giving kids a chance to do simple animation on the spot. There’s stuff about content and culture, nothing PC whatsoever. Mostly it tries to give impressions of what it was like to live in the age of single screen picture palaces, or the earliest days of sound movies. A lot of movie equipment used to be manufactured in the NYC area, and a lot of TV in the Camden, NJ area, so there’s a lavish display of locally built cameras. In truth, if you have only a day or two, go to the Natural History Museum and the skating rink at Rockefeller Center before you head out to Astoria. But keep it in mind. The broadcast programs at the Paley Center in Manhattan are important, but so are the techniques and the craftsmen of Astoria.)

    • #4
    • August 20, 2019, at 10:03 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  5. Gary McVey Contributor

    One of my brothers is nearing retirement age from the video lines division of Verizon, in lower Manhattan. He once showed me an impressive pre-fiber, pre-IP protocol map of the city, as elaborate as the subway system’s. I’d forgotten that network news once originated up near Harlem, on the far northeast side of Manhattan, because the fast processing labs were right there, with fast courier connections to La Guardia and Teterboro airports. So decades after the Camel News Caravan folded its tents, there was still a network-grade line running to Harlem, which I believe CBS later exploited for its BET division. 

    • #5
    • August 20, 2019, at 10:10 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Man. This just hits home how far sports broadcasting has fallen. 

    He is covering the stories of angels now. RIP

    • #6
    • August 21, 2019, at 6:20 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Buckpasser Member

    These things are the constant reminder that time marches on.

    Jack Whitaker, Jim McKay, Curt Gowdy, Keith Jackson, gone, but they still can bring me back to my youth.

    Something about sports and the commentary these men provided always bring me back to my youth.

    • #7
    • August 21, 2019, at 7:00 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. Joe Boyle Member

    Thanks all, I learned some things. The count down description reminded me of thrills I experienced in the Army.

    • #8
    • August 22, 2019, at 9:10 AM PDT
    • 1 like