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.