April 19, 2014

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Voices from the Past

Jim blogs on some of the broadcasters from his youth.
The recent passing of broadcasting legend Paul Harvey triggered memories of the voices from my youth.   Television and Radio sportscasters who informed, influenced, and entertained a sports hungry generation of baby boomers.
 
Before the rise of 24 hour TV and radio sports networks, your local sportscaster was often your first source of of sports news of the day.
 
I was a voracious sports fan as a kid, and I remember parking in front of the RCA Victor TV watching the likes of Sam Slater and Jim Thacker,
 
Slater did the sports for both WTAP TV and WTAP Radio.   In the morning on the radio he started out his radio broadcast with the opening lines " Hit the deck.  Rise and shine, its the early bird sports time".  That was followed by the strains of a Sousa march and then he imparted the sports scores of the day.
 
On TV,  Sam wore a hat on the set, which he would take off and set beside him.  He was famous for 2 things.His lost pet reports, and his glass eye.
 
Just about every day Sam would dedicate a part of his sportscast the help finds somebody's missing pet. "We've got a missing poochie on Latrobe street.  He answers to the name of  Rover......"  To this day,  people still call to see if they can get their lost pet report on the news.
 
Now Sam had a glass eye.  And before the days ot telepromters, sportscasters relied on reading scripts from the desk.   Sam could fix his glass eye on he camera, while his good eye was buried in  his script.   Former West Virginia State Senator Keith Burdette worked at WTAP when Sam was doing sports.  One time when Keith was running camera, he had to crawl on the studio floor  and tug on Sam's leg to give him a time cue because he was focused on his script.
 
On the VHF dial,  Jim Thacker was the sportscaster on WSAZ-TV 3.  Thacker did Marshall sports and a 6 and 11 o'clock sportscast.   He had a great voice, and a great future as a play by play announcer.   He left WSAZ for a TV job in North Carolina.   He teamed up with Billy Packer to do A.C.C. basketball for a regional sports network.  That landed both Thacker and Packer jobs with the Networks.
 
Thacker did work for both CBS and later for the fledgling ESPN.   Where he did the play by play for the West Virginia Mountaineers upset of number 1 ranked Oklahoma in 1981.
 
On the Radio Dial, I grew up listen to Joe Handlan and Fred Early on WPAR and ting to Joe Rada on WTAP.
 
Handlan and Early were the voices of Parkersburg High School Big Red football for decades
The former  was a respected Judge and the latter was an attorney and former All American at Notre Dame.   And both presided over countless  Big Red games.   If you couldn't go to a Big Reds game, you were glued to 1450 on the AM dial to get the word pictures from Handlan and Early.   They had a friendly and informative style the made you feel you were right there at Stadium Field.
 
Rada was a consumate pro.  He could do play by play in any sport  and do it well.  He was knowlegable and well  prepared.    Joe had a rich, friendly voice and was easy to listen to.   One of  the big thrills of my career was working with him on a football broadcast early in my career at WTAP.
 
Joe did the play by play, and I did the "color commentary".  To say I was nervous, would not be doing the word justice.   But Joe was generous, and understanding.   He made me feel at ease and at home in the booth.  
 
The early broadcasters probably didn't realize the impact they had on their viewers or listeners. They were the eyes, ears, and voices of sports for a generation of fans.   
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