Voices of the Badger state games

I’ve written before about the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Wisconsin Museum of Broadcasting, which is a great place for aficionados of Wisconsin media history.

The online museum chronicles the state’s broadcasting past, beginning with Beloit College’s radio experiments in 1908 that became 9XB, and 9XM, which became WHA radio in Madison in 1922, the state’s first licensed radio station. Radio history buffs will find that WIAO radio in Milwaukee, which became WISN, is the state’s oldest continually licensed radio station. (Those who appreciate irony also will see that in 1925, The Capital Times started WIBA radio in Madison, now the home of conservative talkers Rush Limbaugh and Vicki McKenna.) They’ll also see the state’s oldest TV station, WTMJ in Milwaukee, started as WMJT (“Milwaukee Journal Television”) on channel 3.

My favorite part,  though, is its newest section, dedicated to great moments in Wisconsin sports on the air. The first known play-by-play (probably not in the form we recognize today) was of a 40–15 UW basketball win over Ohio State Feb. 17, 1917. The Packers and UW football have been on the air since the late 1920s.

Early highlights such as the 1952 and 1963 Rose Bowls and the first two Super Bowls intersperse newsreels and a bit of play-by-play. (The site doesn’t have the 1963 Rose Bowl play-by-play of NBC’s Mel Allen, then the longtime announcer of the New York Yankees.) There is also video (but only narration) of UW’s March 1962 upset of number-one-ranked Ohio State, led by Basketball Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek.

The Glory Years Packers are well represented, beginning with the 1961 NFL championship, which you can see here too:

The Packers clips end with Super Bowl XXXI. I assume Super Bowl XLV will eventually get there.

The happy synchronicity is that the advent of electronic files coincides with the dramatic improvements of the fortunes of the Packers and Badger football and basketball (last night notwithstanding) over the past 20 or so years. A look on  the museum site and on YouTube show plenty of Packer and Badger highlights from the ’90s, ’00s and ’10s. Reel-to-reel and 2-inch videotape from earlier decades make highlights more difficult to store, but then again between the ’60s and the ’90s the term “highlight” can only be applied loosely to most Packer and Badger seasons.

Two of the clips demonstrate the vagaries of the broadcasting business. The baseball section features Cecil Cooper’s two-run single that won the last game of the 1982 American League Championship Series, sending the Brewers to their first (and only so far) World Series.

The clip is from ABC-TV’s coverage, not the Brewers Radio Network. WTMJ radio has been the originating station for the Brewers network nearly every year since the Seattle Pilots headed east in 1970. But in 1981 and 1982, radio rights shifted from WTMJ to WISN. And in the custom since Uecker became the Brewers’ lead announcer in 1980 (and probably before then), the Brewers’ number two announcer, Dwayne Mosley, called the game-winning hit because he called the third, fourth and seventh innings. (As have Uecker’s other partners, Lorn Brown (who preceded Mosley), Pat Hughes (who succeeded Mosley), Jim Powell, Cory Provus and now Joe Block.) Mosley also got to call the final out because Uecker was in the Brewers’ clubhouse for the postgame celebration.

The other is the clip of the 1994 Rose Bowl, called by WTMJ radio’s Brian Manthey and former UW quarterback Randy Wright. Calling the Badgers’ first Rose Bowl in 31 years and their first Rose Bowl win was undoubtedly the highlight of Manthey’s and Wright’s UW careers. It also was the last game of Manthey’s and Wright’s UW careers, because broadcast rights shifted from WTMJ to Learfield Sports after the 1993 season. Learfield hired Matt Lepay (who had been doing UW basketball for WTMJ) and Mike Lucas to do both football and basketball.

My favorite part of the site so far (because history projects are always in the “so far” mode) is the UW men’s hockey section, particularly the 1973 and 1977 national championships. The hockey Badgers were the first UW men’s teams in my memory that, to put it bluntly, didn’t suck. The 1977 team arguably is the best in UW history, with four All-Americans — forwards Mike Eaves (yes, now the UW men’s coach) and Mark Johnson (yes, now the UW women’s coach), defenseman Craig Norwich and goaltender Julian Baretta — and a 37–7–1 record.

You have to play the clips of UW’s overtime Frozen Four wins — 35 years ago today, the semifinal win over New Hampshire 4–3 42 seconds into overtime …

Ready for that faceoff coming up, Mike Eaves and Alley and now Alley is saying something to, uh, or check it, over to Murray Johnson is out there now … and off the draw a SHOT AND A GOAL! Mike Eaves got the draw and he put it in the net! Mike Eaves got the draw and he put it in the net off the faceoff! The Badgers win it in overtime at the 9:18 mark! And the Badgers are out on the ice!

… and one night later the championship win over Michigan 6–5 23 seconds into overtime  …

Mike Eaves in the faceoff circle, and the puck is dropped, Alley tried to pick it up, it’s loose along the boards. Alley down in the corner along with Mike Eaves and Tommy Ulseth. Here’s Ulseth skating in behind the net, Tommy tried to stuff it, a shot, knocked down, it’s loose AND A GOAL! THE BADGERS HAVE WON IT! Steve Alley got the winner! Steve Alley got the winner and the Badgers have won the NCAA! On the rebound the Badgers have won the NCAA! The Badgers are out on the ice, [team physician] Doc Clancy, and the fans! The Badgers have won their second NCAA, at the 9:37 mark of the overtime!

… to hear the undisguised joy in announcer Paul Braun’s voice. Unlike other parts of the country, Wisconsin sports listeners want announcers who actually sound like they want their teams to win. Announcer impartiality never became popular in the Midwest, and certainly not in Wisconsin. Braun called the Badgers’ 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1990 national championships, and now calls Badger games on Fox Sports Wisconsin. And during his radio days, listeners never had a problem figuring out which team had scored.

My other favorite is the Braves’ 1957 National League pennant-winning home run by Henry Aaron, called by the Braves’ Earl Gillespie:

The pitch to Henry Aaron … a swing and a drive back into center field! Going back towards the wall! It’s back at that fence! And is it gone or not? It’s a home run! The Braves are the champions of the National League! Henry Aaron just hit his 43rd home run of the year! … Holy cow!

I never met Earl, but I know his brother, nephew and great nephew, who coached or played for Ripon College. So I guess I feel a bit of an affinity for Earl’s work. (In part because for a number of years I was the unofficial Gillespie family announcer.)

The reality of such moments calls to mind Rudyard Kipling’s line from “If,” “If you can keep your head about you when all about you are losing theirs …” Since a radio announcer is the listener’s eyes and ears, the play-by-play guy can’t merely scream with abandon like the fans behind or below him, nor can he shut up and let the pictures speak for themselves, since there are no pictures. The play-by-play guy also may be competing with his partner (in Braun’s case, I believe it was Phil Mendel, the Dane County Coliseum public address announcer, a UW professor and a real character), which can be a problem for announcers that call slightly behind the action. (I have some experience in that.)

There are a couple of inaccuracies. The word “categories” is misspelled. (There’s a joke somewhere about broadcasters not needing to know how to spell.) The 1961 Packers clip starts with Chris Schenkel, the Giants’ announcer, before Lindsey Nelson (the listed announcer) comes on. (Schenkel, an Indianan, had a deeper voice than Nelson, a Tennessean.) A few announcers aren’t listed (Jim Simpson and Curt Gowdy of NBC on Super Bowl I)

It would be cool to see clips of the announcer most linked to the Glory Years Packers, CBS-TV’s Ray Scott. (Who was only seen on road games in Green Bay because NFL games were blacked out in home markets until 1974.) And one always wants to see and hear more, of course. The site could augment its UW basketball and football files with, in chronological order, a wild finish and a monumental upset both called by the late Jim Irwin.

Some high school basketball clips would be interesting, too. Two words: Lamont Weaver. Two more words: Sam Dekker:

And this really needs to be added to the 2006 hockey file:

(It’s too bad announcers Brian Posick and Rob Andringa weren’t more into their work that night, isn’t it?)

But the collection of history is always a work in progress. In order to maintain such a site, you need to have actual clips, and then you have to get the rights to use them. The first is often harder than the second; I suspect the reason you haven’t seen radio snippets of the Curly Lambeau/Don Hutson Packers is because they probably don’t exist. And there should be few ’70s and ’80s Packers and Badgers highlights because, well, there were few ’70s and ’80s highlights. (In 1988, for instance, the Badgers and Packers were a combined 5–22.)

The site is certainly off to an entertaining start.

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