The environment of a major remote sports telecast is, for the uninitiated, an intimidating and arcane place, one of those alien marvels of technology that impresses the senses but leaves no discernible improvement in one's ability to comprehend the magnitude of the miracle. Things like the control bridge of a nuclear submarine, the innards of a computer or the cockpit of a 707 have this same aura—vast complexity combined with virtual flawlessness. It leaves a run-of-the-mill imperfect human struggling in a sea of inferiority.
The routine feelings of awe generated by the presence of such faultless hardware are accentuated by the grand tension that builds as air time approaches, for you know that there are millions—millions—waiting out there for the transmission to begin. Thus you have overtones of an opening night, the old clam-my-palms-in-the-wings suspense of show biz on top of all that mystic electric paraphernalia around you. Will the microwave relay transfer to the proper coaxial circuit? Will the technician on duty know how to reroute the picture if a tie connection or crosspoint breaks? Will the automatic repeater station and the auxiliary standby power fail at the same time? TV technicians love to talk as if they are constantly living on the outskirts of disaster. "All it takes, man, is a 15¢ fuse blows and we go black...." They like to tell ghost stories about the dubious old days when their equipment broke down so often that their blackout placards—STAND BY PLEASE: BOXING—drew fan mail. They like to remember the 1952 Walcott-Charles heavyweight title fight that went off the air because a small boy stepped on a fuse-box lever as he climbed a utility pole. Or the 1958 World Series that went black for five minutes because a kid with a .22 shot out a microwave relay in northern Wisconsin. Or the crazed moments during the 1958 Colt-Giant sudden-death playoff for the NFL title when maddened fans pulled a vital cable loose under Yankee Stadium and a flying wedge of burly NBC engineers had to charge the mob to get in and repair it (with the loss to viewers of naught but one commercial).
Ah, but those things happened years ago. The transmission of TV sport has become a nicely machined part of the precision efficiency we now take for granted as a national institution. Seldom does the equipment fail. The refinements to improve televised sport are impressive indeed. Consider the advent of color to make the spectacles even more spectacular, of the slow-motion technique to accentuate the grace and power of our heroes, of the eye-popping lens that zooms in from a 40-mile-wide panoramic shot of a mountainside to an intimate view of the buckles on a ski boot, of video tape and instant replay and split screens and communications satellites.
The machinery of TV sport is magnificent, and it is used in quantities that shake the mind. CBS sends 20 cameras, 30 microphones, 8 trucks and 80 technicians to Augusta to televise the Masters; it costs a half million or so for five hours on TV. NBC sends 10 cameras and 60 technicians to do a World Series game. In the splashiest single sports remote yet accomplished, ABC spent $3 million to transmit the 17-day 1968 Olympic Games from Mexico City, a production outdone only by such momentous events as a President's funeral or a national election. There were 45 cameras, 250 technicians, eight control units and 95 microphones—including one eight feet from the Olympic torch that captured for the world the grand sizzle of the occasion. ABC approached its Olympic record at the 1969 U.S. Open in Houston with 24 cameras, 100 technicians, 75 mikes and untold forklift trucks, steel scaffolds and miles of thick black cable. The cost topped $250,000, and when the tournament was over a TV executive gazed at the enormous assemblage around him and said: "We haul all this to Texas and what do we get? Orville Moody. What a waste." Although these are among the largest single-telecast operations, CBS spends some $450,000 every Sunday to do its eight NFL games around the country. There is an endless caravan of television equipment and technicians crisscrossing the United States, the wandering minstrels of the 20th century.
Wondrous though the age of electronic technique may be, it still requires men to put real eyes behind the camera's eye. Thus, no matter how superb the circuitry or how nifty the transistor or how able the cable or how fine the line or how round the sound or how pretty-o the video, it is man who gives television both its perceptions and its personality. Yes, and once the human element has been let in, the antiseptic landscape of TV finally takes on some endearing features, for man injects the capacity for imperfection. Famed in his fashion is the World Series cameraman who was focused beautifully on the flight of a high fly ball at Yankee Stadium when suddenly the director saw grass on his monitor, just grass. The cameraman, a sporting type, had brought his fielder's glove to the game that day and when he saw that ball coming he just naturally jumped up and.... And there was the time during the telecast of a Chicago Cubs game when Announcer Jack Brick-house watched his monitor in bafflement as a home-run ball soared up, up, up...up...? The cameraman had a bird in his viewfinder instead of the ball.
Harry Coyle, NBC's senior sports director, who has done more than 1,500 major network telecasts, recalls with horror the Arkansas football game in which he asked a cameraman on loan from a local station to swing over for a shot of the quarterback. The camera swept about and stopped on an end. Surprised, Coyle mentioned the quarterback's number, but the cameraman misheard and landed on a guard. Coyle said, "Look, put it on the guy standing behind the line," and the monitor filled instantly with a shot of the fullback. Angered, Harry snapped into his intercom, "Get the damn quarterback—the guy who handles the ball on every play!" That did it. The cameraman focused beautifully on the referee.
Certainly, some of television's most daring plays and hairbreadth thrills take place off screen. Pan the camera for a moment to the Sunday evening of Nov. 17, 1968 and focus in on the circuits and channels of the National Broadcasting Company. It is a few seconds before 7 p.m. (E.S.T.). The New York Jets are squeezing out a 32-29 victory over the Oakland Raiders, and there is a mere 50 seconds left in the game when—what's this?—millions of good red-eyed TV football fanatics suddenly find themselves gazing in befuddlement at a screen that has somehow emptied of professional football players. It is filled instead with a little Swiss girl and her old grandpa and.... But the game? The game! In the time it took to do a commercial and cue in some little-Swiss-girl theme music the Raiders scored twice, the Jets lost 43-32 and the switchboard at NBC was overwhelmed with so many calls from enraged football fans that the entire Circle-7 exchange in Manhattan went pingggg! and gave up. The most monumental gaffe in the brief history of TV sports was on the books. Only now is the NBC grimace smoothing out to a reflective grin. Here is how Heidi happened.
In the gloaming of that November Sunday, as darkness fell over suburban Connecticut and lights went on in the homes of Carl Lindemann Jr., vice-president of NBC Sports, and Allan (Scotty) Connal, manager of NBC Sports programs, there was no inkling of the chaos to come. Scotty Connal, a gentle father of eight, had the sports-department duty that evening, which meant he was to monitor the telecast from a set at home and keep in touch with the NBC crew in Oakland should any problem arise. "Of course, we knew it would be bad if the game came up toward 7 o'clock," says Connal. "But I phoned Carl about 6:15 and we decided there was no strain—we had 45 minutes to go for the last quarter alone." Then about 6:40 Connal began to sense the birth of a crisis. "It was a terribly slow quarter," he recalls. "I phoned Carl again and said I thought we just might be heading for trouble. We have a policy that we never cut off a sports event until its conclusion, but we also must have a final O.K. to run overtime from Julian Goodman [NBC president]. The approval from Goodman is relayed to our New York control room. It's a simple routine. So Carl decided he'd better get Julian's approval just in case. Carl said he would take care of it."
Connal relaxed again, watching the game and watching the clock. Soon he was surrounded by all of his eight children; they trooped in to assemble before the set so they would be ready to watch Heidi. Connal saw the time was 6:55, then 6:57, and he was a little concerned because Lindemann had not called back. "Just to be safe, I dialed NBC in New York, and I got nothing at all. No ring, no busy signal, just dead air. Later I found out this was caused by a million angry mothers calling to ask if we were going to keep our dirty old football game on instead of starting Heidi. I hung up and a second later my phone rings and Carl tells me I should call New York and tell them Goodman has said the game must stay on until it is over."
Since Connal knew he couldn't raise New York, he told Lindemann to hang on one phone while he used another line to call the NBC control truck in Oakland. Connal quickly got through to Don Ellis, the producer of the show, and said to him: "Now, Don, listen to this and do not get it wrong. Repeat it after me. Julian Goodman says we are to continue the game to conclusion." Ellis repeated the message. Connal told him to pass the word along to the NBC studios in Burbank, Calif., and to have them pass it on to Broadcast Operations Control in New York. Ellis said he would.
Connal kept Ellis on one phone and Lindemann on the other, one on each ear, and leaned back to enjoy the rest of the game with his children. "Just for kicks, I told Don to put up the score on the screen," says Connal, "and then I told my kids, 'See? See how Daddy controls the network right in the palm of his hand?' " The time was now 6:59 plus. Suddenly Scotty Connal sat up very straight. All he had in the palm of his hand was sweat, because there was music issuing from his television set, the theme music to mark the end of the game! But the game had not ended. Scotty cried into the phone to Oakland, "What the hell's going on?" Lindemann bawled something at Connal in the other ear. And, faintly, Connal could hear the sounds of panic begin to build in the Oakland control truck—first a quizzical babble of conversation, then shouts, then louder shouts, then anguished shrieks from the assistant director: "Hey! They're counting us down! They're counting us off the air! They're counting us.... We're off the air!" Connal watched his screen, stunned—"Oh God"—a commercial rose up where the Jets and Raiders had been locked in battle. Then in his ear came a bellow from Don Ellis: "Scotty! Scotty! Oakland has just scored!"
"I died. I just died there in front of all my kids," Connal recalls. "If only Oakland hadn't scored—twice. If only the phone had worked. If...."
What went wrong? It was absurdly simple: the message that Julian Goodman had okayed the game to conclusion was promptly and properly relayed into the Burbank studios, but when an assistant director there passed it on to New York (via a direct line), he said quite airily: "The guys in the truck at Oakland say we should keep the game on." Well, time was being measured in microseconds by then and NBC Broadcast Operations Control is not accustomed to mutilating high-priced, prime-time specials like Heidi on the say-so of' 'the guys in the truck." So they counted the Jets and Raiders off the air.
Perhaps the surprise is not so much that such high-tension pratfalls and human higgledy-piggledy occur in television as that they do not occur more often. This is a demanding, maddening world of split-second decision and instantaneous creativity, and it is booby-trapped with a hundred chances every show to make a humiliating and costly mistake. Constantly occupying the hottest chairs of all are the directors and producers. The distinction between the two differs from network to network but, put most simply, the director determines the specific views, shots, angles and special effects that actually appear on the screen, while the producer has the broader responsibility of monitoring the overall thematic content and flow of a program. The names of these MassCom heroes swarm by at the end of each telecast, and if you collect them for perhaps two weeks you will have almost the full Who's Who in TV production, for this is an astonishingly small band of men. A disparate breed, they combine something of the swagger of hot pilots, the intensity of avant-garde painters, the glib wit and restless mien of traveling salesmen. They are creatures of their medium, and if they hit upon a brilliant creative stroke at the peak of a crisis in a game, it is a thing of the instant, a bit of electronic lightning. Nothing they do is lasting. Their craft is like painting with smoke. There is no body of art or literature in television sport. No museums, no Halls of Fame. But the director and the producer are the eyes and the ears of Super Spectator. They contrive from their own sense of esthetics, reflexes and knowledge the television version of an event, and for millions that version is the event. Reality is only what appears on the tube. Anything the camera does not capture never happened.
A fair enough example of them all is Tony Verna, a top CBS director, the man who invented the isolated-camera techniques and, at 35, a well-respected member of this rare profession. You can get Tony Verna in focus as he comes to work at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville last May. He is tanned, his dark hair is long and curling at the neck and he looks splendid in fawn trousers, fawn turtleneck jersey, fawn-and-umber checked jacket and buckled shoes. He has flown in from Los Angeles 24 hours before, and he will be gone again in another 24. His life is one of violent transience—countless hours at 40,000 feet over Nebraska or West Virginia or Vienna, sipping ready-mix 11-to-l martinis and eating ready-mix steak washed down with ready-mix table wine. He drops down for a span of perhaps six meals in one of dozens of different cities, and they all seem alike because he sees only the airports and hotel rooms and restaurants and stadiums. In this whirl of itineraries a disorientation sets in, a kind of place-and-time confusion that once led a crew of ABC's Wide World of Sports to search all over a Moscow airport for a Hertz rental counter. Verna logs 150,000 miles or so each year; home, when he sees it, is Malibu Beach.
But now Verna is at the Kentucky Derby in May 1969. This is his fifth time directing it, and he has 12 cameras, 30 microphones and 70 technicians scattered about the venerable acreage of Churchill Downs. The centerpiece of these MassCom components is five hulking vans, each bearing on its side the almighty sleepless CBS eye. They are packed with the fragile baggage needed for TV transmission, and one contains the control panel and monitors where Verna sits to direct the Derby telecast. The vans are placed like outsized shoe boxes around the track's brilliant flower beds. Thick cables curl among the flowers. Engineers toting portable cameras and announcers trailing mike wires tiptoe through the. tulips. As usual, television is trying desperately to be unobtrusive, but the bulk and dazzle and complexity of it all make it a bit like having Moby Dick in the parlor: very visible and slightly fishy.
Verna settles down in his chair at the console board in the control truck to interpret and transmit the drama and brilliance of the Kentucky Derby for waiting millions. And here is a study in new surrealism if ever there was one. It is difficult to imagine anything more thoroughly isolated from the clash, crowd and color of a sporting event than the seat from which a TV sport director views the action. Verna claps a double headset over his ears, then faces a wall of a dozen small monitors, each flickering with a picture from some part of Churchill Downs. Once the van door thuds shut (giving off the fine suction sound of a hermetic seal), those tiny monitors are the only visible sign that there is other life on the planet.
But there is life. It shows on the monitors with pictures from Camera 1 and Camera 4...the infield is teeming with people and the grandstand is jammed...sure, you can see it there on the monitor for Camera 7...horses prancing into the paddock. Verna sits, a mike at his chin, chattering calmly to his troops, calling the camera shots, rolling the precut tapes. Yes, and there is a race—see it on the monitors for Camera 3 and 4—and now it is over. Verna is cutting in the isolated-camera coverage of the winner, Majestic Prince. In no more than the span of minutes, he reruns a detailed close-up of the entire race—in slow motion at that, followed by articulate commentary from the winning jockey, Bill Hartack. It is sound, even scintillating journalism that Verna and the CBS crew have contributed to the Derby. You'd almost think Tony Verna had been right there to see it in person.
Ironically, the image of TV sport most familiar to the public is the one created by announcers. It is ironic because most sensitive people inside the TV-sport business agree that announcing and commentary are easily the least advanced elements of the art. ABC Sports President Roone Arledge says, "Announcing is our weakest link." A CBS executive says: "Compared to the technological advancements we've made, our announcing is like having an old iron gargoyle stuck on the front of a new skyscraper."
The work of the TV sportscaster is an odd job indeed. It is neither art nor science, neither common labor nor honored profession. The sportscaster is not quite journalist or carnival barker or orator or interlocutor or master of ceremonies or trained seal. Yet he is all of them. Sportscasting is a dispiriting career, for a man is always doomed to displease. Inevitably, he will talk too much, too little, too loudly, too softly, too sharply, too blandly, too fully, too briefly, too knowingly, too naively. Name your poison and your friendly neighborhood sportscaster will deliver it to you sooner or later.
Over the years TV sportscasting has gone through a metamorphosis, although nothing at all curative. It once relied almost entirely on Golden Throats—professional announcers who spoke in magnificent pear shapes but knew little about athletic events. Then networks recruited the Wooden Throats—former athletes who sounded as if they were talking through a sweat sock but knew every Z-out and crossed T. Today the on-air fraternity has a cast of characters with scarcely anything in common except the desire to appear frequently in front of millions of people and speak for high pay. There is neither a norm nor a mean against which one can measure the variety of performances in the field. They range from the urbane pronouncements of Jack Whitaker to the benumbed labors of Frank Gifford, from the bass beauty of Chris Schenkel's voice uttering simplicities to the rasping blur of Lindsey Nelson's voice uttering banalities, from the sonorous pontifications of Ray Scott to the staccato machine-gunning of Jim McKay to the unabashed Yankee shilling of Phil Rizzuto to unctuous utterances by Bud Wilkinson to the hale heartiness of Tony Kubek to the crisp dryness of Curt Gowdy to the dyspeptic orchestrations of Howard Co-sell. Take your choice. And there are dozens more.
If nothing else, it is a nice living. The average industrious TV sportscaster takes home $50,000 a year, and the really champion moneymakers do far better: Chris Schenkel is in the $250,000-a-year bracket, and Curt Gowdy probably makes $350,000 or so.
With that kind of income, they hardly need sympathy, but the life of a television sportscaster can be a feverish thing. To start with, he is the prisoner of the men in the control truck. What a director or a producer sees or says is what the announcer generally addresses himself to on the air. While grand spectacles unfold beneath his booth, the announcer watches the game almost entirely on a monitor. He doesn't dare call his game from what he sees happening on the field, because if a cameraman blows a shot he will be talking about something Super Spectator cannot see. The announcer is also besieged with a steady stream of notes, cards, scripts and fragments of paper passing beneath his nose—lead-ins to commercials, promotional messages for the network, statistics and background bits and scraps of peripheral interest and advice. He must read these as he speaks. Worst of all, while he is calling the game there is a continuing murmur of advice, information and commands dinning into his ear from the intercom mikes of the producer or director. There is a plug stuck in the ear of every sportscaster. As he cries out in theatrical frenzy, "There goes Simpson across the 40, the 45, the 50!" that tiny button in his ear is alive with the low drone of a director's insistent voice: "Now, Curt baby, mention the crowd size after this run, then do the promo for next week's game and the Ernie Ford show. Then mention that Senator Fudd is sitting on the bench because we want to get a shot of him...."
It is a harried, demanding, ludicrous way to earn a living. To make it worse, the announcer takes the rap as the single most irritating factor in all of TV sport. As Roone Arledge puts it: "Here the poor guy is, talking all during the performance. His voice just has to be annoying because it is an audible intrusion in what is essentially a visual experience. Then there are the enormously divergent levels of sports knowledge in an audience; one guy knows it all and he hates an announcer for belaboring the obvious, the other guy knows nothing and he's upset because he's not told enough."
All right. But there is a real question of substance in that eternal babbling brook of broadcast. Beyond the proliferation of inaccuracies or emphasis on the obvious or rattling dramatizations of patently boring events, there is a numbing tendency in sport telecasts toward the colorless, odorless, bloodless, hapless school of commentary. "The biggest problem with announcers," says Arledge, "is their paucity of viewpoint. The athletes everyone hired were good for their time. They could explain the fine points. But now I think we need more people who can bring some controversy, some personality and some definite opinion into TV sport. Of course, an announcer has to feel free to speak his mind. We've finally eliminated from our network contracts clauses that allowed outside approval of announcers by sponsors or owners or league officials—our guys are responsible to ABC alone. Too many announcers in this business are either hired by the ball clubs and don't dare be critical or they feel they'll be canned on general principle if they go around saying that a team is playing like clowns or an event is not exactly epic. They are always aware that they are being heard all over the world, and they don't want their images messed up by saying something that will hurt someone's feelings. Frankly, I wish there was a lot more bite in the whole business. There are damned few announcers working now who are willing to be abrasive...."
Ah, yes, a reluctance to be abrasive, a need for more bite. Well, broach the subject of abrasiveness and bite with the man who is No. 1 on Roone Arledge's network, Chris Schenkel. Aged 44, a former 4-H Club member from Bippus, Ind., Schenkel began broadcasting sports when he was 16, and he now does everything from pro bowling to the Olympic Games. He is a personal pal of America's industrial captains and top athletes alike. He is cozy enough within the circles of Richard Nixon to have participated in a wee-hours bull session at Key Biscayne where Mr. Nixon reported that one of his lifelong ambitions was to be a sports announcer. His deep voice and diffident on-air manner have carried Schenkel to fame and fortune, but there is still a lot of Bippus showing in the sharp planes of his face and that careful Sta-Comb wave in his hair. He goes to big-city banquets at the Waldorf with America's richest men, all right, but he wears gold cufflinks cut in the shape of Indiana (a gift when he was named 1965's Hoosier of the Year).
What about being abrasive? What about bite? "If you are decent in what you say on the air and not too caustic people will want to invite you into their living rooms as a friend," says Schenkel. "I try to bring that attitude to my broadcasts. I don't try to impress people with how much I know. I don't use my voice to impress people. I would sit down and match my football knowledge with any expert in the business, but I don't think it's up to me to show off on the air."
So Chris Schenkel hears no trumpets calling him to crusades. "I am a play-by-play announcer and nothing else," he says. "My biggest problem is that I talk too much. Even after all these years, I sometimes forget that silence is golden."
There was a time, Schenkel says, when he wondered if a career as a sportscaster was really a worthy way to spend his life. "Like anyone else I worried about whether 1 was contributing anything. But I happened to mention this once to a fellow Hoosier, an FBI man, and he said to me, 'Listen, Chris, if you can get just one youngster to consider a great athlete as his own personal hero, you've done as much as anyone and more than most.' "
Chris Schenkel says he has not again felt seriously troubled about his place in the patterns of mankind. Since he earns that quarter of a million a year and knows peace in his heart and Presidents, too, can one seriously blame him? Or blame who knows how many other envious announcers for being convinced that the bland way is the right way?
Now, with a flash of neo-electronic magic, a trick is to be performed. Using the wonders of the split screen, it is possible to do a simultaneous verbal-cast from both behind and in front of television's tube. The event to be dissected is an absolutely routine presentation of sporting Americana to coast-to-coast Super Spectator. It is a relatively meaningless early-season NBC baseball Game of the Week: May 24, 1969, the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals. Three witnesses are involved. One is in the control truck outside Dodger Stadium with Sports Manager Scotty Connal, Lou Kusserow, producer of the game show, Dick Auerbach, producer of the pregame show, Harry Coyle, director, and a cast of half a dozen technicians. Another is in the broadcast booth above the field with Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Mickey Mantle. The third is watching KQ-TV on a set in the Elks Club bar in St. Joseph, Mo. To set that scene, the Elks Club bar is a large room (60-by-30 feet) in the basement of the Robidoux Hotel. It has buff-colored panels, a nicely stocked liquor larder and a color TV placed upon the top of a grand piano within easy view of bar stools and tables. The St. Joseph Elks Club was an arbitrary selection of venue, but St. Joe is considered a bastion of Cardinal fans. Besides that, on May 24 there was a regional convention of Shriners in town and it has long been considered a truism that there is no more loyal core of baseball fans than the kind of people who belong to an Elks Club or a Shriners Temple. Here is a diary of what happened. Perhaps it is typical, perhaps not. Who knows?
9:30 a.m. to noon (P.D.T.): Harry Coyle does equipment checks with crew. Scotty Connal reminds crew for umpteenth time that if show isn't off by 7 p.m. (E.D.T.) for Huntley-Brinkley network news, "It's a slow Matson Line to Hawaii for all of us." Curt Gowdy arrives with red nose and cross look; he has a cold. Portly man with magnificent mustache arrives in announcers" booth, plunks huge suitcase onto floor, introduces himself as Allan Roth, NBC's baseball statistician. Suitcase is jammed with record books. Also a large Turkish towel. Roth explains, "I never go to a game without it. Announcers are always spilling their coffee on my papers." Tony Kubek and Mickey Mantle on hand now, too. Very cheerful pair, no red noses. Dick Auerbach, pregame producer, calls rehearsal of pregame show. Gowdy's timing awful, demeanor serene. Auerbach says, "Curtie, you're splendid." Mantle ducks head to inspect his baldness as shown on monitor nearby. Gowdy sits down in booth, puts on pair of sunglasses that have a broken frame. Gowdy tosses glasses aside, says, "Boy, this is the big leagues."
12:15: Forty-five minutes to show time. Tension in control truck, in broadcast booth. In St. Joseph Elks Club. TV is dark. No tension. No customers.
12:35: Milton Berle brings son to booth to meet Gowdy, Kubek. Berles leave. Dodger physician stops to inquire about Gowdy's cold. Physician leaves. NBC man brings Gowdy borrowed gold blazer to wear on air; Gowdy has brought only blue blazer which does not televise properly. NBC man leaves. Gowdy tries on borrowed blazer. Baggy fit. Could use big safety pin to hold shoulders back. This is big leagues.
12:50: In truck Producer Kusserow tells Coyle that singer of national anthem will stand in centerfield. Also says Dodger President Walter O'Malley is smitten with shrubs and flowers planted on hillsides beyond centerfield and would like NBC to mention them. Over intercom Kusserow tells Gowdy station breaks will be in fifth and seventh innings, Governor Reagan will be in crowd, Stan Musial will be honored by Dodgers, shrubbery will be mentioned.
12:55: Kubek, Mantle, Gowdy wait for opening. All very loose. Kubek and Mantle giggle, Kubek says to Mickey: "O.K., Slick, let's kill 'em."
12:59: In truck, associate director shouts, "One minute to air, gentlemen. One minute." Auerbach relaxed about pregame show. It will last eight minutes, 10 seconds. Night before, Auerbach spent seven hours shooting, editing, polishing tapes. Auerbach says to Coyle, "There is no turning back, sinners!" Coyle grunts.
12:59½: Associate director cries, "Thirty seconds. O.K., girls, have a goody!" Kusserow lights cigarette. Associate director says, "Roll the bird!," listens to his headset, then says, "The bird's up!"
1:01: Elks Club bartender turns on set. NBC peacock on screen...the bird is up. Gowdy hoves into view: "Hi, everybody!" Borrowed gold blazer fits fine on screen, red nose doesn't show, cold seems much better. This is big leagues.
1:02: Pregame show rolls nicely. Mantle relaxed, charming, knowledgeable. Scotty Connal says: "He's so good. I told him a little while ago that New York really likes his work. He's only done three games, but he's in."
1:03: At Elks Club it is 3:03 C.D.T. TV picture is clear, sound sharp, color stunning. Half a dozen fezzed Shriners at one table now. Two more stand at bar talking to bartender. No one looks at set except man planted on bar stool. He is middle-aged. Wrinkled gray suit, hat clamped low to ear tips, gold-rimmed spectacles, one-inch stub of spent cigar in hand. Pinned to lapel of suit is gay red tissue paper poppy (Memorial Day one week away). Call him Mr. Poppy.
1:05: Mr. Poppy gazes at TV set, pulls dog-eared copy of TV Guide from back pocket, studies day's fare—Abbott & Costello Film Theater; The Chartroose Caboose; Up Tight; Gentle Ben—decides Game of the Week best of all, returns TV Guide to back pocket, leans elbow on bar, puts cigar stub in ashtray. Mr. Poppy is Super Spectator.
1:15: Unaware program selected No. 1 at St. Joseph Elks Club, NBC crew hears strains of Star-Spangled Banner. Kusserow says, "I don't see the guy singing in centerfield." Coyle scans monitors. "There he is! Camera 4 get 'im!" Camera 4 monitor shows grass. Coyle says: "Up, 4. Up!" Anthem singer appears at twilight's last gleaming.
1:20: Cards' Lou Brock opens game with double. Kusserow talks into intercom: "You got Drysdale? You got Berle? Get 'em up to the interview booth." Coyle keeps up laconic directions over intercom to camera crew. "Four, tighten up shot.... Three, give me dugout...." Voice like control-tower dispatcher; calm, dispassionate.
1:25: Cards out in first. Two new Shriners approach Elks Club bar. "Back again," one says to bartender. "Give us the same." Both turn backs to TV. Busboy wearing green sneakers enters room carrying table leaf. Drops it with awful crash. No one turns to look. Mr. Poppy gazes serenely, steadily at screen.
1:30: Coyle lights Omega Little Cigar, puffs, says, "Now we're getting some semblance of order." Hard to believe. Kusserow is muttering on intercom with Kubek about Berle interview ("Keep it short, dammit"), and Drysdale interview ("I want him to say everything he wants to say"). Dodgers go out, associate director shouts, "Roll commercial." Perspiring video technicians seated near monitors wonder aloud if air conditioning is working. Coyle sees Kubek and Drysdale on monitor, cries: "Get 'em back against the wall. We can see the top of the backdrop."
1:35: Kubek talks to Drysdale in interview booth. "Very nice," says Kusserow. "Very, very nice."
1:40: Old, old man, perhaps in 80s, shuffles into Elks Club, sits at table nearest TV set. Watches game. Busboy watches too. Mr. Poppy too. In broadcast booth Curt Gowdy turns from mike and asks proper pronunciation of Governor Reagan's name—Raygan? Or Reeegan? Very tanned man all in buttercup yellow (pants, shirt, ascot, shoes) suddenly appears at door to say, "Raygan," then vanishes not to be seen again.
1:46: Gowdy notes presence of Governor, says Reagan once was sportscaster, jokes that some sportscasters get to be governors, but he, Gowdy, couldn't be elected dogcatcher. Kubek nods vigorously at Gowdy. Gowdy informs world Kubek believes Gowdy could be elected dogcatcher. Old man in Elks Club yawns. Coyle curses technician for putting his hand near letters spelling out players' names on screen. "Dammit," says Coyle. Also other things.
1:50: Eighteen Shriners now in Elks Club. Noisy, fun-loving. One sits at bar facing TV. Mr. Poppy speaks first words of day: "Am I in your way?" Nope. Old man rises now from chair, yawns loudly, shuffles up to Mr. Poppy, says, "I'm leavin'. You tell me all about it." Kusserow says on intercom to Kubek: "Remember, keep Berle short."
1:55: Kubek interviews Berle. Forty seconds. Air of congratulations in control truck. Connal says he was director for Berle show in early '50s; this shortest time Milty ever on air. New record.
1:57: Berle follows Kubek from interview booth to broadcast booth. Will be no record today. Berle brings son Billy along; both wear Dodger caps. Billy, 7, bounds into booth, shouts at top of voice. Gowdy on air. Furious NBC man grabs little boy, looks wildly toward 50-foot drop over front of booth. Does not throw child out of booth. Milton says "Shshshshshsh."
1:58: Gowdy turns to find source of commotion, does not miss syllable of play-by-play. Billy says to Gowdy, "Shshshshsh." Gowdy laughs. Berle takes chair by Gowdy. Kubek's chair. No choice now: Curt reintroduces Milty to breathless audience.
2: Dodgers are rallying in third. Men on first, third, Willie Davis up. Two outs. Crowd yelling. Berle lights cigar, tells jokes, scowls when Billy tries to climb on lap. Gowdy continues running play-by-play. Billy tries for Milty's lap again; Berle shakes him, glares, pushes, hisses, "Shut UP!" Billy throws self on floor, sulks, kicks feet. Gowdy keeps up flawless play-by-play. Amazing.
2:03: Willie Davis hits into force out. Inning over. Score 0-0. In Elks Club, Mr. Poppy cranes to see over several women ordering drinks at bar. Women chatter. Busboy claps hands twice.
2:08: Women argue over who should pay for drinks. Mr. Poppy closes eyes. Women go to corner table. Berle and Billy leave NBC broadcast booth. Occupants grateful.
2:10: Harry Coyle has Walter O'Malley's hillside shrubs in focus. Kusserow tells Gowdy to talk about them. Curt reads list of plants: African daisies, ice plant, birds of paradise, gazania. Kubek says what's gazania? Gowdy says he always thought it was animal.
2:20: Mr. Poppy cleans gold-rimmed specs with handkerchief. Kusserow tells Gowdy to mention Dixieland band playing atop Dodger dugout. Gowdy scowls, snaps over intercom to Kusserow that he can't hear what Lou is saying because some damn band is playing on Dodger dugout.
2:30: Dodger's Sizemore on, steals second. Two out in fifth. Man in silk shirt enters Elks Club, asks Mr. Poppy who's playing, glances at set in nick of time to see Crawford double to score Sizemore. Dodgers 1, Cards 0. Silk Shirt orders Scotch, turns his back on TV.
2:50: Bottom of sixth. Cardinal Pitcher Torrez walks two. Control truck senses change of pitcher upcoming, chance for commercial. "Stand by," says associate director. Elks Club busboy says, "Take 'im out, Red. Take 'im out before it's too late!" Schoendienst removes Torrez. Kusserow replaces Torrez with Phillips Petroleum.
2:54: Two Dodgers on base. Tension, terrific. Sudakis hits to left. Brock makes Herculean throw to plate. Dodgers' Tom Haller out! Crowd roars. Busboy leaps up, yells, "Out! Beautiful!"
2:55: In control truck, Harry Coyle calls for isolated-tape replay, close-up of dramatic play at home. Beautiful. Kusserow says, "That's one of the best shots this year, Harry." Coyle lights another Omega, says into intercom: "Nice going, isolated. Nice going, video tape. Nice going, everybody."
3:01: New bartender at Elks Club. Moves mixing operation to end of bar nearest TV set. A fan.
3:04: Brock singles. Tension among NBC crew. If Brock steals second, it's 18th steal in 18 attempts. Coyle says: ' 'Camera 5 you stay on Brock for the isolated. On the split screen, 2 you'll be on the left with the hitter, 3 you'll be on the right with Brock. We go full screen to 2 for a hit, full screen to 3 if he steals." Perfect. Brock steals while on split screen. Camera 3 zooms full-screen down the base path. Camera 5, in centerfield, gets tight shot, isolated, at second. Replay instantaneous; isolated superb; 18 for 18 for Brock. One for one for Coyle. At Elks Club, new bartender missed play mixing Scotch and water. Busboy in men's room. Shriners talking. Women talking. Silk Shirt has back to screen. Only Mr. Poppy saw. He does not move. He does not blink. He does not speak. Fade. Camel commercial. Perfect.
3:10: Dodgers load bases, none out, crowd bellowing, last of seventh. Gowdy sips Coke, stretches, looks lazy, still blurts words with maximum drama. Wes Parker up. Mr. Poppy intent. Busboy, too. Bartender, too. Crucial moment.
3:13: Parker singles. Two Dodger runs score. Mr. Poppy blinks. Coyle orders shot of screaming Dodger crowd. "Shoot anywhere in the crowd, anywhere, just get the frenzy," he shouts. Frenzy picture comes on. Game out of Cards' reach. Bartender slams hand on bar. Busboy rises, makes derisive gesture at TV. Woman's voice fills Elks Club, "Charlie, I never had so much fun in my life as that night, remember? There was you and Bob and Leo...."
3:21: Dodgers score again. Double play ends seventh, 4-0. Chrysler commercial. Kubek hums, "Mr. Sandman...." Gowdy clears throat, blows nose. Audioman in control truck says, "Curt runs outta voice in the seventh and eighth, we got to pop him a little." Turns dial to pop Gowdy.
3:30: Shriners leave Elks Club. Women stay. Mr. Poppy stays. Game drags on. One more Dodger run. Mr. Poppy sees all.
3:34: Connal on phone with Broadcast Operations Control in New York, says, "Roger. We got to 3:43:40." Meaning at that instant, Game of the Week is off air if game is over. Sense of new tension builds among NBC crew now. Flight to New York leaves L.A. at 4:30. Next plane not until 10:30 p.m. red-eye special, arrival 6:30 a.m. New York. NBC now pulling hard for Cards to die fast in ninth to make 4:30 plane.
3:38: Brock goes out. Game over. Gowdy does hurried wrap-up. Coyle lights another Omega. Kusserow says, "Good show, let's go." Connal, Kusserow, Coyle, Kubek pile into waiting limousines, roar off toward airport and 4:30 flight.
3:45: Allan Roth packs statistics books and towel; no coffee spilled today. Gowdy stretches and groans. Mr. Poppy rises from bar stool for first time. Smiles thinly. Says softly to no one in particular, "That's all she wrote."
On that warm spring day in May of 1969, 10 million Americans sat down and watched a single baseball game—more people than saw the St. Louis Cardinals play from 1926 to 1946. They witnessed a complete production, courtesy of MassCom: Gowdy, 18-for-18, Raygan, Dixieland, petroleum, Berle, gold blazer, Star-Spangled, Mantle, gazania, Parker, 5-0, Chrysler and 3:43:40. Mr. Poppy never had it so good.
The corporations that foot the bills, the people they hope to reach, where sport outsells "Bananas" and why fans should root for the GNP.