GIANT OF THE AIRWAVES

Ted Husing stood out among early sportscasters
April 01, 1990

In August 1962, Ted Husing died at the age of 60 in a nursing home in Pasadena, not far from the Rose Bowl. He was a difficult man to like personally, and he died alone after a long illness, all but forgotten by the public that had once hung on his every broadcast. The newspaper obituaries consisted of only a few paragraphs.

As this magazine's television and radio writer during much of the 1980s, I often heard announcers mention Husing's name with the kind of reverence accorded Edward R. Murrow in news-broadcasting circles. The roll call of the top sportscasters has always included Red Barber, Mel Allen, Vin Scully and Husing—above all, Husing. Yet his fame didn't endure, which is puzzling, because he was one of the most celebrated figures in all of radio in the '30s and '40s, a giant on the order of Jack Benny and Arthur Godfrey.

Not long ago I decided to find out how Husing sounded. I had never had the chance to hear him, having come of age, radiowise, about the time he retired as a disc jockey from WMGM in New York City in 1954. But I had been told so much about his wonderful sound, his precise reporting and the elegance of his diction that I went to the Museum of Broadcasting in Manhattan and listened to recordings of his broadcasts of several events from the late 1930s. What I heard convinced me that the lavish praise was deserved. Husing had a voice so smooth, self-assured and mesmerizing that it's easy to understand how he became so admired.

After a few moments I began to picture tens of thousands of Americans at their consoles in the parlor, hanging onto Husing's words as his voice came over the airwaves from places as disparate as Berlin and West Point. I wanted to know more, and before long I found myself reading yellowed clippings about him as well as the confessional autobiography he wrote not long before he died. Husing thought a lot of himself, but not without good reason.

In TV sportscasting today, the emphasis is on content and personality, more or less in that order. In Husing's radio days, the emphasis was on sound. And the sound Husing had—measured, resonant, every word enunciated—was unforgettable. "The two things you listen for in an opera singer are, does he have ping and does he have a noble sound," says New York-based sports-caster Bill Mazer, who, when he was starting in the business in 1947, studied Husing and occasionally worked alongside him. "If you listen to Robert Merrill, there's a nobility to his sound, and there's also a ping to it. It is a sound that is down here"—he points to his diaphragm—"and goes right through: M-e-e-e-e! That's the kind of sound Husing had. It was enormous. It was unapproached [by anyone else]."

Husing was born above his father's saloon in the Bronx on Thanksgiving Day, 1901. He never went to college, and that left him with a feeling of inferiority, which may be the reason he developed what some might think of as a Harvard accent. The accent no doubt helped him rise to prominence in an age that prized diction and elocution.

Husing was to the broadcasting of sports what Allison Danzig of The New York Times was to the writing of sports. His voice imparted a certain dignity to even the most pedestrian event:

Hel-LOO, every-ONE every-WHAIHH, on a windswept afternoon in Ann AHH-buh, the Wolverines of Michigan and the AHH-mee eleven will soon take the field....

Husing could and did say that a receiver broke into the tertiary for a long pass, that a Harvard play was desultory, that the claret was streaming from a fighter's nose. All his announcing was of a piece—seamless, the words flowing off his tongue in perfect balance and harmony. It's a good bet that he would have had contempt for the strident, breathless shouting of today's announcers, for Husing knew that hushed tones were the best accompaniment for drama:

The American twist...taken off the backhand...put deep across court.... Budge's backhand goes down the line.... They're in a baseline batting rally.... Now here's Budge coming in under a forcing forehand [Husing's voice rises here]...a lob put to him...and he puts it away beautifully!

Husing was a payroll clerk for a New York City hosiery manufacturer in 1925 when a local station hired him for a studio announcing job for which 600 others had also auditioned. Within four years he had become CBS's first national sportscaster. He covered everything—baseball and the Olympics, golf and tennis, boxing and polo, horse racing and auto racing, even the Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) regatta.

Initially CBS gave Husing assignments outside sports as well. He single-handedly covered the 1928 Democratic national convention for the network and that November announced to the nation the election of Herbert Hoover as president. By the '30s Husing was one of the network's headliners, along with Benny, Eddie Cantor and Edgar Bergen.

Husing's celebrity was such that his personal life was often in the news. The second of his three marriages, to the movie star Celia Ryland, was a choice morsel in the gossip columns; like his first marriage, this one would end in divorce. CBS afforded Husing the unprecedented luxury of having two full-time scouts, who circulated around the country, filing background reports to him for the upcoming college football games he would broadcast. He was always prepared to the nth degree, his broadcasts carrying a stamp of authority that other announcers couldn't hope to duplicate.

Husing had an almost poetic ability to paint pictures with words. "On the air, you didn't think of Ted Husing the person," says Marty Glickman, a football and track star of the 1930s who became a premier sportscaster himself. "He was too filled with that which he was describing. You could smell the autumn when he broadcast, you could see the rustling of the leaves, you could feel the wind howling through the stadium."

Unlike Bill Stern, his broadcasting contemporary who wasn't above inventing a lateral if he had misidentified the fellow with the ball, Husing never allowed his ego to interfere with the action on the field. Away from the mike, though, his image became hugely important to him, and he spent long hours polishing it at the bar of the "21" Club in Manhattan. He liked to have Hollywood starlets on his arm, and among his watering hole pals were Damon Runyon, Westbrook Pegler and Ernest Hemingway.

Tall, thin and impressive-looking with his long El Greco face, Husing would glide into Toots Shor's in a snap-brim hat and a camel hair coat wrapped around his shoulders in the manner of a cape. He would no more have loosened his tie than be seen in shoes without laces. His dress shirts were custom-made with low collars, so that his majestic vocal chords would not be restricted. "He was dashing, a Douglas Fairbanks Jr. type," says filmmaker Bud Greenspan, who is best known for his documentaries about the Olympics. "He'd be sitting at a table in Toots Shor's just talking, and people would turn around and look because they'd heard such a unique voice. He wouldn't say, 'Hello, how are you.' It would be, 'Hel-looooo, how ahhhr you.' "

The more I learned about Husing, the more I was struck by the similarities between him and Howard Cosell. The sound of their voices was very different, and Husing would have sneered at Cosell's bombast. In other respects, however, Cosell seemed to be his alter ego. Cosell also used $50 words. Both men's voices and mannerisms were mimicked nationwide. Cosell, too, was arrogant and imperious, possessed an encyclopedic memory, took over rooms the moment he entered them, fashioned himself as a friend of stars, frequented "21," spurned kindnesses and retired from sportscasting a lonely soul.

Another trait Husing shared with Cosell was bluntness. In 1935, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the baseball commissioner, barred Husing from covering the World Series for having called the umpiring in the previous Series "some of the worst I've ever seen." In 1931, Harvard had banned him from its football games for having described the performance of one of its heroes as "putrid."

Husing surprised everyone in 1946, when, at the peak of his career, he left CBS to become a disc jockey at WHN, which later would become WMGM. His daily show, Ted Husing's Bandstand, brought him into closer contact with a number of his show-biz pals, including Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller, and raised his annual salary from $27,500 to the then stupendous sum of $250,000, but he wasn't happy. He moonlighted, doing Army and Baltimore Colt games for the fledgling DuMont Television Network, but he no longer was the center of the scene.

In 1953, Husing's assistant at the West Point Network, Walter Kennedy, who would later become commissioner of the NBA, noticed that Husing appeared emotionally and physically spent after a routine broadcast of the Army-Northwestern football game. For several years Husing had been experiencing pain and an occasional loss of control in his right leg and arm but had told no one. Shortly after this broadcast, Husing learned that he had a brain tumor. Twice in the next three years he underwent surgery, and the first operation was unspeakably cruel, for the nerves that controlled what he cherished most, his voice and his vision, were damaged.

WMGM kept him on the air for a while. "He'd talk in slow motion because his vocal cords were affected," recalls Greenspan, who was the station's sports director at the time. "They'd put him on tape and speed up the tape just a little so it would seem normal. But his deep resonant voice sounded more like a soprano, and it didn't work out."

In his autobiography, My Eyes Are in My Heart, which was published in 1959, Husing told about learning of his condition shortly after his first operation:

There came a day I will not forget. A window was open, and I could smell the sweet odor of spring. I felt pretty good.

"Is anybody here?" I called out.

"Yes, Mr. Husing."

"And who are you?"

"I'm Miss Allen, your 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. nurse."

"I hope you 're not too beautiful, Miss Allen," I kidded, "because when they take these bandages off my eyes and I first see you, I might never want to leave the hospital."

There was no response.

I said, "Are you still there, Miss Allen?"

"Mr. Husing.... "Her voice became grave.

"Yes, Nurse?"

"There are no bandages on your eyes."

Husing lived eight more years, sitting in a favorite chair, first in his mother's house in Pasadena and then, when she was no longer able to care for him, at the nursing home in Pasadena, waiting for the phone to ring and thinking about friends and faith for the first time.

One of the last people to comment on Husing's work was Red Smith. In 1962, after Husing's death, Smith wrote, "His broadcasts were models of stone-age simplicity. Everything he did, he did well."

Perhaps Husing's fame failed to last because he passed from the scene at the very time television eclipsed radio. He never made the transition. Toward the end, reviews and legacies proved unimportant for Husing. All that mattered were his friends, who came around too seldom, and a desire to make peace with the world and himself. "I want to say I'm sorry," he wrote in his book. "I raced through life with my foot pressed firmly against an imaginary accelerator that propelled me too fast and swept aside too many who innocently strayed into my egocentric path."

PHOTONear the end of his radio career Husing was a highly paid disc jockey on a New York City station. TWO PHOTOSAPThe ubiquitous Husing covered the 1932 Winter Olympics (top) and toted a portable broadcast unit at a track meet. PHOTOUPI/BETTMANN NEWSPHOTOSHusing's brief marriage to Celia Ryland provided grist for the gossip columns.

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