An Interview with Curt Gowdy
The following is an interview with ASA Hall of Famer and former voice of the Boston Red Sox and ABC Sports Curt Gowdy, which was conducted by ASA President Lou Schwartz in July of 2000.
Lou Schwartz: How did you get your first start in broadcasting?
Curt Gowdy: It was in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I just got out of the Air Core and went into the Mayo Clinic to have a spinal operation. When I came back home they told me I shouldn't work for six months. About three or four months into the recovery period, a local radio station in Cheyenne called me and said they had a football game the next day and they wanted to know if I would broadcast it. I told them that I had never broadcast anything in my life and I didn't know anything about it, but the manager said he knew that I played basketball at Wyoming and I was a sports person. Also, if I didn't do it, he and his wife would, since there was no one else around because it was during the war in 1943. I told him I would call him back with an answer and after thinking it over I decided to do it.
I went down to a vacant lot at 7 am the next morning and there were two soap boxes sitting there and an old fashioned mike. There was a kid standing there so I walked up to him and he introduced himself. He said he was there to do the commercials. Apparently, they sold the game for $50 to 10 sponsors and they would pay me $5 to do the game. I looked out onto the field and there were no yard lines, goal lines or side lines. Just two goal posts. Just then, a school bus drove up and let out the two teams. One was from Pine Bluffs and the other was St. Mary's, a small Catholic school in Cheyenne. I asked the coaches for the team rosters but they didn't have them. The next thing I knew the whistle blew and the game had started.
I ended up making up the whole game and all the names of the players. I used names of players I played basketball with and guys who were with me in the Air Force. I got home that night and the station manager called me and said, "You're a natural play-by-play announcer. Would you like to do our high school basketball games this winter?" I told him I would since I needed something to do and that was the start of my career in broadcasting. In the future, when I would be doing the Rose Bowl, the Super Bowl or the World Series, I would think back to that vacant lot and those two soap boxes and realize how lucky I was to get started in broadcasting.
LS: Do you remember your first salary?
CG: It was $30 a week at KMBC in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I worked five or six days and I did everything from sports to news to disc jockey. It was the greatest education I ever got.
LS: When did you get your first big break?
CG: I got two big breaks in my life. The first was when I was broadcasting a high school basketball game in 1945 in Cheyenne and a man named Ken Brown, who was the manager of KOMA, a 50,000 watt CBS station in Oklahoma City, heard the game. He was in his car so he pulled over and asked about me and who I was and where he could contact me. I got home from the game around 10:30 that night and the phone rang and it was him. At first, I thought it was somebody kidding me because I used to get prank phone calls from the guys in town saying it was Bill Stern or Ted Husing so I thought it was a joke. So I said, "C'mon, who is this?" So he said, "My name is Ken Brown, the station manager of KOMA and I want to talk to you about something you might be interested in." He said he would be checking into a local hotel and invited me down to have breakfast with him. By then I was convinced this was for real so the next morning I went down and had breakfast with him. He said he just acquired the exclusive rights to the University of Oklahoma football. It was the first time they had ever given exclusive rights to a station. He told me that his sports director was giving him some trouble but he wanted to be loyal to him so he was giving him some time to get his act together. He asked me if it didn't work out with his sports director would I be interested in coming down. Of course I said yes and in June he fired his sports director and offered me the job to do the Oklahoma football games.
LS: How many sports did you do?
CG: Down there I did Oklahoma football and then I talked them into doing college highlight basketball games. I also did Texas league baseball which led to my second big break with the Yankees.
LS: In the 58 years that you've been broadcasting, what do you consider the greatest moment in sports?
CG: I would say Super Bowl III. It wasn't the best game I ever broadcast or the most exciting but it was a historic game since the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts. That changed the thinking of America about the AFL. Suddenly everyone started to say they were as good as the NFL, which from top to bottom they weren't. But that really changed the outlook of pro football and was probably the greatest upset of all time.
LS: In your opinion, who do you think was the greatest baseball player?
CG:When I joined the Yankees in 1949 with Mel Allen, Joe DiMaggio was there but he was hurt. He had lost most of his throwing arm but he was still graceful and you could see how great he must have been. Ted Williams, who I became very close to, was the best hitter in the game. But the best all around player I ever saw, when I used to do the NBC game of the week, was Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants.
LS: Tell me about your days of broadcasting basketball.
CG: That was my main sport. I did all the basketball when I came to New York. When they opened the gates to television, I did the famous "Double Slam," when City College won both the National Invitational Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. I also sat in and broadcast all the highlight college games at Madison Square Garden.
LS: What was the most embarrassing moment you ever had during your career?
CG: In 1950, Red Barber, who was the Sports Director of the CBS Radio Network, called me up and said they were going to have a new show called "College Football Scoreboard" and he'd like me to do it. I said okay and for 13 weeks every Saturday I'd go over there and do this football show. After the third or fourth week, I was about a half-hour before I was ready to go so I headed over to the studio.
The studio was about eight or nine floors above the Sports Department so I pushed for the elevator and I waited and waited but it never came. I decided to walk up so I went into the stairwell and walked up there but the door was locked. I started banging on the door but nobody answered. I looked at my watch and it was about six minutes to six and here I am with this great opportunity to broadcast coast to coast and I'm stuck in the stairwell.
I decided to run down to the floor I was on before and I heard someone yelling, "Gowdy, where are you?" "They're waiting for you upstairs." When I got down to the floor they had the elevator waiting for me so I rushed up with about 30 seconds until the show started. I had my script in my hand and I sat down but I couldn't say anything because I was out of breath. I pointed to the announcer to introduce me and I made the worst ad-lib in the history of radio. I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the studio. I got stuck in the stairwell." The people must have thought I was crazy or drunk or something.
Finally, I took a deep breath and started to read the script and I was alright. After the show I thought I was finished. On Monday morning, Red Barber called me and said, "Young man, you must remember in radio the second hand is always ticking. You should have been in that studio when you were supposed to." After I told him what had happened he was very understanding and told me that he hoped wouldn't happen again.
LS: I read somewhere about the time you brought Howard Cosell to Wyoming. Tell me about that.
CG: They had a day for me in Wyoming, "Curt Gowdy Day," in 1972. There was a big banquet and they named a state park after me. They also gave me an Honorary Degree in Law from the University of Wyoming. They said I could bring some people with me so I asked Howard Cosell if he would like to come. He said they wouldn't like him because he was a Jew and there were no Jews in Wyoming. I told him that was crazy and finally convinced him to come.
When we got there, there were a lot of people at the airport and they had these cars waiting for us. What we didn't know is that we left our wives at the airport. Mrs. Cosell and Mrs. Carl Lindeman, the wife of the President of NBC Sports, rode a foot truck into town. Howard never forgave me for that. That night, they had a big banquet. There had to be 1000 people there. About a half-hour before the banquet, Cosell called me and said he had to talk to me. He was really worried about giving a speech because he was Jewish and people might not like him. I told him he was crazy and that these were really nice people and everything would be fine.
During the banquet they called him up to speak and he spoke for about 10 minutes and afterwards he sat down and there was dead silence. All of a sudden the whole crowd rose and gave him a standing ovation. Cosell was so overwhelmed that he started to cry. So I turned to him and said, "See, and you thought people from Wyoming didn't like you."
LS: Who was your favorite owner in baseball?
CG: Tom Yawkey of the Boston Red Sox. He was the greatest ever, for the players and for the game.
LS: Who was your easiest interview?
CG: Ted Williams. He was smart and had a great voice. When you asked him a question he would give you a clear and concise answer. And not just for me but for all the reporters.
LS: What is your favorite stadium?
CG: Fenway Park.
LS: What is your favorite city?
CG: Boston. It's a great town. Who would of thought that a kid from Wyoming would live in Beantown. But we love it. My wife and I raised our kids there.
LS: What is your favorite hotel?
CG: Actually, when I was with the Yankees, we stayed at the Kenmore hotel in Boston. It was right down the street from Fenway and they were very nice to us there.
LS: You've won a few awards in your day, haven't you?
CG: I was the first person in the field of sports to win the George Foster Peabody Award in 1972. At the ceremony when I spoke I thanked them for finally recognizing sports on television. It was the first time they had ever really recognized us. I mentioned that in sports, the script doesn't change by the month, by the week, or by the day, but by the second. I also won 13 Emmys, six of them as the producer of the "American Sportsman."
LS: You're also a great fisherman and I know you fished with a couple of Presidents.
CG: I fished with President Carter and President Bush. It was a great honor.
LS: What do you think of the current state of sports?
CG: It's so different now. Everything is money. Big team payrolls. The inefficiency of small market teams trying to compete. The Yankees have a payroll of $107 million. Other teams have payrolls of $28 million. How can they compete? It's a shame that money has become such a big factor and the players are so obscenely rich. But nobody tells the owners they can't give it to them. There's no rules. That's the biggest difference now, is that money runs the whole thing.
LS: Do you think team owners are too easy on players who break the rules
CG: Well you have the union now. The players should get down on their knees every night and thank Marvin Miller for that. He was a great labor lawyer and beat baseball every time. Take Carl Everett, the outfielder for the Red Sox. He just butted an umpire so they fined him and suspended him for 10 days. Now the union is appealing it even though he did butt the umpire. He probably won't win the appeal but they fight every incident for the player. They're so powerful that they can shut down the game any day they want. It used to be, when I was with the Red Sox, a player couldn't go anywhere unless he was traded or he quit. Now they have free agency and there's a lot more movement of players.
LS: I know you're familiar with the book Bob Costas wrote on improving baseball. Do you have any suggestions that you think would improve the game?
CG: They've got to do something about the inequity of the little markets competing with the big markets. The Yankees get at least 50 or 60 million dollars alone form cable and they're going to get an even better deal on their next contract. Markets in Minnesota, Kansas City, get two or three million. So how can you compete with them. They have to do something about that. They just had a blue ribbon panel study where they said they've got to do something to reward the smaller markets to give them a chance to compete more evenly. Also, if need be, if the club is not doing well, like in Montreal, move the franchise. That's the main thing. I don't see too much wrong with the NFL setup or the NBA, but baseball has got problems.
LS: Who are your favorite sportscasters of all time?
CG: Ted Husing was my favorite when I was growing up. I loved Mel Allen and Red Barber. They were great baseball announcers. Nowadays, I think Al Michaels is the best play-by-play announcer. Bob Costas is a very bright guy and is great in the studio. Dick Enberg has a drama to him which is outstanding. Now we really have two categories, with the play-by-play guys and the analysts. I would say John Madden is the top analyst. Everyone seems to like him. In basketball, there are two guys I like a lot. One is Hubie Brown on Turner Network who is very intelligent and the other is Doug Collins, who I think is very good. In baseball, I always liked Tim McCarver.
LS: We recently lost two of our Board of Director members, Don Dunphy and Jack Brickhouse. What do you have to say about these two?
CG: These were two all time greats. Don Dunphy was boxing. When you think of boxing, you think of Dunphy, with all the great fights he broadcast in the 40s, 50s and 60s. He was the greatest fight announcer ever and a wonderful human being. Jack Brickhouse is synonymous with Chicago sports. He did the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, you name it. He was famous for the call "Hey, hey" anytime a player hit a home run. They were two giants of the industry that helped propel the industry forward.