Expanded coverage of Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame Ceremony

By Carolyn Braff

December 11, 2007 was a landmark night for sports broadcasting. In front of a standing-room-only audience at the Hilton Hotel in New York City, the inaugural class was inducted to the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and the ceremony brought alternate fits of laughter and tears to every member of the distinguished audience. “This is an exciting night for the sports broadcasting community,” said Bob Costas of NBC Sports and HBO Sports, who co-hosted the event along with Jim Nantz of CBS Sports. “For the first time ever, we are honoring those who have made televised sports a cultural phenomenon and an economic powerhouse.”

A distinguished audience of more than 400 industry executives gathered for the reception and ceremony, the first of its kind, which inaugurated the first 11 members of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

“Tonight we lay the cornerstone in the foundation of a Hall of Fame that in coming years will honor the many personalities and visionaries who have enriched our careers and lives, and the lives of sports fans around the globe,” Nantz said.

The inaugural class was selected by a blue-ribbon panel of 43 industry visionaries brought together by the Sports Video Group, producers of the event. The panel included such luminaries as Dick Ebersol, Ross Greenburg, David Hill, Howard Katz, Geoff Mason, Sean McManus, Don Ohlmeyer and Michael Weisman, many of whom were in the audience for the presentation. Two rounds of voting narrowed a list of 100 finalists to the 11 honored at the event.

The 2007 class of inductees is comprised of: Roone Arledge, president of ABC Sports; Julius Barnathan, president of Broadcast Operations and Engineering for ABC Sports; Frank Chirkinian, producer of 38 Masters Tournaments and the father of televised golf; Howard Cosell, ABC Sports broadcaster; Harry Coyle, NBC Sports director; Jim McKay, ABC Sports broadcaster; Pete Rozelle, commissioner of the National Football League; Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films; Tom Shelburne, founder of NEP Supershooters; Larry Thorpe, sports technology guru and the promoter of HD television; and George Wensel, founder of NEP Broadcasting.

Nantz and Costas’ combined five decades of experience in sports broadcasting allowed them to add a personal touch to the evening’s presentations. The talented masters of ceremonies added their own anecdotes to the already rich store of heartfelt stories told over the course of the evening and spread a genuine awe for the accomplishments of some of the industry’s founding fathers.

“This is the greatest night of the year,” Costas proclaimed. The audience overwhelmingly agreed with him.

Each award was presented with a personal introduction about the winner given by someone who knew or worked with him as well as a video of some of the winner’s most notable accomplishments. Friends and family members involved in the presentation included legends like Dick Ebersol, Don Ohlmeyer, Michael Weisman, Lou Siracusano, Debbie Honkus, Roone Arledge, Jr., Steve Sabol, and Sean McManus.

“It’s a real pleasure to be a part of this evening honoring so many professionals who had an important influence on most of us during the formative years of our careers,” said Ohlmeyer, a legend in his own right. Ohlmeyer gave a moving tribute to Howard Cosell before presenting the award to Cosell’s granddaughter, Caitlen Cohane.

Pete Rozelle’s daughter, Anne Bratton, accepted the award on her father’s behalf and shared some particularly insightful stories of his early years.

“A kind and wise relative aptly realized that Alvin was not a name bound for success – not for his business long-term and certainly not in his playground at that moment,” Bratton said. “So she randomly changed his name from Alvin to Pete, and with that name change came a new set of initials for my father: P.R. And a foresightful choice that was!”

CBS Sports’ Michael Weisman accepted Harry Coyle’s award by sharing some of the baseball visionary’s least-known, but most humorous, moments from inside the production booth:

“We were working a game and I remember at one point, there were runners on second and third and Harry yells, ‘get me the runner!’ So all the cameramen focus in on the runner on second. But Harry yells, ‘no, no, get me the runner! The runner!’ So all the cameramen shift to focus on the runner on third. Harry hells, ‘no, the runner! The food runner! I’m starving, get me a hot dog!’”

Particularly touching was the award presented to George Wensel, an innovator whose premature and accidental death shocked everyone in the industry, including Ken Aagaard, SVP of operations and production services at CBS Sports.

“On July 18, 1995, we lost one of the most prolific broadcasters this business has ever known,” Aagaard said. “George always had a way of making those around him better. He taught us that the show is most important. Make the show work, and everything works.”

Presenting Wensel’s award to his two sons, Brent and Colin, was one of Aagaard’s primary reasons for helping to organize the event, and the presentation of that award was particularly moving.

In presenting Julius Barnathan’s award, Lou Siracusano, chairman and CEO of Azzurro HD, reminded the audience that without the behind-the-scenes innovations of many of the evening’s honorees, the high-profile broadcasters and executives most often recognized in public forums would never have made it onto the screen.

“The innovations of ABC executives like Roone Arledge were always on our television,” Siracusano said. “What wasn’t there was the behind-the-scenes genius of Julie Barnathan. I kind of feared that men like Julie were being forgotten and that we were not doing enough to remember them, so I praise the efforts of this organization in recognizing tonight’s honorees.”

Siracusano went on to thank the Hall of Fame for remembering those whose contributions are most often overlooked by the public due to the backstage nature of their occupations. He was comforted by the fact that the Broadcasting Hall of Fame had ensured their place in history alongside the household names and faces of broadcast history.

Throughout the evening, the idea of the national broadcasting family connected each presenter and award winner. Nearly every speaker to take the podium acknowledged the importance of the broadcasting family in helping their careers to evolve, and the existing relationships between so many of the attendees punctuated the theme.

“The world of broadcasting certainly gave our home lives a huge warm and supportive family that helped us throughout our careers and personal lives,” Bratton said.

“The best thing about my television life is the great people who share the rush of what we do,” inductee Tom Shelburne added.

The events of the evening bridged the gap between on-screen successes and off-screen praise, acknowledging the efforts of some of the industry’s most important leaders who have made contributions from every possible angle – in front of the camera, behind the camera, inside of the camera, and even creating the camera itself. It was truly an evening no attendee will soon forget.

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