Sunday, March 3, 2013

Graded writing assignment # 2 (Due Tuesday, April 2): Read and report on a book covering more than a decade in broadcasting history. (350-500 words; 4-5 secondary sources. Wikipedia and IMDB don’t count here.)


  1. I can think of nothing worse than the lone biography of your hero being written by someone who has a political agenda and apparently can not write. That is the unfortunate result of “Pull Up a Chair”, the only known biography of Vin Scully, written by former George H. W. Bush speechwriter Curt Smith. Smith manages to not only repeatedly reference Republican politicians (including a forced recognition of how humble Bush was), but even inserts Republican talking points, pointing out how Scully's family was too proud to rely on government handouts. This all in the biography of a baseball broadcaster, one who I grew up with as a personal hero, and one who, thankfully, I still was able to learn more about.

    Smith's praise of Scully is rightfully effusive - “Most Voices descend to meet an audience. Vin asks his to rise” (x), and the introduction focuses largely on how special the Dodger broadcaster is. From there, Smith focuses on Scully's life and career. As a kid, Scully crawled under the radio, listening for hours, and grew up listening to Graham McNamee, Ted Husing and Bill Stern. McNamee was one of most wide known faces in broadcasting in the early 1920s, winning the award of America's most popular announcer at the 1925 Radio World Fair.

    Smith also goes through some radio history as well. The first radio broadcast of a baseball game was on August 5, 1921, when KDKA Pittsburgh's Harold W. Arlin bought a seat at the ballpark, used a telephone as a microphone, and did the first ever play-by-play. At first, network radio covered only the yearly World Series. Eventually, they added the All-Star games and the local home schedule before finally adding road games as well.

    Before Scully, the announcer for the Dodgers was Red Barber. Scully got one of his first big breaks in 1953 when Barber refused to announce the World Series for the measly $200 that sponsor Gilette offered. Instead, Scully was given the opportunity to take over and became the team's main announcer when Barber left the next season.

    Scully ended up moving with the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958, and it became custom for fans to bring radios to the ballpark – so they could listen to him narrate the game they were seeing. He has made many memorable calls, but my favorite is of when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record - “What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron. … And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months.”


    Pibb99. “Vin Scully's Call of Hank Aaron's 715th Home Run.” YouTube. Uploaded March 4, 2010. Recorded April 8, 1974.
    Siegel, Joel. “Red Barber's Memoirs Take Us Behind the Sports Microphone, But Not Very Far.” Sports Illustrated. May 10, 1971.
    Smith, Curt. Pull Up a Chair: The Vin Scully Story. 2009. Potomac Books, Inc.
    TIME Magazine. Sport: Voices. October 3, 1927.

  2. PART 1
    Whether one thinks that ESPN is a creator of news rather than a disseminator, they are “about the fans and their sports, not about themselves,” according to author Anthony F. Smith [1]. Unfortunately, it is this always positive, never negative attitude that permeates ESPN: The Company, a book that covers ESPN’s start and growth over the years. In a sports market driven by the thirst for sports news and action, ESPN elicits praise from its employees, viewers and even those on Wall Street, Smith writes. In 2007, the company earned roughly $5 billion and makes billions in profit each year. ESPN is estimated to be worth almost as much as $30 billion, according to the book. That is not bad considering what ESPN started as back in 1979.

    Smith drones on and on about how great ESPN is. He prefaced the book with the admission, “I love working with ESPN,” and recounted how he told then ESPN President Steve Bornstein, “Steve, what you are doing here, not to mention what you have done, is an inspirational and instructional lesson for all big and small companies alike.” Smith refuses to rid his bias and brownnosing in the subsequent chapters, going on to say that ESPN “scooped up” the early opportunities that all other networks “completely missed.” That is not to say that ESPN does not deserve credit, but the book would have been more accurate if it were titled, ESPN: The Best Company of All Time, According to ESPN’s #1 Fan, Anthony F. Smith.

    Bill Rasmussen is widely hailed as the creator of ESPN. Rasmussen worked as the communications director of the New England Whalers hockey team until he was fired in 1978. Immediately after he was fired, he called a local TV producer and pitched an idea: create a cable channel that dealt with Connecticut college sports. “You may not want to talk to me – I just got fired,” Rasmussen jokingly told the producer, according to a Forbes story [2]. But the producer allowed him to go forth. Rasmussen then met with an RCA representative, bought a cable package, and created the E.S.P (Entertainment and Sports Programming) Network. Rasmussen, along with his son Scott, soon hatched the idea for Sports Center, a program that could give an audience a rundown of different sporting events. Soon, people started buying ESPN and it became a regular channel in every household.

  3. PART 2

    After stumbling through the ‘70s and ‘80s, ESPN started to make its money at the dawn of the 1990s. In 1993, ESPN 2 was launched and one can see how the company manifested into a multi-channel corporation, including ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPN Classic and ESPN Deportes. Soon, ESPN became “the giant that always gets its way,” according to Smith. The company now has more than 7,000 employees worldwide and attracts about 115 million viewers per month, according to the ESPN, Inc. Fact Sheet [3]. An NPR podcast attributed that success to “a tone that says, ‘yes we’re obsessed with sports, but no, it really isn’t that important. We’re having a good time telling you about it.’” [4]

    ESPN broadcasts essentially changed the pace of sports journalism, Smith writes in the book. They took the stories right off of the front page of newspapers and jammed them together in a crammed, yet logical fashion. Smith says the fast-paced nature of ESPN is necessary. “At some point, you need to pull the trigger, make the decision, and make adjustments along the way,” Smith writes. “Truth is, you will need to make your adjustments anyway, so why not get started a few days before your competition.” And it is the kind of competition ESPN has been steamrollering more and more with innovation. As ESPN Executive Vice President John Walsh said in an ESPN online discussion, “In 31 years, ESPN has learned to be adaptable and flexible. The best minds at the company are brainstorming and figuring out what’s best for a sports audience.” [5] Although it seems to be greatly biased in the favor of ESPN, ESPN: The Company adequately captures that sentiment and recounts the history of one of the most successful corporations of all time.


    [1] Smith, Anthony F., and Keith Hollihan.ESPN the company : the story and lessons behind the most fanatical brand in sports. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.
    [2] Forbes Article:
    [3] ESPN, Inc. Fact Sheet:
    [4] NPR Story:
    [5] John Walsh Interview:

  4. I picked up “Give 'em soul, Richard!: race, radio, and rhythm and blues in Chicago” because I had never heard of Richard Stamz and was immediately drawn to the subtitle reading “Race, Radio, & Rhythm Blues in Chicago.” The book is narrated by Stamz with help from Patrick Roberts, who befriended the pioneering Chicago disc jockey at the age of 93, eight years before his death in 2007.

    Stamz’s magnetic personality is palpable and the book does provide interesting insight into blues and jazz and its connection to race and politics in the last century—however, the structure of the book bothered me. The chapters are basically split into introductions by Roberts, followed by first-hand accounts from Stamz, and ending with in-depth endnotes by Roberts. The jumbled structure made the biography a harder read.

    Nonetheless, I found Stamz’s personal story and character fascinating. The biography follows Stamz from his childhood in racist Memphis, to a job as a dancer with Ma Rainey in Chicago, to his transition into political activism in the 1940s, serving as head of the Better Englewood Council and the 41st Precinct Young Democrats registering young black voters. Stamz began promoting businesses on the streets of Chicago in his “Soul Machine” van, playing music loud and handing out “Soul Pills” [1], before landing the spot that made him famous as host on “Open the Door, Richard” on Chicago’s WGES. Stamz successfully balanced the worlds of music and activism; using his broadcasts to educate black Americans about “black self-improvement” a la W.E.B. Du Bois, while simultaneously befriending legends like Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dickson. [2]

    One particularly powerful moment that speaks to Stamz’s character is an episode from the Jerry Springer Show in the 1990s, where Stamz goes at it with a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Stamz asks the white robed monster, “If I got 1/16 black blood and that makes me black, how come 1/16 white blood don’t make me white”. Stamz’s daughter recalls that the audience went wild with cheer. [3]

    Stamz’s spirit and fearless persona especially comes alive in the video and photographic footage Roberts assembled into a short WBEZ documentary. When asked how to be a great salesman, Stamz replies to Roberts with assertion: “You need a vocabulary, that’s number one. You need a drive, which is a natural thing, is number 2. Vocabulary you gotta build but the drive comes naturally. You gotta to be forward and outspoken. You cannot be afraid because you sit down to talk to Mr. Jones and you cannot be afraid of Mr. Jones, you have got to sell Mr. Jones and if you want to sell Mr.Jones, you cannot fear. Because you cannot do anything with anything that you fear.” I couldn’t help but hold on to every word coming from the ponytail wearing 93-year-old. [4]

    [1] Chicago Sun Times Obituary:!msg/alt.obituaries/7rhTyk962_0/ey5AG5iHIqkJ
    [2] Give 'Em Soul, Richard!: Race, Radio, & Rhythm & Blues in Chicago. By Richard E Stamz and Patrick Roberts, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010).
    [3] WBEZ 91.5 Patrick Roberts Documentary:
    [4] WBEZ 91.5 Remembering the Life of Richard Stamz:

  5. Part 1

    Many television viewers remember Lucille Ball as the character “Lucy Ricardo” on CBS’s iconic 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. Ball and her main costars (real life husband Desi Arnaz, William Frawley and Vivian Vance) were a dynamic foursome that could make the audience roar with laughter. Lucy Ricardo lived a relatively carefree life while she was happily married to her husband and taking care of the home. But, Kathleen Brady’s “Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball” refocuses the public’s attention to reality: Lucille Ball was not Lucy Ricardo.

    Before Ball became a star with Lucy, she had a struggling career as a chorus girl in Vaudeville and Broadway productions, an actress in many failed movies and a model for different companies.[1] Brady dedicates almost half of the book (about 150 out of 340 pages) to discussing the trials and tribulations that Ball faced with her career before 1950, which is when Lucy was born. “She had been in Hollywood since the mid-‘30s, struggling in various short features over at Columbia and then moving to RKO, where again she was just passed over time and time again,” said Coyne Steven Sanders, co-author of the 1994 book “Desilu – The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.”[2] Up until the sitcom, Ball had been a B-list actress at best.

    Another difference between the two is that while Ricardo played a naïve housewife who left the finances to her husband, Ball was a very smart and active businesswoman in real life. In 1951, Arnaz and Ball created Desilu Productions in order to produce their television project, which eventually became Lucy.[3] While Ball was not very involved with the company initially, placing much of her efforts on her family and the sitcom, she was always aware of what was going on and thus took on more control later. Ball was the first woman in television to be head of a production company (Desilu), and after her divorce with Arnaz in which she bought out his share of the studio, she became a very active studio head.[4] Apart from Desilu, Ball always followed after her own ambitions and maintained control of the direction of her career. “…Lucy was a hell of a businesswoman who had a command of her career that women today should respect and model. Long before Oprah, there was Lucy,” said Adrienne Graham, a writer for Forbes Magazine.[5]

  6. Part 2

    While Ball and Arnaz seemed like the perfect married couple on television as the Ricardos, in reality their marriage was falling apart. Aside from spending a lot of time apart due to hectic work schedules (pre Lucy), each had different personalities. Ball was more levelheaded, but coarse and conservative with her earnings, while Arnaz had a strong temper and desired to spend his money lavishly. Brady writes, “Like Lucy, Desi took emotional refuge in the Ricardos, whom they both recognized as people nicer than themselves, an ideal they could not attain.”[6] The couple often argued about Arnaz’s heavy drinking and unfaithful ways. They had seen a therapist and taken trips to try to salvage their marriage. In Stefan Kanfer’s Ball of Fire, he writes that the two once took a trip to Hawaii and bickered constantly. When Arnaz went to take a swim in the ocean to calm down, he lost a gold chain that held a St. Christopher medal and his wedding ring. Lucille was claimed to have said, “Kinda symbolic. Our marriage was gone – so why shouldn’t his ring be, too?”[7]

    Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball documents Ball’s life journey, from her early beginnings in Jamestown, New York, to her presence on radio and television, to her beloved role as a mother. Brady’s fascinating piece helps to deconstruct the public’s perception that Lucy Ricardo was the same as Lucille Ball. In reality, Ball was a very different person from the character that appeared on the television screen.

    [1] Brady, Kathleen. Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball. New York: Hyperion, 1994. 42. Print.
    [2] Sanders, Coyne Steven., and Thomas W. Gilbert. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. New York: Morrow, 1993. Print.
    [3] Brady, Kathleen. Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball. New York: Hyperion, 1994. 147. Print.
    [4] "American Masters "Lucille Ball: Finding Lucy"". PBS. Retrieved 2008-04-02. "Ball first woman to head a major studio"
    [5] Graham, Adrienne. "Long Before Oprah, There Was Lucy: Business Lessons From Lucille Ball." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 27 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
    [6] Brady, Kathleen. Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball. New York: Hyperion, 1994. 228. Print.
    [7] Kanfer, Stefan. Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Print.

  7. “What Would Murphy Brown Do?” by Allison Klein looks at the heroines of broadcast: fictional, female characters that helped sculpt the cultural American landscape. The book is divided into sections pertaining to womanhood, including themes of marriage, parenting, sexuality, and the workplace.

    The eponymous television show, Murphy Brown, was about an investigative journalist (played by actress Candice Bergen) and her career in the newsroom [1]. It garnered controversy when former vice president Dan Quayle criticized Brown’s decision to become a single mother, claiming that the storyline “[mocked] the importance of fathers” [2]. Because Brown was such an impressive character, the fact that she was fictional seemed beside the point; women still looked up to her for her professional dedication. “That the White House was commenting on the actions of a fictional character made clear how truly influential people felt Murphy Brown was” [2].

    The show won the Best Comedy Series Emmy at the 44th Annual Prime-Time Emmy Awards in 1992, and Bergen won an additional Emmy for her role. In her speech, she thanked the vice president [3].

    “What Would Murphy Brown Do?” also covers other iconic shows with women at the helm, including “Roseanne,” and “The Golden Girls.” “Roseanne” beat out “The Cosby Show” for Nielsen ratings in 1989, and went on to make an imprint on how Americans perceived women and families [4]. Roseanne Barr was known for her brash humor and domineering personality, which showed through in her parenting style, where she encouraged her children to have autonomy and explore the world [2]. Meanwhile, “The Golden Girls” explored aging and the loss of beauty while also winning Emmys and topping the charts [5]. In one episode Maude turned fifty and expressed her desire to repeal the laws of gravity, and while this was typical of many other aging women, Maude also refused to let low self-image “imprison” her; she went on to live her life fully and without regard to arbitrary standards of attractiveness [2].

    Overall, I found this book to be interesting, but also a bit obvious. (Other shows included “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Designing Women,” and even “Sex in the City”). Klein didn’t provide much analysis, but she did help my understanding of historic context—for example, I knew about Murphy Brown, but did not know the implications surrounding her on-air pregnancy and Dan Quayle’s reaction. I also appreciated how she included direct quotes from the screenplays of the shows she was quoting, as it lent her arguments credibility and clarity.

    [2] “What would Murphy Brown Do?” by Allison Klein

  8. I chose to read Pat Summerall’s autobiography titled “Summerall On and Off The Air.” Growing up an avid sports fan, Summerall’s distinct voice would echo throughout my living room every Sunday in the fall as he and John Madden teamed together to form one of the most successful broadcast pairings of all time. Summerall is not only revered for his voice and delivery, but also for his legacy in paving the way for retired players to enter the broadcast world.

    While I knew Summerall was a talented broadcaster, I knew little of what made him become so successful before reading his biography. As he reveals early in the first few chapters, his upbringing was incredibly challenging. He was born with his right leg facing backwards and before he had surgery to fix it as an infant, there was “little hope [he’d] be able to walk normally, even if all went well” [1]. Not only did the surgery turn out better than expected, Summerall thrived as an athlete in high school and was offered a scholarship to play football at Arkansas (as a kicker no less). After a successful collegiate career, Summerall went on to play football in the NFL and was a participant in what many dub “The Greatest Game Ever Played” [2]. After playing for ten seasons in the NFL, Summerall retired and entered the broadcast booth.

    At that time Summerall entered into the TV world, broadcasting sports on television was a blossoming industry and as Summerall puts it, “a driving force.” [1]. He began working as a color commentator for Giants games and soon was promoted to the national crew to cover all the NFL games as opposed to just one team. Today, former NFL players and athletes commonly enter the profession after they retire but Summerall was one of the first ex-jocks to foray into the broadcast realm [3]. In 1981, history was made when CBS Sports paired Summerall with former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden in the broadcast booth. As Summerall puts it, “we fell into a natural rhythm very quickly.” [1] The legacy of these two broadcasters would continue to grow over the next three decades as they called eight Super Bowls together for CBS Sports and after 1994, Fox Sports. [4]. With Summerall and Madden at the helm for game broadcasts, loyal viewers have made Fox Sports’ pregame show the highest rated of its kind.

    While Summerall left an undeniable mark broadcasting NFL, he also broadcasted The Masters golf tournaments for CBS starting in 1968 with his last broadcast coming in 1992. Health concerns prompted Summerall to step back from the broadcast booth and enter rehabilitation for alcoholism he had developed after years of excessive drinking. He entered the Betty Ford Clinic and faced what he describes as the toughest test of his life. After a successful intervention and commitment to sobriety Summerall returned to broadcasting football. In 1999, he was inducted into American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame and would continue broadcasting for a few more years, retiring multiple times but still filling in occasionally when a network needed a substitute. [5] Summerall’s legacy in broadcasting cannot be understated as he has broadcasted 16 of the 47 Super Bowls, more than any other announcer. I was thoroughly impressed by reading about Summerall and his inspirational recovery from alcoholism speaks deeply about his character and why he was so successful in this field of broadcasting.

    [1] "Summerall On and Off the Air" by Pat Summerall