Well, here we go again. Another season of college football gets into full swing (pass? run?) this weekend and, as I remarked to a friend the other day, at least there will finally be something to watch on TV after the summer doldrums.
Most of us alive today (which is most of us) can’t remember a time when sporting events weren’t televised. That’s because we all grew up with television, which made its debut at the 1936 World’s Fair in New York but didn’t really catch on (i.e. become affordable and essential) until after World War II in the 1950s. Prior to that (and social media) people had to actually talk to each other and tell stories to keep away the boredom and woolly mammoths.
Except for radio, which debuted in 1920 with another form of sporting event – the presidential election results of that November from a small station in Pennsylvania. Radio was its own form of storytelling and, in many ways, superior to television because it required the listener to use their imagination to picture what was happening on the field during a sports broadcast.
Luckily, television came along and removed that burden of having to use our brains for anything other than a hat rack. And sporting events became one of its most popular staples. No longer did we have to take the radio announcer’s word for what was happening on the field. We could see it for ourselves.
But it’s been a long road to get us where we are today with instant replays, player microphones, superimposed markers on the field, sky cams, blimp cams, helmet cams and kickers’ toe cams. OK, so maybe not toe cams, yet, but just wait.
And, as has often been the case with major events throughout history, there was a Mississippian involved in bringing televised sports to the masses.
Eighty years ago this week, on Aug. 26 in 1939, the first televised sports event, a double-header baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers from Ebbets Field in New York, was broadcast on TV. At that time, fewer than 400 television sets were in use in the nation’s largest city. And the first on-air announcer for that game was none other than Mississippi’s own Red Barber of Columbus.
Barber got his start as a radio announcer reading a research paper on bovine obstetrics on his college radio station and went on to call baseball games on that medium until television came along. He is responsible for much of what we now take for granted in sports broadcasting. He kept a small egg-timer hourglass in the broadcast booth to remind him, every three minutes when the sand ran out, to give the game’s score to listeners who may have just tuned in.
Televised football games came along shortly after that first baseball broadcast with the Sept. 30, 1939 telecast of a college game between Waynesburg and Fordham, also played in New York.
Barber went on to telecast 13 World Series games, four NFL championships and numerous college football bowl games. He died at the age of 84 in 1992.