FROM OUR FILES: A true pro at the Olympics: TV host Jim McKay
The sportscaster, who died on June 7, covered international sports in over 40 countries for ABC's 'Wide World of Sports,' as well as 12 Olympic Games, in which he tried to convey an overview and 'personality' of each Olympics for viewers.
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"Lake Placid? I see it as 'Our Town' - a Grover's Corner kind of place. The people speak our language, and the town is familiar to a lot of us from previous visits. Of course, the personality could change during these games too, but you have to have your idea in advance - then just be flexible if things go differently from the way you expected."Skip to next paragraph
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In was in Munich is 1972, of course, that McKay cemented his name among the top rank of TV commentators. He was on the air almost continuously for 20 hours during the terrorist raid on the Olympic Village that resulted in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes, and his commentary seemed to articulate perfectly the sadness, outrage, and helplessness felt by the all as the story unfolded.
McKay, the first sports commentator to win an Emmy award in 1968 and currently the possessor of seven, received two in 1972 - one for his sports coverage and the other for his news reporting of the tragedy. He is perhaps proudest, though, of a simple telegram he found in his mailbox at Munich praising his work and concluding with the words: "You were a credit to the network, yourself, and the profession" - Walter Cronkite.
McKay began his career as a newspaperman, learning the facts of journalistic life as a police and general-assignment reporter for the Baltimore Sun in the mid-1940s. His entry into TV was actually pretty much a fluke - the paper acquired a station and, eager to get on the air quickly, picked a few of its reporters and turned them into instant newscasters.
This was 1948, and no one knew where TV was headed, but McKay soon found himself helping to host and produce a three-hour show, and two years later he was hired by CBS. He started with a variety show there, but soon gravitated to sports, then in 1961 moved to ABC, where he has been host of "Wide World of Sports" as well as the network's main Olympic man ever since.
Jim has covered the 1960 Rome Olympics for CBS, and has been at Innsbruck in 1964, Grenoble and Mexico City in 1968, Munich in 197, Innsbruck and Montreal in 1976, and now Lake Placid. That's 8 of the last 10, including at least one each time around - a streng that figures to continue, since ABC has the rights for the 1984 Los Angeles games.
Asked if he ever felt his role as studio host was a hindrance in terms of getting out and really learning the "personality" he is trying to convey, McKay said he didn't think so.
"You can do it best from one central spot," he said. "This way you see all the monitors, and you hear all the commentary."
But wouldn't he rather get out once in awhile where the action is?
"Only in the summer!" he smiled.