Gowdy, Curt(is)

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GOWDY, Curt(is)

(b. 31 July 1919 in Green River, Wyoming), Hall of Fame sports broadcaster and businessman.

Gowdy was the son of Edward Gowdy, a dispatcher for the Union Pacific Railroad, and Ruth Smith, a homemaker. He was educated in the Cheyenne, Wyoming, public schools and graduated in 1938 from Cheyenne High School. An outstanding high-school basketball player, Gowdy also showed his father's enthusiasm for the outdoors and began fly-fishing for trout in Wyoming streams at the age of eight. He attended the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where he played forward for the basketball team. In his junior year, he was part of a Wyoming team that reached the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament, then a select group of just eight teams from throughout the nation. He also played tennis, winning three varsity letters. In 1942 Gowdy graduated from Wyoming with an M.S. degree in business. After a brief stint in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Gowdy was discharged for medical reasons and returned to Cheyenne. While recuperating from back surgery at home, he accepted a five-dollar offer to broadcast a local high-school football game. In November 1943, before about a dozen freezing fans, he made his broadcasting debut sitting on an orange crate while doing play-by-play of a six-person football game for the Cheyenne radio station KSBC. Gowdy stayed with the station for two years and began broadcasting local basketball as well as football games. He also wrote and served as editor for the Cheyenne Eagle from 1943 to 1945.

In 1945 Gowdy caught the attention of Ken Brown, the station manager of KOMA radio in Oklahoma City, and obtained a job as KOMA's sports director. From 1946 through 1949 he announced the play-by-play for the University of Oklahoma, Norman, football team, which gained national prominence under the leadership of Bud Wilkenson, the school's new young coach. The success of Oklahoma's football program provided Gowdy with several opportunities to broadcast to national audiences. Basketball games at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater also gave Gowdy national exposure, as the Stillwater teams competed for national championships. Meanwhile, he spent his summers broadcasting Texas League baseball games in Oklahoma City for KOCY. On 24 June 1949 Gowdy married Jerre Dawkins, a student at the University of Oklahoma; they had three children.

In 1949 Gowdy secured the number-two play-by-play position for the New York Yankees, alongside Mel Allen on WINS in New York City. He was one of almost 300 competitors for the prestigious position. During the off-season in New York, he announced basketball games from Madison Square Garden and other sports events in Boston and New York. In 1951 Gowdy landed the head radio position for the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise on WHDH. His tenure with the Red Sox lasted until 1966. While he was with the Red Sox, Gowdy continued to announce college and professional football events for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) during the autumn and winter seasons. Working during the early 1960s with the television producer Roone Arledge, the man who revolutionized football coverage for the budding television market, Gowdy developed the idea for a worldwide sports show for television and in 1964 began hosting ABC's Wide World of Sports.

Following the success of the Wide World of Sports, Gowdy became the lead host in ABC's American Sportsman in 1964. The four-time Emmy Award–winning show dedicated to outdoor hunting and fishing took him around the world and featured such guests as the entertainers Bing Crosby and Phil Harris and the baseball great Ted Williams, a close friend. In 1966 Gowdy joined the National Broadcasting Company and became the lead football and baseball announcer for the television network, providing play-by-play for American Football Conference games and Major League Baseball's Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons. In 1976 he moved on to the Columbia Broadcasting System until his retirement in 1979. Even in retirement Gowdy maintained his presence in television and radio with the American Sportsman and other ventures, such as Home Box Office's Inside the NFL.

During the 1960s and 1970s Gowdy was one of the most recognizable voices in U.S. sports, and by the end of his career he had covered the gamut of sports, broadcasting for every major television network. Known for his familiar style, accurate and knowledgeable reporting, and pleasant manner, Gowdy earned a place as an icon in sportscasting. During his career he announced sixteen World Series, twelve Rose Bowls, eight Super Bowls, eight Olympic Games, and twenty-two NCAA Final Four championships in college basketball. Throughout his tenure on television and radio Gowdy earned seven awards from various national organizations. He was named as the Sportscaster of the Year three times, and in 1970 he was the first sports broadcaster to receive the George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in reporting. In 1984 Gowdy also received the Ford C. Frick Award at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and the following year, he was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame.

In 1957 Gowdy took a year off from broadcasting because of persistent back problems. Concerned that his broadcasting career might soon end, he began buying local radio stations and purchased operations in Wyoming, Massachusetts, and Florida. These investments proved to be highly successful. Gowdy wrote two books based on his broadcasting experiences, Cowboy at the Mike (1966), with Al Hirshberg, and Seasons to Remember: The Way It Was in American Sports, 1945–1960 (1993), with John Powers. An avid conservationist, Gowdy served on the boards of Trout Unlimited and the International Game Fish Association. Recognizing that sport fishermen could no longer fish the streams as he had done in his youth, when trout limits were twenty per day, Gowdy became an advocate for "catch and release" as the best way to protect the waters and fish for future generations.

With respect to his well-informed, yet relaxed style at the microphone, Gowdy once explained, "I tried to pretend that I was sitting in the stands with a buddy watching the game—poking him in the ribs when something exciting happened. I never took myself too seriously. An announcer is only as good as yesterday's performance."

For a discussion of Gowdy's radio career, see Curt Smith, Of Mikes and Men: From Ray Scott to Curt Gowdy—Broadcast Talesfrom the Pro Football Booth (1998). See also Curt Smith, The Storytellers: From Mel Allen to Bob Costas, Sixty Years of Baseball Tales from the Broadcast Booth (1995).

Michael J. Devine