There's been a sad decline in the art of sportscasting over the past 20 years. I say "art" because describing a sporting event in the proper context is a dying skill among broadcasters. Today, there's a tendency to bombard the viewer with endless, multiple angle replays and a gazillion graphics. And the egos in the announcing booth are surpassed only by those on the playing field.
That's why I'm saddened by the passing of Chris Schenkel. A generation that grew up on Sportscenter, Pardon the Interruption and Jim Rome probably never heard of Mr. Schenkel, and that's their loss. From the late 1950s through the 1970s, Chris Schenkel was, along with Jim McKay, the voice of ABC Sports when Roone Arledge built that organization into a broadcast powerhouse, and defined the coverage of notable events, including the Olympics.
Schenkel was a consummate broadcaster; great voice, impeccable delivery and most importantly, he knew how to let the event speak for itself. Along the way, he called some of the most memorable moments in sports, ranging from the 1958 "sudden death" NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the NY Giants (still arguably, the greatest football game every played), to Nadia Comaneci's perfect "10" at the 1972 Olympics. He also covered golf and college football with the same understated grace, and for millions of viewers, he was the voice of the Pro Bowlers Tour.
With the advent of Monday Night Football in 1970, Schenkel's style of sportscasting became passe. ABC eventually removed him from most of his assignments, with the exception of bowling. Well into his 70s, Schenkel's familar baritone was a staple of ABC's bowling coverage. He deserved better treatment, but never complained; he just kept doing his job with a degree of skill that few could match.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Schenkel, but I know a few folks who worked with him at ABC. They tell me that he was a rarity among major broadcast personalities; a genuinely humble man who took a personal interest in the lives and careers of his co-workers, from network executives, to lowly gophers. One former ABC staffer told me that Monday Night Football was considered the plum assignment for sports division personnel, but most hated working with the producers and on-air crew (with the exception of Frank Gifford). On the other hand, most welcomed an assignment on a bowling broadcast, because it meant working with Chris Schenkel.
One final note. If you ever want to know how broadcast personalities are regarded by their colleagues, take a trip to the Watercooler forum at tvspy.com. Broadcasters, as you'll discover, are not shy in posting their thoughts about the famous and powerful in their business, and it's easy to find a lot of negative posts about media stars. After Chris Schenkel died, I counted 20 posts in a thread about him. Not a single one was negative.
Chris Schenkel was a great broadcaster and a good man. He will be missed.