On January 8, 1946, the New York Daily News’ radio gossip column ran the following blurb, “Hiva, Marty . . . It seems like olden times to have Marty Glickman back as sports director and announcer at WHN. Former football star at Syracuse and a member of the 1936 Olympic track team, he is now on terminal leave from the U.S. Marines, in which he served as first lieutenant since April 1944, in the Marshall-Gilbert Islands area. His first assignment was scheduled for last night, pinch-hitting at the Garden during the basketball broadcasts for Connie Desmond . . . It’s good to hear Glickman again. He’s one sportscaster who really knows his sports.”
Glickman did more than pinch-hit. He soon became the voice of the New York Knickerbockers, the new pro basketball team in Gotham, and his familiar staccato call over the family radio was regarded by many as “the Voice of Basketball.” That trusted voice soon came to national television. In 1953, the NBA signed a one-year deal with the DuMont Network for 13 “NBA Game of the Week” broadcasts, with Glickman behind the mike. Just for the record, DuMont paid the NBA $3,000 per game that season, or $39,000 for the league’s television rights (worth just over $1 million today).
The next season, with DuMont heading into bankruptcy, the NBA moved Glickman and the “Game of the Week” to Sunday afternoons on NBC for a few more telecasts and the same rights fees (except playoff games now cost $5,000 per contest). Maurice Podoloff, the NBA president and a short, middle-aged, bowling ball of a man, never quit worrying that America had better things to do on Sunday than try to follow 10 tall guys trotting around a 12-inch black-and-white screen. Podoloff, who enjoyed managing the league but openly hated basketball, kept sticking his bulbous nose into the aesthetics of the broadcast. That included the NBA’s ethnic identity.
In season two of the NBC contract, Podoloff called Glickman to tell “The Voice of Basketball” his Sunday afternoon services were no longer needed. Glickman, blindsided by the telephone call, demanded an explanation. Podoloff “hemmed and hawed, and finally he came out with it,” Glickman wrote in his autobiography. “He, the president of the NBA, was Jewish. So was Haskell Cohen, the very influential figure in the league as its public relations man. And I, the league broadcaster, was Jewish, too. He felt this meant too much of a Jewish identification for the NBA. So it would be better if I were dropped.”
Glickman continued broadcasting Knicks games, and spent a long career as an esteemed New York sportscaster of just anything with a ball, a finish line, or even a bucking bull (for a while, he called an annual rodeo in New Jersey). In the article below, we travel back to the late 1940s with former U. S. Marine Glickman still adjusting to civilian life. At the invitation of the prominent college coach Clair Bee, Glickman penned this article titled, “Broadcasting Basketball” for the 1949 edition of Clair Bee’s Basketball Annual. Glickman’s brief broadcasting tutorial might still come in handy, without naming names, for some of our contemporary announcers.
The article also dips into some basketball history by mentioning Glickman’s beloved signature line of yesteryear, “Good . . . like Nedick’s [pronounced NEE-dix],” once the hot-dog-peddling sponsor of his basketball broadcasts. He also hints at another novelty: Glickman popularized the basketball term “swish.” It happened in the late 1940s while Glickman watched Knick Carl Braun launch a high-arching one-hander in practice and call out “swish” in anticipation of his nothing-but-net. The next night, Glickman borrowed Braun’s exclamation on his Knicks broadcast, and “swish” became part of his verbal repertoire—and that of generations of fans. And, oh yes, the above picture shows NBA great George Mikan navigating the post in New York’s old 69th Regiment Armory, Glickman no doubt on the call at courtside.
The function of a sports broadcaster is to take the listener out of his chair alongside his radio and place him in the arena alongside the broadcaster. The listener must see verbally what the broadcaster sees visually.
If that’s the job of the broadcaster, how does he go about doing it? Well, it’s a combination of three things. One, knowing the ballplayers; two, knowing the game; three, “painting the picture.”
One and two, knowing the players and knowing the game are merely a matter of work and concentration. Before a broadcaster does a ball game, if he is any less familiar with the names of the ballplayers than he is with his own name, he’s liable to run into difficulties. The name of an athlete involved in a play should rattle off the tongue of the broadcaster as quickly and as instinctively as the player moves. If you hesitate or ponder over the identity of a performer, your broadcast immediately becomes halting, inferior.
Knowing the game is a prerequisite for broadcasting any event. If the terminology of the 3-second rule or the blocking rule is unfamiliar to you, you are liable to make some very glaring, embarrassing errors. Knowing the game means not only the rules and mechanics of basketball, but the basketball vernacular, basketball history, and basketball personalities of the game.
The third fundamental, “painting the picture” is truly the job of the “specialist.” I’m sure that most of you know the game and do know or could know the players. But presenting the verbal picture of the game to an audience which can only see the game through your words, is the job that requires experience and radio background. Again, you must take the listener into the seat alongside the broadcaster. If the listener were present what would he or she be watching? Primarily, most fans follow the ball. So we follow the ball, too. The ball is the key to the progress of the game. You can “see” it when you hear it’s in the corner, or back of the foul circle, or along the right-sideline; you can “see” it when you hear it’s a bounce-pass, a lead-pass, a lay-up shot, or a set-shot. You can “see” it less distinctly if you say, “it’s a shot” than if you had said, “it’s a left-handed hook shot.”
Some fans are more expert than others and if they were sitting alongside the broadcaster, they would look for the type of defense being used, the man to man play of the centers in the pivot, the style of offense, the screens, the quick brakes . . . so, for them, from time to time you talk about those phases of the game, weaving it into the pattern of your overall description.
Commercially, if you can use a phrase which immediately identifies the sponsor or the broadcaster, without alienating the listener, from the station’s point of view, you are giving them an assist. Hence, the phrase, “Good . . . like Nedick’s,” or . . . score, like an Old Gold,“ or merely, “swish,” when a basket is scored.
Basketball, like hockey, is unlike baseball or football broadcasting. In football and baseball there are breaks in the action . . . between each pitch and between each play. But basketball is continuous and fluid and the broadcast must be the same way. The broadcast must move swiftly, ranging up and down the court, darting in here, and easing up there. It must have the moments hush when the ball is arcing in flight towards the basket and it must have the rapid-fire delivery of a bang-bang give and go play. It’s this way, folks. When a broadcaster gets up from the mike after a game, he should be as mentally tired as the players are physically tired. And you, the listener, when you snap off the radio at the end of a game, should have a complete picture of what went on. So much so that when your buddy who was at the Garden the nite before asks about the ball game, you should be as familiar with the game as he is.
[Up next, Glickman’s memories of the early NBA, including a stop at the infamous Green Parrot Cafe.]