Olympics 2012: Wide World of Sports and Jim McKay pioneered Olympics coverage

With the contributions of three men, ABC sports became the leader in international sports television. Photo: Jim McKay, Roone Arledge and Edgar Scherick

CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 24, 2012 — In the annals of broadcasting history, three men pioneered the way we will watch the Olympics for the next two and a half weeks.

The visionary was a man named Edgar Scherick, who went beyond America’s traditional sports of football, basketball and baseball and discovered a world of international competition that enthralled a nation.

The producer was Roone Arledge who was a genius at digging beneath the statistics and  scores to find the dramatic human elements that gave depth to a story.

The voice was Jim McKay, a sportscaster with rare insights into both the passion and compassion of sports that exist on other side of the scoreboard, yet lie deep within the hearts of the competitors. McKay was honest and forthright in his coverage. No commentator has ever understood the soul of an athlete better than Jim McKay.

Together, Scherick, Arledge and McKay created ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” a summer sports fill-in to compete with the big-time sporting events that were already locked up by CBS and NBC. The summer replacement went on the air in 1961. Some 37-years later in 1998, the fill-in show signed off after becoming the stuff of legends and broadcasting history.

In a day and time before satellite communications, Scherick recognized the value of technology such as the jet-age and videotape. While the two competing networks were still engaged in coverage of live events, ABC found ways to take advantage of differences in time zones and the ability to develop stories quickly with tape to provide in-depth details about athlete’s lives both on and off the field.

Arledge had keen insights into the compelling personal and national challenges of global events, and he brought them into our living rooms.

McKay had the skills to relate those stories with simple, yet motivational words that drew viewers into the drama and out of their seats.

When the opportunity for “Wide World of Sports” came around, Jim McKay had already covered one Olympics in 1960. The games took place in Rome, but McKay was in a studio at Grand Central Station in New York. “Wide World” took him on location, and though he hated to travel later in life, he broadcast 12 Olympics before he retired.

Wide World of Sports logo

So linked with the Olympics movement was McKay that he was voted into the U.S. Olympics Hall of Fame in 1988.

But it was the tragedy of the 1972 Olympics games in Munich that made Jim McKay and his colleagues at ABC synonymous with global competition and confrontation. Though the primary story of the Munich Olympics became terrorism rather than sports, McKay was brilliant in his analysis, describing the horrific events on our television screens with skill and sensitivity.

Of the sixteen hours of continuing coverage, McKay was at the microphone for fourteen as Palestinian terrorists stormed the Israeli dormitory in the Olympic village and held eleven athletes hostage

When it was over, McKay turned to the camera and spoke in muted tones, “When I was a kid my father used to say ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were 11 hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight….They’re all gone.”

There are other familiar words that connect us with Jim McKay and, they too remind us of what international competition through the Olympics has become. The first was ABC’s mission when it began “Wide World of Sports.” Jim would open the show with the words “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports.” Words that became a hallmark of his career.

The other phrase known to us all, even if we never saw “Wide World” is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

As Bob Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, put it, “Jim was a regular guy who wrote and spoke like a poet. He loved sports. To him, sports defined life — full of drama, adventure, accomplishment and disappointment.”

As you settle in for the next couple of weeks of thrilling Olympic events, take time to reflect upon the images you see on the screen and thank the vision and wisdom of Edgar Scherick, Roone Arledge and Jim McKay for what you are witnessing, for the people who compete and for the stories they tell. 

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. He played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club , which creates, and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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