"We were going to tape the voiceover in the studio and Roone Arledge says, 'I think that opening stinks.' I said, 'I do, too.' So we went into an engineer's room with a bunch of equipment and we sat down and put some words together, not knowing they would still be heard years later, about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
About This Interview
In his nearly three-hour Archive interview, Jim McKay (1921-2008) talks about starting his career in 1947 at WMAR-TV in Baltimore. He discusses going on to work with producer Roone Arledge at the beginning of ABC's Wide World of Sports, staying nearly four decades with the job as the show's host and commentator. McKay speaks about hosting the network's coverage of the Olympic Games for over 30 years, including his critical coverage of the terrorist hostages and killings that interrupted the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Gerry Sandusky conducted the interview in Monkton, MD on October 28, 1998.
There are few commentators with accolades to match those of Jim McKay, or whose career is marked by an equally impressive list of broadcasting "firsts." In 1947, McKay's was the first on-air television broadcaster seen and heard on the airwaves of Baltimore, Maryland. Twenty-one years later, in 1968, McKay earned distinction as the first sports commentator honored with an Emmy Award. McKay built on his reputation of excellence and went on to receive a total of thirteen Emmy Awards, and further distinguished himself as the first, and only, broadcaster to win Emmy Awards for both sports and news broadcasting as well as for writing.
McKay's first reporting job was with the Baltimore Evenin Sun. In 1947, the Sun's leadership invested in Baltimore's first TV station, WMAR-TV, and McKay was chosen as that station's first on-camera personality. McKay did everything but run WMAR-TV--functioning as the station's producer, director, writer, and news and sports reporter. His reputation as a hardworking and skillful journalist earned him an opportunity to host a New York City based CBS variety show and McKay became a strong presence in the largest media market in the world. Although CBS gave McKay his broadcasting break, it was ABC Sports, under the leadership of Roone Arledge, that provided McKay the opportunity to flourish. During the 1950s, McKay covered events ranging from international golf and horse racing events to college football. McKay, and ABC colleague Howard Cosell, gave ABC the most comprehensive sports programming available on television.
In fact, McKay's assignment as an Olympic commentator would make McKay one of the most recognizable sports personalities throughout the world. His most memorable Olympic games were those at Munich, where his experience as a seasoned reporter was put to the test. While preparing to take a swim on his first day off at the games, McKay received word that gunshots were fired in the Olympic Village. He ran to the ABC studio, threw clothes on over his swimsuit, and for the next 16 hours delivered to the world award winning coverage of the Black September terrorists' attack on Israeli athletes in Munich's Olympic Village.
McKay received two Emmy Awards for his work during the 1972 games, one for his coverage of the games and the other for his reporting on the terrorism. He was also the 1972 recipient of the George Polk Memorial Award, given annually to the one journalist whose work represents the most significant and finest reporting of the year. The Munich coverage was also recognized with his receipt of the Officer's Cross of the Legion of Merit, bestowed by the former West German Federal Republic.
McKay is perhaps best known for his role as host for ABC's Wide World of Sports, which began with McKay as its host in 1961. Now, some 35 years later, ABC's Wide World is the most successful and longest running sports program in the history of television. Through his work with ABC's Wide World, McKay became the first American television sports reporter to enter the People's Republic of China during China's policy of isolationism.
His pioneering work in the field has not gone unrecognized. His multiple Emmy Awards are a tribute not only to his excellence, but also to his versatility. In fact, among his most impressive Emmy's is that from 1988, given for his opening commentary scripts of ABC Sports' coverage of the 1987 Indianapolis "500," the British Open and the Kentucky Derby; a 1990 Award, another first, for Lifetime Achievement in Sports; and a 1992 Emmy for his sports special, Athletes and Addiction: It's Not a Game.
In addition to his role on Wide World, McKay anchors most major horse-racing events such as the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. In 1987, McKay was chosen as a member of the Jockey Club, horse racing's governing body. McKay and his wife, Margaret, reside in Monkton, Maryland and are steadfast supporters of Maryland's horse-racing industry and culture. He is founder of the "Maryland Million," a million-dollar horse racing spectacular for Maryland thoroughbreds. They are also part owners of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.
JIM MCKAY. Born James Kenneth McManus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., 24 September 1921. Died 7 June 2008. Educated at Loyola College, Baltimore, Maryland, B.A. 1943. Married: Margaret Dempsey, 1948; children: Mary Edwina and Sean Joseph. Served in U.S.Navy, 1943-46. Reporter, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1946-47; writer-producer-director, Baltimore Sunpapers' WMAR-TV, 1947-50; variety show host, sports commentator, CBS-TV, 1950-61; host, ABC Wide World of Sports, 1961-80; television commentator, all Olympiads, 1960-88; founder and chair, "Maryland Million" Horse Racing Program, from 1986. H.H.D., Loyala College, 1981. Recipient: 13 Emmy Awards; George Polk Memorial Award, 1973; Federal Republic of Germany Officer's Cross Order of Merit, 1974; Olympic Medal, Austria, 1977; Thoroughbred Breeders of Kentucky Engelhard Award, 1978, 90; honorary; Maryland Racing Writers Humphrey S. Finney Award, 1985; named to Sportscasters Hall of Fame, 1987; National Turf Writers Award, 1987; Peabody Award, 1989; U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, 1989.
1950 The Real McKay 1955 Make the Connection (moderator) 1957-60 The Verdict Is Yours (actor) 1958-59 This Is New York 1961- ABC's Wide World of Sports