My afternoon with a famous sportscaster
By Terry Haller
The limo from Kennedy has dumped me in mid-Manhattan. It’s 10 in the morning. I’ve got an easy day ahead of me. All I have to do is sit in a viewing room at the ABC Television Network head office on West 66th and watch an episode of the Dick Cavett Show that aired two nights ago.
What’s going on is this: We’re planning to promote one of our major brands with a rodeo circuit tie in, and some folks back home don’t like rodeos. Up to now they weren’t able to stop us, but yesterday one of the troublemakers said they saw Alex Karras, Lions defensive tackle, on the Dick Cavett Show, talking about the flank strap used on rodeo riding bulls. News of this spread through the whole building. By lunch, half the company was saying rodeos were too risky with Alex Karras coming out the way he did.
So I’m waiting for the tape to start. The ABC technicians are all union men and don’t care who I’m with — even if my company is probably their biggest advertiser. They don’t seem happy I’m here. It’s like they have better things to do. The monitor goes 6-5-4-3 and the show starts. Cavett’s monologue is good, then his guest comes out and starts going off on rodeos. “That flank belt runs across the testicles. They do that to make the bull mad,” he explains.
I expect Cavett to say: “Couldn’t they use cows?” but he doesn’t. He keeps it serious.
This guy doesn’t look like a football player to me. After the break, Cavett re-introduces his guest. It’s Roger Caras, the animal-rights advocate. Hey, there’s no problem here. Nobody back in my office has even heard of this guy. I’m finished here, and I’ve got the rest of the day off. Nobody comes in to ask if there’s anything more they can do for me. So I don’t have to bother thanking anyone. I get up to leave.
Just then a young woman comes in and says, “Wally Schwartz wants to know if you can stay for lunch.” Her accent is early Streisand, and she pronounces Wally’s last name “Shwatz.” Wally, by the way, is president of the ABC Radio Network.
All networks have these fancy little in-house dining rooms for mollycoddling big advertisers. A waiter with white gloves serves us. I can tell the chef is French because he cooks with a lot of butter. After brandy and a smuggled Havana, Wally says, “I want to show you something.”
He takes me down the hall to a conference room. There is a 3-D diorama on the table with a beacon like a lamp in the center and it’s got these rays coming from it and going to four substations. As a visual aid this doesn’t look cheap.
“What I’m going do,” Wally says, “is split my radio network into four separate networks. One for sports, one for music, one for news and one for talk.”
Sounds fine to me, but we haven’t used any radio since the 50s. We’re all about TV and some print.
Just then this angry guy comes in. He’s obviously one of the network suits, though he’s no fashion plate. He’s the disheveled type. He’s in a bad mood about something, and looks awfully grouchy. He doesn’t ask to be introduced.
“Are they going to strike, or not?” he bellows, his brow furrowed, his face red.
“I haven’t heard,” Wally says.
“I’ve got to know,” the cranky, rumpled man entreats.
“I’ll let you know if I find out,” Wally assures him.
“I’ve got to be in Philadelphia,” the angry man explains. He’s making a fist.
I wonder how this guy fits into Wally’s picture. They seem to have a working relationship, but other than that I’m not sure what’s gong on here. Anyway, it’s not my problem. Right now I’m trying to think of some way to duck out before Wally tries to pitch me a deal on radio. He didn’t get where he is without being a closer. And I don’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon saying “No.”
“I’ve got to be in Philadelphia,” the angry man emphasizes yet again. And with that, he storms out of the conference room and slams the door.
On the flight back home I turn to my young assistant. He had been silent and bug-eyed throughout our visit to ABC.
“Any idea who that blustering guy was — the guy that had to be in Philadelphia?” I ask.
“That was Howard Cosell,” he said.
Terry Haller is a retired advertising executive. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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