Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sports TV Legend Jim McKay Passes Away

I grew up watching Jim McKay tell me about the Wide World of Sports. He is the sole reason I began to focus on a career in sports television. Today, McKay passed away at his home in Maryland. He was 86 years old.

Veteran NASCAR fans may remember the sport creeping onto TV with McKay exposing the southern boys on Saturday afternoon's Wide World of Sports. A wide variety of ABC announcers from Keith Jackson to the late Chris Schenkel were involved in the coverage.

McKay was a stoic presence in the studio and in the field. His on-air calm was never put to the test more than during the Munich Olympics of 1972. Arab terrorists were involved in a bizarre hostage situation that ultimately ended in the death of both the terrorists and the athletes. As the on-site studio presence, McKay handled this news assignment with his characteristic grace and professionalism.

McKay's given last name was McManus, and his son Sean is currently the Executive in Charge of both the CBS News and Sports divisions. McKay was quiet away from the TV world and married for 59 years. Here are some good links to stories about McKay:

Pioneer Sports Broadcaster Dies at 86 from NY Times (Frank Litsky/Richard Sandomir)
Legendary Sports Broadcaster Dies from the Associated Press (Various reporters)
Video Link of McKay Racing Highlights from Orlando Sentinel
Video Link of McKay's Archive of American Television Interview (From YouTube)

Please feel free to post your comments about McKay and your memories of his work on TV. Non-NASCAR posts will be accepted for this special post. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

If you've never seen the first-person documentary about Jim McKay's life on HBO, you owe it to yourself to find it and watch.

Very moving.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- Thank you. Today "Legend" is an overworked term - but, Mr. McKay is a true Legend. He introduced me to many sports in my youth, and then got out of the way. My thoughts and sympathies are with his family.

Geez said...

I grew up watching him as well. He will be missed.

Ken-Michigan said...

While watching the ESPN Belmont coverage, I learned of Jim McKay's passing. I'm glad to see that JD opened up a thread about McKay.

Thanks JD.

There won't be many that fit into the same class as Jim McKay. What a PRO ! His voice, his on-air personna was immediately recognizable & welcomed.

Personally, as a youngster growing up, I wanted to become a broadcaster....and in the decade of the 70's, McKay was at nearly every important event on TV back then.
(remember, no cable)
Jim McKay would be the voice many of us would hear on a weekly basis on ABC Sports. Therefore, "I" wanted to be like him.

My chance to meet Jim McKay came in 1977 or maybe 1978 at Michigan International Speedway. As a teenager, I was working as a volunteer security person for a race weekend at MIS. Mckay was there with ABC to cover one of the IROC events that year. After the event, I turned around and there he was... Jim McKay. The first thing I noticed was that ABC Sports "really did" have those Yellow ABC Sports blazers that I saw on TV for so many years..... I shook his hand, got his autograph and although it only only took a matter of a minute....that minute still sticks with me today as I learn of his passing.

For those of you who might have met or worked with him, you know he only stood about 5ft 5inches tall.... IF THAT. That too was very surprising when I met him.

For a man of small stature, he was a mountain of a man in the booth and on the air.

What a Professional... What a Pro.

SophiaZ123 said...

His voice and presence WAS SPORTS in the 70's. No way young folks without cable could understand his impact.

R.I.P. and condolences to his family.

granny b said...

I remember watching the very first "Wide World of Sports" show, waaay back in the day, and that's the day I became a huge fan of Jim McKay. It was place Jim showed me stock car racing (I had listened on the radio but never even seen a race car). He was a great story teller, and could make superstar sports figures seem like regular people. I still remember sitting up and watching his live broadcast during the Munich Olympic Games tragedy. He was the first sports-caster I heard, and he remained my favorite to this day. Peace to his family and friends, and his many many fans.

TexasRaceLady said...

Jim McKay's voice WAS sports for me. If he wasn't doing the announcing, it wasn't real.

Wide World was one of the few programs on my "will not miss" list--all because Mr. McKay brought the sports to life. It didn't matter what the sport, he made it interesting, and understandable.

My condolences to the McKay family. He was one of a kind.

Kenn Fong said...

Keith Jackson remembers his friend and colleague, Jim McKay..

Alameda, California

Daly Planet Editor said...


Drop me a line before you post a link please. Thanks.


red said...

oh, how very sad. i never missed a sunday of wide world of sports. i remember so vividly his anchoring of the munich olympics tragedy: his compassion, his journalistic integrity and the lack of sensationalism and, most of all, his utter and complete sadness when he said "they're gone. they're all gone."
as richard in n.c. noted, a true legend. his broadcasts should be used as master classes in every sport. he never, ever injected himself as an indidivdual into a broadcast yet he always made us feel as if we were part of the event.
what a classy guy. my prayers and thoughts will be with his family tonight.

Kenn Fong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam T. Martin said...

R.I.P. Jim. You're already missed.

Anonymous said...

I wish that some of today's broadcasters would watch his film. He definitely would school them all. When there wasn't "much choice" on TV WWoS was definitely the show to look forward to. Yes you may have only had 20 minutes of "your sport" but he covered it all and covered it well.

RIP Mr. McKay

Desmond said...

Jim McKay represents a time and a place in sports television that will never be repeated. He was a true professional who was in contrast to the preening, ego and attitude that is all too common today.

Needless to say, he will be missed.

Vince said...

I'd like to add my voice to those of you that wish todays young broadcasters would look at some of Jim McKay's old tapes and learn how to broadcast the right way. He was a true pro and was good at what ever sport he happened to be broadcasting that particular day.

I too grew up watching him on Wild World of Sports. Back in the day when we only had three stations on the TV. ABC, CBS, and NBC. No ESPN, or Fox Sports or Speed. You lived for any sports you could get on TV back then and Mr. McKay was a must see on WWoS. Getting to watch 20 minutes or so of Darlington or one of the other races back then on WWoS was a real treat.

I missed the live coverage of the Munich Olympics hostage tragedy, because of being in the USAF stationed over seas with no access to a TV. But saw the replays later will always remember the endless hours he spent live on TV with out a break during that tragedy.

We'll miss you Jim. You were a trailblazer in your profession and a true pro that I always looked forward to hearing from.

Bucky B said...

I too was saddened to hear of the passing of Jim McKay. I also grew up at a time in the '70s without cable and watched the majority of my sports on Wide World. In an age now where motor sports viewers have a sense of entitlement to their broadcasts, there was a time where we grateful that someone thought enough of our sport to put it on national television. Thank you Roone Arledge and Jim McKay. It is interesting to note, that of all the 100+ different types of sport profiled on Wide World of Sports, auto racing was shown the most.