Schenkel, PBA: a perfect match
IN THE EARLY 1960s, CHRIS Schenkel was the best thing to happen to a fledgling PBA seeking the attention of sponsors, fans, and the media. Near the end of his fabled career, the PBA was the best thing to happen to Schenkel.
Those in the sport never lost track of his contributions, inducting him into the ABC and PBA Halls of Fame. But in the beginning, Schenkel–the premier sports announcer at the time–brought instant attention and recognition to the PBA. And with reason. He was in demand by sponsors to broadcast golf, football, baseball, golf, horse racing, boxing, basketball, and auto racing. We’re talking big-time sports events: the Masters, Kentucky Derby, NFL playoff games, the first televised NBA game, and the Little League World Series. He also worked 10 Olympic Games.
Firestone executives thought so much of Schenkel that they would send their company limo to pick him up at the Cleveland Airport and drive him to their Tournament of Champions 40 miles away in Akron. He enjoyed round-trip express service–they rushed him back to the airport on Saturday nights. (One night he offered to share his limo with me as I tried to get back to The Miami Herald.)
Despite his worldwide acclaim, Schenkel stuck with the PBA, often volunteering for voiceovers on bowling promos. And until he retired in 1997, Schenkel was the PBA’s top attraction; fans would save their biggest ovations for him before the ABC telecasts every Saturday afternoon. Even Dick Weber’s and Earl Anthony’s popularity took a back seat to Schenkel’s from coast to coast.
Long after he no longer was TV’s golden boy, Schenkel provided his golden voice for the 90-minute live telecasts. And fans never forgot Schenkel’s allegiance. They revered him for being a gentleman and bringing a touch of class to bowling telecasts.
Schenkel, now 80, got his start as ABC’s bowling announcer after doing some telecasts for the late Pete DeMet, who produced several taped bowling series among the country’s top amateur bowlers.
“I think ABC gave me the job because I had some bowling experience,” Schenkel says via phone from his home in Tippacanoe, Ind. His voice is still golden, but his body, which demands almost construct oxygen, isn’t as strong. “I’m having my health problems, but I’m hanging in there. I’ve been in and out of the hospital, but obviously now I’m out.”
Age has not diminished his memory: “Sometimes when Thursdays roll around, I get a little nostalgic when thinking about all the years I would be packing and leaving home on a Thursday to head to another sporting event.”
Of all the annual sports he covered, the Purdue graduate says his favorites were racing and boxing. But then he adds, “The sport that was my best friend ever was bowling … of course. It was enjoyable to cover bowling because the athletes were friendly, you were surrounded by nice people, the Saturday ratings were great, and I enjoyed fantastic longevity.”
Asked to name his favorite tournament cities, the diplomatic Schenkel says, “I always enjoyed them all. But I really liked Akron because everybody in bowling showed up there. I also liked going back to New York and New Jersey [where Schenkel had family roots] to see so many I knew in the audience. And, of course, there were the tournaments in New Orleans.”
He says that even today many of the bowlers and bowling media still call him to say hello. “It always thrills me when I hear from bowlers like Dick Weber, Walter Ray Williams Jr., Marshall Holman, Bob Benoit, and my old buddy in the broadcast booth, Bo Burton. I also enjoy when I get phone calls from old media friends like you, Chuck Pezzano, and John Jowdy. It’s great to know I haven’t been forgotten.
“I try to keep up with the new PBA tour on TV because it was such a big part of my life for so long. I watch some of the shows. They’re doing a pretty good job.”
Schenkel likes the fact “that I came along at the beginning of television. I think back at some of the incredible things I got to do, like the first televised Little League World Series, the first closed-circuit boxing match, the first televised Masters, the first NBA game on TV, and even the first telecast of the Olympics in 1960. I also announced the sudden-death playoff game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants in 1958 that put the NFL on the television map, so to speak. “There were only 12 teams when I started doing the radio broadcast of Giants games in 1952. That was the great thing about my career, my fortuitous timing.”
Yet Schenkel sometimes wishes he had been at his prime in today’s broadcasting world. “I’m grateful for all the marvelous opportunities I had, but, my gosh, the money that sports announcers make today compared to what I made is ludicrous. I made nothing in comparison. Truthfully, I don’t think any announcer is worth what they are being paid today, even John Madden.”
The word was out in the mid-1980s that Schenkel was no longer fit for college football. He seldom named the quarterback who threw a game-deciding interception or the ball carrier who fumbled at the goal line. His rationale to me at the time was that these were impressionable young men who could be scarred for life with negative publicity, and he didn’t want to point a finger at a quarterback who may have thrown an interception because the end ran the wrong pass route.
When most announcers started to point out mistakes by athletes on the air, Schenkel retained his gentlemanly demeanor. Even today, he remains a gentleman, so it’s little wonder that four years ago Schenkel became one of the special few to receive a lifetime achievement Emmy.
Of all the sporting events he covered, Schenkel says his 10 Olympic Games were the best of the best. “The Olympics, summer and winter, were my favorite overall events because they covered the gamut of most sports and had the world’s top athletes participating. I worked my first Olympics in 1960 when Walter Cronkite was the anchorman. I became the anchorman in 1968, but in the true sense of the word I became a real anchorman in Mexico, where so much of the television was live.” Schenkel also was in the anchor studio when the terrorists attacked during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Schenkel has enjoyed a fabulous career. He’s a true gentleman’s gentleman. Feel free to drop Schenkel a card at 7101 N. Kalorma Road, Leesburg, IN 46538.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group