The Old Scotchman, Gordon McLendon

From 1947-1952, young Gordon McClendon, the “Old Scotchman,” mastered the art of baseball game recreations at his Liberty Broadcasting System studio in Dallas.

29-year old Gordon McLendon walked among us in the years following World War II as one of the shrewdest, most creative independent broadcasters ever  to come down the pike. Recognizing the appeal of baseball far beyond the narrow confines of the few eastern and midwestern cities of the big leagues, young McLendon pieced together the Liberty Broadcasting System in the Dallas suburb of Oak Cliff in 1947 and proceeded from there over the next three years to build a national audience for his studio-recreated games of major league baseball.

In competition with the powerful Mutual Broadcasting System and their live big league game coverage, Gordon McLendon understood that his battle was not against the money and talent that MBS could throw against his LBS for the national audience at stake. “G Mac” figured correctly that his challenge was in the “Theatre of the Mind.” The network that best captured the visual imagination of the fans through this strictly words and sounds medium would be the winner down the line.

G Mac guessed right. As a 12-year old in the summer of 1950, I can attest to his victory and I can relate exactly when and how it happened for me. Confined indoors during the so-called “heat of the day” (12-3PM). I struggled like most of my friends with a choice of the two networks for big league action during the daily time of confinement from the sandlot. We knew that LBS was giving us simulated broadcasts and, no matter how good we found G Mac to be, that fact alone often pushed us over to MBS and the mellow voice of Al Helfer and live action.

G Mac bought a parrot and confined him to a room all day that played his station call letters, “K-L-I-F” on a recorded loop for as long as it took the bird to learn to say those words. Then the bird went on the air with G Mac and said the call letters on cue at break time.

Then one day that all changed. Somehow, G Mac and LBS came up short on a big league game to broadcast and were forced to either cancel or go to musical “rain out” programming. G Mac chose to go another way. He went to the history books and pulled up a detailed account of Game Two from the 1916 World Series. All of a sudden, I’m listening to Babe Ruth warming up on the sidelines; the date is October 9, 1916; Ruth is getting ready to face off against Sherry Smith and the visiting Brooklyn Robins.

I was captivated by G Mac’s time-machine-invite to join him for a batter-by-batter trip back to that golden day in baseball history. And G Mac and LBS brought me everything from what happened each step of the way to changes in the wind that caused uniform sleeves to flap and trash and dust to blow across the infield – and, of course, all of the changes in light patterns brought about by cloud movements and the length of the game. 14 innings later, Ruth and the Red Sox had prevailed over Smith and the Robins by a 2-1 final score. This may have been the day that my lifelong romance with baseball history found its truckload of cement. I just remember being hooked on the trip through time.

Legendary LBS Broadcaster Gordon McLendon ~ The Old Scotchman – G Mac. He’s the reason that Houston Radio Station KILT first bore those call letters as an affiliate.

For a complexity of reasons, including the new era of franchise-shifting and MLB closing down harder on independent broadcasters who made an unregistered living off the labors of major league baseball, the LBS broadcasts began to fade. By 1952, the network was dead and McClendon had moved on to other things, like inventing “Top 40 Song Hits of the Week” programming – and producing  one mildly disastrous independent horror movie in which he also starred as a mad doctor in “The Killer Shrews” (1959). G Mac also served as Executive Producer of “The Giant Gila Monster” that same year. “Shrew” has since become something of a cult horror movie classic among fan circles that have nothing to do with baseball.

Gordon McLendon died in 1986 at the age of 65. He was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1994.

To me, G Mac will always be one of those people who made history come alive. He didn’t invent   simulated game broadcasting. He simply fine tuned it into a magic carpet ride into baseball history.

Thanks, Old Scotchman! A lot us out here shall remember you forever!

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3 Responses to “The Old Scotchman, Gordon McLendon”

  1. David Munger Says:

    Radio station KILT AM and the last Drive Inn Theater in Houston at I-45 N@ West Rd. are two recollections I have of G Mac.

  2. tom murrah Says:

    Bill:
    Thanks again for a good story. Along these lines, my Grandfather who lived in Bellville years ago practiced a similar form of “theatre of the
    mind” with baseball broadcasts. The differences were these:
    a. the games of choice were the Houston Buffs night games.
    b. the beer of his choice was Grand Prize.
    c. we grandkids would use the accumulated bottle caps to “act out”
    the game situations being described on the air.
    d. if my Missions were the opposition, I prepared myself mentally
    for a “long evening.”

    All of this would have been in the early ’50s.

    Thanks again,
    Tom

  3. Matt Says:

    Cool article! I’m very interested in this era of Texas pop culture.

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