You’re On The Air: A 1926 Review

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You’re On The Air (By Graham McNamee, 1926):

A Contemporary Book Review Published in the Helena Independent

September 12, 1926

Radios, which have brought the world into closer contact, reunited families and long lost friends, are now a common piece of furniture in American homes. On January 1, 1926, there were 5,200,000 receiving sets in the United States alone.

Graham McNamee, announcer for WEAF, the largest New York City broadcasting station and author of “You’re On The Air,” is heralded the country over as the outstanding radio announcer. McNamee has acquired the ability to individualize and particularize every emotion, whether he is announcing a world series baseball game or a prize fight. The radio may be a marvelous invention and still be as dull as ditch water unless it allows the play of personality. A machine amounts to less than nothing unless a man can ride it.  McNamee has been able to take a new medium of expression and through it transmit himself – to give out vividely (sic) a sense of movement and of feeling. Of such is the kingdom of art.

In his book, “You’re On The Air,” published by Harper and brothers, and written in collaboration with Robert Gordon Anderson, McNamee takes you back stage and explains the integral mechanism of the radio. During the past four years, he has broadcast world series games, prize fights, foot-ball games, president’s addresses, and innumerable ground operas.

McNamee was raised in St. Paul and in 1920, with the help of his mother, he studies vocal under such teachers as Madame Esperanza Carrigue. After a successful career as a vocalist, he became interested in radio and in 1922 became announcer for WEAF.

The radio game is young, for up to 1922, it was practically unheard of, but in the last four years, fortunes have been made and lost, huge factories have sprung up all over the land, tens of thousands of radio stores have been opened and the air is full of myriad voices spreading news and messages, music and song, to a listening world.

“A broadcaster should have an acquaintance with literature and of sports, a pleasing voice, a good disposition and control of his temper, as well of the microphone through which he is announcing,” says Mr. McNamee. “One in training for such a position should never, even in off hours, indulge in strong language. If he does not swear off swearing, he is apt to get mixed up sometimes through habit, and use expressions that are all too descriptive, particularly in broadcasting a stirring baseball game or a rattling good prize-fight.”

The perfect teamwork of operators, plantsmen, program makers, the mastery of that vast tangle and network of wires, the accuracy and synchronization, the timing of the programs to a split second, are as much of a poem as any ever written in print – and it gives a new respect for the achievement of man.

~ Helena Independent, September 12, 1926, Page 14. *

Graham McNamee

Graham McNamee

  • Once in while, intentionally or inadvertently, news writers draft some thoughts for history. This review was one of those times. Our only regret at The Pecan Eagle tonight is that we are unable to give individual writing credit where it is due. This piece was journalism at its finest. The review captures Graham McNamee as a man ahead of his times, a man who reached far, and taught many, the art of the craft that is live event broadcasting.  The fact that McNamee’s world grew larger than baseball alone should never have been a diminishing factor of his role as the trail-blazing father of the play-by-play broadcast. As the author of this piece plainly stated: “A machine amounts to less than nothing unless a man can ride it.– Graham McNamee both rode the bull and wrote the book on baseball play-by-play over the radio. A couple of kids we remember as Red Barber and Mel Allen, among all others of their great generation, grew up with an open mind and full ear to what McNamee was teaching all of them.

Congratulations again, Graham McNamee, on your 2016 Ford Frick Award. ~ Your day of vindication is at hand by this recognition from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

____________________

 eagle-0range Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

https://bill37mccurdy.com/

 

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9 Responses to “You’re On The Air: A 1926 Review”

  1. stanfromtacoma Says:

    Bill, you and your readers might be interested to know that Graham McNamee can be heard over the Internet. Go to archive.org or just enter coca cola top nochers into a search engine and you can listen to him, Grantland Rice, the Coca cola Top Nochers orchestra and Ty Cobb in an old 1930 radio program. Years ago I sent Ernie Harwell a tape of that very program and he sent me a very kind and very appreciative reply.

  2. stanfromtacoma Says:

    You are welcome. Unfortunately I need to correct a mistake. Type Coca Cola Top Notchers into the search engine.

  3. gregclucas Says:

    One thing the great announcers had for years was the ability to paint the whole picture. In baseball that was especially true. Vocabularies and description abilities were better. The announcers always remembered that their voice was the only link to the field for their listeners and if they couldn’t paint colorful and accurate pictures of what they were seeing to relate to their listeners they were not telling the whole story. An old rule of thumb, “Describe the game so accurately that a fan who was listening can converse with a fan who was in attendance and be talking about the same game” sounds simple, but if the announcer is not also talking about the crowd, ballpark and even weather he has not told the whole story.

    The true “greats” of the old days could do just that. Now, perhaps because of the advent and take over of television the radio descriptions are far less informative and have the danger of becoming statistics parades or stories not relating to what is actually going on down on the field.

    Of course in the old days the field and ballpark was pretty much all the announcers had to talk about. No statistical or thick media packages of information. The game and what was going on around it was the only thing. When was the last time you heard an announcer this descriptive:

    “Smith leaves the on deck circle and heads toward the plate swinging two bats…now he drops one and moves into the righthand batter’s box and moves into his slightly crouched open stance. On the mound Jones leans in at the waist peering into his catcher for the sign…. Now Jones moves into the stretch…pauses..takes a look at Wilson the runner at first who has a three step lead…. Jones looks back at the plate and fires a fast ball just a shade high for ball one….many in the crowd groaned and some gave it to umpire Klem thinking that ball may have been in the strike zone…

    Not any room for a second announcer with description that full…and in this era perhaps it is too much. But that style truly painted a picture in the mind’s eye for sure.

  4. stanfromtacoma Says:

    Greg your observations are spot on. There are some broadcasters today who have the ability to paint a word picture—- Ken Korach with the A’s, Jon Miller and Dave Flemming with the Giants — but sadly it is for the most part a lost art. I’ve thought perhaps the reason the previous generation of great baseball broadcasters were so great— Red Barber, Mel Allen, Bob Prince, Jack Buck, Dave Niehaus, Vin Scully and others— is because those guys grew up with old time radio. THe rise of TV I think led to the demise of descriptive baseball play by play. Oh well, at least many of the radio baseball broadcasters have been preserved. I am thankful for that.

  5. stanfromtacoma Says:

    Another day, another mistake. The sentence should be: Oh well, at least many of the radio baseball broadcasts by the great baseball broadcasters have been preserved.

  6. Rick B. Says:

    In the movie “Parental Guidance,” Billy Crystal plays Artie, an aging baseball announcer (for the Fresno Grizzlies) who is fired for not being hip enough anymore. One of the things his boss asks him is whether he tweets, and he replies, “I’ll tweet. I’ll make any noise you want me to make.”

    Later in the movie, he tries to get a job with ESPN as an announcer for the X-Games. His first assignment on his tryout is to announce a skateboarder’s run. Artie starts by saying, “Hello there, everybody. It’s a beautiful day, and thanks for coming out.” The problem is that the skateboarder’s run is now already over, and he has failed to describe any of the action.

    A baseball game is the opposite of an X Games event: It is something to be savored rather than devoured, and the announcers who describe the game should help the listener soak in every aspect rather than trying to breeze through statistics or inanities.

  7. Tom Hunter Says:

    Several years ago, the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick wrote, “Vin Scully has understood the difference between radio and TV since Jack Benny made the switch. On TV, his greatest gift is brevity. He knows exactly when it’s time to say nothing. And he rarely says anything worth shouting about. He figures that we can see or we wouldn’t be watching.

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