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Today's Tidbit... The Way It Was With Oklahoma Football Broadcasts
While researching yesterday's Tidbit about Bennie Owen, the longtime Oklahoma football, basketball, and baseball coach, I stumbled across a 1937 image identifying Oklahoma football's first radio play-by-play announcer.
Our radio man grew up in Kansas City and Houston. The editor of his high school newspaper, he enrolled at Texas as a less-than-enthusiastic student, lasting a year or two while working at the student newspaper and the Houston Post, eventually leaving school to do radio work. That took him back to Kansas City in 1936, where he worked for radio station KCMO doing, among other things, play-by-play accounts of games based on brief descriptions received via telegraph. (Ronald Reagan famously performed the same function for an Iowa radio station earlier that decade.)
In 1937, our intrepid reporter joined the United Press syndicate and was hired by Oklahoma City station KCY as Oklahoma football’s first radio play-by-play announcer. That reporter/announcer was Walter Cronkite.
One of Cronkite's job requirements was to move to Norman for the football season to get the inside scoop on the team and conduct mid-week interviews and feature stories. Of course, the feature broadcasts on Saturday afternoons allowed Oklahomans to monitor Sooner games from their homes for the first time.
Oklahoma had a solid season under first-year coach Tom Stidham, going 5-2-2 overall and 3-1-1 in the conference, good for second in the Big Six. Had they beaten rather than tied Nebraska in the fourth game of the season, they would have tied the Cornhuskers for the Big Six title.
Cronkite became a household name during WWII as a war correspondent who sailed on convoys to Europe, flew bomber missions over Germany, landed in a glider with the 101st Airborne in Belgium, and covered the Nuremberg Trials. After the war, he played various news roles for CBS television.
He returned to sports coverage as the host of the first televised Winter and Summer Olympic Games in 1960 before taking over as the anchor of the CBS Evening News in 1962. In that role, his coverage of JFK's assassination and the first moon landing are among the seminal moments in American broadcast journalism.
Given the arc of Cronkite's news career, it may seem odd that he did a stint as a football play-by-play man in Oklahoma, but as he might have said, "That's the way it was" for the most trusted man in America.
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