Harry Kalas and Merle Harmon, two longtime big-league broadcasters died this week.
Kalas, the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies for almost 40 years was also the voice of NFL films after the legendary John Facenda. The passing of Kalas brought out many tributes from other reporters.
Kalas broke into broadcasting while in the military and stationed out in Hawaii. He was working minor league baseball when the Houston Colt 45's came into existence and he got his big break.
It was during this time I had the great fortune to meet Harry Kalas. I was a 15-year old sophomore in high school when I got the chance to spend a game inside the radio booth at the Astrodome. It was a late season contest between the Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 'Stros had several young stars -- Jimmy Wynn, Joe Morgan, Don Wilson, Doug Radar -- but it was the behind-the-scenes action of a radio broadcast that had my attention.
KPRC-radio was the flagship station for the Astros, and I'm sure they were always getting sponsor guests into the booth. Elston, Passe and Kalas could have been indifferent (or worse) to a callous teenager in their workplace, but they were just the opposite. Gene Elston was exactly as he was on the air: concise, to the point, and friendly. Loel Passe was excitable (Now You Chunkin it in there Donnie!!) and even dropped my name in during his work on the air.
Harry was the youngest of the crew and when he found out that I was an aspiring announcer he went out of his way to answer questions and give out unsolicited advice. The memories of that night are still vivid after all these years mainly because a young professional took the time to treat a guest with respect.
The passing of Merle Harmon wasn't noted quite as extensively. Harmon had worked college and NFL football for the networks for decades, and had also been an announcer for various major league baseball teams through the years. He ended his career with the Texas Rangers where he helped several announcers break into the business
I had the opportunity to work with Merle in the during the 1980's and he was another gentleman who was more than happy to help a newcomer to the business.
In the early 80's, Home Sports Entertainment (HSE) was the precursor to the regional sports networks. HSE had the SWC contract, and in 1980 they broadcast the Texas-Utah State football game. Merle was hired to handle play-by-play, I worked the color, and Randy McEachern was the sideline reporter. Merle was still working baseball so he flew in late Friday night for the football game.
We met for the first time over breakfast Saturday morning at the Hyatt hotel downtown. Broadcasting, like any other high profile job, requires a healthy ego to succeed. Merle had one, but he was also secure enough in his own ability to be more than happy to help smooth the way for others. He could not have been nicer at that first meeting, going over how he liked to handle certain situations, asking what areas I wanted to highlight, and explaining how he thought we could get into the rhythm of a broadcast with three announcers.
The broadcast went smoothly, and Texas won easily. As the contest was wrapping up, we were running right up against the top of the hour and our end time. The director was frantically screaming into the headsets to Merle to Wrap it up, wrap it up, we gotta get out!"
Now having just met Randy and I, Merle had written our names on an index card. As the director is still pushing him to get out, and as the teams are walking off the field Merle says,
Once again our final tonight, Texas 35 Utah State 17. So from Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas (picking up the index card) this is Steve Ross (he pauses, I give him a quizzical look, then without missing a beat he says) WITH Merle Harmon and Randy McEachern!
We hit the break right on time.
I had the privilege of working with Merle Harmon several more times over the years -- including the 1983 Texas-OU contest. He was one of the most positive and upbeat persons I have ever known.
Harry Kalas and Merle Harmon were both confident enough in their own abilities that giving guidance and direction to fellow broadcasters was second-nature to them. I will be forever grateful that I was able to cross their paths