by Nat Asch
Certain moments sear the mind with the brilliant light of revelation; often a sharply etched insight into our common human frailties…
We trusted our New York Giants football team spotter, (Mal Kirpich, who flew his own plane, a small, single engine Cessna) to get us to Pittsburg in time to set up for the broadcast of the Giants-Pittsburg Steelers game on WNEW Radio. Although we had always left a day before a game, we decided, on this specific weekend in 1964, to leave early Sunday morning on the day of the game from Westchester’s N.Y. airport. On the plane that sunny fall morning, Marty Glickman, Kyle Rote, Kirpich and me, Nat Asch, broadcast producer.
Early in the flight Kirpich receives word that a violent storm is gathering over the Pocono Mountains. Embarrassed and contrite, he turns to us and says he cannot, indeed will not chance flying through the storm and, despite our entreaties which included threats of bodily harm, lands in Allentown, well short of Pittsburg.
Tittle, a proud, vain, almost totally bald man, refused to have pictures of him taken without a hat. In fact, up till that moment and already knowing Y.A. for some time, I had never seen him without something covering his head. He had been “run over” and “sacked” by the Steeler’s extremely large and ferocious defensive end, John Baker.
As the former (and last) Sports Director for WHN-WMGM in NYC—I had replaced Budd Greenspan of Olympic films fame at that legendary sports station—I produced the broadcasts of the N.Y. Football Giants starting in 1950. The Giants had played their home games in New York’s Polo Grounds (subsequently torn down and replaced with stunningly boring apartment buildings.)
When Walter O’Malley, the majority owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957, WMGM allowed all of its broadcast rights to the Giants, the NY Knicks, the NY Rangers as well as the rights to broadcast all of the college basketball games from Madison Square Garden to expire.
Giants on WNEW
The football Giants had moved from the Polo Grounds to play their games in Yankee Stadium and, in 1959, John Van Buren Sullivan, the inspired and inspiring General Manager of WNEW RADIO acquired the Giants radio broadcast rights. Sullivan asked the former Olympian and Hall of Fame broadcaster, Marty Glickman, who had provided the play by play for the Giant games to continue and asked me to co-produce the broadcasts with WNEW’s sports director, Joe Hasel, who also became “color” commentator that first season.
Thus began an extraordinary run of one of the most exciting “marriages” between a radio station and a professional football team in the history of radio. (I am convinced that WNEW was a major force in the Giant games becoming “the place to be on Sunday in New York,” creating a national sea change socio-economically wherein the National Football League’s impact became the equal of Major League baseball, almost invariably referred to as “America’s National Pastime.)
Rote Joins Glickman
While Glickman remained the constant “voice” of the Giants, a parade of exceptional “color” men worked at his side. Sullivan had hired one of America’s finest athletes and football players, Kyle Rote, to do sports news on the station. Rote, an All-American at Southern Methodist University (his performance in a game against Notre Dame remains a standard for college players to this day) had the misfortune to follow an overwhelmingly popular Texas football player at SMU, Doak Walker, and therefore never attained what should have been his rightful NFL level of celebrated super-stardom. However, his extraordinary accomplishments inside the league itself as a player’s representative—he founded the players union and was its first president— caused his fellow players to hold him in awe. In fact, Rote’s impact on his fellow professionals was so extraordinary that many of them named their sons Kyle.
Rote, a former punishing running back wound up playing the offensive end position brilliantly for the Giants despite tearing up the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in training camp during his rookie season. (The image of Rote rehabilitating his knee which required that he run the steps of Yankee Stadium from field level to the top level hour after hour, was actually exhausting to watch and will remain forever in my mind.) Rote played with quarterbacks Charley Conerly, Y.A. Tittle, Fran Tarkenton, Ralph Guglielmi, Milt Plum, Earl Morrall, Lee Grosscup and some others of lesser note.
“DeRO” in the Booth
After he retired as a player in 1961, and barely able to walk for a long time, he became an assistant coach under Allie Sherman, the Giants head coach. It was then that Rote became WNEW’s “color man” on the Giant broadcasts. At the same time, Sullivan, a fiercely loyal Giants football fan who paced the back of the press box’s broadcast location during home games, hired the Giants’ retired former all-pro defensive left tackle, Al
DeRogatis, to share “color” responsibilities with Rote. DeRo” as he was known, was so astute at analyzing the success or failure of a specific play and so accurate in predicting what was about to occur on the next play that New York’s football audience began to turn off the sound of the television broadcast and turn on WNEW’s radio broadcast. I “helped” by creating an ad which said, “Watch Giants football on Channel 2. LISTEN to WNEW RADIO. Have we ever lied to you?” At that point, CBS Sports officially complained to the NFL that we were “killing” the Giants TV telecast in the tri-state area which featured Frank Gifford and Pat Summerall. DeRogatis was subsequently offered a “deal he couldn’t refuse” by NBC Sports television and left WNEW’s broadcasts in 1966. The “color” position was subsequently shared by among others, former quarterback Charlie Conerly, Columbia University’s Gene Rossides, and former Giants defensive halfback Dick Lynch.
Jack Sullivan became the president of Metromedia’s radio division in 1966 and offered me the program director’s job in starting up WNEW-FM with George Duncan in 1967. I continued to produce the radio broadcasts of the Giants games which were simulcast on FM until 1969 when I was named vice president and general manager of KMET in Los Angeles. The years that I spent at WNEW RADIO were the best years of my life.