Havlicek Stole The Ball

In the fall of 1950, I was contacted by the station manager of WNAO in Raleigh who wanted to know if I would be interested in doing a radio show segment once a week on the regular 6 o'clock sports show. Even though I was stretched far too thin at the time, I couldn't resist the lure of having my own radio show even if it was for just once a week and only a few moments at that. Looking back on it, I don't know how I thought I was going to be able to do it when you consider that I was the News and Observer correspondent for high school sports, Editor-In-Chief of our high school newspaper, sports editor of our yearbook, a member of the tennis team and a member of a barbershop quartet that performed frequently in the Raleigh area. Gene Boyce, noted Raleigh attorney who recently won 3 massive law suits against the State of North Carolina was also a member of the quartet. All this while I worked nights at the Raleigh News and Observer as a copy boy from 7-12 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

At any rate, I thought I would give the radio thing a shot. I still had not a clue as to what I wanted to do with my life, but I felt like I couldn't pass up an opportunity to try my hand at broadcasting.

Being inexperienced in matters of the real world, I thought the station manager had talked the matter over with the sportscaster and that the invitation was the result of an agreement between them. Looking back on it now, I'm sure the station manager thought it was a good idea and imposed his will on the sportscaster. Nice situation to walk into, huh?

The sportscaster was from New York City and I thought at the time he was a little abrupt even though he never did treat me with disrespect. He had a distinctive voice and was full of energy. He knew as I knew that WRAL with Ray Reeve and WPTF with Jim Reid and Phil Ellis were the top dogs in Raleigh sports and he seemed reconciled to play second or even third fiddle. He did have one thing going for him that the other stations didn't and that was recreated major league baseball. For those of you too young to remember, this was recreation of a major league baseball game from the western union ticker tape. The announcer would broadcast the game as though he was in the ballpark where the game was being played with crowd noise in the background. He had a little bat that he would strike on a block of wood that sounded just like the sound of a bat hitting a baseball. I have heard several persons do games like this and some were better than others. The WNAO sportscaster was the best I ever heard. I remember many times sitting by the radio at home on a Saturday listening to him do a Red Sox game and it was as though I was right there in Fenway Park.

Nothing eventful happened while I did the shows for a couple of months and the best I remember, I decided that maybe I should discontinue my foray into the world of broadcasting since tennis season was coming up and I knew there would be a scheduling conflict.

I managed to graduate from high school in the spring of 1950 and I gave no thought to the sportscaster until I returned to Raleigh from the Air Force in 1955 and enrolled at UNC. It was then that I heard a familiar voice doing the Boston Celtics games and immediately knew it was my friend from WNAO (I think it had become WKIX by then ). Yep, the announcer for the Boston Celtics games beginning in 1953 was Johnny Most formerly with radio station WNAO in Raleigh.

Johnny Most became a legend while doing the Celtics games from 1953 to 1990 and he has been elected to the broadcaster's Hall of Fame. His gravel voice and home team bias made him both one of the most beloved and hated announcers on the national scene. He made no attempt to hide his love for the Celtics and the people in Boston loved him. Occasionally, I will hear him on a TV trailer repeating those famous words, "Havlicek Stole the Ball" when near the end of a championship game with the Los Angeles Lakers, John Havlicek stole an inbounds pass to insure a Celtic victory for the NBA Championship.

I never saw Johnny Most after our somewhat less than successful endeavor to attract more listeners to WNAO, but every time I hear his name mentioned I think of that short period in 1949 when we were partners whether he liked it or not. I was glad to see him make it big and often wondered if he even remembered his stint in Raleigh. Radio and TV personalities move around a lot until they can establish themselves and I'm not even sure how long he was in Raleigh.

Johnny Most died several years ago but I have just learned that he wrote a book in 1993 and I plan to order it. Heck, I might even be mentioned in the book as that snotty nosed little kid who was forced on him when he was at radio station WNAO in Raleigh, North Carolina. I may even be the reason he left Raleigh but, if true, I don't think he would have had any reason to complain about that.

RamFanatic Note:

After I wrote the above article I started thinking about whether I had used the correct tense for "steal" in the title. I mentioned this to a friend and we temporarily decided that JM had said "stole" rather than "steals." Before I could change it, he notified me that he heard a transcription of the JM call on the radio last Sunday and that JM used both words. He says initially " steals" and then repeats over and over "stole." Good, I can sleep much better now.