Aircheck: ABC-TV, 1/26/1974

I haven’t done one of these “airchecks” in a while. But when I find something that I think is worth sharing – I figure, why not share it with you all?

It should be noted that most of this episode of Wide World Of Sports (a sports anthology ABC used to have in the days before the proliferation of cable TV) was taped on January 23, 1974, for air three days later. (I saw promos on this footage for shows that aired on Sunday – so I’m assuming this aired on Saturday, 1/26/1974.)

This was also back in an era where professional boxing commanded attention. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were a few days away from their second fight on January 28th – but neither man was the reigning champion, fighting for a lesser title instead. George Foreman was the reigning World champ, so this upcoming fight would basically decide who would fight him. Ali lost to Frazier the first time they met in 1971, and Howard Cosell and ABC had arranged for both men to view film footage of that initial bout a few days before their second bout.

Frazier was then the recognized champ, but Ali also had the distinction of never losing his title in the ring – being stripped of the crown for refusing to join the military in 1967, thus the first fight would produce a truly undisputed champion if a winner were found. Both men also went into the ring for that first fight undefeated, but that night produced a Frazier decision victory, benefiting from a 15th round knockdown of Muhammad.

In what always struck me as an odd decision – Ali and Frazier sat by side-by-side. Why not have Howard in between them? I guess it’s easy to say in retrospect, considering what happened as the trio viewed the tenth round of the first fight. The verbal sparring between the two men deteriorated into an actual fight – while they were watching the original fight! Cosell sat there, not moving a muscle, telling the audience, “Well, we’re having a scene, as you can see…”

Ali was probably not as serious, knowing that such an altercation would probably increase interest in the fight to come – a page taken from the stagecraft of professional wrestling, maybe. Frazier seemed decidedly annoyed as the men wrestled to the floor. As Cosell notes in the opening of the footage, the New York State Athletic Commission fined each of the fighters $5,000 – with the prominent broadcaster pointing out that the commission failed to view any of the tapes, which ABC would have allowed them to view. Thus, they made their ruling on hearsay evidence, with Cosell, the former lawyer – pointing that out in spades.

The studio scuffle wound up being more interesting than the fight was a few days later – Ali won a 12-round decision. They’d met again in Manilla, with Ali winning the title away from Foreman later in 1974 – and this time, Ali won by knockout after the 14th round when Frazier’s corner stopped the fight due to fears Joe couldn’t see out of at least one of his eyes. Ali also wanted to quit after that 14th round. Had the referee, Carlos Padilla had the wherewithal to check Ali’s corner – the fight could have wound up a draw, or a rarely seen double TKO, in which case Ali would have retained his championship.

With boxing out of the sporting limelight and television broke down into hundreds of pieces with the proliferation of cable TV – I doubt if the sport ever returns to such prominence. There was a welterweight title fight on ESPN this past weekend between two fighters I’d never heard of. At the weigh-in before the fight, one fighter had the audacity to take a swing at the other fighter, a punch the targeted fighter easily evaded. The incident barely got any media attention outside of ESPN.

Yep, we’re a long way away from 1974.

 

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Aircheck: ABC, 6/5/1968

I’ve always felt that the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles may have been a more sadistic blow to our country than the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, roughly four and a half years earlier.

ABC was the only network that stayed on the air continuously as events transitioned from election results to a breaking news event. Shortly after 3:15am Eastern time on June 5, 1968, the network was just returning from a B.F. Goodrich commercial and was about to sign off for the evening at approximately 19 minutes into the clip – the very moment RFK had been gunned down. For several moments, the John Phillip Souza march “The Thunderer” is heard.

Howard K. Smith is seen taking phone calls at his desk on the left, and a crowd forms in the upper right part of the screen by the wire machines above the “Race to the White House: California Primary” graphics. (Bill Lawrence is on the right side of the screen, whom ABC used as a political analyst.)

As the music re-cues a minute later, an announcer informs the audience to “Please stand by.” A minute later, the music stops and starts again, this time the announcer hints something serious is afoot by saying, “Please stand by for a special report.” Smith is seen furiously writing down notes and fielding a few more calls. About four and a half minutes into a static shot of the studio and the nearly continuous music, Smith returns to break the news at about 3:20am:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve kept the air on because we’ve heard an alarming report that Robert Kennedy was shot in that ballroom in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. A very loud noise like a clap of thunder was heard, a small explosion. We waited to see what it was, and then came a report that Senator Robert Kennedy was shot. We will bring you more news as we learn it.”

The details came forth in the following minutes and hours. RFK would cling to life for a little over a day before dying in the wee hours of June 6, 1968. I wasn’t alive when it happened (I came into the world three years and three months later), but it had to have been a cruel blow to the country – and I’m sure many wondered in the 50 years that have now proceeded the event what would have happened had RFK not been fired upon.

Aircheck: WABC Radio (New York), 7/13/1971

With some added computer hobby time with my newfound exclusion of Facebook, I thought it’d be a good time to bring back the Saturday “Aircheck” feature.

Howard Cosell would have turned 100 on Sunday.

Not too much tape exists of his “Speaking Of Sports” broadcasts that aired several times daily over the ABC radio network. Here is one such clip of the “The Gifted One” the day of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game of that year, famous for Reggie Jackson’s bodacious home run blast that hit Tiger Stadium’s roof.

Aircheck: Goodfellas, 1990

With the passing of Frank Vincent on Thursday, I thought I’d do something just a bit different on this week’s Aircheck and show you one of the best scenes I think I’ve ever seen in the movies.

In the scene from Goodfellas, Vincent plays Billy Batts, a mobster from the Gambino crime family who’s returned to society from prison. Batts keeps needling Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci’s character) about how he shined shoes as a kid, much to Tommy’s embarrassment. Well, you’ll see how the scene plays out. Personally, I can’t think of a worse fate than getting beaten to death. (Or so we think. Batts was actually beaten into unconsciousness. When Batts regains consciousness and starts beating against the trunk of the car, then DeVito and his buddies kill him.)

DeVito is of course whacked himself later in the movie, because he violates a clear cut mob rule: a made man killing other made men isn’t usually permitted without the sanction of a capo or someone higher up in the chain of command. Violating that rule put the perpetrator at risk for his own death, which was exactly what wound up happening.

RIP, Frank. His book is on my Amazon Wish List, so I’ll have to get around to that in his honor.

Aircheck: “Speaking Of Everything”, 3/13/1988

I’d really be remiss if I didn’t mention the passing of comedian Jerry Lewis last week at the age of 91. You see, I was born in Largo, Florida on the morning of September 6, 1971, which that year Labor Day. On TV that morning on one of the Tampa Bay area stations was the 1971 Labor Day telethon out of New York. Yes, I looked it up the local TV listings in the St. Pete Times archives one day. Hey, the Google can be a wonderful thing more often than not.

The telethon was its own brand of Jerry’s schmaltz on display for most of the 21 1/2 hours or so they’d occupy on Labor Day, beginning with the previous night. It did bring an iconic moment in 1976 when Lewis had a surprise guest in his former comedic partner of a generation past, Dean Martin. But most years, the telethon consisted of the story line of a chase: for MDA to raise a buck more than they did the year before. Unlike Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Jerry was often successful, barring a bad economy, or a hurricane hitting or threatening a major area in the United States.

Thirty nine years later, it was another day where September 6th was a Labor Day Monday. I just had a feeling about seeing Jerry on TV the night before when the telethon started that this particular showing in 2010 was going to be his last one, and I made a donation. Not a big one, but what can I say? I had to respect someone who did good work as I came into the world. My hunch turned out to be a premonition, as he was replaced before the next Labor Day came around. The Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon went on a few more years, but without Lewis there it just wasn’t and couldn’t be the same.

This video is from Howard Cosell’s short lived syndicated talk program, Speaking of Everything, which was also the name of Howard’s weekend radio show of days gone by where he spoke of things beyond the sports world. If you’ve ever wondered if Howard and Jerry talked to each other, here’s some documentation of that.

Have a good weekend, everybody.