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CHRIS SCHENKEL: Touring With a Pro

March 08, 1992|Steven Herbert | Times Staff Writer

In a career that began a half-century ago, ABC sportscaster Chris Schenkel has covered nine Olympic Games, called the play-by-play for what is considered the greatest NFL game ever (the 1958 NFL championship on NBC), and served as the network television voice for college football and the NBA. Schenkel, a four-time National Sportscaster of the Year, was elected to the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1981.

Since 1962, Schenkel has been the broadcaster for the Professional Bowlers Tour, which has consistently drawn higher ratings than virtually every competitor it has been matched against, including pro and college basketball, hockey, tennis, golf and a variety of sports anthology series.

Schenkel discussed his career, industry and sports with Times Staff Writer Steven Herbert.

How did you get into this business?

Growing up on a farm in Indiana, I listened to a lot of radio and became a big fan of Ted Husing and Bill Stern, two early-day sportscasters. I decided that was something I wanted to do because even at a early age I was blessed with a fairly decent voice. My younger brother was a great musician. When I was 12 and he was 5, we were the early-day Everly Brothers. We worked in Chicago on "The National Farm Dance," so we got bitten by the radio bug. I went to Purdue because they had a radio station. I got my first job in Muncie (Ind.) in 1942.

In a business that has so much turnover, how do you account for your longevity?

(Stern and Husing) did everything, so I sort of set my goals in that I wanted to do a variety of things. Little did I know that TV was coming along, which made it a little more difficult, but I was still able to pull it off because I got in on the ground floor of TV. I had a background so I could do bowling, horse racing, boxing or whatever they asked, so I was fortunate there. I came along at the right time. That's important too.

It's not fair to just single out one event as your most exciting or memorable event, so let's break it down by sport. What is your most memorable moment in college football?

The 1969 Texas-Arkansas game. Texas won 15-14. It was for the national championship. President (Richard M.) Nixon was there with us and went on at halftime with us. He had been somebody I had known quite a while because when he was Vice President we had the same business manager in New York City. It was great to have him there. It was just fun to have a president there.

Nixon was a frustrated sports announcer. President (Ronald) Reagan was a sports announcer, but Nixon was a frustrated announcer.

What about the NBA?

I think it was when Jerry West was playing. I loved that guy. I got to know him and loved him as a person, too. I loved doing Laker games. We'd usually get Lakers and Celtics. I loved doing it at the Forum and loved to look around at who was in the audience. It's the damnedest audience in the world.

What made ABC Sports so special in the 1960s and 70s? Was it just Roone Arledge (then the president of ABC Sports and now the president of ABC News), or the combination of all the talent people and major events you had?

It started with Roone and a president of the network, Tom Moore, a sports nut from Meridian, Miss. He and Roone really combined together to get financial help from the board of directors to make the sports department. He's never gotten the credit he deserves. He got the board to approve my contract when I came over from CBS.

Roone had the great ability to convince the board to get enough money to pay for rights fees. He knew what to buy. Then he assembled not only his own production staff, producers, directors and announcers, but technical people too. My God, they were just incredible.

Looking back it is so different now. Economics has hit them. It was so freewheeling then. Whatever it takes to make it the best in the world. I was lucky to go through that era. Whatever you did, you knew you had the best cameramen, the best producer and best director.

How do you account for bowling's popularity on TV?

I think it's a viewing habit by the millions of people who have bowled once or more. There are millions of hard-core league bowlers. We've been in practically the same time period since Day One.

Bowling is the calmest and easiest thing I've done, because you can just sit there and watch and shouldn't say a lot.

Do you bowl?

I used to growing up, and then when our three children were growing up, I bowled. But I was in a pace car wreck at Indianapolis in 1971 and I had to have my right shoulder redone. It's now just getting around that I can play golf and bowl again. I had about a 165 average.

What is your favorite sport?

My favorite sport to watch is hockey. It's just sheer action.

Favorite sport to (work)? There are so many, I wouldn't want to say football or pinpoint golf, so I'll say the Olympic Games because you get the world together and how are you going to beat that? And bowling is so down to earth and pure. The guys are so appreciative. They work harder than anybody making a living.

This week's stop on the Professional Bowlers Tour is the Johnny Petraglia Open, airing at 3 p.m. Saturday on KABC, KEYT and KESQ and 2 p.m. on KGTV.

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