BY DR. JACQUELYN CUNEEN
Joe Frazier passed away last week. He won boxing gold for his country at the 1964 Olympics and then had a hallmark career as a heavyweight champion. Back in the day when the World Series was probably the biggest annual sports event on television and Super Bowl Sunday had not yet achieved its status as a national holiday, Smokin’ Joe was one of the most famous American athletes of his time. Yet it is very likely that many Americans would not even recognize him on the street because big boxing matches were big radio events. If shown on television at all, matches, even as recently as the 1970’s, were often broadcast days or weeks later, usually on ABC’s wonderful anthology show, Wide World of Sports. Sometimes, fans could pay the price and see a fight live in selected movie theaters. However, the live events were broadcast to most everyone via radio, and the announcers were fabulous.
Consider that most play-by-play announcers have time to gather their thoughts in-between plays, pitches, passes, hits, shots, and attempts. Boxing announcers do not call play-by-play, they call blow-by-blow; and since boxing action is so quick most of the time, the announcers appeared to be the hardest working broadcasters in all of sport. If they were good at it, they painted a ringside picture for listeners with their choice of language and their amazing cadence.
Howard Cosell is probably the most famous boxing announcer associated with Frazier’s era. Supposedly, Cosell was hated by most of his colleagues as well as by most sports fans, but he was one of the most identifiable boxing broadcasters mainly because he seemed to have good access to Muhammad Ali. Ali used to say that he “made” Cosell and Cosell used to say that he “made” Ali. Commentators focusing on Frazier’s passing speculate that Frazier and Ali made each other. Arguments can be made for all of the above theories, but the bottom line is that radio made them all.