Saturday, September 29, 2012

Chris Economaki, R.I.P.

Listen to Fox Sports Radio on a Sunday morning, and Rob d'Amico hosts the motorsport-related programme "Speed Sport on Fox".

Find a newsstand for Speed Sport magazine, published by Ralph Sheheen.

Or you might just head over to

All of these things have one thing in common.

Flash back to 1934, where a young kid in the Depression era was selling copies of a New Jersey-based publication focused on local dirt track and board track motorsport of the time, hawking single copies of a publication to racegoers. 

Thus began the story of Chris Economaki, who later took control of the magazine until media trends changed in the late 2000's.

We remember Chris Economaki today, on the word from current Speed Sport magazine publisher Ralph Sheheen that the 92-year old journalism legend has died.

A tribute by Congress:

More than thirty years before Mike Joy's call of Australia's legendary Bathurst 1000 for US television sent Australian race fans wanting more of his calls, Chris was pitside for Seven's call of the Great Race.

1984: Economaki at a dirt track while covering Talladega the next afternoon. The simple fundamentals of sport are often mentioned still.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Of pay television, the Emmys, and the National Championship Playoff

TThe Emmys have become an elitist event where the raunchiest "comedies" that promote anti-Biblical themes win, and most of the big winners are the Premium Pay TV (HBO/Showtime) shows. No wonder network television is in decline -- the awards voters always vote for the shows very few people watch, on the premium channels, where there are no standards on decency. The industry has shot themselves in the foot by making the most important shows the premium pay shows. And of course, as usual, there's a huge worship of The Whammy at these awards.

Are you telling me decency standards should never be allowed, since only the raunchiest shows can win?  What does that say now?

And on this note, I strongly believe that the BCS officials are contemplating now that they've switched to pay television for the championship game, why not go to Premium Pay TV or Pay Per View and earn more money.  The possibilities are endless when the only broadcasts of the game will not be radio or standard television but pay-per-view.  Can you imagine a New Year's Day tradition of sport will disappear this year as all postseason games on New Year's Day are pay games and NBC's New Year's Day show will be cancelled?  Tell your NBC affiliate to not celebrate the day, since your show won't air.  Hmmmmm . . . 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Andy Williams, R.I.P.

Reprinted from today's It's About TV.

I always liked Andy Williams, and in fact there was something very likable about him. He was handsome, with an attractive family and a smooth, easy style.  He didn't seem to take himself overly seriously, and he did seem to be enjoying himself on stage.  He stood behind his ex-wife when she was accused of murdering her lover, and there was something quite noble about that.  Yes, memories of watching Andy on TV are warm, pleasant ones.

But I wonder if he doesn't become even more likeable in retrospect, and I don't mean that in a critical way.  You see, there are entertainers who are timeless becuase they always seem relevant.  But others, like Andy Williams, are timeless because they epitomize their time. 

What does that mean?  Well, I'm not sure.  Even as I try to figure it out I struggle to explain it in words.  But Sinatra, for example, is always Sinatra; and whenever you watch him (at least until his last, trying years), you feel like it's happening right now.  Inside that concert hall it could be 1958 or 1988; it doesn't really matter.  Time is what Frank says it is.  And that's why Frank's always cool.

But when you watch a DVD of an Andy Williams Christmas special, time doesn't stand still; instead, you’re transported back in time. Perhaps, as in my case, it’s to childhood; for others, it might be the days of your first job, your first love, your first Christmas together. Watching Andy sing with his brothers, you might find yourself remembering trips back home for the holidays; when he walks down the streets of an imaginary downtown, it might be the town where you grew up.; when the whole family sits around the fireplace singing carols, it could be your family on a cold winter’s eve.  The feeling you get watching one of these shows is more than just pleasure; it's a sense of warmth, of security, of simple pleasure.

And just as you smile when Frank Sinatra sings "You make me feel so young" because Frank's always young when he sings that, no matter how old he is, you smile when you watch Andy Williams because he makes you feel so young.  Frank comes into your life; Andy brings you into his.  We can (and often do) idealize the past, but when Andy sings "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (a song written for one of his shows, by the way), you remember what it was like when people actually went downtown to do their shopping, when cities actually used the word "Christmas" without fear, when Peace on Earth wasn't a cynical dream.  But don't take my word for it; those shows were special to everyone.

And that's why Andy Williams' Christmas shows are even better now than they were then; perhaps back then we took everything for granted, assumed that things would continue to be the way they'd always been.  Back then we didn't need Andy Williams to tell us how things were, because we were there.  Today, we need him because we'll never get back there again. And so when we read today of his death of cancer, at age 84, we mourned his death, but in a way he'll never be dead; he'll always be frozen in that time machine, keeping it ready for us every Christmas.

But if this is too existential for you, then let's just enjoy Andy doing what he does best: singing, and making us feel just a little bit better for it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Steve Sabol, R.I.P.

Reprinted from today's It's About TV.

Mike Greenberg of ESPN said it best this morning: everyone who loves professional football owes Steve Sabol a big debt of gratitude.

When I was a kid, I thought football was the greatest thing since sliced bread. And my favorite TV show was probably NFL Action – even more than Alvin. In Minneapolis, it aired on Sundays in the summer, after the late local news, and it was one of the supreme treats that came from being able to stay up late when school was out. NFL Action – and the other shows produced by NFL Films, such as This Week in Pro Football – created a mythology about the game. It turned players into noble soldiers and simple grass fields became muddied scenes of pitched battle – all accompanied by Sturm und Drang soundtracks and narration by The Voice of God, aka John Facenda.

It was great, great stuff, absolutely mesmerizing for a kid like me. Whereas in past years kids might have grown up idolizing King Arthur or Red Ryder or Dick Tracy, the heroes of my imagination were the Green Bay Packers. They were the best team in the NFL, and the NFL was the best sport there was. And while those kids had sat in front of the radio listening to their heroes in the serials of their day, I sat in front of the television watching my heroes as portrayed by NFL Films, the company founded by Ed Sabol as Blair Motion Pictures, and eventually run by his son Steve. Together the two of them understood that football was more than just a game determining a winner and loser – it was an elemental story of human drama that begged to be told.

Without Ed Sabol, there would have been no NFL Films. But as Joe Posnanski wrote, “the vision [came] from Steve. When it came to football, he heard John Facenda's voice of God narrating in his head long before he knew John Facenda. In his mind, even as a kid playing sixth grade football, the games were epic struggles. The players were gladiators. The uniforms transformed mortals into gods. The autumn wind was a Raider. No, Steve Sabol never thought small.” I never played organized football, but in every other respect I was that sixth grader who understood that football wasn’t life or death – it was more important than that, a validation of one’s entire code of life.

How important to the NFL was the work of Steve Sabol? Brett Farve said, "He changed the face of the NFL without ever playing a down in it.'' “NFL Films,”'s Richard Rothschld wrote, “became a fan’s ticket to the entire league.” It was that dream of the NFL, probably even more than the game itself, that attracted me. It’s hard for me to describe – here, Posnanski puts into words the feelings with which I grew up:
Before the Sabols and NFL Films, mud on the football field was just mud on the football field. NFL Films turned that mud into something holy, something that reflected guts and manhood and courage. Mud proved a Herculean test for the players' souls. NFL Films showed cleats sloshing in mud, mud dripping off taped hands, mud caked on arms, the way mud turned linebackers into heroic and dangerous figures. We take that for granted now because NFL Films has created this image of pro football, but there's nothing intrinsically romantic about mud.

Chuck Klosterman sums up the talent that Steve Sabol had, in talking about a poem that Sabol wrote for an Oakland Raiders film. It’s not, Klosterman says, the best poem ever,

It might not be the 100th-best poem about autumn. But Sabol knew how those words would sound when John Facenda recited them, and he understood the kind of person who would hear them, and he could instantly visualize which images should fall behind them. NFL Films is a rare example of cinematographers placing style over substance and actually making the product infinitely more substantial. Sabol did this effortlessly, for 50 years. It was his natural state of filmmaking.

Steve never lacked for recognition; over the years he earned 35 Emmys for writing, cinematography, editing, directing and producing, and with Ed received the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award. So you see, it wasn’t just the fans who recognized how special that work was.

As the years progress you can see the game change through the lens of NFL Films: the muddy grass replaced by plastic turf, the shadows of old ballparks replaced by the light of flying-saucer type creations, the players change from long-sleeved athletes to hulkish giants in stretched-out jerseys, the game itself change into a multi-billion dollar business. In fact, as I go through my collection of shows from NFL Films, I can see my love for the NFL falling away, bit by bit, as time passes, until there is nothing left.

But my admiration for NFL Films and the work they did never left me. And as I learned more about Steve Sabol, I began to appreciate him in a completely different way. A couple of years ago I wrote about how I thought it would have been my dream job to work at NFL Films. "My Dad hated his job," Steve once said. "He sold overcoats, but he wanted to make movies. He had a failed career working with the Ritz Brothers -- they were like the Marx Brothers, only a tier below. I always had a picture in my mind of him in a straw hat.”

You got the impression that Steve also had a picture in his mind of how Ed hated his job, and was determined that would never happen to him. He knew that football was not the most important thing in the world, but it was something he loved, and so it was important to do it right. And so he created a place where people who shared that love could not only get to do it for a living, but have fun doing it. He would give them an incredible amount of freedom with that job, because he knew that people who loved their work, who saw it as more than just punching a clock at a job, would bring to that work a skill and devotion that made it special. Trust and humor – words that keep popping up in descriptions of him. As Klosterman writes, “I never met Steve Sabol, but I wish I could have worked for him.”

He was dedicated to his job, and to his father. Ed Sabol was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame last year – after Steve had been diagnosed with the brain tumor that would kill him yesterday, at the much-too-young age of 69 – and Steve had the chance to put things into perspective.

"For a company that prides itself on telling good stories,'' he said, "this is one hell of a story. Dad makes the Hall of Fame. Son's going to be his presenter. Son gets a brain tumor. Now the story is, Is the son going to be there? Will the son make it? Who knows? I could be around until the Super Bowl in New York [2014]. But I've had a lot of time to think ...

"So they talk about heaven, and I don't know what is waiting for me up there. But I can tell you this: Nothing will happen up there that can duplicate my life down here. That life cannot be better than the one I've lived down here, the football life. It's been perfect."

Steve Sabol was, by all accounts, an extraordinary man; one NFL GM told Peter King that he “was the most ethical person I knew.” And I think it shows in the way he lived his life. He saw it as a gift: not to be wasted, as some do, nor simply to be endured, as others feel. It was meant to be lived.

And so he did that, for 69 years. He loved what he did and how he did it; he had a passion, and figured out a way to transmit that passion to others, to share it with them so that it would become their passion as well. He loved his work and made a career out of it, and it wasn’t just a career that he somehow fit into; it was a career he created.

As I said, an extraordinary man.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An appreciation for Bob Jenkins on his final race

As we head to the MAVTV 500 INDYCAR World Championships Saturday, we come to the end of Bob Jenkins' career in television broadcasting. As was mentioned earlier in the year, the 65-year old Mr. Jenkins announced his retirement during Carburetion Day, as his wife Pam is undergoing treatment for a serious illness.

Here are some classic Jenkins clips as we celebrate the career of a motor racing legend behind the microphone.

Black Sunday:

Sid Watkins, R.I.P.

Most of our readers have probably never heard of Sid Watkins, but within Formula 1 circles he’s a legend, even though he never won a race, or even sat behind the wheel of an F1 car.

Instead, he saved lives.

The Prof, as he was known, was a gifted neurosurgeon, and F1’s chief medical man for many years. Two from the F1 world who knew him, James Allen and Joe Saward, offer tributes here. I would only add that, having read Life at the Limit: Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One and having seen and heard him in last year’s documentary Senna, I was deeply impressed with the man. He was thoughtful, intelligent, compelling, dedicated not only to the sport and its safety, but in a unique way to the men who put their lives on the line in their racing cars.

He was a close friend of the great Ayrton Senna, and noted the former champion’s unease at Imola in 1994, a weekend that had already seen his fellow driver Roland Ratzenberger killed and his protégé Rubens Barrichello severely injured. Why don’t we just chuck it all, Watkins suggested. Walk away from the track, leave it all behind, go fishing? But Senna could not do it, and the following day it was Senna who would lie dying on the track after a crash, with Watkins bent over him, unable to stop the inevitable. Later, Watkins would write that although he was not a religious man, he felt "[Senna’s] spirit depart at that moment" of his death. It was a measure both of the profound weight of Senna’s Catholic faith and the – what, empathy? intuition? something more?

Though he was not a believer, I like to think that at that moment Sid Watkins sensed the truth. He was a man of great skill and accomplishments, who as both a doctor and a man did great works of mercy. That, I believe, must count for something. And so I think we can be emboldened to think that, at the final moment, his good friend Senna might have intervened for him, encouraged him to say Yes, help him across the threshhold. For those of us who admired him, it's a pleasant hope.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Day +11: Young America's Foundation warning

This has to be deliberate, folks. We just saw on live television as a second plane flew into the second tower of the World Trade Center. Now given what has been going on around the world, Some of the key suspects come to mind, Usama bin Laden, who knows what." -- news broadcast on The Day.

Ron Meyer, 22, of Young America's Foundation has a serious warning about what is happening to the Patriot Day memorials, considering what this White House has done to both the military and the day itself:
Many college and high school students can barely remember 9/11. Seniors in college were in fifth grade, freshmen were in first grade, and most high schoolers hadn't even started school. 2012 is the most important year--so far--to remember 9/11 because our younger generations are the most in danger of forgetting what really happened. Or worse, our younger generations are susceptible to getting a politically correct view of 9/11. Many on the Left have tried to turn 9/11 into a "day of national service" or a celebration of tolerance, instead of remembering that radical jihad attacked this nation because of our western values.

And let us take a moment to remember Mark Bavis.
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