Jim McKay, the longtime host of ABC’s “Wide World Of Sports” and an iconic voice in the network’s coverage of the Olympics, golf, auto racing and horse racing, has passed away at the age of 86. From the New York Times’ Brian Stetler :
Roone Arledge, who later became the president of ABC Sports, called Mr. McKay and asked him to be the host in 1961.
œI knew him to be smart, literate, and quick on his feet ” and there wouldn™t be any need for someone to write his copy. He was our man ” if I could get him, Mr. Arledge recalled in his posthumous memoir, œRoone, published in 2003. Mr. McKay committed almost immediately, for $1,000 per show plus expenses.
Mr. McKay was thrust into the role of news anchor early on Sept. 5, 1972, when Israeli athletes were taken hostage at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. About to take a swim in the Sheraton™s pool when the call came, Mr. McKay œthrew on clothes over his swim trunks and took his seat in the studio, where he would remain for most of the next sixteen hours, the 1994 book œThe House That Roone Book recalled.
Mr. McKay memorably reported the news that eleven Israeli hostages had been killed. œThey™re all gone, he said.
The marathon coverage of the tragedy, orchestrated by the sports division and anchored Mr. McKay, earned plaudits. œThe achievement carries a special significance in the world of American television, as another milestone in the emergence of a full-fledged third network force, The New York Times said at the time.
Looking back on the era before cable, satellite and internet sports coverage, it would be hard to overstate the importance of “Wide World Of Sports”, or McKay’s role as host. It would be a little unfair to say he left the likes of Chris Berman and Stuart Scott with big shoes to fill — it’s a different world now and if the job descriptions haven’t changed, the audience’s sensibilities certainly have.