Hall of Fame sports announcer Harry Kalas died yesterday. I was fortunate enough to meet him once, a few years ago, when I was working as the spotter for a national radio broadcast of a Chicago Bears game that Mr. Kalas was announcing.
I was probably a bit awestruck - he really was a legend - so I don't think I talked to him other than to introduce myself a few minutes before the game started. But it was such a treat to hear that iconic baritone in person. Hard to explain, but I guess it was the sports fan's equivalent of sitting on stage while Yo Yo Ma played a cello concerto. He was completely prepared, completely in control, and - unlike some other big-name announcers I met in the booth - completely unassuming. Other than that, I only have two memories of that experience.
One is that this man who made a living off of his voice regularly snuck cigarettes during timeouts. Of course, smoking wasn't allowed in the radio booth, but who was going to stop Mr. Kalas? (Apparently the cigarettes were an open secret - a few Philadelphia Phillies players lit up yesterday in what I thought was a fairly odd tribute.)
The other is that Campbell's Chunky soup ads played during a few of the commercial breaks. At the time, the ads were narrated by Mr. Kalas because of his close association with NFL football. And each time they came on, the radio producer would call out to those of us in the booth, "Ka-Ching!" - the sound of another Campbell's royalty check for the announcer - which got a chuckle out of Mr. Kalas.
Unfortunately, that was about the extent of my interaction with the master, but thinking about the time I sepnt in the radio booth at Soldier Field reminds me of one funny story.
A year or two earlier, I was in the booth for a Sunday night game and the temperature was probably about 10 F, with a wind chill below zero. And for some reason, the window to our booth had to stay open, which was... awesome. I think I was wearing about three pairs of pants and six shirts and sweaters under some kind of arctic parka, none of which seemed to make a difference.
I forget who the play-by-play announcer was that day, but former NFL running back John Riggins was handling color commentary. Every few minutes during the broadcast, the announcers would remind listeners how freaking cold it was, which must have made for great radio. Anyway, during a commercial break, someone from the radio crew mentioned to John that, despite the frigid conditions, the guy sitting behind us who was working the controls was not - I repeat, not - wearing socks.
As soon as he got back on the air, John shared this with the national radio audience: "They just told me that Mike, our sound guy, isn't wearing socks. That reminds me of something John Wayne once said in a movie. 'Life is hard. But it's especially hard when you're stupid.'"