Graham McNamee in 1915
July 10, 1888|
May 9, 1942 (aged 53)|
New York City
Graham McNamee (July 10, 1888 – May 9, 1942) was an American radio broadcaster, the medium's most recognized national personality in its first international decade. He originated play-by-play sports broadcasting for which he was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016.
Graham McNamee's father, John B. McNamee, was an attorney and legal advisor to President Grover Cleveland's cabinet, and his mother, Anne, was a homemaker, who also sang in a church choir. Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, McNamee had early aspirations of being an opera singer. He studied voice as a youth and sang in churches, and in 1922 gave a concert in Aeolian Hall, New York. In 1922, while serving jury duty in New York City, he visited the studios of radio station WEAF en route to the courthouse and, on a whim, went to audition as a singer. Someone noticed his voice and asked him to speak through a microphone. He was given an audition and hired as a staff announcer on the spot.
Radio broadcasting of sporting events was a new thing in the 1920s. The announcers were a rotating group of newspaper writers. At the time baseball was America's most popular sport, and the reporters were at the games to write stories about them for print newspapaers. Their descriptions were matter-of-fact, boring at best, had a lot of dead air, and were given in the past tense after a play was completed.[Example 1] In 1923, announcer McNamee was assigned to help the sportswriters with their broadcasts. One day, Grantland Rice, told McNamee to finish the game on his own, and left. McNamee was not a trained sports writer, so he immediately began to describe what he was seeing as it happened, thus originating play-by-play[Example 2] sports broadcasting. He wasn't a baseball expert, but had a knack for conveying what he saw in great detail, and with great enthusiasm, bringing the sights and sounds of the game into the homes of listeners.
With Phillips Carlin, whose voice was so similar that few listeners could tell them apart, he quickly became famous. McNamee had various on-air responsibilities at WEAF, including baseball color commentary culminating in the play-by-play of the 1926 World Series. Over the course of the next decade McNamee worked for WEAF, and for the national NBC network, , when WEAF became the NBC flagship station.
McNamee broadcast numerous sports events, including several World Series, Rose Bowls, championship boxing matches, and Indianapolis 500s. He was broadcast the national political conventions, the presidential inaugurations, and the arrival of aviator Charles Lindbergh in New York City following his transatlantic flight to Paris, France in 1927. He opened each broadcast by saying, "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the radio audience. This is Graham McNamee speaking."
On 3 October 1927, McNamee was featured on the cover of Time.
He worked in motion pictures, narrating Krakatoa (1933), Universal Pictures' weekly Universal Newsreels, and Camera Thrills (1935), an Academy Award-nominated short subject produced and directed by Charles E. Ford.
On April 20, 1936 he also worked in Circus stars bring joy to hospital's little shut-ins (clowns and performers of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus performed at Bellevue Hospital in New York to amuse children), by Universal Newsreel. In the same year, on July 7, he was briefly reunited with Ed Wynn for an ad-libbed spot on an experimental, NBC television broadcast.
In the early 1940s his principal activity was as a newsreel commentator, but he maintained much of his radio work as well, hosting Behind the Mike for NBC.
He was married twice: the first time, in 1921, to concert and church soprano Josephine Garrett. They were divorced in 1932, and he married Anne Lee Sims in 1934.
McNamee died on May 9, 1942 at St. Lukes Hospital at the age of 53. The cause of death was a brain embolism after he had been hospitalized with a streptococcus infection. He was buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.
In 1925, at the Radio World Fair, he won a solid gold cup (designed like a microphone) as America's most popular announcer, receiving 189,470 votes out of 1,161,659 votes cast.
In 1964, McNamee was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. In 1984, he was part of the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame’s inaugural class, which included sportscasting legends Red Barber, Don Dunphy, Ted Husing and Bill Stern.
The National Radio Hall of Fame inducted McNamee in 2011.
- "Voices," Time, October 3, 1927.
- McCurdy, Bill. "Graham McNamee: The Inventor of Play-by-Play". American Sportscasters Online. American Sportscasters Association, Inc. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
- Moore, Thomas F. (October 12, 1964). "Sports Announcer By Accident". Sports Illustrated.
- "Graham McNamee, Pioneer Radio Announcer, Dies". United Press in St. Petersburg Times. May 10, 1942. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
- "Graham M'Namee Is Dead Here At 53". New York Times. May 10, 1942. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
Radio Announcer, Pioneer in Field, Stricken in Hospital. Victim of an Embolism. Led in Sports Coverage for Many Years. Had Toured Country as a Baritone. ...
- Miller, C. L. (2008), Images of America: Mount Calvary Cemetery, Arcadia Publishing, p. 126, ISBN 0-7385-5205-4.
- "Graham McNamee". WalkOfFame.com. Retrieved 2015-03-17.
- 1 , "The batter just hit a long fly to right field for a sacrifice out. The baserunner safely advanced from second to thrid."
- 2 "With no outs and a runner on second, the manager will call for a sacrifice fly. The pitcher looks over his shoulder at second, turns, takes his stance, and delivers. It is a fastball, hit cleanly into deep right field. The fielder is backpeddling rapidly, and the runner is holding at second. He makes the catch, one out. The runner takes off for third. Hear comes the throw, the runner slides, and is SAFE! The crowd cheers wildly. The play was beautifully executed."
- Schmidt, Raymond. "Graham McNamee Biographical Entry." Scribner's Encyclopedia of American Lives, 2002 edition, volume 2, pp. 96–97.
- Graham McNamee on IMDb
- National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame: Remembering... Graham McNamee
- American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame: 1984 inductee
- 1888 Graham McNamee 1942 - Obit from Broadcasting Magazine, 18 May, 1942 - also includes obit from Cleveland Plain Dealer 11 May 1942[permanent dead link]