Tape-Delayed UCLA Games in Pauley Helped Launch a Legend's Career
Dec. 14, 2012
By Larry Stewart
I can still recall the first of the many interviews I did with Dick Enberg over a span of nearly 35 years.
It was 1973 over lunch at a Hollywood restaurant, although I can't recall the name of it.
It was before he gained national stature as one of the finest and most popular network sportscasters in history. Still, I was in awe. I had just started writing my column about sports on television and radio for the old Herald Examiner, a column I continued to write for most of my 30 years at the Los Angeles Times, beginning in 1978.
In 1973, I was young and impressionable, and here I was sitting across the table from the lead announcer for Angel broadcasts on radio station KMPC 710 and a limited number of telecasts on KTLA Channel 5. Enberg was also the play-by-play announcer for Ram broadcasts on KMPC.
Although Fred Hessler was the play-by-play announcer for UCLA football and basketball on KMPC, Enberg was the television voice for UCLA basketball - and that was the main reason I was awestruck.
In my view, that role trumped all, even though UCLA's home games at Pauley Pavilion at the time were tape-delayed by Channel 5 and shown at 11 pm.
Now that might be hard for younger Bruin fans to comprehend, but a Times column I wrote in March 2007 helped to explain why the games weren't shown live. It read:
"In 1966, Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was a sophomore at UCLA and now eligible to play on the varsity. Bob Speck, the sports director at KTLA Channel 5, wanted to televise every UCLA basketball game. The plan was for road games to be shown live but home games tape-delayed until 11 pm. Back then, besides freshmen not being allowed to play varsity ball, the thinking was that live telecasts of home games would hurt attendance."
"Dick Enberg, who the year before had been hired by Channel 5 as a sports anchor and the announcer for boxing at the Olympic Auditorium, was asked to be the lone announcer on the UCLA telecasts."
I went on to note that Enberg was initially against tape-delaying home games.
In a phone interview, he told me: "I thought, 'Why would anyone want to watch a 3-hour-old game at 11 o'clock at night when they already know the result?' I couldn't have been more wrong. Those 11 o'clock telecasts developed a cult following. They got higher ratings than Johnny Carson."
I wrote that column in connection with the debut of an HBO documentary titled "The UCLA Dynasty," which the pay-cable network still airs from time to time.
In the documentary, Bill Walton says, "We would go from our games back to our dorm rooms and watch them on replay."
Walton also says the players would have a pool on how many of Enberg's signature "Oh mys" they would hear during a telecast. Walton recalls telling his teammates, "I bet we get seven 'Oh mys' out of Dick tonight.'"
Enberg had quite a run with UCLA during a time the Bruins were almost perfect at home.
In John Wooden's last 10 seasons as coach, which were also the Bruins' first 10 years in Pauley Pavilion, their home record was 149-2.
Prior to Enberg moving on to NBC in 1975, he was replaced by Al Michaels, then a young announcer for the San Francisco Giants. Michaels' roots were in L.A. The Hamilton High and Arizona State graduate moved to Los Angeles with his family from Brooklyn in 1958. It is just a coincidence that the Dodgers made the same move that year. Michaels announced UCLA basketball for Channel 5 for a couple of seasons before moving on to ABC. He is now the play-by-play announcer on NBC's "Sunday Night Football."
Channel 5 continued its practice of tape-delaying UCLA home basketball games well into the 1980s. Announcers following Michaels included Joe Buttitta and Mike Walden.
I wrote this of Enberg in my Times column: "UCLA basketball will always have a special place in his heart, and not just because the Bruins won seven national championships in the eight years he was their TV voice. It's what catapulted him to a broadcasting career he could never have imagined while growing up in Armada, Mich."
I quoted him saying, "That job was absolutely responsible for NBC hiring me. The people at NBC were aware that I was an announcer for the Angels and Rams, but it was UCLA that got me the job."
In a 2006 autobiography that he wrote with Jim Perry titled "Dick Enberg Oh My!" he said: "It was my connection with UCLA that shot me into the national spotlight and triggered my move to NBC. My entrée to the network was the success of UCLA."
A big turning point in Enberg's career came in 1968, when he announced the nationally syndicated telecast of UCLA's game against the University of Houston in front of a crowd of 52,693 in Houston's Astrodome. Houston, led by Elvin Hayes, upset UCLA, 71-69, to end the Bruins' 47-game win streak.
Speaking of streaks, here is what Enberg wrote about Wooden in his autobiography: "Of all his records - including 10 national titles, 88- and 47-game win streaks, four unbeaten seasons, 19 conference titles, and the 149-2 record in Pauley Pavilion - to me the most significant was his team's phenomenal 38-game win streak in the NCAA tournament.
"Think of it: 38 in a row against teams good enough to be in the NCAA tournament."
And Dick Enberg was a big part of that era, adding to the stature of UCLA basketball and Pauley Pavilion.
Among his memories is the conference opener on a rainy night in 1970 against Oregon at Pauley. This was before there was a shot clock and both teams at times went into a stall during the game.
There was so little action that Enberg at one point started humming "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" from the movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
The next game was at Pauley against Oregon State, and at least half a dozen students handed Enberg the lyrics to the song. At the end of that delayed telecast, around 1 a.m., he said he would sing the lyrics at center court once the Bruins clinched the conference title.
The student section wouldn't let up after that, continually looking up at Enberg's broadcast position and chanting, "You will sing." And he did, following a title-clinching victory against Cal. That prompted a letter from a UCLA music professor, who invited Enberg to stop by his office. "I would love to have you explain to me two notes I have never heard before in my entire life," the professor wrote.
That was the end of Enberg's singing career, but his voice would be music to viewer's ears for many years to come.
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