Robert A. Elson
March 22, 1904
|Died||March 10, 1981 (aged 76)|
|Known for||Broadcasts of Chicago White Sox baseball games|
Early life and career
Born in Chicago, Elson got into broadcasting by accident. While vacationing in St. Louis in 1928, he took a tour of radio station KWK. A receptionist saw him among 40 men in line for an audition, and thought he was going to audition as well. He became a finalist, and was hired after a vote by listeners. A few days later, officials at Chicago's WGN heard about Elson's victory and wondered what a Chicago native was doing broadcasting for a St. Louis station. They quickly hired him. Starting in 1929, he began calling all the home games of the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. Such double duty would be impossible today, but in those days the Cubs and White Sox almost never played at home on the same day. They, like most teams, "recreated" road games in the studio using telegraphed messages from the ballpark rather than sending out their broadcasting crew with the team for road play-by-play, to save money. In 1930, he called his first World Series for the Mutual Broadcasting System, the first of 12 in a row. He also called Chicago Bears football games in the 1930s and early 1940s.
In 1942, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served four years in World War II—a stint which earned him the nickname "The Ol' Commander." But none other than President and Commander-in-Chief Franklin D. Roosevelt himself had him called home to announce the 1943 World Series.
Also, when Major League Baseball began making annual films of the World Series in 1943, Elson was chosen to narrate them, and narrated the official World Series film from 1943 through 1948.
Broadcasting for the White Sox exclusively
From 1946 to 1970, Elson broadcast for the White Sox exclusively. He missed out on calling the 1959 World Series—the Chisox' first since 1919 and Elson's first since 1943—on the national NBC broadcast because NBC Sports president Tom Gallery (who'd grown up with him in Chicago) didn't like him. He was, however, allowed to call the Series on the White Sox' flagship radio station, WCFL. He called games for the Oakland Athletics in 1971 before returning to Chicago, where he teamed with Lloyd Pettit on Chicago Black Hawks NHL broadcasts. (He had previously called Black Hawks games in the late 1930s.)
Elson's broadcasting style
His style was often described as "relaxed", not easily succumbing to emotion or hyperbole. However, he left enough room to get emotional while describing dramatic plays favorable to the home team. He was one of the leading play-by-play men in his heyday. He was one of the first broadcasters to do on-field interviews, but in later years he felt uncomfortable with announcers who frequently criticized on-field performances, having grown up in an era where sportscasters were regular drinking buddies of players and managers.
His style inspired several other broadcasters who grew up in the Midwest, such as the Cubs' Jack Brickhouse, Earl Gillespie, Bert Wilson, Gene Elston, Milo Hamilton (who was Elson's partner with the White Sox from 1961 to 1965), the Phillies' Harry Kalas, the Brewers' Bob Uecker, Harry Caray of the Cardinals, White Sox, and Cubs, and the Mariners' Dave Niehaus.
Elson's broadcasting achievements went beyond sports. His broadcasts from Chicago's Pump Room brought him recognition "as the interviewer who drew secrets from celebrities in all fields." For five years, he also did Bob Elson on Board the Century, which (in contrast to the title) he broadcast from LaSalle Street Station in Chicago. Elson caught celebrities for spontaneous interviews while they were in the station. In a similar vein, he did Bob Elson on the Flagships on KNX, interviewing people who were traveling on American Airlines.
Elson was co-host of An Hour With Elson and Anson, a daily variety program that began October 13, 1941, on WGN.
- Condon, David (March 11, 1981). "Ex-Sox, Cubs Broadcaster Elson dies at 76". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
- "Saturday's Highlights" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror. 15 (2): 46. December 1940. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
- Smith, Curt (2005). Voices of Summer. New York City: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-1446-8.
- "Bob Elson Is Dead at 76; A Baseball Broadcaster". New York Times. March 12, 1981. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
- Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
Bob Elson on Board the Century, interviews and talk.
- "Bob Elson" (PDF). Radio Life. February 2, 1947. p. 41. Retrieved 17 March 2016.[permanent dead link]
- "Radio Advertisers" (PDF). Broadcasting. October 20, 1941. p. 47. Retrieved 12 February 2015.[permanent dead link]
- Gold, Aaron (June 13, 1975). "Tower Ticker". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 January 2015.