Top 50 network TV announcers
1. Howard Cosell
“I am a journalist,” Cosell proclaimed, differentiating himself from his courtly peers. And so, this attorney-turned-sports-broadcaster proceeded to harangue, decry and pontificate, all in the interest of “telling it like it is.”
Cosell held court for 14 provocative years on “Monday Night Football,” giving the series the buzz it needed in prime time. And he engaged Muhammad Ali in some of the most interesting theater in American sports; the broadcaster and the brash young fighter, it seemed, however improbably, were locked at the hip. Cosell defended Ali’s refusal to join the military during Vietnam, and the two formed an unlikely friendship.
Cosell either was loved or hated, and sometimes both. Ford threatened to pull its sponsorship of the Monday football broadcasts unless Cosell was yanked. ABC held firm.
Cosell was network sports’ first indomitable personality, the father of sports broadcast journalism. He described himself as “arrogant, pompous, vain, verbose, a showoff.”
Larry Merchant, the longtime columnist and boxing commentator, once said, “Cosell makes the world of fun and games sound like the Nuremberg trials.” Perhaps so, but today’s journalists-turned-TV stars like Tony Kornheiser, Michael Wilbon and Mike Lupica trace the roots of their on-air income to Cosell.
2. John Madden
When Madden broke in on CBS in 1979, the network knew it immediately had something unique. Prior analysts couldn’t match the combination of insight, personality and cogency.
By 1981, Madden was promoted to top analyst. Pat Summerall beat out Vin Scully (at the time a CBS football announcer) in an on-air audition to become the ex-coach’s boothmate. Funny how one decision changed the course of television history – Madden and Summerall went on to became a Sunday institution.
When CBS lost the NFL in 1994, the two moved to Fox, where they continued to preside over the NFC package. After being teamed with Summerall seemingly forever, Madden joined Al Michaels on ABC’s “Monday Night Football” in 2002, crafting what many called the dream team in the booth. They exited together for NBC in 2006.
3. Brent Musburger
Opinionated and famous, demanding and critical, play-by-play announcer and studio anchor, Brent Musburger has survived the treacherous pitfalls of network television for 35 remarkable years.
In 1975, Musburger began trailblazing work for CBS. Unlike today’s hosts, who serve as nimble and restrained traffic cops in a studio of former athletes, Brent provoked and opined, proffering declarative statements that prompted responses.
Shockingly, CBS fired Musburger in 1990 while he was at the top of his game. He rose from the ashes resiliently, working for ABC and ESPN. Still busy and salient today, Musburger infuses his folksy call with offbeat comments. (“This has been an exciting few hours of football. I hope that it at least took your minds off the stock market.”)
4. Al Michaels
“Don’t let perfection get in the way of excellence.”
This cynosure has owned the biggest stage for the longest time. Scholarly, engaged and sometimes emotionally detached, Al Michaels stimulates the casual and challenges the astute. His inimitable and familiar voice is redolent of prime-time sports.
Michaels indeed has covered it all. He has put his play-by-play stamp on six Super Bowls, eight World Series, two NBA Finals and an improbable American Olympic gold medal in ice hockey. (“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”) He’s comfortable doing just about anything. He has covered earthquakes (in San Francisco at the 1989 World Series), a slow police car chase (O.J. Simpson), the Indy 500, track and field and figure skating.
5. Dick Enberg
“Oh my!” What a career!
Through his star-studded years, he’s done game shows, been in the studio and voiced play-by-play for the NFL, college football, college basketball, the NBA, Major League Baseball, golf, tennis, the Olympics and more.
Enberg distinguishes himself by threading heartwarming human interest stories into play-by-play, bringing players to life.
Marty Glickman, the venerated broadcast pioneer, marveled over Enberg, saying, “It always sounds as though Dick’s smiling when he talks.”
It’s like Enberg is everyone’s Uncle Harry telling a captivated America a feel-good story.
6. Curt Gowdy
Gowdy, NBC’s throaty lead sportscaster in the ’60s and ’70s, was the nation’s first dominant play-by-play man. The “Cowboy at the Mike” chronicled 11 World Series, nine Final Fours and seven Super Bowls.
Gowdy was unencumbered by replays, repetitive promos and intrusive graphics. He spun yarns, made viewers feel comfortable and captioned the stories of unforgettable sporting events: the improbable Super Bowl win by the Jets in 1969, the 1969 Miracle Mets and the annual coronation of John Wooden’s UCLA teams.
7. Keith Jackson
Jackson artfully used the English language to paint his college football broadcasts with a mix of resonance, erudition, down-home spontaneity and drama. “Whoa, Nellie!” He authored so many college gridiron broadcasts during his long and venerated broadcast career, fall Saturdays were his from the 1960s through 2005.
Jackson was a broadcaster’s broadcaster. Assign him to any event, sports or news, and he did it masterfully. One night in 1965, upon arriving home in Los Angeles from a baseball assignment in St. Louis, ABC asked him to cover the race riots in Watts. Keith immediately called his broadcast partner, Jackie Robinson, whom he had left hours earlier.
“Jackie, where are you when I need you?”
8. Bob Costas
This wordsmith described sports as “drama without a script.” Costas never needs a script, whether it’s at a baseball game, the Olympic studio, the NBC studio or Churchill Downs. Costas verbally embroiders the story better than anyone on television. He’s unflappable, composed and never at a loss for words.
Costas has anchored each of NBC’s Olympics since 1992, a revered role in which he’s in the spotlight for almost three straight weeks.
The fastidious orator has done his share of big-event play-by-play, too – three NBA Finals and three World Series.
9. Jim McKay
McKay, a newspaper man turned television host, spent 11 distinguished years at CBS beginning in 1950 and then 37 at ABC Sports.
He was best known for anchoring ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” a weekly Saturday afternoon series that introduced Americans to many of the ancillary sports otherwise unavailable on television. McKay captured the human drama and determination of “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
At the 1972 Munich Olympics, he reported on the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes, grieving through a reverential tone. He had been hurried out of the hotel sauna on his only day off and took his seat in the remote Olympic studio with a pair of slacks over his swimsuit. Maintaining his composure throughout, he anchored 16 straight hours. Upon confirmation of the deaths, he uttered those now famous words, “They’re all gone.”
10. Pat Summerall
Summerall was a pleasant minimalist, a quintessential setup man, which allowed John Madden’s idiosyncratic delivery to flourish. Like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Madden and Summerall were inseparable. From the beginning of the ’80s through the ’90s, the duo was a symbol of fall Sundays.
When CBS lost the NFL in 1994, Madden and Summerall took their act to Fox, where they carried on through 2001. Summerall called play-by-play for a record-setting 11 Super Bowls.
11. Jim Nantz
Nantz is prized for his genuine, understated enthusiasm.
When Brent Musburger was fired abruptly on the eve of the 1990 Final Four, Nantz brought a softer touch as heir apparent. He’s the ultimate pro, whether in the studio or handling play-by-play of the Super Bowl or the Final Four.
And of course it’s “a tradition unlike any other” when Nantz checks in from Augusta. He has hosted the Masters each spring since 1988 with aplomb and an unwavering passion.
Nantz, in the prime of his career at 49, has many treasured chapters ahead of him. He might become dominant in his profession over the next couple of decades.
12. Dick Vitale
This garrulous commentator has been the college game’s great ambassador. Whether it’s from his ESPN pulpit or on the motivational circuit, Vitale has promoted the emotion, theater and romance of college hoops. He has inspired, implored, emoted and effused, helping lift college basketball to uncharted heights of popularity.
Vitale deifies coaches and tells inspiring stories, often about the obstacles players have overcome to elevate their game. Purists might not like the fact that he digresses during broadcasts, but he’s always entertaining and provocative.
And his Dickie V-isms have become the language of millions of basketball fans. “It’s awesome, baby!”
13. Joe Buck
Joe Buck, not yet 40, already has accomplished what most sports announcers won’t in a lifetime – he has called 11 World Series and two Super Bowls.
Joe’s glittering accomplishments demonstrate that he capably has exceeded the legacy of his father, himself a skilled announcer. The styles, though, are as different as the two generations. Jack Buck was a child of radio. He was folksy, chatty, warm and fuzzy.
Today, imperatives of network television dictate that Joe orate with commanding brevity.
14. Marv Albert
Because he still is so vibrant, it’s hard to believe Albert has been around the NBA for five decades. He has covered Dolph Schayes and Danny Schayes, the Syracuse Nats and the Charlotte Bobcats, Red Holzman and Red Auerbach. He’s bellowed on radio, most notably as the New York Knicks’ play-by-play man, and on television, on cable and on satellite.
Albert’s cries of “yes” grew in lockstep with Michael Jordan’s eye-popping feats as the pair saw the NBA through the ’90s, the league’s most successful decade.
15. Frank Gifford
When he retired from the NFL in 1964, he began a sparkling 35-year network broadcast career, first at CBS and later at ABC.
From 1971 to 1985, the greatest years of the “Monday Night Football” prime-time series, Gifford was on top of the world calling the play-by-play. It was baptism under fire. He put up with Howard Cosell’s antics and with Don Meredith’s disjointed sideshow. Gifford’s career peaked in 1985, when he did the play-by-play of ABC’s first Super Bowl telecast.
16. Vin Scully
On radio for the Dodgers (approaching 60 seasons), Scully paints a brilliant picture. On television, he slugs the picture succinctly. “On radio you’re a puncher,” he said. “On television you’re a counterpuncher.”
In 1953, at 25, Scully worked the first of 11 network World Series assignments. He was NBC’s lead announcer for its MLB Game of the Week through much of the 1980s.
This golden and melodious voice, so identified with baseball, also did the NFL for CBS.
In 1982, Vin Scully called the momentous Dwight Clark catch that propelled the San Francisco 49ers to a heart-stopping victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC championship game.
17. Mike Tirico
Quick-witted and engaging, Tirico has become one of today’s most ubiquitous announcers.
Tirico respects history and his broadcast predecessors. Every year at the British Open, for instance, Tirico called Jim McKay to reminisce about McKay’s years of coverage of the beautiful British courses.
Some aspirants arrive at ESPN and swell. Others, like Tirico, arrive and grow.
18. Chris Berman
Berman is the signature of ESPN. He joined the fledgling network the year it was born, 1979. He’s now Bristol’s senior host, blending clownish humor with comedic highlights.
Through the years, Berman’s confidence swelled as did his voracious appetite for shtick. “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn,” he says. In Berman’s case, style is dotting nicknames and sprinkling impersonations while voicing highlights.
19. Billy Packer
Partners came and went: Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg, Gary Bender, Brent Musburger and Jim Nantz. In between, there were seven presidents and four decades of unprecedented NCAA growth. The one constant was Billy Packer, on NBC (1974 to 1981) and on CBS (1982 to 2008).
Packer, Enberg and the incomparable Al McGuire called four Final Fours together from 1978 to 1981. McGuire emoted about life and Packer tussled with him semi-playfully from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
CBS and Packer parted ways after the 2008 Final Four. March will be eerily quiet without him.
20. Dan Patrick
Smooth, glib and verbally cogent, he hit our television sets nightly, effortlessly demonstrating “SportsCenter“‘s credibility and dependability. Through the years, the audience ballooned and “SportsCenter” became an ESPN cash cow.
Patrick’s most noted partner was Keith Olbermann, with whom he worked rhythmically in the mid-1990s. The two became intertwined as they established “SportsCenter” as the backbone of ESPN’s programming.
21. Greg Gumbel
Gumbel defines the term nonintrusive. He anchors with aplomb and calls games with a quiet confidence, letting the action tell the story. He also switches seamlessly from studio to play-by-play; it’s no wonder he has earned so many high-profile assignments.
The older brother of Bryant Gumbel, Greg became the first African-American to call a Super Bowl in 2001.
22. Tim McCarver
The thinking man’s baseball announcer has pontificated from the World Series broadcast booth in nine straight Classics, 19 in all. It’s quite a record.
Studious and eloquent, McCarver makes ample use of replays to sharply diagnose every angle of the game. He sounds off freely and scholarly. Sports Illustrated once said, “When you ask him the time, he will tell you how a watch works.”
23. Jon Miller
Miller’s jolly voice, deliberate delivery, humor and love for the game are unmistakable. He effectively can weave a story into a broadcast and has developed a relaxed and conversational chemistry with partner Joe Morgan.
Miller also is known for his imitations of broadcasting immortals such as Vin Scully, Harry Caray and iconic Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard.
24. Mel Allen
Because World Series announcers in the ’50s and ’60s were generally chosen from the participating teams, “the Legendary Voice of the New York Yankees” called the Series more than anyone.
In addition to baseball, he was the voice of the Rose Bowl, which in the 1950s was the biggest football game of the year. He was in the broadcast perch for the ’52 game, which was the first coast-to-coast sports telecast, and for the ’62 game, the first televised in color.
From its inception in 1977 to 1995, Allen narrated “This Week in Baseball,” a popular television highlight show.
25. Joe Garagiola
Garagiola broke into broadcasting by calling Cardinals games with the legendary Harry Caray in St. Louis. From 1976 to 1982, Garagiola and ex-Yankee Tony Kubek, bantered, kibitzed and told war stories on NBC’s baseball coverage. For Garagiola, double plays were “pitchers’ best friends” and bunt hits were “line drives in the morning paper.”
Garagiola did play-by-play for six World Series and color for three.
26. Bryant Gumbel
One of the first prominent African-Americans in network sports, Bryant Gumbel is skillful and self-assured no matter the subject matter. He’s known for his sharp insight on NBC and HBO.
He also does not shy away from controversy.
“Try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the games look like a GOP convention,” he said before the 2006 Olympics.
27. Don Meredith
In 1970, “Dandy” Don Meredith brought an irreverence not heard before and perhaps not since. In the ABC “Monday Night Football” booth, the ex-Cowboys quarterback balanced the stern and irascible Howard Cosell with cheery humor and a laid-back demeanor.
He brought neighborly warmth, which the viewing constituency loved, from good ol’ boys in Texas to the hardy souls of the upper Midwest. And once a game’s outcome was secure, no matter what point of the game, Meredith would sing – to Cosell’s deep annoyance – “Turn out the lights, the party’s over, they say all good things must end.”
28. Joe Morgan
Since the 1990 inception of “Sunday Night Baseball,” Morgan and partner Jon Miller have formed a pleasing partnership and a comfortable fit.
Morgan is glib, anecdotal and opinionated but not overbearing. He reminisces, explains the deeper intricacies of hitting and makes constructive suggestions to improve baseball. Despite being equipped with advanced tools, Morgan keeps his analysis simple.
29. Phyllis George
With much fanfare, George broke the shackles of the gender gap in 1975 when she joined CBS’ “NFL Today.” Impervious to the brusque opinions of edgy host Brent Musburger and crusty handicapper Jimmy the Greek, she engaged gracefully.
Although CBS was accused of gimmickry, George distinguished herself as the progenitor of women network sportscasters.
30. Ray Scott
Scott, who worked four Super Bowls for CBS in the mid-1970s, might have been the first to understand that television play-by-play is about putting a caption with the picture. He accepted the fact that it was a color man’s medium. The Pennsylvania native set the standard for succinct and economic play calling. Measured phrases only – “Starr, Pitts, touchdown!”
31. Terry Bradshaw
A cross of edge and self-deprecation, Bradshaw brings humor and jocularity to the “NFL on Fox” set. Count on energy, praise and criticism every week. The Hall of Famer squirms and gesticulates wildly while kibitzing and engaging with his studio mates.
32. Jack Whitaker
A renaissance man and wordsmith, this Philadelphian did it all in his years at CBS and ABC: NASL Soccer, horse racing, the Masters, the Super Bowl and game shows. Whitaker always delivered eloquently. “[Jack] Nicklaus is galvanizing the patrons!”
33. Al McGuire
Before there was Dick Vitale, there was Al McGuire. Extemporizing through stream of consciousness, McGuire preached life lessons. Part nightclub act, part bartender, all genuine.
The country’s basketball lingo was ingrained with McGuire-isms. It was part of the coach’s charm. The “aircraft carrier” was the big center and “the ballerina in the sky” was a player who jumped high. The “French pastry” was a showy move and “cupcakes” were easy opponents.
34. Dick Stockton
Stockton never quite reached the top, but his durable 40-year career is the envy of many. It has been packed with unforgettable assignments, including the lead voice of CBS’ NBA coverage, lots of baseball, including a World Series, and many years of the NFL.
35. Tony Kubek
Kubek, a former player, combined with Joe Garagiola, bringing a critical edge, undaunted by baseball officials, sponsors or network executives. “I’m a purist,” he said. “I hope we never go to interleague play, and I don’t like the DH. I’ve said it over and over again; it’s a dumb rule.”
Kubek’s style might have fashioned a trend of color commentators that included the ex-players who followed, like Jim Palmer, Tim McCarver and Jim Kaat.
36. Chris Schenkel
A smooth baritone, Schenkel was identified with sports on network television for five decades. Schenkel voiced Giants games for 14 years on CBS and called the famous Colts-Giants overtime championship thriller in 1958.
37. Mike Emrick
This Michigan native is to hockey what the esteemed Vin Scully is to baseball – its consummate protagonist, persuasive and expressive.
Because of the challenges of following the puck on television, hockey play-by-play announcers provide more detail, much like on radio. Doc (he has a doctorate) innately engages viewers with captivating description, inflection and instinct.
38. James Brown
The knowledgeable and gregarious Brown was hired in the late 1980s by CBS and assigned NFL, NBA and Olympic telecasts. When Fox snapped the NFL’s NFC package away from CBS in 1994, the upbeat performer was invited to anchor the shows around the games. So for more than a decade and always with a smile, Brown graced our Sundays, orchestrating the colorful and opinionated bunch of Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson and, initially, Cris Collinsworth. Brown now is back at CBS in the NFL studio anchor chair.
39. Hubie Brown
Hubie Brown brought a unique teaching style to television in the 1980s, leaving vocal fingerprints that often are imitated but never duplicated. He continues to mirror the same instructive flair that has made his basketball clinic a hit.
Beginning with Magic and Bird and continuing through Jordan’s run of championships, this natural teacher turned the position of basketball analyst into colorful pedagogy. He has challenged viewers to understand the chess game and to crawl into the minds of the coaches.
40. Lindsey Nelson
From the 1950s to the 1970s, college football and Lindsey Nelson were inseparable. There were Rose Bowls and 25 years of the Cotton Bowl. Nelson did tons of NFL, too. In all, he dignified the airwaves for 33 football seasons (21 on CBS and 12 with NBC).
41. Jim Simpson
From the mid-’60s through the mid-’70s, sports’ golden years on network television, NBC dominated the landscape, owning the majority of sports rights. If top gun Curt Gowdy was doing the Rose Bowl, Simpson was doing the Orange Bowl. If Gowdy did the National League playoff, Simpson did the American League playoff. Unlike today with tons of channels and many overlapping games, there was not much to go around. Gowdy was a household name with Simpson not far behind.
42. Verne Lundquist
No one man could replace Keith Jackson as America’s voice of college football. It would require at least two esteemed names. Brent Musburger is one. Lundquist, CBS’ lead voice of the SEC, is the other. A fall Saturday isn’t complete until Lundquist chortles and presides happily from another hallowed stadium.
43. Jim Lampley
He’s done just about everything in a television career that began at age 25 in 1974. If he’s identified with one sport, it’s boxing, which he has called for decades, covering some 500 tussles and serving as blow-by-blow voice of some dandies like Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota and Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson.
44. Ernie Johnson
Yes, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith are the centerpieces of TNT’s NBA pregame show, but this silky-smooth veteran of 19 years keeps the peace, steadies the combatants and keeps things moving. He’s the model host for a fluid show.
45. Don Criqui
Criqui’s unmistakable timbre has been ingrained on network television since 1967. The Buffalo native has voiced NFL play-by-play commandingly and put his signature on 14 Orange Bowl telecasts.
46. Tom Hammond
Off air, this pleasant Kentucky native has a restrained demeanor. On air, his tense delivery is riveting theater.
Whether it’s Notre Dame football, eight Olympic Games, the NFL or the NBA, this Dick Enberg protégé continues to stamp the peacock network’s sports broadcasts.
Hammond has become the voice of horse racing in America. His enthusiasm for the sport of kings manifests itself each spring when he calls the Triple Crown.
47. Bud Collins
Collins was tennis’ on-air symbol on television for 30 years. His uneven voice and instructive comments made him sound like the ex-coach that he was (Brandeis).
How impactful was Collins? NBC paid a three-minute tribute to him upon his retirement.
48. Ken Venturi
Venturi overcame a stuttering problem in his youth to become a golf legend, speaking authoritatively and persuasively as CBS’ golf analyst alongside Pat Summerall and Jim Nantz.
49. Jim Gray
Like him or not, Gray has given the sideline reporter position an edge and sense of purpose. His aggressive style took center stage in 1999, when he pressed Pete Rose on accusations that Rose had bet on baseball. Gray has had stints with CBS, NBC and ABC/ESPN, and he still works boxing for Showtime.
50. Harry Wismer
Pioneers and trailblazers deserve recognition, and Wismer was a broadcaster, promoter and owner. He later was instrumental in the formation of the American Football League and owned the New York Titans when the league opened in 1960.