Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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IRISH ECHOES JIM LEFEBVRE 52 AUGUST 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W ith the announcement that NBC Sports president Pete Bevac- qua will succeed Jack Swarbrick as director of athletics, and the ongoing negotiations with NBC for renewal of its contract to televise Notre Dame foot- ball, there's no question how important the network is to the continued visibility and revenue connected with the Fighting Irish. For a century now, Notre Dame games have been a desirable product for broad- cast entities. And, clearly, the Irish have been able to garner a nationwide fan fol- lowing in large part due to being "on the air." Notre Dame entered the radio age on Nov. 4, 1922, when its homecoming game against Indiana was broadcast by the new South Bend station WGAZ (standing for "World's Greatest Automotive Zone," in honor of the massive Studebaker opera- tion in South Bend). The broadcast consisted of South Bend Tribune sports editor Eugene Kessler de- scribing each play, phoned in to the news- room and connected to outgoing "broad- casting apparatus." In 1923, WBAY of New York carried Notre Dame's game against Army at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, N.Y. The fol- lowing week, WJZ broadcast the ND game at Princeton. And radio pioneer KDKA of Pittsburgh carried the season finale for Knute Rockne's team at Carnegie Tech. For the 1924 season, several key sta- tions across the country were planning multi-game packages of the major con- tests. That included two New York City stations — WEAF and WJZ — covering the two big Notre Dame trips to the East Coast to play Army at the Polo Grounds Oct. 18 and Princeton at its Palmer Sta- dium one week later. Fans listening to WEAF would hear the voice of Graham McNamee, who was already the most widely recognized ra- dio personality of the era. McNamee had called the first radio broadcast of a major prize fight, describing Jack Dempsey's knockout of Georges Carpentier in New Jersey in 1921. No doubt countless "subway alumni" who were unable to secure tickets to ei- ther the Army or Princeton games fell in love with the Irish by listening to them dispatch the Cadets (13-7) and Tigers (12-0) over the big signals of the NYC stations. For Notre Dame's huge home game with Nebraska — the only team to defeat the Irish in 1922 and 1923 — the press box at Cartier Field was expanded to accommodate the huge demand from newspapermen to cover the game. And Chicago station WGN requested and received permission to broadcast its first-ever game from Notre Dame, an overwhelming 34-6 Irish victory. At the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1925, in which Notre Dame secured its first con- sensus national championship with a 27-10 vanquishing of Stanford, the Irish entered the homes of millions of Ameri- cans via radio broadcast. A direct wire from the field in Pasadena, Calif., to the WGN studios in Chicago was relayed to WCBS in New York, resulting in the first time that eastern stations presented a live broadcast of a West Coast event. Two California stations, KHJ in Los An- geles and KPO in San Francisco, also carried the game. As Notre Dame's fame continued to expand, the requests to broadcast games would multiply. And through most of the 1920s, athletics director Rockne's outlook was "the more the merrier." He felt all such coverage would help the popularity of the Irish; the thought of charging for broadcast rights or exclu- sivity was down the road some. For the epic 1927 showdown with unbeaten Minnesota at Cartier Field, Graham McNamee, the most widely recognized radio personality of his time, called some of the first Notre Dame games to be aired on radio in the 1920s. PHOTO COURTESY KNUTE ROCKNE MEMORIAL SOCIETY The Irish Were A Hit On The Airwaves From The Earliest Days

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