Tag Archives: sports broadcasting history

“Celebrity Gifford”
1950s-2000s

This Vitalis hair tonic ad featuring Frank Gifford ran in “Sports Illustrated,” October 1959 – and likely others as well.
This Vitalis hair tonic ad featuring Frank Gifford ran in “Sports Illustrated,” October 1959 – and likely others as well.
Athletes in modern times – especially as they become celebrity figures – are often recruited to do advertising for any number of commercial products. Sometimes they are also sought for political endorsements or as spokespersons for various social causes. A few also make their way into the media or Hollywood, extending their celebrity beyond their active sports careers.

Frank Gifford, a talented football player for the New York Giants in the 1950s and 1960s, became a popular figure in the New York city metro area and nationally both during and after his active playing career.

Gifford not only became a familiar face in magazine and TV advertising, but also one of the first professional athletes to successfully venture into TV sports broadcasting.

Well beyond his playing days, Frank Gifford would extend his celebrity for many years as a sports announcer, first for CBS on radio and TV, and later for ABC-TV’s popular Monday Night Football program.

Gifford’s notice as a public figure, in fact, would span nearly six decades, during which he became a pitchman for dozens of products – from shaving cream and hair tonic to clothing lines, as well as a celebrity draw for CBS Radio and ABC-TV.

Frank Gifford, No. 16, in action as New York Giants battle St. Louis Cardinals, 1960. Photo, George Silk/Life.
Frank Gifford, No. 16, in action as New York Giants battle St. Louis Cardinals, 1960. Photo, George Silk/Life.


All-American

An All-American college player at the University of Southern California (USC), Gifford was drafted by the New York Giants in 1952 and excelled there for 12 seasons. He became an All-Pro performer and a popular sports icon. In the hair tonic ad above, Gifford is shown in his Giants attire being subject to “the white glove test” for the “greasless Vitalis.” The hair tonic, produced by Bristol-Meyers from the 1940s, became popular in that era, and advertising using celebrities helped boost sales. Says the ad’s copy:

“…Frank Gifford, New York Giants, All Pro halfback, has dry, stubborn hair. Creams and cream-oils threw it for a loss… plastered it down, left greasy stains. Now Frank signals for Vitalis. No more grease-down hair, no more messy stains. Vitalis took the grease out of hair tonic. Put in V-7, the greasless grooming discovery. It keeps your hair neat all day, leaves no greasy stains as leading creams and cream-oils do. And Vitalis protects against dry hair and scalp, fights embarrassing dandruff… Try Vitalis yourself….today!

1996: Sportscaster celebrities Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, and Bob Costas appear in “milk mustache” ad campaign.
1996: Sportscaster celebrities Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, and Bob Costas appear in “milk mustache” ad campaign.
Flash forward forty years to the late 1990s and Frank Gifford is still found in commercial ads. Here, at right, he appears in a “milk mustache” magazine ad that ran in 1996 and 1997 – part of an ongoing campaign sponsored by the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board using celebrity figures to help sell milk.  In the ad, Gifford is flanked by fellow TV celebrity sportscasters, Al Michaels left, and Bob Costas right.  Gifford would share broadcasting time with these and other colleagues during his 27-year career in sports broadcasting. More on Gifford’s sportscasting history a bit later.

Even in his college days as a gridiron standout at the USC, Frank Gifford received national notice in general-circulation and sports magazines, including Life magazine which featured a photo sequence of one of Gifford’s touchdown runs against the University of California in a famous November 1951 game.

Magazine and newspaper coverage during his college and pro careers helped keep Frank Gifford in the public eye.  And owing to his good looks and landing in the New York media market, Gifford would have continuing good fortune, not only in advertising, but also in TV and film.  In his earlier years, as a student in California, Gifford landed some bit parts in Hollywood films, including appearances as a football player in That’s My Boy in 1951 and The All American, with Tony Curtis, released in 1953. He also appeared in Sally and St. Anne and Bonzo Goes to College, both in 1952, the latter a sequel to the Ronald Reagan film, Bedtime for Bonzo.

Dec. 1956: Frank Gifford with TV show host, John Daily, taking questions from celebrity panel trying to guess Gifford’s line of work on quiz show,“What’s My Line?”
Dec. 1956: Frank Gifford with TV show host, John Daily, taking questions from celebrity panel trying to guess Gifford’s line of work on quiz show,“What’s My Line?”
In December 1956, after he had been with the Giants for a few seasons, Gifford appeared as a guest contestant on the then-popular TV quiz show, What’s My Line?, where a panel of four celebrities would ask a series of questions trying to determine the guest’s occupation.  Broadcast out of New York, the show had a national following.  When Gifford signed in on the chalk board as he came on stage that evening for What’s My Line — as was the usual procedure for that show – he used the name “F. Newton Gifford.”

After a few rounds of questions, and some excitement over Gifford’s youthful good looks by actress panelist Arlene Francis, the panel figured out he was Frank Gifford, football star of the New York Giants, who earlier that day in fact, had a banner performance with four touchdowns in a game against the Washington Redskins.

1950s: New York Giants star halfback, Frank Gifford, being interviewed in mock locker-room halftime scene in TV ad endorsing Florida orange juice.
1950s: New York Giants star halfback, Frank Gifford, being interviewed in mock locker-room halftime scene in TV ad endorsing Florida orange juice.
Also in the mid-1950s, Gifford appeared in a TV commercial for Florida orange juice in his Giants uniform.  In this appearance, the spot was set up with some newsreel footage of Gifford catching a pass for a touchdown.  The scene then cut to the locker room, supposedly at “half time,” where star Frank Gifford was partaking in his half-time refreshment, a glass of Florida orange juice.

An announcer with microphone then appears, and begins interviewing Gifford, commending him on his first half play, then launching into the virtues of Florida orange juice, with Frank making a few comments before the scene cuts to the announcer making a final appeal for Florida orange juice.

An earlier Vitalis hair tonic ad from 1957 featured Gifford in “before and after” photos, as shown below.

Frank Gifford in a Vitalis Hair tonic ad that appeared in Life magazine, November 25, 1957.
Frank Gifford in a Vitalis Hair tonic ad that appeared in Life magazine, November 25, 1957.

“Frank Gifford’s hair looks like this after a New York Giants football game…” — says ad’s copy on the first photo, showing Gifford in his game face and roughed-up playing attire, hair tousled.  Then comes the “after” photo showing a cleaned-up, well-groomed Gifford in coat and tie, as the caption adds – “…like this after Vitalis.”  A headline running across the page beneath both photos continues the Vitalis pitch: “New greaseless way to keep your hair neat all day…and prevent dryness.”

The ad’s copy also quotes Gifford pitching the product as follows: “I don’t know which is worse for your hair – a hot helmut or a hot shower,” says halfback Frank Gifford.  “I get plenty of both so I always use Vitalis.  My hair stays neat, and Vitalis isn’t greasy.”  Then the ad copy continues:

“The secret is V-7.  This new grooming discovery is greaseless, so you never have a too-slick, plastered-down look. Along with V-7, new Vitalis blends refreshing alcohol and other ingredients to give you superb protection against dry hair and scalp – whether they’re caused by wind, sun or you morning shower.  Try new Vitalis with V-7 soon (Tomorrow, for instance.).”  Then for the housewife contingent, two smaller photos show a lady holding a pillow, one soiled, the other clean, with appropriate captions: “Does your husband use a greasy tonic that stains pillowcases like this? Greaseless Vitalis leaves pillow cases clean – like this.”

1958: Gifford sweater ad.
1958: Gifford sweater ad.
1965: Jantzen swimwear ad.
1965: Jantzen swimwear ad.
1960s: Gifford, beach wear.
1960s: Gifford, beach wear.
1962: Jantzen sweater ad.
1962: Jantzen sweater ad.


As Jantzen Model

Gifford also became a model for the Jantzen brand of clothing during the 1950s and 1960s. Jantzen, a company founded in Portland, Oregon from a small knitting business in the 1910s, grew to become a world wide operation by the 1930s, known mostly for women’s swimwear, but by the 1950s, had also established a mens’ line of clothing.  From 1957 through the late 1960s – during his playing years and after – Frank Gifford appeared in dozens of clothing, sportswear, and swim wear ads for the Jantzen brand.  In the early round of these ads, Gifford appeared by himself, usually donning sweaters.  In other Jantzen ads, Gifford appeared with one or more fellow professional athletes, including: Bobby Hull, ice hockey player; Jerry West, basketball star; football competitor, Paul Hornung of the Green Bay Packers; and others.  In the 1965 Jantzen swim wear ad, above right, Gifford appears in a beach scene with a surf board and three others – John Severson, a surfer and then publisher of Surfer magazine; Boston Celtics basketball star, Bob Cousy; and Terry Baker, then a famous former quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon State University.  Other Jantzen swimwear and/or beachwear ads in this period also included Gifford with one or more other athletes, as seen in the 3rd photo here bottom left, with Gifford in the foreground and the others in the background.  In the 1962 Jantzen sweater ad at bottom right, Gifford is seated reading a mock headline about his running back rival, Paul Hornung (who won the MVP award in 1961), while Bob Cousy and pro golfer Ken Venturi stand behind him.

September 1962: Frank Gifford of the New York Giants, featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
September 1962: Frank Gifford of the New York Giants, featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Football Star

Being a football star, Gifford remained in the public eye as newspaper and magazine stories were written about his play. In September 1962, as the New York Giants were having one of their best seasons with Gifford’s help, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. During his 12 seasons with the New York Giants, Gifford as a running back had 3,609 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in 840 carries. As a receiver he had 367 catches for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns. And finally, throwing the ball, Gifford completed 29 of the 63 passes for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns, the most among any non-quarterback in NFL history.

Gifford made eight Pro Bowl appearances during his career and also played in five NFL Championship games. His biggest season may have been 1956, when he won the Most Valuable Player award of the NFL, and led the Giants to the NFL title over the Chicago Bears. Gifford also played in the famous December 1958 championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts – a nationally-televised game that went into sudden death overtime, a game which many believe ushered in the modern era of big-time, television-hyped, pro football.

1966: Frank Gifford featured in CBS Radio ad.
1966: Frank Gifford featured in CBS Radio ad.


CBS Career

After his playing days ended, Gifford became a full-time broadcast commentator for NFL games, first on CBS radio and later, CBS television.  Gifford’s broadcasting career had actually started in 1957 while he was still playing halfback for the New York Giants.  He was a commentator for CBS on the NFL pre-game show and joined the CBS staff in 1961 as a part-time sports reporter.

In 1964, Gifford retired from his successful football career with the Giants and remained well-known and well-regarded in the New York area and nationally.

In 1965, CBS hired him full time to cover pro football, college basketball and golf.  Gifford stayed with CBS for six years – and as the CBS Radio ad at left shows, the network wasn’t shy about using his football celebrity to lure listeners and sponsors.

Another CBS Radio ad that ran in the 1960s had Gifford featured with three other CBS Radio personalities – Art Linkletter, Amy Van Buren of “Dear Abby” fame, and commentator Lowell Thomas – “Four Good Reasons to Turn to Your CBS Radio Station,” as the CBS ad put it.

 
 
Film & TV

Frank Gifford, foreground, plays Ensign Cy Mount, shown here injured, in the 1959 James Garner film “Up Periscope.”
Frank Gifford, foreground, plays Ensign Cy Mount, shown here injured, in the 1959 James Garner film “Up Periscope.”
Earlier in his career, while still a prominent football star, Gifford landed a few minor film and TV acting roles.  In the 1958 WWII film, Darby’s Rangers, which starred James Garner, he appeared as one of a number of young soldiers.

Gifford had a named role in another James Garner film, Up Periscope in 1959, a WWII submarine drama in which Gifford played Ensign Cy Mount, and is shown in one scene (at right) propped up on a stretcher, shirtless and wounded.  In television, Gifford appeared in the Shirley Booth sitcom Hazel for a 1963 episode titled, “Hazel and the Halfback.”

1968: Alan Alda, left, visits with Maxine and Frank Gifford, right, in a scene from the film, “Paper Lion.”
1968: Alan Alda, left, visits with Maxine and Frank Gifford, right, in a scene from the film, “Paper Lion.”


In 1964, Gifford made a second appearance on the TV quiz show, What’s My Line?, this time as a celebrity panelist asking the questions.  In 1965, Gifford was approached to play the lead role in a Tarzan film, but that role later went to Mike Henry.

In 1968, he and his then-wife Maxine appeared in the film, Paper Lion, based on the 1966 nonfiction book by American writer George Plimpton, who spends time as a player with the Detroit Lions to do an insider’s account of how an average American male might fare in professional football.

In the film Alan Alda played Plimpton and Gifford and his wife appeared as themselves in one scene as shown at left.

As a CBS sportscaster, Frank Gifford landed some notable interviews, here with Mickey Mantle in 1966.
As a CBS sportscaster, Frank Gifford landed some notable interviews, here with Mickey Mantle in 1966.
During Gifford’s broadcasting years with CBS Radio and TV, he interviewed a range of celebrity athletes and coaches, not only in football, but also in other sports.  In June 1966, he interviewed New York Yankee great, Mickey Mantle, then nearing the end of his career.

Gifford, reportedly, did not think much of Mantle, though he did figure into a bit of early Mickey Mantle baseball lore. That story involves a long home run Mantle hit as a Yankee rookie when he was 19 years old – a home run rumored to have traveled 550 feet or so.

In a May 1951 spring training game played at the University of Southern California, Mantle hit two home runs – one of which cleared the fences there and kept on going, landing in the middle of an adjacent football field, according to Gifford, who was then in spring football training with his college team on that field.

Gifford & Vice Lombardi, pre-Superbowl I, January 1967.
Gifford & Vice Lombardi, pre-Superbowl I, January 1967.
In January 1967, Gifford landed a big pre-kickoff interview at the first Superbowl game between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs.  On the field, Gifford interviewed Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi for the nationally-televised game.

As a former New York Giants running back, Gifford had played under Lombardi when Lombardi was the Giants’ offensive coordinator under head coach Jim Lee Howell, helping lead the Giants to their 1956 championship.

Howell was from an earlier football era and used the single-wing formation. Lombardi helped modernize the Giants’ attack by introducing the T-formation.

1970: Frank Gifford interviewing Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson following Superbowl IV.
1970: Frank Gifford interviewing Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson following Superbowl IV.
Gifford also had a notable post-game interview following the famous 1967 NFL championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, the game leading up to Superbowl II.  Played at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin under frigid conditions — a game known as the “ice bowl” — the Packers won the game with a famous running play behind the blocking of famed Packer lineman Jerry Kramer.

At the game’s conclusion, CBS announcer Gifford got the go ahead to go into the losing Cowboys’ locker room for on-air post-game interview – a practice unheard of in that era. Gifford sought out Dallas quarterback Don Meredith, who Gifford knew, for his thoughts on the game.  The Meredith interview, emotional but thoughtful, received considerable attention, and would later become a factor in Meredith’s own broadcasting career.  

In the photo at right, Gifford is shown interviewing quarterback Len Dawson of the Kansas City Chiefs following Superbowl IV.

A Frank Gifford pro football guide book.
A Frank Gifford pro football guide book.

 
By the late 1960s, Gifford’s name also began appearing on annual football guide books – Frank Gifford’s NFL-AFL Football Guide For 1968 (shown at left), and a similar volume for 1969,  were published by Signet Books.  The guides featured rosters, schedules, and forecasts for the upcoming pro seasons, with team summaries, description of the playoff system, and other football information.

Also in 1969, there was a book about Gifford written by William Wallace – Frank Gifford: His Golden Year, 1956 – the year Gifford won the most valuable player award, then known as the Jim Thorpe Memorial Trophy. The Wallace book included an introduction by Gifford’s former Giants’ coach and then famous Green Bay Packer leader, Vince Lombardi.

The book came at a time when Gifford – then retired from the game since 1962 – was building a following as “one of the better sportscasters on WCBS-TV,” as Kirkus Reviews described Gifford in a short summary of the Wallace book (see “Sources” section at end of story for cover photo of this book).

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“Gifford’s Gigs”
Ads, Film, TV, Books, Etc.
1950s-2000s

 

1970s: Frank Gifford appearing in a Dry Sack sherry ad.
1970s: Frank Gifford appearing in a Dry Sack sherry ad.
1956: What’s My Line?, TV Guest
1957: Vitalis Hair Tonic
1957: Wilson Sporting Goods (football)
1957: Jantzen sweater ad (wearing beret)
1958: Jantzen Sportswear – sweater
1958: Film: Darby’s Rangers, bit part
1959: Vitalis Hair Tonic Ad
1959: Film: Up Periscope
1960: Paris Belts (w/16 pg booklet)
1960: Wards Boots (hunting)
1960: Book: The Frank Gifford Story
1961: Jantzen Sportswear /ski sweater
1961: Jantzen ads (w/ Bob Cousy, others)
1962: Sports Illustrated Cover, Dec 12
1962: Jantzen Ad – Snorkeling in Kauai
1962: Jantzen Sportswear w/Cousy, others
1962: Jantzen Sweater w/ K. Venturi, Cousy
1963: Guest Star, Hazel TV Show
1963: Jantzen Sweater w/ Hornung & Cousy
1964: What’s My Line?, TV Guest Panelist
1965: Jantzen Swimsuits
1965: CBS Radio Ad w/other hosts
1966: Jantzen Hawaiian Beachboy Tights
1966: Jantzen Sportswear w/ D. Marr, Cousy
1966: CBS Radio Ad – NY Giants No.16
1966: Jantzen Swimtrunks w/B Hull, others
1968: Jantzen Spoken Here w/ Don Meredith
1968: Film: Paper Lion, bit part, himself
1960s Radio Spots – Leukemia PSAs
1969: Book: Frank Gifford: His Golden Year
1971: TV: Monday Night Football (to 1997)
1971: TV Guide Cover w/Cosell & Meredith
1975: Dry Sack Sherry Ad
1976: Book: Frank Gifford on Courage
1977: Playboy (Nov), Frank Gifford Profile
1978: Planters Nuts Ad
1978: Riddell Ad, soccer shoes
Screenshot from a Planters Nuts TV ad featuring Frank Gifford.
Screenshot from a Planters Nuts TV ad featuring Frank Gifford.
1979: Dry Sack from Spain
1979: Planters Mixed Nuts
1982: TV Ads: Planters Nuts
1984: GQ, Cover
1984: Nabisco Brands, w/Bobby Orr
1984: Nabisco Brands, w/D. Meredith
1991: Buick “Super Drivers” Sales Brochure
1993: Book: The Whole Ten Yards
1993: TV: Carnival Cruise w Kathie Lee
1996: “Milk Mustache”w/Michaels & Costas
1996: Film: Jerry Maguire, bit part, himself
2008: Book: The Glory Game
_______________________
Not a complete list.

 

Monday Night Football

Frank Gifford, right, joined “Monday Nigh Football” broad-casters Howard Cosell, center, and Don Meredith  in 1971.
Frank Gifford, right, joined “Monday Nigh Football” broad-casters Howard Cosell, center, and Don Meredith in 1971.
In the 1970s, Frank Gifford’s media star began to shine a lot brighter when he became a member of ABC-TV’s Monday Night Football broadcast team.  But before exploring Gifford’s role there, a little history on the origins of the Monday night program.

The idea for televising professional football games on Monday night had first started with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.  Rozelle had experimented with one non-televised Monday night game in September 1964 when the Green Bay Packers played the Detroit Lions in a game that drew a sellout crowd of 59,203 to Tiger Stadium, the largest crowd ever to watch a professional football game in Detroit up to that point.  Rozelle then followed up with a few televised Monday night games in prime time over the next four years – two NFL games on CBS for the 1966 and 1967 seasons, followed by two AFL Monday night games on NBC in 1968 and 1969.  But neither CBS or NBC would sign a contract for a full season of televised Monday night games, as they feared a disruption of existing programming.

Roone Arledge is credited with helping make “Monday Night Football” an entertainment spectacle and a financial success.
Roone Arledge is credited with helping make “Monday Night Football” an entertainment spectacle and a financial success.
ABC, then the lowest rated of the three broadcast networks, and also not entirely enthusiastic about the idea, nevertheless agreed to a contract after Rozelle threatened to go to the Hughes Sports Network, a move that would have caused some ABC affiliates to abandoned ABC on game nights.

After the ABC deal was made, ABC producer Roone Arledge – who had already created ABC’s Wide World of Sports in 1961 – began to see big potential for the Monday Night Football program.  Arledge is credited with turning the program into an entertainment and sports broadcast “spectacle” – expanding the regular two-man broadcasting team to three members; using twice the usual number of cameras to cover the game; using shots of the crowd, cheerleaders and coaches as well as closeups of the players; and instituting lots of graphics and technical innovations such as “instant replay.”

The first ABC Monday Night Football game – between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland – aired on Sept. 21, 1970.   Advertisers were charged $65,000 per minute (a fraction of what they now pay ).  The broadcast was a smashing success, collecting an eye-popping 33 percent of the viewing audience.  Those numbers pleased the program’s early sponsors, such as the Ford Motor Company.  Monday Night Football was on its way.

1971: “Monday Night Football” broadcast team of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford.
1971: “Monday Night Football” broadcast team of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford.
The first broadcast trio for Monday Night Football included Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson, and Don Meredith.  Frank Gifford had been Roone Arledge’s original choice for the third member of the broadcast team, but Gifford was then still working with CBS.  But Arledge was a friend of Gifford’s and a golfing buddy.  Gifford suggested that Arledge offer Meredith the job, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback.

By 1971, however, Gifford replaced Keith Jackson as the play-by-play announcer on Monday Night Football (this trio is shown on the TV Guide cover at left).  Thus began a nationally prominent role for Gifford that would last more than two decades in one role or another at Monday Night Football.  Gifford, in fact, would become the longest-serving member of an ever-changing cast of characters on the Monday Night Football broadcast team – ranging from Alex Karas and Fran Tarkenton for periods in the 1970s, to O. J. Simpson, Joe Namath, Dan Dierdorf, and Michaels in the 1980s.  In 1987, Gifford and Al Michaels – who had done the show as a twosome for two seasons – were joined by Dan Dierdorf.  This Monday Night Football trio would last for 11 seasons, through the end of the 1997 season.

There were some memorable moments in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth, as on December 9, 1974, when the unlikely pair of former Beatle John Lennon and California governor Ronald Reagan entered the booth.  Lennon was interviewed by Howard Cosell and Gifford was talking with Reagan, who later proceeded to explain the rules of American football to Lennon as the game went along, though off camera.  Six years later on December 8th, 1980, during the Monday night game between Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots, it would be Howard Cosell who announced a news bulletin to a stunned nation that John Lennon had been assassinated that night in New York city by gunman Mark David Chapman.

Frank Gifford, circa 1970s.
Frank Gifford, circa 1970s.
August 1988: Gifford on the field prior to a Miami Dolphins - Washington Redskins game.
August 1988: Gifford on the field prior to a Miami Dolphins - Washington Redskins game.

In later years, there was some probing of the Monday Night Football empire, as a book by Marc Gunther and Bill Carter titled Monday Night Mayhem, reported that with Roone Arledge in control, the show was making lots of money for ABC, and its principals were treated well, with parties, limousines, and more.  But by 1985, Monday Night Football was sliding in the ratings, beaten on occasion by Farrah Fawcett movies on NBC and other shows.  Roone Arledge by then had moved on, and in the following year in the wake of the Cap Cities takeover of ABC, new management arrived.  Gifford was moved out of his play-by-play role, replaced by Al Michaels.

But through it all, Gifford had a loyal following of viewers who liked him because of his low-keyed style, projecting a straight-arrow kind of guy, honest and sincere. Still, Gifford had his share of critics, some charging that he wasn’t critical enough of the players. “I don’t pay attention to the critics,” he said in a 1987 Los Angeles Times interview.  “I have to please the audience… I know what I am.  That’s more important than reading what others think.  I know this game. I’ve always studied it, and I continue to do my homework.”  Gifford added that he probably spent more time preparing to televise a game than he did preparing as a player.  But the critics persisted, some calling his style boring or that he was too much of a company man.  

“I’ve been accused of being everything from [plain] vanilla to being a shill for the National Football League,” he said in a 1994 interview with the Christian Science Monitor.  “Some people think that you can’t be doing a good job unless you are bombastic and critical…. I don’t know where that concept ever came up in journalism.”  

As for the “star” quality that may have come to the Monday Night Football broadcasters, Gifford sought to disabuse viewers of that notion.

In a September 1994 interview with Mark Kram of Knight-Ridder newspapers, Gifford explained that “the success of Monday Night Football has little to do with the announcers in the booth.” Rather, as Gifford then put it: “We are a success because football is the No. 1 sport in America, and that Monday evenings give people a chance to extend the weekend.  I, as an announcer, can only reflect what has been placed on the stage, so to speak.  We do not create it.”

Feb 1984 “GQ” cover featured Frank Gifford with story: “Gifford Keeps His Balance.”
Feb 1984 “GQ” cover featured Frank Gifford with story: “Gifford Keeps His Balance.”


Wide World of Sports

Gifford also appeared on other ABC sports programs, including Olympic Games coverage from 1972 to 1988, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and he also did various sports personality profiles and TV specials.  Gifford also put out another book in 1976 – Gifford on Courage: Ten Unforgettable True Stories of Heroism in Modern Sports – written with Charles Mangel.  This book included profiles of sports figures, among them: Herb Score, Rocky Bleier, Charley Boswell, Don Klosterman, Floyd Layne, Charley Conerly, Y.A. Tittle, Dan Gable, Willis Reed, and Ken Venturi.

Gifford continued to be of interest as a sports celebrity and television personality, occasionally featured in magazines, such as the February 1984 GQ cover story shown at left (GQ, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, is a publication of the Newhouse family-owned Condé Naste publications).  The GQ story was written by Frederick Exley, who had been following Gifford’s career since the days when both were students at USC.  In television, Gifford sometimes appeared as a guest or a guest host on non-sports TV shows, including ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, where he met his third wife, Kathie Lee Johnson, a popular TV host.  The two were married in 1986 and would have two children together.  Throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s, millions of morning-TV viewers who watched ABC’s Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, would often hear Kathie Lee Gifford’s descriptions of life at home with her sportscaster husband and their two children.  Gifford and his wife also appeared together on TV occasionally, as they did when hosting the nightly wrap-up segments on ABC during the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Frank Gifford’s 1993 auto- biography.
Frank Gifford’s 1993 auto- biography.
In 1993, Gifford published his autobiography, The Whole Ten Yards, with help from Newsweek’s Harry Waters.  Kirkus Reviews called the book “a measured, straightforward, good-natured piece of work…”

In the book, Gifford includes profiles of his former Monday Night Football colleagues Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Dan Dierdorf and Al Michaels, calling Michaels at one point “the best play-by-play man in the business.”  There are also profiles of Vince Lombardi, Paul Brown, and former teammates Sam Huff, Y.A. Tittle, Charlie Conerly, and Kyle Rote, as well as opponents such as Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, Chicago Bears tight end, Mike Ditka, and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker, Chuck Bednarik. The book also covers Gifford’s reminiscences of late 1950’s New York nightlife – all of which help to paint an engaging portrayal of New York football and its related social profile during that era.

In 1995, Frank Gifford was given the Pete Rozelle Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his NFL television work.

June 1997: People magazine featured the Giffords on its cover following the affair.
June 1997: People magazine featured the Giffords on its cover following the affair.


Gifford Affair

In May 1997, however, some of the luster of Frank Gifford’s famous career and celebrity became tarnished after it was revealed that he had an affair with a former airline stewardess, Suzen Johnson. A round of negative press followed, with magazine and tabloid front-page coverage, including a June 1997 People magazine cover story shown at left with photo and headline that read, “Kathie Lee’s Crisis, Will She Stand By Her Man?”

A November 1997 Playboy story also ran with Suzen Johnson on the cover. And some New York media talk shows and radio programs — including Howard Stern’s radio show, which had engaged in a running critique of Kathie Lee Gifford for years – also covered the story. Stern at one point threatened to air tapes of the tryst until the move was blocked in court.

It was later revealed that The Globe, the North American supermarket tabloid that originally broke the story, had arranged to have Gifford secretly videotaped being seduced by the former flight attendant in a New York City hotel room.

Tagline for ABC’s 20/20 show on the Gifford affair: “Love. Fidelity. Broken Promises. Staying together, Kathie Lee and  Frank Gifford talk about it all for the first time. Exclusively with Diane Sawyer.”
Tagline for ABC’s 20/20 show on the Gifford affair: “Love. Fidelity. Broken Promises. Staying together, Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford talk about it all for the first time. Exclusively with Diane Sawyer.”
In follow-up stories, ESPN and others reported that The Globe tabloid had paid Johnson $75,000 to lure Gifford to the room, while The Atlantic placed the amount at $125,000. There was also an appearance by Gifford and Kathie Lee on ABC-TV’s 20/20 show in May 2000 when the couple was interviewed by Diane Sawyer, with Frank admitting the tryst was “stupid” and Kathie Lee offering grudging forgiveness. The Giffords had faced controversy before, in 1996 when a clothing line sold by Kathie Lee was accused of using sweatshop labor. Kathie Lee Gifford subsequently worked with government regulators to investigate the situation and she also worked to support and enact laws to protect children against sweatshop conditions.

Such incidents aside, however, the Giffords, throughout their careers, have been involved with various charities and social causes. Frank Gifford had served as chairman of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of New York and in 1984 the society established a $100,000 research grant in his name. And Kathie Lee Gifford regularly makes appearances at fund raisers and events for the non-profit organization ChildHelp, which works for the prevention and treatment of child abuse.

Still, the 1997 stewardess affair was a major blow to the Giffords and to Frank Gifford’s image. In 1998, following the incident, Gifford was given a reduced role on the Monday Night Football pre-game show. Boomer Esiason, 36, then the Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback, quit active play to join the show. After that, and with 22 years of serving as a sportscaster there, Gifford left Monday Night Football, though he would continue to have other TV work. And on other projects, he focused on football history.

In 2008, Frank Gifford, with Peter Richmond, published “The Glory Game,” about famous 1958 game.
In 2008, Frank Gifford, with Peter Richmond, published “The Glory Game,” about famous 1958 game.
13 Oct 1963: Frank Gifford of the New York Giants about to catch a pass from quarterback Y. A. Tittle in game against the Cleveland Browns played in New York.
13 Oct 1963: Frank Gifford of the New York Giants about to catch a pass from quarterback Y. A. Tittle in game against the Cleveland Browns played in New York.

In 2008, Gifford published with Peter Richmond, The Glory Game: How The 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever.

The book is Gifford’s account of the famous sudden-death overtime game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts in which he and 14 other later-elected Hall of Fame players and coaches did battle.

Gifford acknowledged that he had two costly fumbles in that game, but he also caught a pass for a key touchdown that had put the Giant’s in the lead, 17-14. Gifford was also at the center of a crucial 3rd down play with less than three minutes remaining in that game.

The Giants, then at their own 40 yard-line, needed four yards for a first down, which would have given them the game, as with a new set of downs they could have run out the clock. But on the 3rd down play, Gifford got the call, running the ball outside for a gain before he was tackled, though sure he made enough yardage for the first down.

In the play, there was some added commotion and distraction, as Colts lineman, Gino Marchetti, was calling out in pain after he had broken his ankle. Referee Ron Gibbs, who spotted the ball amid the concern over Marchetti, placed it short of the first down marker, and the Giants were forced to punt. That gave the Colts a chance to tie, and ultimately win, the game, which went into sudden death overtime.

But in his book, Gifford writes: “I still feel to this day, and will always feel, that I got the first down that would have let us run out the clock. And given us the title.” Gifford would later learn that the referee involved also believed he likely had made a bad spot.

See also at this website, “Bednarik-Gifford Lore,” an in-depth story built around the famous November 1960 gridiron collision between Gifford and Chuck Bednarik of the Philadelphia Eagles. For other sports stories at this website see the “Annals of Sport” page. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 5 January 2014
Last Update: 19 October 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Celebrity Gifford: 1950s-2000s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, January 5, 2014.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Cover photo from Don Smith’s 1960 book on Frank Gifford, published by New York’s G. P. Putnam's Sons.
Cover photo from Don Smith’s 1960 book on Frank Gifford, published by New York’s G. P. Putnam's Sons.
CBS Radio ad of the mid-1960s featuring Frank Gifford as one of the network’s notable on-air personalities.
CBS Radio ad of the mid-1960s featuring Frank Gifford as one of the network’s notable on-air personalities.
1969: Cover of William Wallace’s book on Frank Gifford’s “Golden Year” of 1956; paperback edition.
1969: Cover of William Wallace’s book on Frank Gifford’s “Golden Year” of 1956; paperback edition.
June 1969: Sportscasters Pat Summerall & Frank Gifford (c), listen as Joe Namath (r) announces his retirement from pro football at his Bachelors III nightclub due to dispute with the NFL over his ownership of the club. On July 18, he announced he sold the bar and was coming back out of retirement. Click photo to visit Namath story.
June 1969: Sportscasters Pat Summerall & Frank Gifford (c), listen as Joe Namath (r) announces his retirement from pro football at his Bachelors III nightclub due to dispute with the NFL over his ownership of the club. On July 18, he announced he sold the bar and was coming back out of retirement. Click photo to visit Namath story.
June 1983: Christopher Reeve, Frank Gifford & President Ronald Reagan at White House reception & picnic for Special Olympics program, Diplomatic Reception Room.
June 1983: Christopher Reeve, Frank Gifford & President Ronald Reagan at White House reception & picnic for Special Olympics program, Diplomatic Reception Room.
July 1985: Joe Namath, left, Roone Arledge, center, with Frank Gifford at news conference announcing Namath’s joining "Monday Night Football." AP / M. Lederhandler.
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Frank & Kathie Lee Gifford with their son, early 1990s.
Frank & Kathie Lee Gifford with their son, early 1990s.
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_____________________________
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

 
 

“Dempsey vs. Carpentier”
July 1921

     In 1921, they called it “the largest audience in history,” the 300,000 or so people estimated to have heard one of the first radio broadcasts of a special event — the outdoor heavyweight championship boxing match between American Jack Dempsey and French challenger, Georges Carpentier.  Dempsey was reigning world champ at the time, and Carpentier was a European boxing champion and decorated French Army veteran.  The fight’s promoter had billed the event as the “Battle of the Century.”

July 2, 1921. Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier get ready to square off in championship fight before 80,000 fans.  The fight ushered in a 'golden age' of sport in the 1920s, and with radio, the beginnings of sport as mass-audience, big-business entertainment.
July 2, 1921. Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier get ready to square off in championship fight before 80,000 fans. The fight ushered in a 'golden age' of sport in the 1920s, and with radio, the beginnings of sport as mass-audience, big-business entertainment.

          A hastily assembled outdoor arena was built on a farm in Jersey City, New Jersey, not far from New York City.  More than 80,000 fans came to see the fight in person on July 2, 1921, producing boxing’s first million-dollar gate.  Dempsey won in four-round knockout in a scheduled 12-round fight.  But the big news for many was the radio broadcast of the fight.  It was the first ever broadcast to a “mass audience,” with the blow-by-blow call of the fight from ringside relayed over the new “radiophone,” reaching hundreds of thousands in the northeast U.S.  Wireless Age magazine, reporting on the event a few weeks later, described the fight’s call over radio by “a voice that sounded loud and clear throughout the Middle Atlantic states.”  It was “history in the making,” said the magazine.

 

“Hero” vs. “Slacker” 

    There was also a good deal of hype associated with this fight, as there would be for any major event of this kind.  The promoter of the fight, Tex Rickard, cast its principal contestants as “hero” vs. “villain.” The billed “hero” in this case was not the American Jack Dempsey, but rather, the Frenchman, Georges Carpentier, the light-heavyweight champ who had distinguished himself as a pilot in World War I.

Dempsey, on the other hand, was cast as the “villain” as he had been labeled a “slacker” for avoiding the military draft — even though he had been found not guilty of the offense in 1920.  Promoter Rickard offered Carpentier $200,000 for the fight and $300,000 to Dempsey — considerable sums for the time — as well an equal share of 25 percent of the film profits.  Rickard saw the radio broadcast of the fight as a positive for his future business, and he did what he could to accommodate the new technology at the site.  He believed that radio might be a way to advance prizefighting in the post-World War I popular culture.  Rickard allowed for a makeshift wooden room for the radio broadcast to be constructed under the stands.  Telephone lines and a temporary radio transmitter, sponsored by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), were installed at the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railway terminal in Hoboken, New Jersey.

 

David Sarnoff, of the early RCA Company, was among those who saw that the Dempsey-Carpentier fight would help advance radio.   (1922 photo).
David Sarnoff, of the early RCA Company, was among those who saw that the Dempsey-Carpentier fight would help advance radio. (1922 photo).
Early Radio

     Radio beyond the reach of a few people had barely begun in the early 1920s.  Fledgling operations had started in 1916 in both New York city and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In Pittsburgh, a Westinghouse employee named Frank Conrad began sending out recorded music played from a phonograph over a radio transmitter set up in his garage.  By 1920, Conrad’s employer, Westinghouse, noticed that the broadcasts had increased the sales of radio equipment, which Westinghouse was then manufacturing.  The company had Conrad move his transmitter to the Westinghouse factory roof.  Westinghouse then applied for a government license and started the pioneer station KDKA, which in early November 1920, began radio programming with the Harding-Cox Presidential election returns.  Those broadcasts, however, were only reaching a few thousand hobbyists.

     In New York City, too, local radio broadcasts had begun in the fall of 1916 over Lee DeForest’s experimental “Highbridge” station.  David Sarnoff, a manger at the American Marconi telegraph company, who lived in New York had heard the early Highbridge broadcasts. Sarnoff wrote a brief memo to the Marconi’s president in 1916-17 about a business possibility for developing a “radio music box” to sell to amateur radio enthusiasts.  But nothing came of Sarnoff’s idea at the time.  Marconi was then in the heat of WWI. A few years later, however, in January 1920, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was established when General Electric acquired American Marconi and Sarnoff, with it.  RCA had formed in 1919 after the U.S. Government relinquished control of the wireless industry following World War I.

Poster advertising the fight at the New York Theater in New York city. Such advertising ran for several days in advance of the bout. This theater would be one of many locations in New York and elsewhere that would fill with listeners on fight day.
Poster advertising the fight at the New York Theater in New York city. Such advertising ran for several days in advance of the bout. This theater would be one of many locations in New York and elsewhere that would fill with listeners on fight day.

 

“Radio Box For Entertainment”

     David Sarnoff, meanwhile, wrote another, more detailed memo on the prospects for radio business and sales to the general public — a 28-page memo titled Sales of Radio Music Box for Entertainment Purposes.

“I have in mind a plan of development which would make radio a ‘household utility’ in the same sense as the piano or phonograph,” Sarnoff began.  “The idea is to bring music into the house by wireless,” by which he meant radio.

Sarnoff saw a large potential market, which he then put at about 7 percent of the total families,” yielding a gross return of about $75 million annually in 1920s dollars. Both estimates would soon prove to be very conservative. 

“Aside from the profit to be derived from this proposition,” he wrote, “the possibilities for advertising for the company [RCA] are tremendous…”  The company’s name “would ultimately be brought into the household,” he said, and radio thereby would receive “national and universal attention.” Indeed it would, and did.  But it was the broadcast of the Dempsey-Carpentier fight that would help spark the early public curiosity in the radio and also help the rise of RCA and the radio business.  RCA, in fact, made its broadcast debut with the July 2, 1921 championship fight.

On the Boardwalk in Asbury Park, NJ, a ‘rolling chair’ offers passers-by a listen to the fight by wireless radio telephone.
On the Boardwalk in Asbury Park, NJ, a ‘rolling chair’ offers passers-by a listen to the fight by wireless radio telephone.
    

     Sarnoff also appears to have played an important role in the radio broadcast of the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, although some say the extent of his role has been exaggerated.  Still, it does appear that Sarnoff helped make the broadcast possible: he provided money for expenses, a high-powered GE transmitter, and the use of the Lackawanna Railroad terminal antenna in Hoboken, New Jersey.

There are also varying accounts as to who initially came up with the idea to do a wide-area radio broadcast of the fight, with some attributing the idea to Sarnoff, and some to others. Julius Hopp, manager of the Madison Square Garden concerts at the time, had observed amateur radio men in more limited venues and was impressed with their descriptions by voice.  Some credit Hopp with the idea. 

In any case, in April 1921, it appears the idea of broadcasting the Dempsey-Carpentier fight was offered to promoter Tex Rickard and his partner, both of whom liked the idea.  There had also been one previous fight broadcast on radio in the Pittsburgh area in April 1921, heard only by a limited number of listeners and radio hobbyists in that location.  The broadcast that planners had in mind for the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, however, was for a much broader region.

Boxer Jack Dempsey, being introduced to new “radiophone” technology, appears on cover of “The Wireless Age” magazine, July 1921.
Boxer Jack Dempsey, being introduced to new “radiophone” technology, appears on cover of “The Wireless Age” magazine, July 1921.

     An early July edition of Wireless Age magazine described the plan for how the broadcast would work:

     …The radio station at Hoboken will be connected by direct wire to the ringside at Jersey City, and as the fight progresses, each blow struck and each incident, round by round, will be described by voice, and the spoken words will go hurtling through the air to be instantaneously received in the theaters, halls and auditoriums scattered over cities within an area of more than 125,000 square miles.

     Through the courtesy of Tex Rickard, promoter of the big fight, voice-broadcasting of the event is to be the means of materially aiding the work of the American Committee for Devastated France [i.e., following World War I] and also the Navy Club of the United States. These organizations will share equally in the contributions secured by large gatherings in theaters, halls and other places. The amateur radio operators of the country are to be the connecting link between the voice in the air and these audiences. … Any amateur who is skilled in reception is eligible, whether or not he is a member of any organization.


This photo provides a partial view of the huge crowd surrounding the outdoor boxing ring at the Dempsey-Carpentier fight in Jersey City, NJ, July 2, 1921.
This photo provides a partial view of the huge crowd surrounding the outdoor boxing ring at the Dempsey-Carpentier fight in Jersey City, NJ, July 2, 1921.
Fight Day 

     On fight day, a notable cast of local and national dignitaries attended the actual event in person. Among politicians and celebrities who joined the 80,000-to-90,000 fans who came to watch the fight were: industrialists John D. Rockefeller, Jr. William H. Vanderbilt, George H. Gould, Joseph W. Harriman, Vincent Astor, and Henry Ford; entertainers Al Jolson and George M. Cohan; literary figures H.L. Mencken, Damon Runyon, Arthur Brisbane, and Ring Lardner; the three children of Theodore Roosevelt — Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and Alice Roosevelt Longworth; prominent Long Island residents, such as Ralph Pulitzer, Harry Payne Whitney and J.P. Grace; Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague; and New Jersey Governor Edward I. Edwards.  At the gate, meanwhile, the fans who poured in payed a then-record $1,626,580.  It was the first time that a million-dollar amount had been exceeded for a boxing event.

Interest in the fight was keen, as this photo illustrates, showing a crowd of more than 10,000 outside the New York Times building in Times Square awaiting updates.
Interest in the fight was keen, as this photo illustrates, showing a crowd of more than 10,000 outside the New York Times building in Times Square awaiting updates.
     In addition to those assembled at the fight location in New Jersey, tens of thousands gathered in various public venues — bars, restau- rants, theaters and halls where ham operators or radio hook-ups had been made.  Among such locations, for example were: Loew’s New York roof top at Broadway & 45th St. where some 1,200 were assembled; Colonial Hall in Bridgeport, Connecticut where an audience of 500 enjoyed the returns courtesy of the Bridgeport Radio Club; some 570 listened to the fight at The Playhouse in Wilmington, Delaware — and at hundreds of other such places.  In Times Square, New York a huge throng of some 10,000 people gathered outside the New York Times Building to hear marquee-posted updates of the fight that were relayed to the crowd.

New York Times photo showing Dempsey standing after a Carpentier knock down.
New York Times photo showing Dempsey standing after a Carpentier knock down.
     By fight time, the anticipation and build-up for this fight was sky high.  In addition to Rickard’s promotion, famous writers such as George Bernard Shaw chimed in.  Shaw claimed that Carpentier was “the greatest boxer in the world” and suggested that the odds should be placed 50-to-1 against Dempsey.  But the match turned out to be less of a contest than many assumed it would be, as Dempsey dominated — but not a first.  Carpentier got off to a fast start and hit Dempsey hard in the first round, and again with two hard shots to the head in the 2nd round, stunning the champ.  One reporter at ringside, however, noted a furious comeback by Dempsey with a flurry of punches, still in round 2. Carpentier broke his thumb when he hit Dempsey in the 2nd.  In the next round, the bigger, stronger Dempsey began to get the best of Carpentier, punishing him on the ropes.  In round 4, the Frenchman was knocked down once, and then again for the ten-count.  Dempsey won.  But in an interesting gesture of kindness no doubt rarely seen in a boxing ring, Dempsey moved to help his opponent to his feet and to his corner at the fight’s end.

The fight’s results made front-page news across the country, along with the equally big news of the fight’s 1.6 million-dollar gate (in above clip, see headline below photo).
The fight’s results made front-page news across the country, along with the equally big news of the fight’s 1.6 million-dollar gate (in above clip, see headline below photo).
 

Golden Age

    The results of the fight were big news all across the country in the next day’s newspapers — including the fight’s astounding $1.6 million gate.  Some historians, in fact, see the fight as a key landmark for the Golden Age of sport that boomed during the 1920s; a Golden Age that also brought expanded media coverage and business promoters like Tex Rickard into the arena, setting sports media on the path to big-business entertainment. 

As for radio, other sports broadcasts followed. By August 5th, 1921, the first broadcast of a baseball game was made over Westinghouse station KDKA — a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Demand for home radio equipment soared that winter. 

By the spring of 1922, David Sarnoff’s prediction of popular demand for broadcasting was coming true, and over the next eighteen months, he and RCA gained in stature and influence. RCA soon went into cross-licensing arrangements with AT&T and Westinghouse, which helped propel the company into a leadership role in both the broadcasting and recording industries.


Ringside broadcaster calling the fight’s blow-by-blow action, then sent out across northeast U.S. from Hoboken, NJ.
Ringside broadcaster calling the fight’s blow-by-blow action, then sent out across northeast U.S. from Hoboken, NJ.

1922: 30 Stations

     By 1922, there were 30 radio stations in America, and things picked up considerably after that.  By late January 1923, programming from New York’s WEAF station was being carried simultaneously over a second station WNAC in Boston, giving rise to the concept of the “network” or “chain broadcasting.”

Less than a month later, on February 2nd, a transcontinental network broadcast link was formed between WEAF in New York and KPO, San Francisco, which was the Hale’s Department Store station.  Although New York’s WEAF had featured one of radio’s first paid advertisements in August 1922 — by the Queensboro Corporation using a ten-minute pitch to advertise a new real estate development — broadcasting was not yet supported by advertising. 

Most of the early stations were owned by radio manufacturers, department stores trying to sell radios, or by newspapers using them to sell newspapers or express their owners’ opinions.

Photo from ringside also showing part of immense crowd.  Carpentier is down for the count here.  Radio broadcaster is located at the tip of the white arrow.  Photo from, ‘Wireless Age’, August 1921.
Photo from ringside also showing part of immense crowd. Carpentier is down for the count here. Radio broadcaster is located at the tip of the white arrow. Photo from, ‘Wireless Age’, August 1921.
     Still by 1923, the number of stations had grown to 550 and about 3 million people had access to some kind of radio, many using crystal sets with earphones to receive news, bulletins and music.  Radio programming soon expanded to the stock market, weather reports, comedy shows, music broadcasts, and more.  In the fall of 1923, another sporting event — baseball’s World Series games between the New York Yankees and the New York Giants — helped boost radio again, making a big impression on many listeners, as a former concert singer by the name of Graham McNamee began doing the game’s play-by-play in a colorful and enthusiastic announcing style on New York’s WEAF.  McNamee thereafter became one of radio’s first broadcast personalities.  In 1926, RCA purchased its first radio station, WEAF in New York it also launched the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), the first radio network in America.  Four years later, David Sarnoff had become president of RCA and NBC.

 

Map showing approximate range of the Dempsey-Carpentier radio broadcast in the eastern U.S., reaching a potential audience of 200,000-to-500,000.
Map showing approximate range of the Dempsey-Carpentier radio broadcast in the eastern U.S., reaching a potential audience of 200,000-to-500,000.
Radio Landmark

     Radio historians mark the July 1921 Dempsey-Carpentier fight as one of the landmark events advancing the “radio era” and big-audience communication.  And as would become the pattern for other communications technology in the future — whether the Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fight by satellite TV in 1975, or subsequent global telecasts of World Cup Soccer, Superbowl games, or the Olympics — big sporting events would often be used to introduce or showcase new technology or expanded capability, reaching not just hundreds of thousands, but hundreds of millions and billions. The 2008 Olympics in Bejing, for example, had an estimated total audience of some 4 billion viewers.  Special, multi-venue rock concerts and global charity events can now reach billions as well.  And online communications only add to these numbers.  Still, it wasn’t that long ago when our communications world was a lot smaller; when “big” was a few hundred thousand, as it was on that day in July 1921 when the human voice beamed out over the northeast United States.

Ticket for the Dempsey-Carpentier fight of July 2, 1921, with promoter Tex Rickard’s name at lower right, main stubb.
Ticket for the Dempsey-Carpentier fight of July 2, 1921, with promoter Tex Rickard’s name at lower right, main stubb.
Other boxing-related stories at this website include: “Ali, Frazier, Sinatra, et al.,” covering the 1971 Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight and related background issues surrounding that fight and its promotion. Also at this website, see: “The Rocky Statue, 1980-2009,” on the 20-year controversy in Philadelphia over the Rocky Balboa statue, and, “Philadelphia Morning,” featuring Bill Conti’s film music as critical to the success of the first Rocky film of 1976-1977. See also the “Annals of Sport” page for additional story choices in that category. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:  8 September 2008
Last Update:  14 September 2017
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Dempsey vs. Carpenteir, July 1921,”
PopHistoryDig.com, September 8, 2008.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

1921 poster announcing filmed newsreels of the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpenteir boxing match.
1921 poster announcing filmed newsreels of the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpenteir boxing match.
Cover of the fight program for the July 1921 Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier boxing match.
Cover of the fight program for the July 1921 Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier boxing match.

“July 2nd Fight Described by Radiophone – The Great International Sporting Event Will Be Voice-Broadcasted from the Ringside By Radiophone Under the Direction of the National Amateur Wireless Association on the Largest Scale Ever Attempted,” The Wireless Age, July, 1921.

“Voice-Broadcasting the Stirring Progress of the ‘Battle of the Century’ – How The Largest Audience in History Heard the Description of the Dempsey-Carpentier Contest Through Use of the Radiophone,” The Wireless Age, August 1921, pp. 11-21.

Carmela Karnoutsos, “Dempsey-Carpentier Fight: Boyle’s Thirty Acres at the Montgomery Oval, Montgomery Street and Florence Place,”  Jersey City, Past and Present ( Jersey City, NJ history site), Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub.

“Tex Tours Jersey City,” New York Times, April 14, 1921.

“Dempsey Knocks Out Carpentier in the Fourth Round; Challenger Breaks His Thumb Against Champion’s Jaw; Record Crowd of 90,000 Orderly and Well Handled,” New York Times, July 3, 1921.

Ed Brennan, “The Day History Was Made in Jersey City.” Jersey Journal, February 9, 1960.

Lud Shahbazian, “Jersey City Gave Boxing Its First Million Dollar Gate Just 50 Years Ago Today.” Hudson Dispatch, July 2, 1971.

Randy Roberts, Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler, New York: Grove Press, 1979.

Roger Kahn, A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring 20s, New York: Harcourt Brace, 2000.

George Mercurio, “The ‘Battle of the Century’,” Jersey City Reporter 16 July 2001.

Alexander B. Magoun, PhD, David Sarnoff Library, “Pushing Technology: David Sarnoff and Wireless Communications, 1911-1921,” Presented  at IEEE 2001 Conference on the History of Telecommunications, St. John’s, Newfoundland, July 26, 2001

Thomas H. White, “Battle of the Century: The WJY Story,” January 1, 2000.

“Jack Dempsey Smashes Carpentier,” The Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), July 3, 1921.