With a remarkable number of firsts in the field of broadcasting, sports commentator Jim McKay has no equal. In 1947, he was the first television broadcaster on the airwaves in Baltimore; in 1968, he became the first sports commentator to win an Emmy Award; and the host of other firsts he achieved make him one of the most respected commentators in the history of broadcasting.
Born James McManus, the steady-voiced McKay was the first on-camera personality for Baltimore’s first TV station. The station’s producer, director, writer, and news and sports reporter, he was well-equipped to be a pioneer.
McKay began work at ABC Sports in the 1950s, covering everything from international golf to horse racing. In 1961, he hosted the first episode of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the project that would define him as a broadcaster and the show went on to become the most successful sports program in the history of television.
As host of Wide World until its final show in 1998, McKay logged more than 4.5 million miles traveling to cover more than 100 sports in 40 countries across the globe, opening spectators’ eyes to pastimes other than baseball and football, such as Irish hurling. Coining catch phases like “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” McKay became a staple in the American household for nearly four decades.
“He is the most unique talent in sportscasting. He did so much from scratch because so many of the sports he did were out of the mainstream.”
Adding to his list of firsts was McKay’s trip to Mainland China and the People’s Republic, where he was the first American network sports commentator to set foot during China’s period of isolationism.
Throughout his time with Wide World, McKay put innumerable hours into the assignments that would earn him the most international acclaim, the Olympics. Of his more than 40 years of Olympic coverage, McKay is best-known for his reporting of the Black September attacks on 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Games in Munich. Those 16 hours of news and sports reporting made him a fixture in the global history of sports commentary and earned him numerous accolades, including two Emmys and the George Polk Memorial Award, given annually to a single journalist whose work represents the most significant reporting of the year.
Overall, McKay covered 12 Olympic Games, from Rome in 1960 to Salt Lake City in 2002, and received an Olympic Medal from the Austrian Government, for his work at the 1976 Innsbruck Games, and the Olympic Order, the highest award of the International Olympic Committee.
In 1968, McKay became the first sports commentator to win an Emmy Award. He now has 13 of the statuettes, including the 1981-82 Award for Outstanding Sports
Personality/Host and, a tribute to his versatility, an Emmy for his writing of the opening segments in ABC Sports’ coverage of the Indianapolis 500, the British Open, and the Kentucky Derby. He is the only broadcaster to win Emmys for sports and news broadcasting and for writing.
“He is a brilliant writer with a touch of the poet and a way of seeing things regular folks don’t see,” says Doug Wilson, a
producer, director, and one of McKay’s former colleagues. McKay’s contributions are so widespread that a new award had to be created to recognize his achievements.
In 1990, he received the first-ever Lifetime Achievement in Sports award from the National Academy of Television Arts And Sciences, a testament to a devoted storyteller who has spent his life to sharing stories with the world.
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