Graham McNamee

From BR Bullpen

Graham McNamee on the cover of Time Magazine, Oct. 3, 1927

Thomas Graham McNamee

Biographical Information[edit]

Graham McNamee was a broadcasting pioneer. The son of an adviser to President Grover Cleveland, he was born in Washington, DC but grew up in St. Paul, MN. His early passion was music and he wanted to become a professional singer. Wanting to pass a singing audition for radio station WEAF in New York, NY after spotting a "help wanted" sign on the door, he was instead hired as an announcer, thus beginning a career that would make him a household name.

He had no background in sports, but had a gift for describing events in lively words, something which early baseball broadcasters, who were primarily moonlighting sportswriters, lacked. He thus became one of the first sports announcers in the country, inventing the technique of the "play-by-play" account and also broadcasting the World Series to a national audience in 1923. He was partnering with sportswriter Grantland Rice, who had worked the previous two Series by himself. As a broadcaster, Rice's style had been to describe in very brief terms the action that had just happened after it had been completed, and to leave dead air in between plays; McNamee in contrast invented the technique of describing the action as it happens and filling any dead air with observations about the setting, possible strategy, etc. The two styles were incompatible, and Rice realized quickly, when working with McNamee, that he was a man of the written word and that he should leave broadcasting to those for whom it came naturally. He walked away from the job after a couple of games, giving McNamee the entire broadcast to himself. He would go on to work a dozen World Series altogether, from 1923 to 1934, working with other partners including Quin Ryan.

His work was not confined to baseball: he also described championship boxing matches, Rose Bowl games, the Indianapolis 500 auto race, political conventions, and special events such as Charles Lindbergh's return to New York as a national hero in 1927 after crossing the Atlantic Ocean solo by aeroplane. In 1925, he was voted the most popular broadcaster in America, winning a gold cup at the Radio World Fair. Advertisers knew that he had no match in drawing listeners to an event and insisted that he be the one behind the microphone, which is why he worked such an amazing variety of gigs over a short period.

He eventually moved on to working in Hollywood, doing voice-over work for documentaries and especially for the newsreels produced by Universal Pictures. He also worked as the straight man on popular radio comedy shows and hosted the show "Behind the Mike" until his untimely death from a brain embolism at age 53 in 1942.

In 2015, he was posthumously honored with the Ford Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. He was honored at a ceremony on the margins of the 2016 induction ceremonies at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as part of its 2016 class. He had previously received a star on Hollywood's "Walk of Fame" in 1960 and was one of the original inductees in the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 1964. He is also in the Radio Hall of Fame.

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