Chris Schenkel: "Speaker Liked By All People"


By Earle Barroll, Sports Editor

Chris Schenkel has never really left this area. Oh sure, it seems hardly the right assertion to make, him being on television and all that. But, while his physical self and professional notoriety have long been identified with Madison Ave. and Times Square, that little farm boy in him still holds the spirit close to the earth, the heart to his antecedents and eventually necessitated his gravitating back to the roots.

It was three years ago that Schenkel and family – his wife, Fran, sons Johnny, 10, and Ted, 16 and daughter Tina 18, a sophomore at Purdue – left the hustle and bustle of Manhattan behind and settled into the calm and serenity of a lakeside home on Tippecanoe: it is the fourth house down the hill from the Country Club if you’re interested.

"After 20 years of Manhattan we finally got tired of it," Schenkel was recalling from a patio that opened to the expanse of the lake. "We always came back here every summer to spend some time. And even when I was criss-crossing the country I took time to visit. So we decided why not live here for good if we could."

Now a private aircraft rests in Warsaw Municipal Airport that serves as his link with Fort Wayne’s Baer Field and then on to New York; a trip he makes every week, "I couldn’t do it without the plane," he said. "I have trouble keeping awake when I drive and there’s no way I could drive back and forth to Fort Wayne."

Demanding Schedule

Schenkel has been able to maintain a pace of three days a week at home and his continuously demanding schedule, even more so now that the football season has arrived, will more than test this average; a schedule he indicated would "be like this until the end of May, form football to golf."

But, when I’m home," he emphasized, "I’m home. There are so many thing I like to do and sometimes I just get tired of all the travel and packing and unpacking. I’ve always liked this area. I can come here and relax and be with the family. It has added another dimension to my life."

Whenever the Schenkels entertain, and you can imagine the list of notables who have passed though their doors, the atmosphere is likewise relaxed. "We just get together and goof." said Schenkel. "I can remember when Phil Harris was here. He wouldn’t move from that chair over there. Sat there all day and finally I had to go in and bring the TV outside so he wouldn’t have to change positions."

Or when Byron Nelson dropped by for a weekend. You remember Nelson, who during the mid-1940s won 11 consecutive tournaments and for the last few years has been the analyst on ABC’s golf telecast. "We just went up to the golf course," said Schenkel. "Byron was amazing. We had some friends along and even when he was giving pointers the entire round he shot an effortless 74."


In his quieter moments one of Schenkel’s favorite pastimes is the upkeep of a carpet-like lawn and the many gardens that surround his home. He’s refuted to be an expert mower of lawns, readily admitted to it and then pointed to some minor landscaping he did by the stream that separates his home from that of his sister and her husband who live nest door.

"I’m great at lawns," he smiled. "I can remember when I was growing up I never really liked the farm, but today I love it. I also like being by the water and fishing. I really love Tippecanoe."

And it is here that he plans to retire to. Presently his time table in this respect calls for at least another five or six years with ABC "as long as it stays on a regular basis." In the meantime he has make a series of moves to build a solid economic and social foundation for when that time comes.

"It’s been great fun down though the years," he said. Then he paused, "It got me to thousands of places and I’ve met a lot of friends along the way. But when it’s over I know I’ll have this place to come home to."

Bippus Native

Schenkel was born in the little town of Bippus, Ind., some 30 miles southeast of his present lakeside residence. "Ah, yes, Bippus," as he calls it in his modulated tones. It is said of this placed that townspeople manufacture "This is the Home of Chris Schenkel" signs as fist as they are lifted from the billboards that demarcate the town’s borders.

It was farm country and in those days, "You listened to the radio if you lived on a farm, it was things to do," he recalled. "Sports sounded like a good thing to do to everyone."

And even though there was that ever present farm influence, young Schenkel was moved in a direction that would ultimately carry him to the pinnacle of success as an institution in American broadcasting. "From the time I was 14," he said "I knew what I wanted and it wasn’t farming. But, I think the thing that helped me the most was the perfect timing I had.

He’s always been around entertainment one way or the other and this dates back to when he was 12. He and his brother Phil, then five, barnstormed the Midwest as a duet, Chris on guitar, Phil mandolin and both on vocals, "We played a lot of basketball and baseball in those days," Schenkel reminisced, "but my brother and I became so busy with radio engagements and live shows that I had to miss a year when the coach told me I had to make a choice.

Broadcasting Starts

Schenkel got his first start in broadcasting while attending Purdue. The station was and still is WBAA, an "excellent one" according to Schenkel. Next it was WBLC in Muncie for his first commercial spot. Eighteen dollars a week and he did everything from selling time to writing commercials to genuine news and sports broadcasting. Ten hour shifts were nothing uncommon in those days.

He graduated from Purdue with no, not a degree in the communicative arts. But, yes, "one in pre-med, of all things. Pre-med? I liked biology and thought about being a doctor, but really broadcasting was always with me. It’s just that Purdue at that time had no degree in that field."

World War II interrupted his ascension for four and a half years, but when the tour was over he hurried back to Indiana and settled in a place called Richmond "to get back in shape." Providence, Rhode Island was his next stop and this first swing to the east was indicative of things to come.

This was 1946 and Schenkel worked for WFCI then WCEA, then did some freelance and finally latched on to the very first football game ever broadcast on television. It was Harvard-Army and the man who later became famous for describing the "pomp and pageantry of collegiate football was at the mike. Ideally, he’s been there from the very beginning.

Inside Track

Schenkel would broadcast the best in New England college football for the next six years, while also dabbing in play-by-play of horse racing. "This gave me the inside track when CBS picked up the Triple Crown, (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont)," he said in retrospect. "I did it for 11 years before I signed with ABC"

In fact, it was Schenkel along with incomparable Roone Arledge, the producer and genius of ABC sports, who were most instrumental in landing the Big Three of thoroughbred racing for the next five years, beginning this spring.

New York beckoned in 1952 and Schenkel would leave the college arena for a dozen years when he sighed with CBS to do New York Giant football. With it, his stock soared on the market and likewise his versatility as we shall see.

He’s described golf since 1953 and actually gave up the Masters when he left CBS. Over a six year period in the 50’s he called more bouts on the "Monday Night Fights" than Don Dunphy was to do during the 60’s with the Friday night version. "We had a two-hour show in those days" noted Schenkel. "And I did as many as seven or eight hours a night, including the prelims.

"I made it a habit to interview all the fighters, I found that if the guy was a taxi cab driver, we’d get more taxi cab drivers as viewers for the next show. Believe it or not this really helped me in the future when it came to interviews or filling time on the air.

New Era

Then 1965 rolled around and a new era for Chris Schenkel, that being, of course, ABC. It was back to college football and Texas-Arkansas, Nebraska-Oklahoma, the beautiful cheerleaders he admits he never met, an association with Bud Wilkinson and a final game that he would broadcast last New Year’s Eve between Notre Dame and Alabama, one he says may have been the greatest of all.

"Did you know," interjected Schenkel, "that bowling was the biggest money maker for ABC. What do you have, only 60 feet to televise. Whereas in football there’s 120 yards and for golf thousands of yards. That in itself is a big difference as far as production costs are concerned.

Saturday afternoon and the Pre Bowler’s Tour. Of all the Schenkel related ventures this is it, his "baby" as he refers to it. "An hour and a half of must viewing for millions during that afternoon slot. And for the past 13 years Schenkel has become as much of a fixture to the Tour as a Dick Weber, a Don Carter, a Don Johnson.

And as in football where you expect Bud Wilkinsoin at his side; and likewise golf where Byron Nelson in always searching the airwaves for the elusive Schenkel, there was Billy Welu for 12 years at this side for bowling and when death took Welu from him, Schenkel was "hit pretty hard" according to his wife.

Olympics Center Stage

The Olympics have always center staged Schenkel when you figure he has anchored Mexico City, Grenoble and the most recent horror at Munich. Most of his transmissions were live back to the States and they were done from 1-3 a.m., Munich time. When the Arab terrorists struck he was asleep, but in the following memoir you’ll see he was almost too close to the reality of it before it even began.

"Roone Arledge (the producer) and I were finished with broadcast for the morning. It was 4:30 when we left by the back door of the ABC van which was right next to the fence leading to the Israeli headquarters. Apparently the terrorists were hiding in the grass near the door when we left, for they entered just a little bit later. I didn’t find out about this until in the morning.

By the very nature of his work, Schenkel is drawn to the professionals; they are drawn to him and together they revolve in a world that most of us find difficult to fathom. For instance, he gave the following their start as color men for his Giants’ broadcast: Johnny Lujack, Pat Summeral, Frank Gifford and Kyle Rote.

Just check your local listings.

Famous Friends

He became close friends with Arnold Palmer, Don Carter, Dick Weber, Jack Nicklaus, O.J. Simpson and the list goes on and on. Says Schenkel "I don’t buy the idea that as a broadcaster you can’t associate with the athletes you cover. Likewise there is nothing that says you can’t feel emotional when you witness that final walk to the 18th green at Augusta."

"When you lose that human element in broadcasting you’re lost. I still get goose bumps over some of the things I see."

And have seen.

He was there when Palmer won his greatest victories at the Masters. He called the action in the very first sudden death NFL championship game in ’58 between the Baltimore Colts and Giants. The list of classic college football games is endless. And who can forget the Olympics.

Schenkel had these comments to relate to us on some of the men he’s worked with over the years.

Billy Welu – "he worked 12 years with me and did his sport as an analyst as well as anyone. He never told you what you saw. He was also a great athlete and a very intelligent man. He was one of the greatest bowlers of all time, but still found time to get a stockbroker’s license for when he got out of the sport. It hurt me deeply when he passed on"

Byron Nelson – "Occasionally he murders grammar, but he’s as solid a person I know in all aspects of life. Except for Jack Nicklaus he may be the greatest golfer of all time. Remember, he left the game when he was 35.

Jim McKay, of ABC sports – "Simply terrific. He would have been a great actor. Most of the things we do on Wide World of Sports is after the fact and he makes you feel like you were there. He’s very specialized in that field."

Howard Cosell – " He still owes me for cigarettes and Giants tickets. But seriously, he’s very intelligent guy who’s added a necessary phase to TV. He’s done some great things for sports. And you also have to understand that once the lights are out he is a completely different person."

Roone Arledge – " A bloody Genius. He gets what he wants. He’s the best in the business.

Bud Wilkinson – "A remarkable man, very professional. As a friend he’s warm and loyal. Actually he was the first one to spot the type of people in Watergate. He was the head of the President’s Counsel on Physical Fitness and he left Washington after seeing some of those people four years ago. Bud is geared for polities and if he ran as a democrat on Oklahoma he could get elected to the Senate."

Chris Schenkel – "I know he can’t sit still. He likes to sleep a lot and that’s a real help. He’s got to rest with the schedule he keeps. I think he can be best remembered for the people he started in the business and having made the fewest people in sports uneasy. I know one thing. He doesn’t take sports seriously. He says it’s the greatest entertainment in the world.

What about the Schenkel schedule? Where does two weeks in the life of one of the busiest sportscasters in the country take him? Next time you have the 14 days to spare and enough cash to defray the cost, try this tour of the continental United States.

Monday, Aug. 26, he is home. On Tuesday he flew to Denver for a testimonial for Eddie Crowder, the athletic director and former football coach at Colorado. A special jet was dispatched to the Midwest to pick up Schenkel, Duffy Dougherty, Bud Wilkinson and Bill Vessels, a former Heisman Trophy winner, for the occasion.

He was back home Wednesday, but flew to New York on Thursday at 6 a.m. for staff meetings.

Parade Marshal

On Friday he went to Ridgewood, N.J. for a look at the course on which the U.S. Amateur was being played, for he and Byron Nelson were to broadcast these matches on Sunday after the fact. On Saturday he was back in Indiana to be the Marshal in a Car Parade in Auburn. And then back to New York for the golf telecast.

That’s only one week.

He flew to Tippecanoe Lake late Sunday night, then departed for New Orleans on Monday for a two-day stopover where he was the featured speaker at a Firestone Convention. "They’re one of our big sponsors" he said. "I do a lot of speaking all over the country, but normally not for companies. I’d rather speak at a benefit where I can help someone.

Wednesday he went to Pinehurst, N.C. for the inductions of Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogart. Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen into golfing’s Hall of Fame. Thursday he came home. Friday back to N.Y. for meetings and today he’ll be the anchorman in the home studios for the opening college football game of the week – U.C.L.A. at Tennessee.

It will be his 500th game, but he won’t be in the booth.

Before leaving Schenkel took this reporter to his study, And on the walls, in the bookcase, in fact, everywhere in this stunning environs there was testimony heaped upon testimony as to what this one man has accomplished over a two decade career.

National Awards

Four times he was named National Sportscaster of the Year, not to overlook the 15 straight years he was nominated for the award. Heard of Curt Gowdy? He’s second with three. He’s been nominated four times for Emmys. He is most proud of the ‘Varsity Pin’ Purdue presented him with, which makes him one of only seven men to be so honored, the only athlete of a group that includes Bob Griese and Lenny Dawson.

He won the distinguished George Peabody Award for his work as anchorman at the ’68 summer Olympics in Mexico City.

But, it seemed that none of the biggies could match the sentiments of the ones we might deem as minor. He pointed to a small plaque on the wall and said only three others had received. It was an induction into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.

"Right here," he said, "are mementos from Billy Welu’s apartment. His family wanted me to take the entire room with me."

Books? Rows of them on the shelves, no less than 50 golfing publications and another dozen or so dealing with the fine points of bowling. Memoirs? Countless.

A few weeks ago he may have received the one addition to his room he cherishes the most. He was make an honorary chief of the Miami Tribe in Muncie. History tells us they were once nearly wiped out by Mad General Anthony Wayne in one siege.

Schenkel is now Chief Mo-Nu. Translation: Speaker: one who is liked by all people.

That IS Chris Schenkel.

Warsaw Times-Union Spotlight Sept. 7-14, 1974