| The Columbus Dispatch
If you can name the starting lineup for the 1970 Cleveland Cavaliers — with the college statistics for all five players — then you are a high-level freak who bleeds Wine and Gold.
Bob Clancy bleeds Wine and Gold. You don’t know Bob Clancy, an old friend of mine — but you know his kind. He’s one of those sports fans with an encyclopedic brain, a hot-blooded heart and a passionate soul.
“I do consider myself among the top 1% of Cavs fans in the world,” Clancy said, without boast.
Joe Tait hooked him.
When one of Clancy’s prominent neighbors, the point guard Johnny Egan, was taken by the Cavs in the 1970 expansion draft, Clancy found his team. He was 15.
Joe Tait hooked him.
It was tough at first, pulling in the radio signal from Cleveland, which is 566 miles away from Wethersfield, Connecticut. But when the Cavs switched to powerful WWWE, in 1972, there were nights when the jet stream was just right and Clancy didn’t even have to hang out of his bedroom window to get a clear sound.
“Bingo from downtown! Bingo!”
Clancy can still hear Joe Tait, who retired in 2011 after four decades as the voice of the Cavs. Tait died Wednesday after a long illness. Our Rob Oller, who grew up in northern Ohio, wrote a lovely tribute in Thursday’s editions.
“There were some tough, tough years being a Cavs fan, but Joe Tait made you feel good about listening,” Clancy said. “He had the ability to give you the picture of the game, to put you there on the floor, and be critical without bashing. He was a pro.”
John Michael had the difficult task of replacing Tait.
“Joe was Joe. No outside influences. He felt the game and portrayed it to listeners. He was going to tell you what he was seeing on the floor. And it was refreshing.”
Tait’s life spanned a transformation of sports media. He grew up when radio was still a force, even in the advent of television. He started his career calling Ohio University games for WOUB in the mid-1960s, when radio was still entrenched as the primary delivery medium for local teams, college and professional.
By the time he reached retirement, fans had the ability to see any game, from anywhere in the world, on multiple devices, in real time.
Gone are the days of leaning out your bedroom window with a transistor radio.
John Buccigross, a “SportsCenter” anchor and hockey play-by-play announcer for ESPN, grew up in Steubenville. He remembers how his father used to take the family car to find a hill where Bruins games could be pulled in from Boston. With Bob Wilson on the call.
“I grew up with Bob Prince in Pittsburgh,” Buccigross said. “Man, there was a voice that was fueled by Marlboros and bourbon. It had gravitas. When something was important, you knew it.
“You have to remember that radio, before television, had all kinds of programming. It had dramas, soap operas, sitcoms and everything else. Its roots were theatric and showmanship was essential. When it came to sports, you had to have that gravitas, usually in a phenomenal bass or a baritone voice, to take listeners for a ride and get them lost in it.”
Buccigross called it “a connective experience.” In this day and age, the passivity of that experience has been largely lost in a landscape of thousands of telecasts — produced and directed by teams and leagues, the very entities that play-by-play announcers are supposed to be “covering.”
Few, if any, teams want another Marty Brennaman, an experienced hand who actually called Reds games the way he saw them. Cheap homers are in higher demand. Teams are to be promoted, even if it means insulting the intelligence of fans who are watching. Who’s listening, anyway?
Columbus is lucky to have someone like Paul Keels, the clear, alacritous, baritone voice of Ohio State football and basketball on radio. Keels grew up in Cincinnati listening to Dom Valentino bring alive the Cincinnati Royals. Valentino was not a classic baritone — but he was a classic.
“When the Royals left in 1972, a Cincinnati station picked up the Cavs and I was introduced to Joe Tait,” Keels said. “It’s proper to recognize him upon his passing. He was, truly, an all-time great.”