Friday, March 21, 2014

Tribute to a pioneer in sports broadcast history research

As one who researches sports TV history, I was deeply saddened to learn of the recent death of John Moynahan - a true pioneer in this field. I only "knew" John electronically through message boards, but consider it an honor to have crossed paths and shared research notes with him. He was a huge contributor to the ongoing historical sports TV/radio research which is posted on the forums at (a.k.a. the506). And some of my blog posts build upon research information which John originally provided.

For a deeper understanding of John's impact, here is a tribute from Tim Brulia, contributor to the506 and lead historian of the Gridiron Uniform Database.

Those of us who are interested in the history of sports broadcasting lost a huge contributor to the cause. I learned about the passing of John Moynahan when I received a Facebook post from his daughter on his page that stated she "would miss him very much". Since words to this effect can be deliberately vague, I decided to contact her directly via Facebook, and she confirmed the news that John indeed did pass away in his sleep "Sunday night." John was 72.

To me, John was the "Godfather of Sports Broadcasting History". To say John had done his "homework" on the subject is indeed an understatement. I first connected with John in June 2006 via the defunct DBS Forums when I and fellow forum member "Godhorn" began compiling listings of NFL commentator crews assigned to specific telecasts. I think the listings were for 1970. John went by the handle "jtgrace1". He posted that we had done nice work, and then listed a whole bunch of crew assignments that we didn't have and said he'd be willing to help out for other seasons. With this potential lead, I contacted him in a hurry. He said we could compare lists. I sent him my spreadsheets first. He said "not bad, but let me show you what I have". He emailed me a slew of documents on old "Symphony" spreadsheets. Once I was able to open them up, my mind was blown. He had telecast information going back to the advent of television with announcer crews as far back as 1939. It was incredible. There were some gaps and a few errors, but about 90% of it was documented and confirmed.

In addition to this goldmine, John had equally exhaustive information for MLB, the NHL (including the fabled Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts) and the NBA. He also had loads of information on college football and to a lesser extent college basketball. Not just network telecasts, but in the case of the professional sports, he had amazing information on each team's radio and local television commentator crews back to the inception of the respective mediums. I daresay no one alive had amassed this much information.

How did he acquire all of this goodness? In our many email exchanges, he told me that he had visited countless libraries across North America. Major city libraries, college libraries, smaller libraries, the libraries at each of the "Big 4" Halls of Fame in Canton, Cooperstown, Springfield (MA), and Toronto. Not to mention contacts with team publicity directors. He told me that he supplied several teams in various sports with his lists of their radio/TV commentators for use in their media guides.

He also shared with me that he attended hundreds of games in all of these sports across North America, and had season tickets to many teams at once. At one point at his home in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul, he had 10 satellite dishes of varying shapes and sizes in his yard. He would log every game televised with their announcer crews, so that if one took the night off for whatever reason, he would note it along with the substitute, if one was needed. He also amassed a massive sports collection, mainly of publications, like yearbooks, programs and media guides. These he later sold off on Ebay.

Eventually he had his satellite dishes dismantled, but was still able to keep track of updates via the forums at the506.

When he made posts on the506, it made all of us like Jeff, me, and others who have an interest in this subject, take notice. Many were astonished at all the knowledge and information he passed on to us. But John was just as eager to learn from those of us who had some gems that he didn't unearth himself. He was willing to acknowledge that he made a few errors in his research, but was more than willing to correct his documents as soon as he found the right info.

I said in a comment on my Facebook page that he taught me more about a field I thought I knew a lot about in the nearly eight years that I knew him than in my whole life combined up to that point. And it's true. John also gave me the impetus to expand my thirst for research. He said that his favorite place for research was the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington, DC. I took him up on that tip and sure enough, I have been fortunate enough to be able to supplement his research with a few nuggets of my own, thanks to the services of the LOC. And I owe it all to John Moynahan. I consider myself very fortunate to have known him. I am very sure many of my peers would agree.

Well put, Tim.... And, RIP, John.

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