Tuesday, December 22, 2015

History of #1 play-by-play announcer demotions

How often does a TV network demote its number one play-by-play announcer?

It seems inconceivable that either Joe Buck (lead play-by-play voice for Fox on baseball since 1996 and the NFL since 2002) or Jim Nantz (lead announcer on CBS for college basketball since 1991 and the NFL since 2004) will be relegated to a lower role any time soon - if ever. But it did happen to the likes of Pat Summerall and Brent Musburger against their wishes.

A few years ago, I looked at cases where a network demoted its #1 analyst. I decided to do the same thing for play-by-play announcers. Specifically, I looked at situations where CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox covered a sport using multiple announcer teams and focused on the NFL, NBA, MLB, college basketball and college football.

As before, I am defining demotion as a case where the former "A" team play-by-play announcer returns to the same network the following season on a lower tier broadcast crew.

It is quite rare for a network to demote its #1 play-by-play announcer by the above definition. Most of the time a lead announcer retires or switches networks rather than receiving or accepting a demotion. And many cases which might appear to be "demotions" actually involved special circumstances.

Here is a look at such demotions ordered by longest tenure:

Brent Musburger (15 years as lead ABC announcer on college football)

Musburger was the lead college football play-by-play voice on ABC from 1999-2013 (was essentially co-#1 from 1999-2005). In 2014, Brent was demoted from the ESPN on ABC Saturday prime time slot in favor of Chris Fowler. Musburger shifted to the #1 role on the ESPN-owned SEC Network, but he also called a bowl game on ABC (and both a regular season game and bowl game on ESPN) that season.

Chris Schenkel (8 years as lead ABC announcer on college football)

Schenkel worked the featured games on the ABC NCAA package from 1966-1973. He was demoted in 1974 for Keith Jackson. While Schenkel moved into the studio host rule, he called play-by-play on some lower tier ABC games that season. Schenkel remained on ABC handling a slate of secondary games each season through 1978.

Pat Summerall (8 years as lead Fox announcer on the NFL)

Summerall was the top NFL announcer on Fox from 1994-2001. He was demoted in 2002 for Joe Buck. Pat remained with Fox in 2002 calling lower tier regional games. He also called a handful of games in 2004, 2006, and 2007. Of course, Summerall had previously been the #1 NFL play-by-play man on CBS since midway through 1974, so if you count those years, his demotion came after 27.5 seasons in the #1 role across the two networks.

Curt Gowdy (7 years as lead NBC announcer on the NCAA Tournament)

Gowdy was the #1 announcer on the NBC coverage of the NCAA Tournament from 1969-1975 calling all of the Final Four games. In 1976, he was partially demoted to co-#1 status for the tournament when he and Dick Enberg began to split Final Four duties. NBC used them together in the booth for the 1976 and 1977 NCAA title games, but put Gowdy in the play-by-play role both years. Curt was fully demoted in 1978 when he was relegated to a host role on the championship game while Enberg received the play-by-play assignment. Gowdy moved to CBS in 1979 and never called college basketball again.

Brent Musburger (4 years as lead CBS announcer on college football)

Musburger appears again on this list. After serving as the lead play-by-play voice on CBS from 1985-1988, Brent was demoted in 1989 for Jim Nantz. Musburger remained on CBS and called some "B" team games that season before moving to ABC.

Gary Bender (3 years as lead CBS announcer on college basketball)

CBS installed Bender as the #1 play-by-play voice on its NCAA basketball package from 1981-82 through 1983-84. The network demoted him in 1984-85 in favor of Brent Musburger. Bender remained on CBS in a secondary role for 3 seasons before he moved to ABC.

Gary Bender (3 years as lead CBS announcer on college football)

Bender also served as the #1 announcer on CBS NCAA football from 1982 to 1984 (was essentially co-#1 with Lindsey Nelson in 1982). He was demoted in 1985 - again for Musburger. Bender called play-by-play on the CBS "B" team for 2 seasons before departing to ABC.

Brad Nessler (1 years as lead ABC announcer on the NBA)

Nessler filled the lead play-by-play role when ABC acquired the NBA package in 2002-03. However, ABC demoted him the following season for Al Michaels. Nessler called a few secondary games on ABC in 2003-04.

Special cases

The following situations don't meet either the letter or spirit of a demotion as defined in this post, but I will include these for completeness. For example, some announcers received a partial, but not a full demotion.

Keith Jackson (25 years as lead ABC announcer on college football)

Jackson held the #1 college football position on ABC from 1974-1998. After the 1998 season he announced a retirement, but subsequently agreed to return in 1999 calling mostly west coast games to minimize his travel. Because ABC essentially used co-#1 crews including the Jackson team and because Jackson willingly accepted the lower role and would have retired otherwise, it doesn't seem fair to consider this a demotion.

Frank Gifford (15 years as lead play-by-play man on ABC Monday Night Football)

This doesn't meet the letter of the definition I am using for demotion, but is an interesting situation. After serving in the lead play-by-play role on the ABC prime time package from 1971-1985, Gifford was demoted to analyst in 1986 in favor of Al Michaels but remained on the MNF crew through 1997. In 1998, Gifford was removed from the booth for Boomer Esiason and was further demoted to a pregame host role.

Curt Gowdy (13 years as lead NBC announcer on the AFL and NFL)

Gowdy was the #1 pro football announcer on NBC from 1965-1977. NBC partially demoted him to co-#1 status with Dick Enberg in 1978 (although Gowdy handled play-by-play for Super Bowl 13 that season). He wound up moving to CBS in 1979.

Joe Garagiola (7 years as lead NBC voice on MLB)

Garagiola called play-by-play on the featured game on the NBC Game of the Week from 1976-1982. In 1983, he was demoted in favor of Vin Scully, but shifted into an analyst role and stayed on the "A" team. Joe remained on NBC as the lead analyst through 1988.

Keith Jackson (3 years as featured ABC announcer on MLB)

Jackson held the #1 role on ABC Monday Night Baseball from 1977-1979. ABC partially demoted him to co-#1 status with Al Michaels in 1980. Jackson continued in that role through 1982. At that point, he stopped calling baseball for ABC before returning to the MLB booth in 1986.

Bob Costas (3 years as lead NBC voice on the NBA)

When NBC fired Marv Albert in 1997, the network placed Costas into the #1 play-by-play position on the NBA package from 1997-98 through 1999-2000. When NBC rehired Albert for the 2000-01 season, the network reinserted Marv in the lead role. Costas continued with NBC on NBA duty by calling lower rung playoff games for 2 seasons, but it doesn't seem right to categorize this as a demotion.

Jack Buck (half year as lead CBS announcer on the NFL)

CBS elevated Buck to the #1 NFL announcer role at the start of the 1974 season. However, Buck was demoted in the middle of the 1974 season for Pat Summerall who switched from analyst to play-by-play. Buck called regional games on CBS for the rest of the year and left the network after that season.


  1. Interesting that you post this on the day that MLB on FOX demotes Harold Reynolds from its #1 team.

    I vaguely remember when Marv Albert returned to the NBA on NBC that he wasn't #1 right away and that Bob Costas willingly yielded the top spot to Marv.

    Would Keith Jackson's calling the first year of Monday Night Football on ABC be considered a "demotion" going back to College Football after 1 season in the NFL?

    1. Thanks for the comments. Pure coincidence regarding the Fox MLB announcer news from today. I didn't list the Jackson MNF situation because a true demotion by my definition would have meant he was re-assigned to lower tier NFL games (which of course ABC didn't have). But maybe this situation was worth a mention under the special cases section.

  2. Jeff, this is great stuff, and I really enjoy your blog. Happy holidays and all that!

    Technically, Lindsey Nelson would have been demoted from co-#1 with Bender to being #2 on CBS's NCAA Football coverage, right? Also, Musburger was, in theory, demoted at CBS in favor of Jim Nantz, but he was still #1 on so many other things, and doing so many other things, that it really was more to conserve his energies a bit, wasn't it? Or am I off on that?

    It's also interesting to think about reactions to these changes. Frank Gifford was really upset with how ABC treated him but, being a good soldier, tried to make it work. Chris Schenkel was publicly silent but later talked about how Roone Arledge broke almost every promise he ever made to him.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Michael. I didn't include Nelson because he was never the clearcut #1 on CBS CFB. I don't recall all the details of the Musburger situation in 1989, but it did meet my definition of demotion - and less than a year later, CBS gave Brent the ultimate "demotion" by firing him.

    2. Jeff, I follow you on Lindsey, and as for Brent, that was QUITE a demotion. I'll never forget after he signed with ABC, he was being interviewed on WFAN and asked what he'd be doing. He said his first event was The Hambletonian, and he'd "always dreamed" of doing The Hambletonian, and then the Little League World Series, and he'd "always dreamed" of doing that. And I thought, you were going to do the World Series and anchor the Olympics, and you're trying to sell THAT?

  3. Hey Jeff, I wondered if ABC was really in need to make the Monday Night Football ratings work. As the reason that Al was on the fast track and demoted Frank, as Frank made way too many mistakes. And Al was known for accuracy. But then ABC sports president Dennis Swanson urged Frank to stay and offered him a large contract with a whole lot of zeroes. As there were reports that Frank and Al were not friends. But later learned that it was not true. And it was coming from ABC and got a letter from a former President of theirs over a biography on Monday Night Football. Many, many years ago. As Frank despite his demotion, got along with Al well.

  4. I don't knowif you can call it a demotion but not sure but I assume not but or it may could be so called " beneath" him but one thing I noticed and as well some of you that during Marv Albert's tenure at NBC, he never called one of their college football bowl games. The same can be said for Vin Scully furing his time at CBS.

  5. Wouldn't this list also include Bob Cole being demoted from the number-one play-by-play slot for "Hockey Night In Canada" when Rogers took over production of the series in 2014 (although didn't he decide to "semi-retire" from the top slot, so it wasn't really a demotion)??

    1. I limited the scope of this to the sports I listed in the post. I haven't done much research on hockey TV history.