Blog & Tackle: Jim McKay 1921-2008

June 07, 2008 | Chris Pika

Jim McKay, the Baltimore-raised sportscaster, who went on to fame as the host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and 12 Olympic Games, passed away on Saturday morning at his home in Monkton at the age of 86.

McKay, who moved to Baltimore at 15, graduated from Loyola Blakefield and Loyola College and later went into the infant medium of television after a stint as a reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun. He joined WMAR-TV (then owned by The Sun) in 1947 and was the first voice ever heard on television in Baltimore.

He remained with WMAR until 1950, when he went to CBS in New York as a host of a variety show, The Real McKay — a play on the term “the real McCoy.” He changed his last name professionally from McManus to McKay at the insistence of a network bigwig. Through the 1950s, his primary assignment at CBS became sports commentary.

After covering the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome for CBS, he moved to ABC, where he started with Wide World of Sports in 1961.

McKay will be best remembered for his coverage of the kidnapping and massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games on Sept. 5, 1972. He rushed to ABC’s set after a morning swim, pausing to throw on a shirt, tie and his ABC blazer over his swim trunks before going on the air. He spent most of the next 16 hours relaying information from ABC Sports president Roone Arledge while the drama unfolded. After a rescue attempt was botched at the Munich airport, McKay said this on the air:

“When I was a kid my father used to say our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”

In later years, he was the founder of the Maryland Million, a series of 12 races designed to promote Maryland’s horse breeding industry. The day-long program has grown to become a major racing event in Maryland, second only to the Preakness. The 23rd edition of the Maryalnd Million will run at Laurel on Oct. 4.

McKay’s narration of the opening of ABC’s Wide World is still a classic in the history of TV sports programs:

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”

McKay is survived by his wife of 59 years, the former Margaret Dempsey, a former columnist for the Evening Sun; his son, Sean, the president of CBS News and Sports; a daughter, Mary, of Sparks, Md.; and three grandchildren.