Harry to Hawk: Ranking Chicago’s top pro sports announcers of the last 40 years – Chicago Tribune
The 1979-80 Chicago Bulls weren’t much to look at. Reggie Theus and company won just 30 games for coach Jerry Sloan. But to hear those? That was something else.
Calling the action on WIND-AM 560 was Jim Durham, one of the NBA’s truly great announcers and, as reflected in the list below, one of Chicago’s best pro sports team announcers in the last 40 years.
Between long-time White Sox voice Ken “Hawk” Harrelson announcing his retirement, effective after next season, and the death of former Sox analyst Jimmy Piersall, this seems like the right time to rank the play-by-play and analysts who call pro games locally.
Anything of this nature is picking a fight. The choices are as arbitrary as the standards on which they’re based.
Critical considerations include insights, enthusiasm, clarity, how well they and their style wear with the audience over the years, fan affection, candor and memorable moments. Never mind that sometimes those qualities conflict.
Bottom line: The best announcers make the games they call more engaging, more fun, more interesting.
Everyone who served as a regular play-by-play or color voice of a Chicago pro team in 1977 or after was eligible if they worked at least five seasons here — sorry Jason Benetti — even if the bulk of their career predated 1977.
So Jack Brickhouse is in the mix, but not Bob Elson or Lloyd Pettit, for example.
Two more qualifiers: Unfortunately, because of personal limitations, only English-language announcers were considered. Work as studio personalities or sideline reporters wasn’t considered.
Someone inevitably will say so-and-so was somehow forgotten. It’s more likely that so-and-so didn’t make the cut.
Take Milo Hamilton, an announcer for the White Sox, Bulls and Cubs over the years, then blindsided by the move of Harry Caray to the North Side.
It was Larry Dierker, a former broadcast partner of Hamilton’s in Houston, who once wrote that Hamilton, a Ford Frick Award honoree at baseball’s Hall of Fame, “loves the game almost as much as he loves to hear himself describe it.”
But back to the 1979-80 Bulls, besides Durham on radio, WGN-9 that season recruited a baby-faced 27-year-old play-by-play guy out of St. Louis.
His name was Bob Costas, and he left for NBC Sports and the rest of his stellar career right after that.
Because Costas was a Bulls announcer for just one season, he doesn’t qualify for these rankings. But his WGN-9 broadcast partner, former Bulls coach Johnny “Red” Kerr, obviously does.
Not pictured: No. 15 play-by-play announcer Joe McConnell, whose arrival as the voice of the Bears in 1977 marked a major shift from the Brickhouse era.