“Up Close and Personal” with America’s Olympic ‘Host'
SGMA’s Director of Communications Mike May had the opportunity to sit down with Bob Costas of NBC Sports to ask him about the profession of a sportscaster, who has influenced his career over the years, what he does in his spare time, and what he would ask Mickey Mantle if he had one more chance!
Mike May: In light of the fact that you’ve done many different things in your career and covered many events, what events do you still find stimulating and exciting?
Bob Costas: I still love the big events, like the Olympics, that give me a chance to do some work that might be out of the ordinary. I also like certain events like baseball play-by-play. Those two things I like very much. And, being (working) at special events is a big thrill. Those sort of things really get the adrenaline going.
Mike May: Who would you consider to be the most influential broadcaster who gave you one of your chances in the broadcasting business and who saw your true potential?
Bob Costas: In the broadest interpretations of a broadcaster, executives are often referred to as broadcasters. William S. Paley of CBS is often referred to as a broadcaster, even though he wasn’t ‘on the air’ like Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow were. So, with that as a definition, Bob Highland who ran KMOX radio in St. Louis for many years, and made it the most prestigious and profitable station of all the CBS stations around the country – even though St. Louis was certainly not one of the biggest cities. Bob hired me when I was just 22 years old, probably against the advice of many of his lieutenants and to the surprise of many. To be on the same station as Jack Buck and people of that caliber and through the early days when I was just ‘getting my feet wet’ was great. He really believed in me and helped me out. I would say that he (Bob Highland) has been, if I had to pick one person, at the start, he would be the guy. And Dick Ebersol at NBC Sports gave me the chance to do the late night interview and go beyond sports. Then, it was he (Dick Ebersol) who decided that I would be the prime time host of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, so I owe him a lot, too. There are a number of ‘on air’ people whom I admire, but I don’t think that I have really copied any of them. I admire Vin Scully, Marv Albert, Dick Enberg, Al Michaels, and (the late) Jim McKay. All of those people have different styles and my style is different again. So, there’s a difference between admiring someone and copying. I try not to copy.
Mike May: What do you do outside of the spotlight to unwind and take it easy?
Bob Costas: I play a little golf, I try to read, and I’m a big movie fan. When I’m on the road by myself, in between assignments, I try to slip out to the movies. Or, if I’m in New York, I’ll go to a Broadway show. It’s pretty much the normal routine. The day-to-day life of a sports broadcaster is less glamorous than people think. The glamour is in the events themselves. And, in most cities, what you’re dealing with is sleeping at odd hours, you’re calling room service, and you’re reading as many newspapers as you can get your hands on or as many press releases as possible to prepare for the assignment. Then, you travel back to the airport to head home or to your next big event.
Mike May: If you were going to make your living on the field of play as a professional athlete, what sport would it be and where would you like to play?
Bob Costas: I’d be a centerfielder for a big league baseball team that played in a real ballpark with a traditional field in a city where they had an appreciation for the history of the game (of baseball).
Mike May: When you were 22 and started with KMOX-AM in St. Louis, did you have any idea what would transpire with your career?
Bob Costas: None. I wanted to be a radio sportscaster. I thought that maybe someday I could be a baseball announcer with a team like the Red Sox or the Cardinals or the Yankees – a team that had some sort of history or tradition. Although, obviously, you’d take any job with any team at the beginning. But, ultimately, I would have wanted to be the radio play-by-play man of a major league team in a real baseball city. And then, maybe do some basketball in the off-season. That was what I hoped for.
Mike May: Are there any color commentators who you admire and respect that you have never worked with, but would like to one day down the road?
Bob Costas: I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great ones. To work with Tony Kubek and people like that. I think anyone would enjoy working with John Madden for a season. I’m sure I would have had a great time doing baseball with Joe Garagiola. I never had a chance to work with (current Fox baseball analyst) Tim McCarver. I have had a great friendship with Ahmad Rashad. The people you work best with aren’t necessarily the people you most admirer, but the people with whom you’d be best suited to work.
Mike May: If you had a chance to interview Mickey Mantle one more time and had one question, what would it be?
Bob Costas: I would ask him what he learned or what he came to understand during the last two or three months of his life that he had not understood at all or as well before then.
This interview with Bob Costas took place on April 29th, 1996 in Salisbury, North Carolina at the 37th annual National Sportscasters & Sportswriters Awards (NSSA) dinner. That night, Bob Costas was being honored as the 1995 Sportscaster of the Year, the sixth time that he earned that honor. He previously won in 1985, 1987, 1988, 1991, and 1992. Costas was inducted into the NSSA Hall of Fame in June of 2012.